But first, lemme take a $elfie
Marium Masood

Selfies Can Enhance Your Spirituality

Marium Masood wrote an interesting blog post referencing a person’s narcissistic qualities while in a sacred environment. Her example of going for umrah and taking all kinds of selfies while there, proves her philosophy. However, while I agree with Marium’s stance, I also think that the advancement of technology and material availability in religious environments, can add to your spiritual journey.

I have also been to visit the Ka’aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The first time, I was 6 years old. Mecca was sparse, simple and empty. It was a modest journey that I still remember.

Almost two decades later, I returned to visit the Ka’aba again and was surprised at how much had changed. There was a Starbucks on every corner, five-star hotels stood tall in the sky surrounding the Ka’aba, marble towers and glass elevators and buffet restaurants were filled with consumers, and of course, everyone was taking pictures with their camera phones.

At first, I was shocked at the drastic change, but when I grew accustomed to it, I loved it. I had made the spiritual journey for Hajj and there I was, in the holiest place in the world for a Muslim, and I was shopping and taking selfies. When I grew homesick after a week, I saw a Starbucks and immediately my spirits lifted. I felt like a part of home had come to me. And thus, I was able to reimmerse myself into the mindset of God and spirituality that I was surrounded with. Even as I come across others’ pictures from Hajj, I am reminded of my beautiful journey and long to go back.

This article, published by the Daily Mail UK, shows the journey of Hajj in photographs. The comments towards the end, almost all show positive and uplifting messages about the photos and pilgrims, with many wishing they were there.

A Hajj selfie that went viral of a group of male pilgrims.

Just as Pradip Ninan Thomas discusses in Whither Televangelism: Opportunities, Trends, Challenges, that televangelism is moving away from traditional authority and introducing a new authority, I believe the same can be said about taking a selfie during a pilgrimage. It is a type of televangelism if your selfie goes viral or your photo diary of your trip is viewed by people across the globe.

My experience in Mecca was enhanced by these technological and material accessibilities. Marium mentions that her spiritual vacation was “a series of fantastic photo-ops”. This may be true, but I believe that we can incorporate these new advancements into our spiritual self to make an experience even deeper.

Stuart Hall raises a good point in Chris Klassen’s Religion & Popular Culture; A Cultural Studies Approach that simply because I find spiritual meaning in my selfie in front of the Ka’aba, not everyone will. When I returned to the Ka’aba, I was not allowed to bring my camera phone inside the harem (the area where the Ka’aba lies) by the guards. However, I have heard from several people that since then (2006), people are now allowed to bring all sorts of technology inside the harem. Perhaps the managers of the harem recognize the opportunity and financial gain that can be attained, if the world sees all of these ‘free advertisements’, which can also be labelled as the commodification of religion. As Hall states, “Popular culture becomes the prime site of the negotiations needed to both maintain and resist hegemony.” (Klassen 21). In essence, the Ka’aba is a sacred site. By infusing pop culture (selfies) inside this site, both the top and the bottom will benefit.

I would agree with Marium that with regards to Muslim countries, primarily in the Middle East, consumerism and religion are walking the same path, however, I believe that technology can help you attain a different, and possibly deeper, experience of spirituality.

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