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What happens to pilgrims who march to Mecca in search of spiritual enlightenment? While some argue that the Hajj fulfills a peaceful unifying purpose, others argue that it may generate antipathy toward non-Muslims, and could, as a result, pose a threat to outsiders. In his newest Working Paper, Harvard Kennedy School Associate Professor Asim Ijaz Khwaja analyzes the tradition and its impacts on participants.
The paper, titled “Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering,” is co-authored by David Clingingsmith, Case Western Reserve University; and Michael Kremer, Department of Economics, Harvard University.
The study analyzed the impact of the Hajj utilizing data from a 2006 survey of more than 1600 Sunni Muslims applicants to the Hajj visa lottery in Pakistan, some of whom were randomly selected to participate in the pilgrimage and some of whom were not. The authors’ concluded that the experience has a “remarkable effect in shaping the views” of Pakistani pilgrims.
“We find that participation in the Hajj increases observance of global Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting while decreasing participation in localized practices and beliefs such as the use of amulets and dowry. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment. Increased unity within the Islamic world is not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions,” the authors write.
Asim Ijaz Khwaja is associate professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. His areas of interest include economic development, corporate finance, education, and political economy. Combining fieldwork, micro-level empirical analysis, and theory, his recent work ranges from understanding political and informational constraints in emerging financial markets to examining the private education market in low-income countries.