Virtual online meetings have dominated social gatherings for the past two years–with many social events like forums, business meetings, seminars, and job interviews moving online. How many of us have attended business meetings from home while secretly wearing sweatpants on video call? Zoom is here to stay. But now, a new frontier for digital gathering is emerging: The Metaverse.
The Metaverse is a Meta (previously known as Facebook) owned venture into virtual living, gathering, and socialising. In the Metavrse, users can interact as cartoon avatars, while wearing a virtual reality headset that accurately tracks their movement and speech.
Metaverse’s stated goal is to create digital spaces that connect people, create social spaces, and bring people together. As a platform for gathering, what kind of uses will the Metaverse have for religious communities?
For Islam, gathering in community is a tentpole of the faith. Muslims around the world gather for prayer 5+ times a day. During the holy month of Ramadan, it’s common for Muslims to gather nightly with family for Iftar. And once yearly, Muslims from around the world gather in Mecca during the Hajj season.
How will the Metaverse impact the way that some Muslims gather and worship
Well, Saudia Arabia rolled out a new VR technology that allows people to virtually visit the Kaaba—the holiest site in Islam. Using VR technology that appeals to sight, sound, and touch, the Virtual Black Stone Initiative places users at the feet of the Kaaba.
The Facebook Page for the Haramain (Mecca and Medina) said that The Virtual Black Stone Initiative allows Muslims to "experience the Hajr Aswad virtually prior to the pilgrimage to Makkah [Mecca].”
There is, of course, no replacement for attending Hajj in real life. But this type of technology makes the Kaaba accessible to almost anyone, meaning that people who are too poor or sick to attend can get a taste of what a trip to the holy Kaaba is like. And unlike a true Hajj, a virtual reality Hajj experience is something that people can afford to do each year.
Virtual Gathering in Mosques
Could VR technology be used in prayer gatherings? Certainly, nothing will ever replace going to pray in-person, but maybe there is utility for VR prayer. For those who are sick, absent, or unable to attend prayer, maybe in the future they will be able to attend via virtual reality. Perhaps Mosques can reach to believers and non-believers across the world through offer prayer and Islamic lectures in the Metaverse. Like it or not, the internet is a new frontier in religious outreach, because it gives us access to people across the world who are interested in Islam.
Lectures, lessons, and sermons are an important way to educate ourselves on Islamic theology and thought. We hear from Sheiks and scholars alike on current Islamic thought, and we can exchange ideas and ask questions. The Metaverse is actually well-suited for gatherings like these. Metaverse meetings provide virtual conference rooms where you can view and interact with the avatars of other attendees. Virtual conference rooms also have displays for PowerPoints, lecture notes, and other resources. Imagine an Islamic lecture with attendees from all around the world in one virtual room.
While the jury is still out on how much VR and Metaverse technology will influence the way we worship—it really depends on how much the technology is adopted. If its a quality, convenient, and truly useful tool, it is only natural that some forms of religious gathering will take place in the Metaverse, parallel to real life. However, gathering in-person will never go out of style. There is something uplifting, gratifying and irreplaceable about gathering in-person with brothers and sisters to worship and learn.