How Hajj Makes for the Moderate Muslim
Hajj is one the greatest equalizers for Muslims. So instead of pushing Pakistani, Afghani, or Iraqi Muslims towards extremism through war efforts, why not put U.S. dollars into helping them go for the Hajj?
The study showed that nearly 70 percent of those who went on the Hajj reported a positive view of other Muslim countries, as opposed to just over 50 percent who did not go to Hajj. The Hajjis (those who performed Hajj) were 25 percent less likely to believe that it is impossible for Muslims of different ethnicities or sects to live in harmony. They also were less likely to believe men were intellectually superior to women, and they expressed concern about crimes against women in Pakistan.
Moreover, those who went to Mecca were more likely to believe that people of all religions can live together and were less likely to feel that violence--such as suicide bombings or attacks on civilians--could be justified in dealing with disagreements between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The findings of this study were both extraordinary and extremely heartening. These days, pundits, experts, and commentators alike (yours truly included) are all weighing in on how the next U.S. administration should deal with the problem of terrorism and violent extremism. The strategies are many: Military, economic, strategic, and ideological. While I believe that the "die hard" terrorists will not be convinced by anything short of brute military force, a very important strategy to defeat the scourge of Al Qaeda is to dry up the potential recruiting grounds for future terrorists.
An extremely effective way to do so is to send more people to the Hajj, especially those who are susceptible to becoming extremists. As an American, I am quite blessed to be able to go to the Hajj quite easily. The same cannot be said, however, of other Muslims around the world. As professor Fishman noted, "The Hajj is a huge expense for a typical Pakistani. The cost of making the trip starts at $2,500, nearly three times Pakistan's average income. Poor families save for years in order to attend ... Despite these hardships, there are many more Pakistanis who wish to go to Mecca each year than there are Saudi visas. In 2006, nearly 140,000 applicants vied for 80,000 visas through the Pakistan government's Hajj program."
We should help these and other Muslims go and perform the Hajj. I remember how happy the Muslims with whom I came into contact felt being in Mecca and performing the pilgrimage. You could see and feel it from their faces. For them, it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime trip because they save their whole lives in order to go. The authorities should relax visa restrictions and let more people attend the Hajj. True, it is crowded already, and the prospect of letting more people go on the Hajj could make the already difficult crowding situation worse.