sl1
Figure 1: A public group discussion held on February 17, 2008, in the Islamic Gardens of Peace

I arrived in Mecca on a clear afternoon and was surprised to find it completely deserted.  At the welcome center I was provided with a duffel bag containing the various things I would require for the pilgrimage; I put on the white garments and covered my hair.  By the time I made my way to the Ka'baa, the sun was dramatically setting.  I spent the night resting in a tent and in the morning watched the dawn from Mt. Arafat.  After completing the Hajj circuit, I encountered a young French woman who had just arrived, dressed in a sparkling hijab and trendy low slung jeans.  We talked about the weather in Paris, and about the Hajj.  I then teleported away.  All of this took place within a half hour and without leaving my room, in the virtual space known as Second Life.

Second Life (SL) is a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE), a "vast digital continent, teeming with people"[1], a space that is defined, designed, and detailed by its 12,480,281 worldwide users.[2]  It is a space of entertainment, commerce, education, tourism, relaxation, socialization, participation, play; a space put to those uses determined by the choice of its users, vastly interactive and surprisingly, seemingly-concrete.[3]  Users are represented in-world by their avatars, representations of the self that are presented as infinitely personalizable, the self's digital emissary. 

Religion, while marginal compared to the vast array of shopping and sexual services available in Second Life, is present, with a variety of churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other "places" of worship where the avatar can go to pray, meet other coreligionists, and learn about their or others' religions.  Islamic space is represented by a variety of mosques, most of them virtual copies of mosques in the physical world, and by a Mecca sim[4] that permits users to learn about and experience the Hajj. 

Though articulated as an educational environment, the Mecca sim and other Islamic spaces are treated as ambiguously sacred.  Ken Hillis' research on the creation and perception of space in virtual environments suggests that the Second Life Mecca sim may be considered a form of sacred virtual space, a result of the detailed reconstructions of spiritually-charged physical loci, and by behavioral regulations encouraged by sim owners in the treatment of those virtual spaces.

The ethnography of cyberspace takes a novel turn in the virtual world; the virtual field site provides opportunities for the participant-observer anthropologist that significantly deviate from real life and Internet studies.  It is an immediately social space, where instantaneous dialogue mimics real life (RL) environments (unlike the temporally attenuated conversations of message boards), and approaches a sense of physicality, combining visual and aural perception, movement in and through space, and interactions with space and objects in space, that chat rooms cannot achieve.[5]  It is vastly different from anthropology conducted in the field, though anthropology brings to gaming studies its theory and methodology, in particular the participant observation method.[6] 

sl2

  Figure 2: The entrace to the Mecca sim

Here, participant observation "implies a form of ethical yet critical engagement that blurs the line between researcher and researched, even when the researcher is clearly not a member of the community being studied."  Additionally, it is "of particular utility in disciplines like game studies where the object of study is emergent, incompletely understood, and thus unpredictable."[7]  Becoming a participant-observer meant creating an avatar that would be able to move in and through Islamic spaces in SL.  Though SL anthropologist Tom Boellstorff notes that the researcher is often clearly identified as being distinct from the culture under consideration, SL permits a form of anonymity such that the anthropologist, when simply moving through space and observing both the space and other individuals (via their avatars) within it, is not distinct.

When designing my avatar and selecting clothing, I addressed concerns of self-representation similar in physical Islamic spaces; for example the avatar[8], as a representation of the individual, should be modest.  From others' perspectives, there was no way to know that my avatar did not represent a person who fits perfectly into the role implied by the Islamic spaces that I researched, namely a young Muslim woman linked up to the Internet.  However, group discussions on Islamic topics tended to attract individuals of various religious backgrounds, and during one group discussion on prayer, the only two veiled avatars of several female avatars present revealed themselves through discussion to be Christian [figure 1].  This suggests that while in RL the participant-observer anthropologist that Boellstorff describes is marked as discrete and separate, the very disembodiment of avatar embodiment and subsequent identity-design precludes a sense of diversity that may not assume exclusive membership based on ethnicity, gender, or dress.

