Stage 3
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English
Talk
Everyone
E-Bracelets and the Digitization of the Pilgrimage to Mecca

Short thesis

With around 2 million pilgrims travelling to the holy city of Mecca every year during the five days of the Hajj season and performing the rites in a very confined space, the logistics of the Muslim pilgrimage pose an extreme challenge to the authorities. This talk will look at some of the ways in which the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia has digitized the Hajj and discuss how every technical solution improves the overall organization but at the same time also creates new problems.

Description

Pilgrims have flocked to Mecca to perform rituals of pilgrimage even before the advent of Islam. Since the 1950s numbers have risen steadily and are being capped at around 2 million pilgrims per Hajj season nowadays. This is due to natural constraints: The holy sites in and around Mecca can take only so many people performing the rituals at the same time. Every Hajj season is a challenge for authorities: be it crowd control issues in bottleneck spots that lead to mass stampedes, accidents like fires or the collapsing of buildings, outbreaks of diseases or the general challenge of organizing logistics and infrastructure for 2 million people from 180 different countries from around the world, many of them elderly or illiterate.

The Saudi government has striven to solve all these issues by implementing technical solutions: CCTV and software models are supposed to manage crowd control and an app called Manasikana was developed to give pilgrims guidance while they are moving in and around Mecca. E-bracelets for pilgrims were introduced in 2016 and became mandatory in 2017: They store personal information like port of entry, visa number, passport number and address. Another invention in 2016 were the electronic coupons that you can now buy wirelessly from the Islamic Development Bank to perform the ritual sacrifice of a lamb. Because of space constraints not every pilgrim can perform the sacrifice on-site, now you get a text message notifying you that a lamb has been slaughtered on your behalf.

In summary, 2017 marks the year in which many technical solutions for longstanding logistic issues have reached a new level. While all this seems very nice and up-to-date at first sight, many questions arise: In this talk we are going to assess if these electronic solutions really solve the issues they are designed for and discuss how questions of data protection are being handled. And finally: How much of the overall spiritual experience is lost by these technical implementations?