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Holy selfies: Performing pilgrimage in the age of social media

TitleHoly selfies: Performing pilgrimage in the age of social media
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsCaidi, N, Beazley, S, Marquez, LColomer
JournalThe International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion

In this article, we examine the selfie-taking and sharing practices of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. We introduce the concept of the “holy selfie” (a selfie taken during either theHajj or the Umrah pilgrimages) and report on a visual content analysis of a sample of 100 holy selfies publicly available on social networking platforms. We seek to reach an understanding of the work that holy selfies do in the context of the expressions of spiritual and religious identity of those producing them. Our findings suggest that the embodied experience of pilgrims at the holy sites finds an expressive release through holy selfies, with many pilgrims viewing selfie-taking as an important part of their journey. The selfies (and associated features) capture and document pilgrims’ experiences, contribute to their meaning-making, enable the sharing of memories with loved ones, and attract online followers. Our study provides a picture of how holy selfies blur the gender line (as many males as females take them), emerge despite the opposition of Saudi authorities, and serve as a means of engaging with a multiplicity of audiences. We seek to start a conceptual and methodological conversation about this emerging phenomenon of identity construction involving the use of new media along with the construction of affiliative identities among geographically dispersed communities of Muslim pilgrims. The taking of holy selfies can thus be read as a tactic used by 21st-century Muslims to create opportunities for self-representation and community building in a context of increasing Islamophobia.