Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government has just published a study called “Estimating the Impact of the Haj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering.” The pilgrimage is often described as the highpoint of a Muslim’s religious life. Media reporting usually stresses the experiences of the people taking part in it. But what is the longer-term effect of participating in such a massive and moving pilgrimage? This study, based on data from over 1,600 applicants to Pakistan’s haj visa allocation lottery in 2006, had some interesting conclusions:
Our findings show that … the Haj has quite a remarkable effect in shaping the views of Pakistani pilgrims. It induces a shift from localized beliefs and practices towards global Islamic practice, increases tolerance, and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women. We find no evidence that by raising cohesion within the Muslim community, the Haj threatens non-Muslims. On the contrary, the Haj makes pilgrims more peacefully inclined, and increased tolerance extends to adherents of other religions.
The evidence suggests that these changes are more a result of exposure to and interaction with Hajis from around the world, rather than religious instruction or a changed social role of pilgrims upon return.
Click here to download the PDF of the whole study.
(hat tip to The God Blog)