The Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has declared that visiting Kaaba in the metaverse will not be considered a ”real Hajj”.
After a month-long discussion, Diyanet concluded earlier this month that although the metaverse visit of the Kaaba can be performed, this would not count as real worship. The metaverse is a network 3D virtual world focused on social connection.
The discussion began when Saudi Arabia brought Islam’s holiest site into the metaverse age with a new initiative in December 2021 that allows Muslims to virtually view a religiously revered rock in the city of Mecca from their houses.
The metaverse event is called the ‘Virtual Black Stone Initiative‘ in which users can virtually see the Hajr Aswad, or Black Stone, which is laid into one corner of the Kaaba, located in Makkah’s Great Mosque.
“The initiative allows Muslims to experience the Hajr Aswad virtually prior to the pilgrimage to Mecca,” the Saudi officials said in a statement while announcing the initiative.
However, the initiative caused controversy among some Muslims across the globe. Many questioned on social media whether “hajj on the metaverse” could be considered a “real worship”. Among them were Muslims in Turkey asking Diyanet the same question.
“This [Hajj on the metaverse] cannot happen,” Remzi Bircan, the director of Diyanet’s Department of Hajj and Umrah Services, said on February 1, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
‘Virtual Black Stone’
“Believers can pay a visit to Kaaba on the metaverse, but it will never be considered a real worship,” he said. In addition, he said that “people’s feet should touch the ground.” According to Bircan, hajj should and will be performed by going to the holy city in real life. He said the Saudi initiative was probably launched “for promotion.”
Giving an example of the Archeological Museum in Istanbul, Bircan noted, “Like touring the museum with [Virtual Reality] VR glasses, Saudis started this virtual travel program to promote the Kaaba. Rather than religious, the event is totally an “informative initiative.”
The project was introduced in a ceremony on Dec. 14, 2021, with the presence of Abdul-Rahman al-Sudais, the general president of Haramain.
Abdullah Tırabzon, an academic from the Faculty of Theology of Istanbul University, agreed with Diyanet. “The virtual and reality can never be equal. Once you pay a virtual visit to the Kaaba, you are not a real pilgrim or an umrah performer,” Tırabzon said.
He also remarked the danger and risks of the metaverse in religious terms. “If someone shows up with the idea of ‘hajj on the metaverse’ today, then tomorrow another can bounce off with an idea of ‘prayer on the metaverse.’ These are all expired thoughts.”
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