Getting ready for the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage) season, a virtual training program was launched on SecondLife.com, the virtual reality website, to teach Muslims and non Muslims Hajj rituals on a online island.
The online project, launched by OnIslam.com for the third year, involves a recreation of the Haram Mosque in Mecca along with the latest real world upgrades such as the newly built Mecca clock which is the largest in the world on the 3D virtual world that is accessed by 20 million people all over the world.
Visitors log on to Second Life and can visit the island with their avatars wearing white Ihram clothes (special dress for the Hajj) to participate in lectures and interact with the trainers and take part of all aspects of Hajj.
“The training is a condensed version of Hajj explaining what Arafat, Mina and other places in Mecca are and you have information signs everywhere, you just have to click and get the information, it’s like a journey”, said Ru, a British Muslim, adding that the trainers are doing their best to keep it as educational and fun as possible.
Hajj in Islam was made obligatory in the 9th year of Hijra (Islamic calendar) and it’s the fifth pillar of Islam performed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in three specific Islamic months a year which are Shawwal, Zul-Qeida and Zul-Hijja.
Lectures in second life are offered twice a week each for one hour in Arabic and English and they attract an average of 400 visitors to the island everyday during the Hajj season.
Lectures in Germany
“Recently, some German professors logged on to the island with their students to learn about Hajj effectively”, said Dr. Wael Shehab, online trainer.
“Mada” Organization for Media Development, the owner company of OnIslam.com, aims through this project to improve Muslims’ understanding of Hajj and minimize their mistakes when they perform it in real world, while it also introduces non Muslims to places they cannot visit and teaches them the significance of Islamic rituals at Mecca refuting some misconceptions they might have.
Logging on to the OnIslam Hajj island, you can easily see banners that say “Start your tawaf(trip) here” and other guiding bulletin boards that show you where to start, where to go and what to do. “You can even throw the pebbles at the devil, it’s all in there”, Shehab added.
“Hajj is not a theoretical obligation but it involves practicing and so it becomes a challenge”, said Mahmoud Ismaeel, Online Hajj trainer and Al-Azhar University teacher in Cairo, Egypt.
Although Al-Azhar institutions give courses to Muslims who want to perform Hajj, they still found it different than what they learned from the books and hence we saw at OnIslam.com how we can benefit from technology in educating people about the Hajj rituals in the virtual life, he added.
“Real Hajj was so easy for me after taking this training… everything just seemed so familiar and in the right place. The training was really organized and made me feel I’ve been there before”, Aisha said speaking of her experience. The young Egyptian girl wished other important Islamic Mosques like Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem would be present on Second Life so that people can visit them virtually if they cannot visit them in real life.
Celebrating Hajj this year, OnIslam.com website has hundreds of text, audio and video files about the fifth pillar of Islam on their website in both Arabic and English versions.