CAIRO -- OnIslam.net is re-launching hajj training on the website’s own island in the virtual world of second life, and organizers affirm that the program offers a unique experience to visitors to the virtual 3D world who are eager to learn about Muslims’ ultimate spiritual journey.
“We want it to be a training simulation for Muslims who plan to partake the hajj trip in real life, or those who are interested to learn more about the experience,” affirms Mohamed Yahia of the project’s team.
Mixing the real world with virtual reality, OnIslam launches on Saturday, November 6, the new season of its “interctive hajj awareness program” inside the world of Second Life.
In the launch event, which takes place in Shepherd Hotel in Cairo, the OnIslam team welcomes -visitors to join a live training session. In addition to the step-by step 3D simulation of hajj, the event will also have a live musical performance commemorating the Hajj season.
According to the project’s team, this year’s program saw a complete overhauling of the Second Life island, with the team, coming from several countries around the world, investing a total of over 300 work hours to put the project together.
The island now features a complete recreation of the Haram Mosque, along with the latest real world upgrades, like the newly built Makkah clock, the largest in the world.
The Several books and scholars were used as a reference to validate the accuracy of the different rites built virtually.
“The preparations can be quite stressing to be honest. It is an ongoing task to keep updating the virtual island,” says Yahia.
“It is not enough to just build everything and leave it to its own devices. We have to constantly create in-world events and Hajj tours, etc in order to fulfill our aims.”
“But thankfully we have an incredible, multinational, multicultural team working with. People from Arab states and European countries have joined and volunteered to help in this project.”
An average of 400 visitors comes to the island everyday during hajj season.
Second Life is a 3D virtual world with millions of users. It is completely interactive, with everything inside created by its users.
SL was created in 2003 by Linden Labs, and it has grown exponentially in 2007. In January 2010, some 18 million accounts were registered.
To reach the island, a visitor needs to create an account at www.secondlife.com and download a 70MB program.
The virtual hajj program is all about training and education, asserts the project’s team.
“It is strictly a training event, in no way does it substitute the real trip. This is very important for us to highlight,” says Yahia.
In order to get the full, most complete training experience, the best choice is to join the weekly live training sessions on the virtual island.
The training sessions are completely interactive, allowing the trainees to be partake in all aspects of the Hajj.
“In these sessions, held in Arabic and English, an expert from the Shari’ah section in OnIslam takes a group of trainees in a live trip through the pilgrimage, explaining step by step what one needs to do at each particular step,” noted Yahia.
In the completely live sessions, the trainees can get to ask questions anytime and directly interact together and with the trainer.
“This is a live simulation so the avatars, which are the digital representations of the people, get to do all the steps of the Hajj.
“We found that this offers a more powerful training experience than say reading a book and Hajj or watching a video due to the interactivity involved.”
Another aspect of the project is to educate non-Muslims interested in learning about Muslims’ pilgrimage.
“In real life, non-Muslims cannot visit any of the places involved in the hajj so the truth is they know nothing about it, except when they read on the news that X number of people have died in the Hajj,” explains Yahia.
“But virtually, they can come and interact with the whole journey and learn more about it and learn why Muslims take on this hardship in the first place and its significance etc.”
Yahia underlines that the program is in no way meant as a conversion tool.
“It is only an educational tool. That is why we often have trips from European or American classes for example that are studying religion and want to learn more about hajj.”
Muslims from around the world pour into Makkah every year to perform hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam.
This year, nearly two million Muslims will embark on hajj, which is expected to climax this year on November 15 when the faithful descend the Mount `Arafat.
Hajj consists of several ceremonies, which are meant to symbolize the essential concepts of the Islamic faith, and to commemorate the trials of Prophet Abraham and his family.
Every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform hajj at least once in a lifetime.
The project is also seen by the OnIslam.net team as a celebration for launching their website.
Yahia says that the virtual hajj project is re-launched this year as it first started three years ago.
“The re-launch is also to announce that it is now a project of OnIslam.”
OnIslam.net was officially launched on October 9, by the founders of IslamOnline.net, a website which had enjoyed editorial independence since its birth in 1999 by separating its editorial content from its funding.
The idea to launch OnIslam.net came after a crisis that broke out in March between the board of the Doha-based the Balagh Cultural Society, which owned IslamOnline.net, and the Cairo-based editorial team, over Doha’s board interfering in the editorial process and discomfort with the moderate message of the website.
Journalists and employees later decided to launch OnIslam as an alternative media outlet with the same professional editorial policies and moderate vision of a unified and lively Islam that works for all times and areas.
The launching was welcomed by a galaxy of Muslim scholars from across the world, and Al-Azhar, the highest seat of religious learning in the Sunni world, as bringing a new source of guidance for Muslims worldwide
OnIslam.net aims at becoming a reference on Islam and Muslims-related issues for Muslims, new Muslims as well as interested non-Muslims.
It seeks to review and renew contemporary Islamic discourses and help reach common grounds among people of different faiths and cultures.
OnIslam.net has a special focus on challenges facing Muslim minorities in the West, rising Islamophobia and the global debate on terrorism. It also focuses on projecting positive contributions by Muslim minorities to their countries as well as Muslim stars in all scientific, cultural, economic and sport fields.
The website also has the institution of the family and the challenges facing Muslim families coming high on its agenda of interest.
OnIslam also seeks to help non-Muslims and new Muslims understand the tenets and true message of Islam. It has a separate section, Reading Islam, dedicated for that goal.