Selfies gain popularity at haj, spark controversy

The trend of taking selfies has caught on at this year's haj. Key stages of the religious gathering, including the stoning of Satan (above) in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, last Saturday have been recorded on mobile devices for posterity and for
The trend of taking selfies has caught on at this year's haj. Key stages of the religious gathering, including the stoning of Satan (above) in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca, last Saturday have been recorded on mobile devices for posterity and for instant sharing via social media.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MINA (Saudi Arabia) - Raising his arm, Mr 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 haj.

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 haj 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, key stages of haj have been recorded on cameras and smartphones for posterity, and for instant sharing via social media.

Haj is one of the largest religious gatherings. It 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," said Mr Yousef, 24, taking a picture of himself with a green sign reading "Big Jamarah", referring to a wall where Muslims ritually stone Satan.

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-1990s, dad nearly had his camera confiscated to shouts of 'haram!' Now, #HajjSelfie is a thing. What a world," wrote one tweeter.

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

"A person taking such pictures is documenting a rare event", a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many Muslims, said Mr Mohammed Ali, 65.

Two women covered in traditional black abayas and veils hurried towards the Big Jamarah wall, but not without stopping for a quick self-portrait along the way.

"My daughter and I are taking selfies to show our haj pictures to our family in Paris. It's also a nice memento," said one of them. The 44-year-old Saudi pilgrim from Jeddah gave her name only as Umm Abdallah.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE