Completing the pilgrimage to Mecca (known as hajj) represents perhaps the most profound experience in the life of a Muslim. Preparing for hajj involves a series of stages encompassing both material and spiritual dimensions. This study explores the ways in which twelve Muslim pilgrims have experienced this life-altering event and the ways in which information in its multiple forms (textual, spiritual, corporeal, etc.) has mediated and shaped their journey (spiritual, physical, and informational). We build on established theories in information behavior in the context of everyday life and spirituality/religion, as well as the role of discourse and discursive practices in (re-) producing knowledge about hajj and about becoming a hajji.
Muslims are the fastest growing religious community in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Canada’s Muslim population increased by 82% over the past decade – accounting for more than 1M in 2011 (or 3.2% of Canada’s total population). The median age of Canada’s Muslim population is 28.9 years of age. There are significant opportunities and challenges in understanding how Canada’s Muslims seek information, what their needs are, what practices they have retained and adapted (in the case of migrant individuals), and the potential social, economic, and cultural barriers they encounter along the way (Caidi & MacDonald, 2008). Furthermore, the rapid adoption of digital and mobile technologies has a tremendous role in transforming both the process and experience of being a Muslim in Canada.
In this study, we focus on a significant milestone in the life of the Muslim: the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia). The hajj is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings; in 2012 approximately 3.5 million pilgrims visited Mecca. The hajj is one the five foundational pillars of Islam, an obligation all Muslim men and women of sufficient ability and means must fulfill once in their lifetime. It corresponds to a profound and unifying set of rituals performed in the Muslim world (Clingingsmith 2009: 1134), as well as an embodiment of the transhistorical and transnational Muslim community (ummah). Despite being a pivotal, transformational moment in the social and religious life of the pilgrim, there is a dearth of research on the informational aspects of this phenomenon. To investigate how Muslims acquire and share network-mediated hajj information, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 12 Muslims (6 men and 6 women) residing in Toronto, and who have completed hajj in the last 5 years. Building on existing frameworks (Van Gennep, 1960; Turner, 1974; Roff, 1985) that conceptualize the pilgrimage in terms of stages: separation (preparatory phase), transition (liminal phase), aggregation (culminating phase), and re-entry (regressive/reversing phase), our study adds an informational dimension to characterize key moments, including the “calling” (to perform hajj) as well as pre-and post-hajj informational activities, and the ways in which information mediates the experience of being a pilgrim in Mecca/becoming a hajji. A thematic analysis will be conducted through an iterative process.
While several bodies of academic research explore the many facets of the ritual of pilgrimage, and the hajj specifically (among them anthropology, religious studies, and Islamic studies), the intersection of religious studies and information has become the source of fruitful research in recent years but does not encompass pilgrimage research. We build on established theories in everyday life information behavior and scholarship in information and spirituality/religion to capture the multifaceted nature of hajj as an informational experience (including the significance of emotions and affect in information behavior; the role of network structures in accessing information about hajj and how people gain information from their networks). We also rely on a discursive approach to examine how pilgrims encounter and make sense of (i.e., become literate in) the ‘hajj landscape’ and learn to become a hajji. Our study thus provides insights into how Muslim pilgrims gain information about hajj; the information network dynamics, and collaborative information behavior. As well, it provides insights into the discursive practices, which encompasses becoming information literate, and transitioning toward a collectively shared construction of what it means to become a hajji.
Nadia Caidi is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. Her current research is situated in the context of global migration and the role that information resources, institutions, and technologies play in the everyday lives of international migrants. This includes the interaction of global and local discourses in the information experiences of migrant individuals and communities, as well as their relationships with cultural and memory institutions such as libraries, archives and museums. She has published in various journals including Journal of Documentation, Library & Information Science Research, ARIST, Library Quarterly, Journal of Information, The information Society and Information Research.
Adrienne Phillips is a graduate student in the Master of Information program at the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto. She has a BA (Hons.) in History from McGill University.