Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca.
Muslims pray at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, August 2019. Umit Bektas/Reuters

And online reviews of other holy sites are wildly inflated, too.

For the millions of Muslims preparing to gather in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 9 for the hajj, an obligatory pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, planning is a major part of the process.

Back in the year 630 CE, when the first hajj was made, pilgrims journeyed for months to reach Mecca, many by camel. Today, followers of Islam mostly fly there. Many also book hotels and restaurants based on reviews posted on websites like TripAdvisor, Hajj Ratings or Ummah.com.

Yet online reviewers who have gone to Saudi Arabia before may mislead today’s pilgrims.

Our study of the online reviews of the Grand Mosque indicates they may be unreliable. Reviews of Mecca’s accommodations, clothing stores, eateries and transportation options all have much higher ratings than can be reasonably expected: Mecca’s sites average 4.96 TripAdvisor stars out of 5, while Europe’s 200 best-rated tourist destinations average 3.96 stars.

Hajjis are not alone

To see if this phenomenon was specific to Mecca, we also analyzed online reviews of other religions’ most sacred sites: Haridwar, India, which is sacred to Hindus; the Maya Devi Buddhist temple in Nepal; and, in Jerusalem, Christianity’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Judaism’s Western Wall.

Online reviews for these spiritual places were similarly enthusiastic, with a combined average rating of 4.63 stars on TripAdvisor.

We determined that the ratings for holy sites are so high because they primarily reflect the contributor’s spiritual experience—not their experience of more mundane, practical details like the crowds, the weather or souvenir sellers.

In her 5-star TripAdvisor review of the Western Wall, for example, Jennifer O of Orlando Beach, Florida, declares that, “No words can adequately describe what happens.”

“For my husband everything went white and completely quiet,” she writes. “For me a quiet buzzing radiated throughout my whole body and everything went quiet as well.…One has to go there to experience the incredible effects.”

Internet evaluations of the Grand Mosque, Wailing Wall and other places are not entirely useless for trip-planning, though. Many 5-star reviews include a more moderate, realistic depiction of what to expect on a spiritual pilgrimage in the text itself.

“Be patient with the crowds and remember Allah at all times,” reads a 5-star TripAdvisor review of the Grand Mosque headlined “Greatest place on Earth,” written by user Mr. McFaren, of Kuala Lumpur.

He offers concrete advice for future hajjis: “Be careful with your shoes/slippers as it might disappear.…If you lose them during the hot day, be careful of the hot floor surface which are not marble. If you are lucky,” concludes Mr McFaren, “you might find someone selling slippers.”

Read carefully

Pilgrims reserve different writing styles when discussing the spiritual and practical elements of their trip, we observed.

Reviews highlighting the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage feature elaborate stories with exaggerated characters and exciting events—a persuasive form of communication that people tend to find quite convincing, consumer research shows.

In contrast, reviews that assess tour guides, hotel rooms, other pilgrims, road signs, site managers and the weather typically adopt a more analytical tone.

Recognizing these holy site review trends can help pilgrims planning a trip make more conscious decisions while planning their journey. Whether for sacred sites in Mecca, Haridwar, Jerusalem, Lumbini or another sacred city, the super high ratings and compelling storytelling mostly reflect past visitors’ spiritual experiences—not the real-world practicalities that actually affected their spiritual journeys.

In God we may trust, it seems—but we cannot always trust how God is reviewed.

The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: a high-speed train in Switzerland
    Transportation

    The Case for Portland-to-Vancouver High-Speed Rail

    At the Cascadia Rail Summit outside Seattle, a fledgling scheme to bring high-speed rail from Portland to Vancouver found an enthusiastic reception.

  2. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

  3. Life

    The ‘Transit-Oriented Teens’ Are Coming to Save Your City

    The 62,000 members of this urbanist Facebook group are doing more than just making weird memes. (But they are making a lot of weird memes.)

  4. photo: a woman on an electric scooter
    Transportation

    Most Electric Scooter Riders Are Men. Here's Why.

    Most users of micromobility devices like dockless scooters and e-bikes are young men. Fixing that gender gap may take more than just adding safety features.

  5. Design

    How Advertising Conquered Urban Space

    In cities around the world, advertising is everywhere. We may try to shut it out, but it reflects who we are (or want to be) and connects us to the urban past.

×