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Muslims Debate if Mecca Pilgrimage on Hoverboard Is Sharia-Compliant

A video of a man performing part of his pilgrimage to Mecca while riding a hoverboard has prompted a debate among Muslims regarding whether the device is permitted. At least one scholar has approved, as long as a disability prevents the man from completing the voyage on foot.

The video surfaced this week and quickly spread across a number of social media platforms. In it, the man can be seen performing the tawaf, or “circling” of the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site. The tawaf is traditionally the walk around the Kaaba in a counterclockwise direction, performed seven times. While wheelchairs are allowed for such worship, it is believed that this is the first time a Segway-like hoverboard instrument has been used in Mecca. The man is seen easily circling the area and not obstructing any of the other pilgrims, nor receiving attention from authorities.

The video was taken during an umrah–a voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca, not the hajj, which is mandatory and must be performed at certain times of the year. Middle East Eye suspects that this is why the man was able to so deftly navigate the area, as there are not many people blocking his way.

The video sensation has elicited a variety of responses from Muslim viewers, some praising the ingenious method as an inclusive way to get more people to participate in the sacred rite, and others calling the mode of transportation “so disrespectful.”

A number of outlets have reached out to Islamic scholars for their opinion on the hoverboard. Most appear to agree that, should the man have needed it to complete his journey, it would be allowed. “Muslim scholars should not judge this man on the Segway,” Zachary V. Wright, an associate professor of religious studies at Northwestern University in Qatar, told Al-Arabiya. While Wright noted that he found it difficult to believe someone who could not walk would be able to maneuver the machine, a medical exception would likely apply. “I’m sure the person had a valid reason, but it should be clear that the Ka’aba should not suddenly be surrounded by whirring Segways,” he added.

Maulana Najeeb Qasmi Sambhali, a scholar based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, told Arab News that he believes the hoverboard is allowed “as long as the pilgrim’s feet are not covered by the contraption,” as it must be done barefoot. He noted that the permission is not as black-and-white if the use of the device is voluntary and not medically necessary. “As far as possible, where such things can be avoided, they should be avoided,” he added. That said, he did confirm that Muhammad himself had performed the tawaf with the aid of a mobile device of sorts: a camel.

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