With the annual Hajj starting on the 30th of August this year, the Dutch pilgrims have become increasingly younger. In the past, the Hajj was usually undertaken by elderly Muslims. Nowadays, elderly Muslims are still the main age group among Hajj pilgrims, but there has been an increase in younger Muslims fulfilling this important religious obligation. Marjo Buitelaar, a Dutch academic on contemporary Islam, has done research on the developments regarding the Hajj and also noticed this important shift in age demographics.
“The pilgrimage used to be seen mainly as a final religious obligation one had to fullfill, and ask for forgiveness of the sins you have committed. Young Muslims also feel the need for this, but because they are standing in the midst of life, they experience the Hajj and the period after differently,” Buitelaar stated. She added that young people are practicing their faith more and do not longer want to wait until they are in their sixties and seventies before fulfilling this religious obligation. In addition, she believes that not only is the individualization of religion a factor in these new developments, but ‘identity issues’ are also playing a role: as most young Dutch Muslims have a Moroccan or Turkish ethnical background, they are confronted with questions as to where they belong. Since they are not only not fully accepted in the Netherlands, but also not in Morocco or Turkey, they appreciate the feeling of being ‘just’ a Muslim in Saudi-Arabia.
A few travel agencies can attest to the fact that more young Dutch Muslims are deciding to set out for the pilgrimage. Zaakaria Bouhkim, a 29-year-old Muslim from Amsterdam, runs a travel agency with his father. While they guide a group of 235 pilgrims to Mecca this year, Bouhkim also noticed that the pilgrims are becoming increasingly younger. He states that more than half of these pilgrims are younger than 40 years old. In addition, he claims that the ‘umrah is becoming increasingly popular among young Dutch Muslims. He believes that a lower threshold to go to Mecca is contributing to the trend. In addition, the younger Muslims with these ethnic backgrounds have more money than their parents had, which also contributes to a lower threshold. Naoufal El Ghaouty, the owner of travel agency Diwan Travel, has about 200 people going with him to Mecca each year. He confirms that the typical Dutch pilgrim is getting younger: “In the past, only ten or fifteen percent of the pilgrims were young people, now that has become between forty and fifty percent: a big difference.”
Because the Dutch Muslim pilgrims are becoming increasingly younger, the travel agencies see the need to change their offer accordingly. They offer outings for example; like crossing through the desert with squad cars. It also becomes clear that there is a strong influence of social media in how these young Dutch Muslims experience their Hajj. Muslims post ‘snaps’ on Snapchat for example, where one can temporarily share images and video’s. A young Muslim from Rotterdam, the 20-year-old Hoedayfa Flillou, also agrees that social media plays an important role in the contemporary Hajj experience of young Dutch Muslims. He claims that young Muslims have more access to actual images of the Hajj through social media, because of the ‘selfies’ young Muslims make when they are in Mecca. He also believes that the modern Mecca has become more attractive city-wise for young Muslims, with the new buildings that have been built.
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