I read on my Google News feed that IslamOnline.net recently established a two-sim estate in Second Life to educate people about Islam (Click here to teleport.) I found that the estate consists of four areas:
The virtual hajj was particularly interesting to me because it’s one of those profound experiences that a non-muslim will never get to go through. The hajj, for those that don’t know, is an elaborate pilgrimage to mecca that every able-bodied muslim is supposed to do at least once in their lives.
I spent an hour and a half there tonight, and I have to say it is well worth a visit for anyone who wants to learn more about this ancient faith. Here is a brief description of what the virtual hajj is like.
Arriving at the sim, I ran into an avatar who professed to being a Muslim and chatted with him for a bit. I immediately felt that I was being disrespectful in my dragon avatar, wearing a big samurai sword. Weapons of any kind are not allowed on the premises. I quickly switched over to my human avatar and ditched the weapon.
Upon arrival at the Haj Information Center, you are encouraged to change from your clothes into more appropriate pilgrimage attire — basically a set of white robes. I already felt different just from the wardrobe change.
The various stages of the hajj are well-described with information kiosks that deliver notecards to you in various languages. Along the way, you are instructed to give a particular prayer, to throw a stone, and of course to walk seven times around the beautifully designed Kaaba, pictured below.
Most of these steps are animated (you are cautioned to avoid throwing stones at other pilgrims and animals.) The ritual slaughter of an animal that is part of the hajj is not included in the animated activities.
During one part of the hajj, pilgrims are instructed to shave their heads. This is a bit easier for avatars, who just have "right-click-detach" their hair! Still it did feel somewhat purifying to be walking around so unadorned.
Other parts of the hajj include a night spent in a tent, ritual drinks and cleansing, and more prayer. Even in this very truncated virtual form, it seems like an exhausting, elaborate and profound set of rituals.
I was surprised to find no music, video, photo or other multimedia content to help contextualize the experience for you. It’s a very simple and largely text-based simulation, though told in a very beautifully designed setting. Perhaps since Islam is a faith based on the sacred Word of Allah, that makes sense.
The most obvious missing element of course was other pilgrims.
CC-licensed photo from Wikipedia.
The real life hajj is experienced with literally millions of other Muslims from all corners of the world, convening in this one place that is the cornerstone of their faith. No other religion in the world gathers this many believers in one place at the same time annually, and it must be so powerfully moving for a Muslim doing this for the first time (or the 100th).
Heck, I get excited when I’m in a room with more than 50 Quakers.
It’s a bit much to expect a virtual simulation to approximate what that experience must be like. But as December (or Dhu al-Hijjah in the Muslim calendar) comes around this year, it will be interesting to see if Muslims around the world who can not get to Mecca convene on this virtual hajj space. Imagine hundreds of Muslim avatars praying in SL voice! Imagine the beautiful lag!
Overall, the Virtual Hajj is a simple but well-designed virtual experience, giving the
participant a small slice of what it might be like to go on a real hajj. While there is probably much more that could have been done to integrate multimedia and more 3D implementation of the real world mecca, it still works as an educational and even spiritual experience.