Snap! Hajj selfies gain popularity, spark controversy

Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father in front of one of Islam's holiest sites as they grin for a selfie -- a craze that has hit this year's hajj.

AFP| Last Updated: Oct 05, 2014, 20:17 PM IST

Mina: Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father in front of one of Islam's holiest sites as they grin for a selfie -- a craze that has hit this year's hajj.

But not everyone is happy about young pilgrims from around the world constantly snapping "selfies", photographs taken of one's self, as they carry out the rites of hajj which are the high point of a Muslim's spiritual life.

From Tawaf -- circling the holy Kaaba structure in Mecca -- to prayers atop Mount Mercy in Arafat, and stoning of the "devil" in Mina, the key stages of hajj have all been recorded on cameras and smartphones for posterity, and for instant sharing through social media.

Hajj is the one of the world's largest religious gatherings. It has attracted over two million believers this year.

"As this is my first pilgrimage, it is important for me to document all the events taking place around me," Ali, 24, told snapping a picture of himself with a green sign reading "Big Jamarah", which refers to a wall where Muslims ritually stone Satan.

"Wherever I go, I take pictures, especially since nowadays we have these little cameras... That offer a full view of the area," the bearded Kuwaiti, casually dressed in sweatpants and a pair of trendy sandals, said with a smile.

The increasingly popular phenomenon has sparked controversy among more conservative Muslims, however, with some taking to Twitter to criticise pilgrims who take selfies.

"When we went for umra in the mid-90s, Dad nearly had his camera confiscated to shouts of 'haram!' Now, #HajjSelfie is A Thing. What a world," wrote one Tweeter.

Another user named Kahwaaa wrote: "It's a time to connect to allah and purify my soul. #hajjselfies selfies shouldn't be taken."

But others said the issue was being blown out of proportion.

"People creating a huge issue about #hajjselfies. If photos are allowed during Hajj then what is wrong with selfies?," asked Abdul Mufeez Shaheed.

Nothing at all, says Ali's father Mohammed Ali, 65.

"A person taking such pictures is documenting a rare event", a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many Muslims, he said, wearing a traditional white robe.

"This is a symbolic place representing history," Mohammed Ali added, pointing to the three sites which pilgrims began stoning on Saturday at the start of the Eid al-Adha feast of sacrifice, which is celebrated by Muslims worldwide.