In-world research consisted of joining Islamic-themed groups, observation of various group activities [figure 1], moving through Islamic spaces, observing others in those spaces, and experiencing Islamic ritual first-hand.  Commentary on the Hajj was taken from interviews and articles that are publicly available on the Internet. 

Ken Hillis and Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is not the same concept as MUVEs, yet the two share important characteristics and I propose that MUVEs can more generally be included among what Hillis refers to as virtual environments.  Virtual reality suggests an environment somewhere between actual reality "and what actual reality is not"[9], a "cyberspatial environment...in which the user feels present"[10], in which virtual space is conceived of as a medium through which users move and interact using devices meant to dramatically reduce the distance between the user's eyes and the screen.[11]  As the user moves her body, the program adapts to provide views of and actions within the virtual space that coincide with her movements.  Second Life is notably different, in that the distance between the user's eyes and body is markedly farther; the screen is distinct.  However, the environment through which the avatar moves continuously adapts to accommodate that movement, and users may engage viewing modes that purportedly gaze through the avatar's eyes, such that there remains a sense of presence in space. 

sl3 
Figure 3: Reception Area of the Mecca Sim

Hillis has addressed the notion of communication in virtual space as a form of ‘ritual transmission' that exists somewhere between "communications as transmission of information through space-a metaphor of spatial geography or transportation, and a practice that seeks to overcome the impediments of time and space" and "communication as ritual-the maintenance of society in time through representation of shared beliefs among people brought together in one place," adding that "communication as ritual admits the sensed possibility for moral improvement through communicating."[12] He connects these two ideas of communication within the manifestation of virtual environments such that "the act of transmission itself becomes an ersatz place and constitutes a ritual act or performance" and the place is conceived of as a "cyberspatial "room" where all might "gather together" in a manner that...seems to extend even as it dilutes or subverts the ritual component of communication."[13] 

The notion of space is established in virtual environments, according to Hillis, by "the interplay among light, users' sensory perception, and the conceptions of those who design and build the technology."[14] For example, there is a concerted effort to create a sense of space in Second Life on the part of the platform's designers as well as its users, who are agentive in the sims they purchase and build, and here ‘build' takes on specifically architectural connotations.  Users, upon purchasing "land" literally build and furnish, with lamps, rugs, and other elements of interior decoration both ‘practical' and decorative, the buildings that their avatars ‘inhabit.'  Eric Gordon has written that the abundance of spatial metaphors in Second Life, such as houses, beds, chairs, etc, are highly suggestive that despite the

...infinitely malleable...open-ended nature of the technology...physical space, as a socially vetted context, will remain the most useful metaphor for the navigation of MUVEs. While operating systems only suggest space (i.e. the desktop) as an organizing principle, MUVEs are fundamentally built around that principle.[15]

Hillis discusses the role of light in illuminating virtual space, which he feels itself constitutes the three-dimensional landscape, flattened on the screen.

There is a widespread belief that space (understood variously as distance, extension, or orientation) constitutes something elemental, and VR reflects support for a belief that because light illuminates space it may therefore produce space a priori.  As a result, VR users may experience desire or even something akin to a moral imperative to enter into virtuality where space and light...have become one immaterial "wherein."  The ability to experience a sense of entry into the image and illumination enabled by VR's design, coupled with both esoteric and pragmatic desires to view the technology as a "transcendence machine" or subjectivity enhancer, works to collapse distinctions between the conceptions built into virtual environments by their developers and the perceptive faculties of users.[16]

Does the user experience a profound sense of entry into Second Life?  Once the user enters her password, her avatar begins to materialize, coalescing from a gray mass into a patchwork of flashing colors, and finally into her ultimate form, every time awakening into the sim where she ended her previous session.  The sim itself loads, flickering into existence, and bodies begin to appear moving around and beyond her at various distances though she cannot move.  There is a sense of immersion in an immaterial but materializing landscape, "someone else's conceptions materialized for users as highly vivid sensations and experienced by them through a process of immersion," and a doubly recursive environment, a "world designed by humans in such a fashion as to authorize identifying the world as designed for humans."[17]  In such an environment, it seems that these designers specifically reproduce real world architectural conventions in order to render the space inhabitable, proving their skills by recreating such things as the Sistine Chapel[18] or the Alhambra[19] in exquisite detail.

