Leeds Creative Labs – Initial steps and ideas around The Hajj

Cross posted from The Leeds Creative Labs blog.

I signed up to take part in Leeds Creative Labs Summer 2014 programme with the hope that it would result in something interesting, something that a techie would never get the opportunity to do normally. It’s certainly exceeded that expectation – it’s been a fascinating enthralling process so far, and I feel honoured to have been selected to participate.

 

I’m the designated “technologist” who is in partnership with Dr Seán McLoughlin and Jo Merrygold on this project around The Hajj and British Muslims. Usually I tend to do geospatial collaborative and open data projects, although I’m also a member of the Leeds group of Psychogeographers. Psychogeography is intentionally vague to describe but one definition is that it’s about the feelings and effects of space and place on people. It’s also about a critique of space – a way to see how modern day consumerism/capitalism is changing how our spaces are, and by definition how we in these spaces behave.

We had our first meeting last week – it was a “show and tell” by Seán and Jo to share some of the ideas, research, themes and topics that could be of relevance to what we will be doing.

Show and tell

Seán, from the School of Philosophy, Religion and The History of Science introduced his research on Islam and Muslim culture, politics and society in contexts of contemporary migration, diaspora and transnationalism. In particular his work has been around and with South Asian heritage British Muslim communities. The current focus of his work, and the primary subject of this project is about researching British Muslim pilgrims’ experiences of the Hajj.

The main resources are audio interviews, transcripts and on-line questionnaires from a number of different sources such as pilgrims of all ages and backgrounds, other people related to the Hajj “industry” such as tour operators and charities.

Towards the end of the year are a few set days for the Hajj – a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to the holy Saudi Arabian city of Mecca. You have probably seen similar photos such as this where thousands of pilgrims circle the Kaaba – the sacred cuboid house right in the centre of the most sacred Muslim mosque.

It’s literally the most sacred point in Islam. It’s the focal point for prayers and thoughts. Muslims orient themselves towards this building when praying. The place is thought about everywhere – for example, people may have paintings with this building in their homes in the UK, and they may bring back souvenirs of their Hajj pilgrimage . You can see that the psychogeography of space and place on the emotions and thoughts of people could be very applicable here!

And yet the Hajj itself is more than just about the Kaaba – it’s a number of activities around the area. Here’s a map!

The Hajj

These activities, all with their own days and particular ways of doing them are literally meant to be in the footsteps of key religious figures in the past. I will let the interested reader to discover for themselves, but there’s a number of fascinating issues surrounding the Hajj for British Muslims with Seán outlined.

Here’s a small example of some of these themes:

Organising the Hajj (tour operators, travel etc).
What the personal experiences of the pilgrims were.
How Mecca has changed, and how the Hajj has changed.
The commercial, the profane, the everyday and the transcendent and the sacred.
How this particular location and event works over time and space.
What are the differences and similarity of people and cultures, and possible experiences of poverty.
“Hajj is not a holiday” and Hajj Ratings.
Differences in approach of modern British Muslims to going to the Hajj (compared to say their grandparents).
Returning home and the meaning and expectations of returnees (called Hajjis).
What we did and didn’t do

We didn’t rush to define our project outputs – but we all agreed that we wanted to produce something!

Echoing Maria’s post earlier we are trying to leave the options open for what we hope to do. Allowing our imaginations to run and to explore options. I think this justice to the concept of experimentation and collaboration, and should help us be more creative. I think that we can see which spark our imaginations, what address the issues better – what examples and existing things are out there that can be re-appropriated or borrowed, and which things point us in the right direction.

What I did after

So after the show and tell my mind was spinning with new ideas and concepts. It took me a few days to go over the material and do some research of my own, and see what sorts of things I might be able to contribute to. It’s certainly sparked my curiosity!

I was to prepare for a show and tell (an ideas brain-dump) for the next meeting. The examples I prepared included things from cut and paste transcriptions, 3D maps, FourSquare and social media, to story maps, to interactive audio presentations and oral history applications. I also gave a few indications as to possible uses of psychogeography with the themes. I hope to use this blog to share some of these ideas in later posts.

Initially I mentioned the difference between a “hacker” approach and the straight client and consultant way of doing development. For example encouraging collaborative play and exploration rather than hands off development. Allowing things to remain open. The further steps would be crystallizing some of these ideas – finding better examples and working out what we want to look at or devote more time to. We’d then be able to focus on some aims and requirements for a creative interesting project.

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