It remains unclear what exactly drove KSA users to ask for Mecca to be a featured story on Snapchat for Laylat Al Qadr. On July 8th, local users turned to Twitter with an outpour of tweets asking the platform to show Mecca on the holy night and share how Muslims from all over the world come together in prayer, peacefully.
For those in need of some background, Laylat El Qadr (written ليلة القدر in Arabic) is traditionally set on the 27th day of Ramadan and is the holiest night of the month, commemorating when the first verses of the Holy Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The hash tag used on Twitter, #mecca_live, very quickly became a trending topic in KSA reaching over 183K organic mentions on that day alone. By the end of the week, it had reached nearly 300K mentions and had gathered support from Muslims worldwide.
Snapchat heard the calls from its neighboring platform and on July 13th, the night of Laylat al Qadr, the city of Mecca was set as a featured story. People from all over the world were offered a rare glimpse into Mecca and the prayers held there on the holy night.
#mecca_live spiked to over 1M mentions that day with messages from all countries sharing strong positive sentiment. The reactions on social media ranged from relief at seeing a religion portrayed more accurately to respect and tolerance from those who did not known much about it before. The tweets showed compassion worldwide and genuine interest in the real practices of a religion that has not been depicted in the best of lights for a few years now.
This show of support and understanding from all over the world came as a result of being able to see Mecca during a holy time from the perspective of those praying there. Rather than continue to let media outlets and fringe groups define them, for a day at least Muslims were able to show the world an authentic representation of their faith. It was either a stroke of good luck for the Saudi youth who made it happen, or a stroke of genius on their part in using social media to regain control of their culture’s image.
Considering that Saudi Arabia has the highest penetration rate on Twitter in the world and how active their youth is on the platform, one would hope it was the latter. The fact that the community was so open and willing to explain their practices suggests the request to be featured by the Saudi youth could very well have been a good-hearted move to combat negative imaging that grew beyond expectations.
Twitter would not have suited this purpose. It is precisely Snapchat’s ability to weave a common narrative from a multitude of tellers that allowed Muslims to show the world the true values of their faith as a community. The 332 second feed showed a day of peace, prayer and a huge amount of respect towards other individuals in such a crowded place. Over 15 million people are reported to have traveled to Mecca for Laylat Al Qadr this year.
The Mecca feed showcases a strength to Snapchat Stories that was more or less dormant up until now. The story feature was launched by the platform in August 2014 as a way to let users of a same event create a collage of their different experiences. In that sense, Snapchat stories already touched on the concept of self-representation but it was not until this feed that it became clear how much impact it can have. When taken outside the realm of parties or concerts and applied instead to a meaningful event like the prayers for Laylat Al Qadr in Mecca, Snapchat becomes a collage of points of view that now accurately report on a community and its practices from the heart of the source.