What I have intended to do in this section is to establish a baseline for understanding how space is rendered in a virtual environment such as SL, and to approach in turn how this space is legitimately conceived by its users.  In the next section, I will address the various forms of Islamic space in SL, discuss what makes them specifically Islamic, and then examine in closed detail the Mecca sim. 

Islam and Islamic Space in Second Life

Islam is represented in SL by a number of sims which range from the specifically religious to those which draw upon Islamic architectural themes but are not inherently religious, or sims which are political in nature but again, not specifically religious, as well as individual mosques, and several Islamic-themed groups. In her analysis of diasporic Muslim space, Barbara Metcalf notes that shared practice creates authenticated space and that practice is fundamentally linked to sacred words in the sense that everyday practice as well as ritual in Islam is word sanctioned.  This is a reflection of the uniqueness and importance of Islamic texts, including the hadith and sunnah, those collected sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad, and most notably the Qur'an.  Authentication refers to "a process by which those interpretations of Islam that are considered most trustworthy and legitimate are revealed,"[20] such that Muslims trust the designation of, for example a building, as ‘Islamic' or ‘sacred,' a process which relies on reference to sacred text.  According to Metcalf, Islamic text, almost exclusively written in Arabic, is a prime signifier of sacred space identified typically in the forms of "calligraphy on paper, objects, and buildings"[21].  Additionally, historic prohibitions on recreating the human form, still considered by conservative Muslims as a challenge to God's singularity, have resulted in alternative forms of artistic expression.  Calligraphy, closely linked to sacred text, is one.  The other is Islamic architecture, characterized by geometrically complex arabesques and open, airy spaces.  

sl4 
Figure 4: Sunset Prayer at the Masjid Al-Haram

Religious buildings "act as architectural signifiers of sacred space...for the believer, crossing the threshold of a sacred building signifies a move from profane to sacred space."[22]  Religious structures are created for the purpose of sacredness, and they play a role in the emotional transformation undergone by individual practitioners.

...Ritual-architectural events can be conceived in terms of hermeneutical games or hermeneutical conversations that involve activity (the ritual occasion) which brings participants (both building and human) together.  Consequently, we have to understand sacred space as process and encounter, rather than simply as place or structure.  This raises the possibility that different forms of encounters...might be regarded as instrumental in the construction of sacred space.[23]

In this regard, the mosque is itself a participant in the experience of the sacred, a process of movement and transformation, generated by the encounter of practitioner with space.  The mosque is an important physical site of Muslims' sacred encounter[24], and the virtual mosque is potentially an alternative site where this encounter, for some, may take place.

As of April 2008, there were eight mosques in SL.  In addition to the Mecca complex, which houses both the Masjid al-Haram and the smaller Aisha Bint Abu Bakr Mosque, SL has myriad others, most of which are based on famous RL mosques. The Chebi mosque, for example, is a replica of Cordoba's Mezquita mosque [figure 6].  The Hassan II mosque is based on its RL counterpart in Casablanca, Morocco.  Others copy the RL Blue Mosque of Istanbul, and the Alhambra[25].

In recreating specific Islamic RL spaces, these SL spaces self-designate as Islamic.  All are designed to evoke Islamic themes and follow Islamic aesthetic conventions, and most establish a sense of sacredness and religious significance by delineating a set of rules and observances to be followed when avatars enter those areas.[26]  For example, the introductory notecard[27] to the Chebi Mosque reads:

For the benefit of those who use the masjid (mosque) as a place of worship, we kindly request that visitors behave with same [sic] level of respect as they would visiting a mosque in real life. It is customary for people entering a masjid to remove their shoes.[28]

This implies that the space is being treated as explicitly sacred, which has led to confusion on the parts of some users.  In response to the question "Is this a real mosque?" another Chebi Mosque notecard answers:

