Virtual Reality Allows Muslims to Visit Makkah’s Grand Mosque During Lockdown11 May 2020
The on-going coronavirus lockdowns around the world, which have coincided with the Holy Month of Ramadan, have had massive impacts on how Muslims worship and connect with their wider community. Among the most unprecedented developments that came with the lockdown was the closure of the Holy Sites in Makkah which receive millions of faithful every year. These closures will likely last through Eid al-Fitr and probably result in the cancellation of Hajj this year, as well as Umrah travels for much of the year.
For many Muslims, technology has offered some outlet for Muslims to connect with their wider communities and their faith. Now, a new project being experimented with in Saudi Arabia may offer a way for Muslims to reach the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Holy Kaaba virtually, from the safety of their own homes.
“Wahi” is a virtual reality experience that can bring the faithful to Makkah from the safety of their homes
Wahi is a virtual reality experience aimed at bringing the Grand Mosque to the faithful from the safety of their homes amidst the on-going coronavirus lockdowns. It is a semi-scripted experience in which the watcher is guided through several locations across the Grand Mosque like they would be watching a documentary film, with a voiceover giving details about the sights. Unlike a film, however, the watcher is able to raise their head and look around, effectively giving the watcher a 360-degrees view of their surroundings. They can do this with virtual reality headsets or simply watch it on-screen. Either way, they will be able to see the sights, including the Kaaba itself which they can get close enough to touch, something that is often not possible during ordinary times due to the sheer crowds.
The director, Almotaz Aljefri, said that he hopes Wahi can allow Muslims around the world to practice Ramadan rituals from their homes, including the nightly Taraweeh prayers which will be closed to the public and attended only by clerics.
So far, Wahi has been viewed 11 million times on YouTube
During the making of Wahi, Aljefri received support from the Saudi Government which allowed him access to Makkah and the use of drones and helicopters for footage. He also cooperated with the New Media Centre at the Saudi Ministry of Culture.
Wahi has, so far, been viewed 11 million times on YouTube. Although it has been out since 2017, the video recently spiked in popularity. Aljefri says that the coronavirus outbreak was almost certainly the reason for the popularity of the video.
Other countries are also experimenting with virtual reality tours
Saudi Arabia is not the only country experimenting with virtual reality and other emergent technologies to allow Muslims access to holy sites and prayers at a time of lockdowns. In neighbouring United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre, which receives six million visitors annually, launched remote guided tours of its sites. These include live cultural tours broadcast from the mosque on Instagram.
Meanwhile, Muslims around the world have turnedto technology to hold virtual iftars and events to remain true to the spirit of the Holy Month even if they may remain physically separate from their communities and mosques.