The Hajj and Islam—research paper topics

The week of September 23 – 27, 2015, marked the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia made by millions of devotees to Islam. Known as the Hajj, it is one of the five pillars of the Muslim religion.

Pilgrims at the Masjid al-Haram on Hajj. (Credit:

Pilgrims at the Masjid al-Haram on Hajj. (Credit:

Many westerners know little to nothing about this event or, for that matter, Islam itself, which is why these areas of study offer a wealth of research paper topics.

What is the Hajj?

As much a political event as it is a religions festival, the Hajj is considered to be one of the most important duties a follower of Islam should perform, and it has been part of Islam for centuries. In his book, Guests of God: Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World, published in 2004 for the Oxford University Press, Robert R. Bianchi sought to explain the pilgrimage to non-Muslims: “The hajj is a time of profound reflection, during which pilgrims critically examine their souls as well as the social and political conditions in their homelands, the global Islamic community, and the world as a whole,” he wrote.

While the Hajj season occurs between the Feast of Fast Breaking at the end of Ramadan and the Feast of Sacrifice during the pilgrimage, because of the number of Muslims who attend (about 2 million), the planning of the event has become a year round activity. Research paper topics to consider include not only a study of the religious implications and meanings of the Hajj for the Muslim religion, but also how the modern Hajj has changed and what non-Muslims should understand about the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Today’s pilgrimage to Mecca

Obviously pulling off an event that involves 2 million individuals is no small feat. First there is the sheer number of people. Then there is the ongoing political unrest in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia. The extreme temperatures must also be factored in—the average high for 2015 was expected to be 114 degrees during the week-long event. Finally, as shared in a September 15, 2015 blog post for The Economist, Why the haj is safer than ever,” there are rituals at sites covering 25 miles around the holy city that all the pilgrims must move through.

Yet despite all this, making the pilgrimage to Mecca is actually safer than ever for followers of the Muslim religion. For instance, it’s possible for the Hajj to fall in the middle of summer, as it has in the past, making it even hotter. Also as the blog writer stated, “Marauding bedouins were a serious hazard until a century ago, as have been diseases such as cholera and meningitis in more recent times.” Certainly the event is still a test of endurance, but not the same test that it has been to past pilgrims. Interesting research paper topics could involve a study of the rituals contained in the Hajj or an investigation into how the pilgrimage has changed in the last century.

Tragedy for the Muslim religion

Unfortunately, the 2015 Hajj was marred by a stampede during one of the final rituals. “Stampede kills more than 450 at Hajj pilgrimage near Mecca,” by Faith Karimi and Schams Elwazer for on September 24, 2015, shared the details of the tragedy.

The stampede occurred during the ritual known as “stoning the devil.” Karimi and Elwazer wrote, “In the ritual, crowds of pilgrims throw stones at three pillars in a re-enactment of when the Prophet Abraham stoned the devil and rejected his temptations, according to Muslim traditions.” It is not the first time that this part of the pilgrimage to Mecca has resulted in tragedy. Past ceremonies have also seen hundreds die during this event. Other good research paper topics to consider might be why this particular event is so dangerous, or a look back at particularly harrowing pilgrimages to Mecca that followers of Islam have endured.

Want to learn more about Islam? Check out Questia—particularly the section on the anthropology of religion. 

How much do you know about Islam and the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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