Islam is a way of life and people do not stop being Muslim simply because they enter virtual reality. When avatars meet and talk in-world, it is no different to Muslims talking on the telephone - and indeed, one of the officers of the mosque uses the skype telephone service to communicate with other avatars! Chebi Mosque is currently the most important meeting place for Muslims on Second Life - so this is a "real" mosque in many ways.[29]

This suggests that sacred Islamic space, the mosque, does not cease to be treated as sacred simply because it is virtually mediated.  Ubiquitously, headscarves are provided at the main entrance to these virtual mosques with the request that female avatars cover themselves, and as mentioned above, it is requested that avatars remove their shoes.  

sl5 
Figure 5: The Kaaba 

Another interesting thing to consider is the perception of the avatar regarding traditional views on representing human beings.  In Islam, such representations, whether of the Prophet or of any human, are recognized by certain conservative Muslims as a challenge to tawhid, the oneness of God, and to God's ultimate authority.  SL has been referred to as a space where the entire spectrum of Muslim believers, from lax to highly conservative, exist and mingle[30], although some might find it surprising that conservative Muslims would choose to engage in any activity in which the human form is visually reproduced.  One user responded to this question on a message board by claiming that avatars are less graven images and more virtual manifestations of the users behind them. 

Just as a Muslim has one set of clothes to convey his identity as "wedding guest," and another to convey his identity as "attending mosque," and yet another to convey his identity as "visitor to friends," I think avatars are not detached, little depictions of creatures that are moving about on the screen (and thus graven images), but a set of virtual "clothes" (but more extensive) that an individual puts on to be "virtual."

When my "avatar" visits the Mosque, I feel compelled to take off my avatar's shoes... because, really, it's me visiting that Mosque, and while that Mosque never can be real in the strictest sense of the term, it does harbor a rather noticeable social and cultural reality.

On the other hand, Second Life does bestow we mere humans with fantastic powers of creation that make us almost god-like... something that may challenge the humility mandated not only by Islam but many world belief systems![31]

This Baudrillardian blurring of the RL/SL treatment of space (as well as the discursive pirouettes by mosque officers who interact with users over the phone and through the game), designates the space as sacred, and yet it is a contentious designation.  In-game prayer is not the same as RL prayer; "the opinion seems to be that such prayers do not count as fard (obligatory) salah[32], but are either nawafil (supererogetary) or the equivalent to du'a (a prayer which can be said almost anywhere and in any language)"[33].

Because ritual is an important component of sacred space and of Islamic space, I will briefly consider it here.  In anthropology, the definition of ritual has largely inherited Victor Turner and other scholars' insistence on the creation of ‘communitas' through formal activities, repetition, as something formal, traditional, and sacred, a definition which Ronald Grimes has challenged and which is fairly deficient when considering the conditions of virtual worlds such as SL (but is helpful when addressing other types of mediated ritual, for example, neo-pagan chat room gatherings[34]).[35]  Due to temporal restrictions, ritual activity is frequently personal and solitary - the dispersal of users worldwide ensures this.[36]  In addition, this ritual, whether it be salat or the Hajj, cannot be claimed to be entirely formal.  For example, ritual ablution does not precede prayer, and the stages of the Hajj can be broken up by RL trips to the bathroom or to the kitchen for a snack, weaving the profane mundane with the ‘sacred' experience of the user-cum-avatar.  Nonetheless, a form of ritual does occur, and it is worth developing a definition that takes into account SL conditions. 

sl6 
Figure 6: Action Ball Prayer in the Chebi Mosque 

Grimes' definition of ritual is as follows: "Ritualizing transpires as animated persons enact formative gestures in the face of receptivity during crucial times in founded places"[37].  Although the temporal aspect is less crucial in virtual spaces, though not entirely obsolete, the other aspects of his definition are appropriate.  Stephen Jacobs has identified two forms of ritual in cyberspace: synchronous and asynchronous.  Synchronous rituals are those in which multiple users meet in designated areas on the Internet or other virtual spaces, and perform collectively.[38]  For example, SD O'Leary's studies of neopagan ritual in Compuserve chatrooms fit this description, where users conceptualize the chatroom as a specialized ritual space that is created and maintained by typed descriptions of ritual behaviors and objects.[39]  Asynchronous rituals, those that Jacobs writes of, occur when individual users perform rituals alone.  Sites of virtual ritual can be designed for this purpose, such as a website-temple, but not necessarily so.  While ritual in SL is typically individual, the space is designed to accommodate many avatars.  Asynchrony is largely determined by users' own temporal constrictions due to wide geographical dispersal.[40]  The Mecca sim in Second Life is one environment where asynchronous personal ritual is undertaken by the various users who enter that space.

