Spiritual or Touristic Experience? A critical exploration of the consequences of the commodification of the Hajj on the Pilgrim Experience
AbstractWithin the field of religious tourism research, increasing attention has been paid to commodification and its consequences. However, there remains a paucity of literature that considers the impacts of the commodification of religious tourism on the experience of religious tourists or pilgrims in general, whilst few if any attempts had been made to consider this issue from an Islamic perspective. Specifically, little is known about the consequences of the commodification of the destination (Mecca) and of the religious ritual of the Hajj on pilgrims’ spiritual experiences. Therefore, based upon research into the Hajj, Mecca and pilgrims’ experiences, this thesis sought to address the following question: to what extent is commodification transforming the spiritual experiences of pilgrim on the Hajj, as well as their perceptions of the authenticity and appeal of the pilgrimage journey. Putting it another way, the main aim of this exploratory research was to critically appraise the extent to which the spiritual experience of the Islamic pilgrim is being transformed into a touristic experience as a result of the contemporary commodification of Mecca and the Hajj. The research in this thesis adopted a phenomenological interpretivist approach, and comprised two stages. Stage one of the research involved one focus group undertaken in the UK with pilgrims who had undertaken the Hajj at least once in the preceding three years, the purpose to being to establish the extent and perceived consequences of the commodification of the Hajj as a basis for guiding and informing the principal research at stage two. The focus group outcomes revealed that, for the majority of participants, the Hajj has become commodified. Not only has the experience become more ‘touristic’, but the participants revealed that pilgrims also seek out greater comfort and luxury, thus indicating that the pilgrimage has become more of a ‘branded’, commodified experience. As such, the focus group findings confirm the arguments in the literature with regards to the commodification of religious tourism yet, for some participants in the research, this commodification had not, for them, diminished either the authenticity or the enjoyment of the experience. Subsequently, the second stage of data collection took place during the Hajj; specifically, the researcher participated in the Hajj as a pilgrim in August-September 2016. At this stage, the principal data collection method was semi-structured in-depth interviews. The interviews were conducted with pilgrims from both developed and developing countries in order to explore in depth not only how pilgrims experience a commodified Hajj but also to identify the extent to which these experiences vary amongst pilgrims from contrasting cultural backgrounds. Interviews were also conducted with representatives of the tourism sector in Saudi Arabia / Mecca, specifically hoteliers, in order to elicit further data with regards to religious tourism policy and practice, as well as contributing to an understanding of the commodification process from a supply perspective. Interview data were also supplemented by participant observation of the roles and actions of pilgrims during the Hajj. The research revealed that the identified commodification of Mecca and the Hajj is impacting negatively not only on the spiritual experience of pilgrims but also on the perceived authenticity of the destination. More specifically, a consensus emerged from the data that, irrespective of national or cultural background, the pilgrim’s behaviour is becoming more materialistic and consumption-oriented. In particular, influenced by the increasing supply of contemporary, highly-branded hospitality services, modern tourism infrastructure and SMART technology in Mecca, the pilgrim’s spiritual experience is being transformed into one mainly more touristic, an experience which competes with and potentially challenges the moralities of the Islamic religious journey of the Hajj and its lessons based on simplicity, equality and no ostentation. Overall, this thesis concludes that, at least for the participants in both stages of the research, the Hajj has become commodified. As a consequence, their spiritual experience is becoming diluted, entering the realm of a more touristic experience. Pilgrims seek out greater comfort and luxury, indicating that the pilgrimage has become more of a ‘branded’, commodified experience.
Qurashi, Jahanzeeb (2018) Spiritual or Touristic Experience? A critical exploration of the consequences of the commodification of the Hajj on the Pilgrim Experience. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.