Virtual Pilgrims

Mr. Aalam Khan, a devout Muslim, is dying of cancer. Before he dies, he hopes to take part in the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, because he has never done it before. It is a requirement that all Muslims take the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. However, his doctors say that he does not have much longer to live, and he most certainly will not be able physically take the trip.

Aalam’s solution to this was simple: why not allow him to do it virtually?

“If I can virtually and mentally make the journey, even though my physical body can’t, surely it should qualify as fulfilling the Hajj?” he asks.

Although virtual-reality advocates say this digital realm is no match for real life experiences, most argue that in the absence of travelling overseas, it is one of the best available means of cultural exchange.

At the Dubai Women’s College, professors saw an opportunity to use Second Life to connect students with the world outside their tiny Arabian Gulf state. As a virtual orientation, the group visited a Second Life re-creation of Darfur and made an online pilgrimage to Mecca. Most notably, they met regularly with a group of Korean students in computer renditions of each other’s campuses to practice English and learn about one another’s culture.

CS Monitor, Study Abroad Through Second Life

We have reached a stage where we cannot distinguish the real elements of our thoughts and feelings from the virtual ones. We cannot draw demarcating lines around the “Digital Us.” As we gradually adjust our lives to the latest digital experiences, we stray further and further from the world of here and now, and that world becomes less and less satisfying. Once we’re wired for a virtual world, the present world goes dim and fails to satisfy our digitized needs. This is the situation the world is coming to.

The Internet, unlike television or newspapers, provides interaction. Everyone contributes in some way to its organization. We may call it a huge dream machine. We know we are likely to fall asleep anywhere, and on the Internet we are prone to spiritual sleep. But probably the Internet is less sleep-inducing than TV because surfing the Web is a relatively proactive pursuit.

The problem with high tech is that it tends to impede spiritual growth. No doubt, superhighways facilitate speed. But speed is basically injurious to the spirit. We need time to pray, to meditate. And a mad rush is not likely to yield any spiritual benefit., Islam in Cyberia


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July 6, 2008