Hajj on Second Life

Mecca is the holiest site in the Muslim world, the literal nexus of the Islamic universe, the direction towards which Muslims worldwide pray and are buried facing, and the figurative, spiritual, and philosophical nexus, flattening history, faith, practice, and praxis[41].  It is the home of the Ka'baa, a large cubical structure believed to have been built by Ibrahim and Isma'il.  The Hajj is the pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, required at least once by all able-bodied Muslims undertaken during the month long Hajj period.

The Hajj sim is sponsored by IslamOnline.net (IOL), a popular and comprehensive Islamic website run by Egyptian Islamic scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi which offers a multitude of services, from e-fatwas, halal business directories, news, and multimedia to matrimonial services and a "cyber-counselor".[42]  The Mecca sim was released in December of 2007, just prior to the 2007-2008 Hajj season with the purpose of educating Muslims about to participate in the Hajj and non-Muslims curious about the important ritual and the various steps that pilgrims take.[43]  The Mecca sim is only one of several projects that IOL has undertaken on SL, although by far the largest in scope and design.  One significant previous project was a popular Ramadan tent during the fasting period of 2007[44] which has been repeated for Ramadan of 2008, and upcoming projects include a learning center where Muslims will be able to send questions to imams through SL and search for fatwas in-world, with the goal of eventually providing all of the services offered on the website to SL residents[45].

The Hajj sim offers a recreation of Mecca, at least those parts of Mecca which attend solely to the performance of the Hajj, with a clearly delineated path marked by large chronologically-ordered numbers distributed throughout.  These numbers, once ‘touched,' activate a notecard that gives the virtual pilgrim specific information on their present station, and any instructions for that station, with choices for English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Japanese.  Teleporting to Mecca puts the avatar at the entrance to the Mecca sim, a large center with ample lounging space, ‘free tea' which the avatar can sip in a large meeting space, and information on IOL [figure 2-3].  From there, the avatar progresses into a small building with areas designated for male and female, outside of which sit duffel bags filled with Hajj tools, including appropriate clothing and a tent, and inside of which are changing areas.  While in RL, only men are required to wear the ihram clothing, two white unhemmed sheets, the upper sheet worn like a sash across the chest, women face no garment restrictions other than the hijab[46].  Nonetheless, women in SL are provided with a special ihram hijab, jacket, and skirt [figure 4].

From this point the avatar proceeds along the path to the Masjid al-Haram [figure 5-6] where he or she circumambulates the Ka'baa and kisses the black stone.  Actions such as the latter, as well as prayer and du'a (repentance), are possible by clicking what is referred to as an ‘action ball,' a small colored sphere hovering over the area in which the action takes place [figure 6]. By clicking the ball, the program receives the information and the avatar moves in the designated manner, in this case, by leaning forward and kissing the stone.  

sl7 
Figure 7: Aerial View of the Masjid Al-Haram 

In his article on IslamOnline.net, Mohammad Yahia asks "Have you ever dreamed of being able to be part of the full Hajj experience without leaving your home?"[47]  What is the significance of this experience, an experience that is meant to be deeply moving in RL, undertaken in an environment that is intended to mimic and even improve upon RL?  SL Mecca is pared down to the Hajj, there is none of the intrusion of the profane that startles RL pilgrims upon arrival in Mecca, no need to dispose of trash, no nightmare of dealing with the millions of sacrificial rams necessitated by pilgrimage protocol.[48] Though intended to be purely educational, in what other ways can the SL Hajj experience, or any SL religious experience, be interpreted? 

Yahia quotes a programmer involved in the production the SL Hajj who says "Walking through the Al-Masjid Al-Haram for the first time was a fantastic experience!  It is very awe-inspiring and I believe it is the closest you can get to the real thing."[49] Another article cites developer Walid Wahba, "We replicated the Hajj to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims about the journey. It shows people what the Hajj is and what we do when we're there. They can check out the worship of God"[50].

Conclusion

The Hajj has been a mediated experience since its inception.  Upon their return, Hajjis[51] typically visit the households of people who stayed behind bringing gifts and stories, or hold audiences of large groups, sharing their travels to, perceptions of, and feelings about Mecca and the Hajj, well-documented by Carol Delaney in Turkish villages[52].  The Hajj has been mediated through Hausa song[53], through Malaysian ‘Hajj autobiographies'[54], and among other examples, through blogging[55], facilitated recently by the provision of free wireless Internet service in Mecca for the 2007 Hajj period.[56]  The most significant difference between those mediated experiences, and that of the SL Hajj, is that in one case individuals are actually traveling to Mecca and bringing those experiences back, in one way or another, to their audience.  In the case of SL, the mediated experience does not refer to physical Mecca, nor the physical Hajj.  There are no passports to be stamped, no waiting in lines, no excess of rams, not even the proof required by the Saudi government that the pilgrim is, indeed, a Muslim. 

IOL representatives maintain that the SL Hajj is a tool, and not just for Muslims but for non-Muslims to learn about Islam.  Despite the clear difference between the real and virtually mediated Hajj, Mohammad Yahia has referred to it as the "full Hajj experience," one that he felt was "awe-inspiring," and as close as one could get to the real thing.  Sacredness here is in one part determined by the designs of the authors of this space, and in another by the experiences of users moving through and interacting with it in accord with how the Hajj is meant to be experienced (for example, by wearing the appropriate ihram clothing).  The sheer importance of Mecca to Muslims is another factor that influences how the Mecca sim is likely perceived, and visits to the sim increase during Ramadan and the Hajj season.  Nonetheless, the Mecca sim is just that: a simulation.  This suggests an interesting form of discord between the referent, in this case Mecca, and the representation being used to symbolize it. 

Naturally, it is worth considering Baudrillard's work in this regard.  If virtual space is considered by the users interacting with it to be a literal form of space, to be literally ‘real space', "if indeed there is any idea left of ‘the real'", then this raises questions about "the ways in which issues of authenticity and identity arise and are managed and about the ways in which the boundary between the real and the virtual is experienced."[57]  Baudrillard posited that that simulation, or simulacra, came to replace the referent in postmodern society, such that a condition of hyperreality has become commonplace in which people fail to distinguish between the real and the simulation. 

In this case, there is a blurring of the two Meccas, the first bound by physical geography in its location in the Arabian peninsula, and the space in Second Life which is treated as sacred and though purporting only to be an educational tool, is shown by user testimony to be a site of emotional experience of the sacred.  There appears to be a confusion of the medium, which posits its own form of reality conceived of and experienced in spatial terms, and the message.[58]  This, nonetheless, is one valid experience of Mecca, albeit a deeply mediated experience. 

The geography of religion primarily concerns itself with the role of particular places, the symbolic role of "places, regions, or geographical phenomena in the development of religious self-understanding."[59] In consideration both of what Ken Hillis has written about the creation and perception of ‘space' in virtual environments, and the increasing ‘virtualization' of our lives, I wish to suggest here that the geography of religion should also consider the roles of MUVEs in notions of religious self-understanding, as well as accepting the experience of non-traditional participant forms as legitimate.  In analyzing the Mecca sim, I have shown that its designers have reproduced in virtual form Islam's holiest site, its "material and spiritual center,"[60] and in doing so, have established one example of Islamic sacred space in Second Life.  The significance of its existence impacts relatively few Muslims, as that population of Muslim users in Second Life is small considering limitations of interest, access, and other factors spanning the digital divide, and certainly it would never be considered as sacred as the real Mecca.  However, for those who do access it, it is worth considering whether this interactive and spatially-articulated representation of Mecca in Baudrillardian fashion comes to more fully represent Mecca than Mecca to those who have never experienced ‘the real thing.'  As such, it opens the possibility for users who are confined by lack of funds or even physical infirmity to experience the Hajj, even if only virtually.

Bibliography

Au, WJ 2007, ‘The World From My Window: The Mosque of Chebi-And Muslims in Second Life', Retrieved 20th March 2008, from URL http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2007/03/the_world_from__1.html

‘Babylon and Beyond: Tracking the Hajj' 2007, The LA Times, Retrieved 9th January, from URL http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/

Boellstorff, T 2006, ‘A Ludicrous Discipline? Ethnography and Game Studies', Culture and Gaming, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 29-35.

Boulos, MNK, et al. 2007, ‘Second Life: An Overview of the Potential of 3-D Virtual Worlds in Medical and Health Education', Health Information and Libraries Journal no. 24, pp. 233-245.

‘Chebi Mosque' 2007, The Metaverse Journal: Australia's Virtual World News Service 1 Apr, Retrieved 3rd March 2008 from URL http://www.metaversejournal.com/2007/04/01/chebi-mosque/

Cooper, B 1999, ‘The Strength in the Song: Muslim Personhood, Audible Capital, and Hausa Women's Performance of the Hajj', Social Text, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 87-109.

Deeb, L, The Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi'i Lebanon, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Delaney, C 1990, ‘The Hajj, Sacred and Secular', American Ethnologist, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 513-530.

Gordon E 2008, ‘The Geography of Virtual Worlds', Place of Social Media, 16 January, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://placeofsocialmedia.com/blog/2008/01/16/the-geography-of-virtual-worlds

Grimes, R 1982, ‘Defining Nascent Ritual', Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 539-555.

Hillis, K 1996, ‘A Geography of the Eye', in R Shields (ed.) Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies, SAGE Publications, London.

Hillis, K 1999, Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Hillis, K 2006, ‘Modes of Digital Identification: Virtual Technologies and Webcam Cultures', in WHK Chun & T Keenan (eds) New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, Routledge, New York.

Hine, C 2000, Virtual Ethnography, SAGE Publications, London.

‘IslamOnline.net - Home' 2008, IslamOnline.net, 29 February, Retrieved 29th February 2008 from URL http://www.islamonline.net/english/index.shtml

Jacobs, S 2007, ‘Virtually Sacred: The Performance of Asynchronous Cyber-Rituals in Online Spaces', Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, no. 12, pp. 1103-1121.

Lawson, S 2007, ‘Wi-Fi Mesh Lights up Mecca for Hajj', The New York Times, 19 December.

Mcluhan, M 1964. Understanding Media, McGraw-Hill, New York

Metcalf, B 1990, ‘The pilgrimage remembered: South Asian accounts of the Hajj,' in Eikelman D & Piscatori J (eds) Muslim Travelers, Routledge, London.

Metcalf, B 1996, Making Muslim Space: In North America and Europe, University of California Press, Berkeley.

Norton, R 1972, ‘What is Virtuality?', Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 499-505.

O'Leary, SD 1996, ‘Cyberspace as Sacred Space: Communicating Religion on Computer Networks', Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 781-808.

Schimmel A 1991, ‘Sacred Geography in Islam', in J Scott & P Simpson-Housely (eds)  Sacred Places and Profane Spaces, Greenwood Press, New York.

Scott J & Simpson-Housley P (eds) 1991, ‘Introduction: The Geographics of Religion', in Sacred Places and Profane Spaces, Greenwood Press, New York.

‘Second Life Visit to Mecca for the Hajj' 2007, Sky News, 19 December, Retrieved 29th February from URL http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,91221-1297721,00.html

Taylor, S 2007, ‘Sistine Chapel in Second Life', Academic Commons, 29 June, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/showcase/sistine-chapel-in-second-life

‘What is Second Life?' 2008, Retrieved 29th February 2008 from URL http://secondlife.com/whatis/

Writer, D 2007. ‘Exploring Virtual Law and Government: The Al-Andalus Caliphate, An Interview with Michael Manen', Metaverse, October, Retrieved 3rd March 2008 from URL http://www.theseventhsun.com/7thSun_Vol1No10_alAndalus-registered.pdf

Yahia, M 2007, ‘IOL Opens Ramadan Tent in Second Life', IslamOnline.net, 13 Sept, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1189064917267&pagename=Zone-English-News%2FNWELayout

Yahia, M 2007, ‘IOL Virtual Hajj in Second Life', IslamOnline.net, 6 Dec, Retrieved on 11th April 2008 from URL http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout&cid=1196786035497

Notes


[1] ‘What is Second Life?' 2008, Retrieved 29th February 2008 from URL http://secondlife.com/whatis/

[2] As of February 17, 2008, ibid.

[3] Boulos, MNK, et al. 2007, ‘Second Life: An Overview of the Potential of 3-D Virtual Worlds in Medical and Health Education', Health Information and Libraries Journal no. 24, pp. 233-245.

[4] A ‘sim' is a variety of virtual environment, short for ‘simulation.'  In Second Life, a sim refers to an ‘island,' an area that is initially purchased, then developed by a user, with its own rules and regulations, ratings, characteristics, and themes..

[5] Jacobs, S 2007, ‘Virtually Sacred: The Performance of Asynchronous Cyber-Rituals in Online Spaces', Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, no. 12, pp. 1103-1121: 1105

[6] Boellstorff, T 2006, ‘A Ludicrous Discipline? Ethnography and Game Studies', Culture and Gaming, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 29-35.

[7] 2006:32

[8] I selected a female avatar and gave her roughly the same height and build as my own, attempting to represent myself as accurately as possible, though I could have created a male avatar or a thousand new identities for myself.  Further research is warranted in these realms of virtual self-representation, although there has been some interesting scholarship regarding gender, race, and sexuality tourism by Lisa Nakamura (see ‘Cybertyping and the Work of Race in the Age of Digital Reproduction' 2006, in WHK Chun & T Keenan (eds) New Media, Old Media, Routledge, New York.

[9] Norton, R 1972, ‘What is Virtuality?', Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 499-505.

[10] Hillis, K 1996, ‘A Geography of the Eye', in R Shields (ed.) Cultures of Internet: Virtual Spaces, Real Histories, Living Bodies, SAGE Publications, London: 70 (emphasis in text).

[11] Hillis, K 2006, ‘Modes of Digital Identification: Virtual Technologies and Webcam Cultures', in WHK Chun & T Keenan (eds) New Media, Old Media: A History and Theory Reader, Routledge, New York.

[12] Hillis, K 1999, Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis: 62, emphasis in text.

[13] 1999:63, emphasis in text.

[14] Hillis, 2006:348.

[15] Gordon E 2008, ‘The Geography of Virtual Worlds', Place of Social Media, 16 January, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://placeofsocialmedia.com/blog/2008/01/16/the-geography-of-virtual-worlds

[16] Hillis, 2006:349, emphasis in original.

[17] Hillis, 2006:350, emphasis in original.

[18] Taylor, S 2007, ‘Sistine Chapel in Second Life', Academic Commons, 29 June, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/showcase/sistine-chapel-in-second-life

[19] Consider the following passage from one educator's blog: "The Al Andalus sim, is a magnificent example of Second Life's ability to provide a setting, an atmosphere and a spirit of place. As I led students on a guided tour of the major parts of the Alhambra, I was struck by the authentic feel of the surroundings. Of course, there is no such thing as an exact copy of the original, but this sim is certainly faithful to the design of the Alhambra in many ways." G Clark 2007, ‘The View from the Hacienda: Spanish Students Encounter the Alhambra', Educational Gaming Commons 7 April, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://ets.tlt.psu.edu/gaming/node/470, emphasis added.

[20] Deeb, L, The Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi'i Lebanon, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

[21] Metcalf, B 1996, Making Muslim Space: In North America and Europe, University of California Press, Berkeley.

[22] S Jacobs, 2007: 1105

[23] ibid, emphasis in original.

[24] It is important to acknowledge that prayer occurs outside of the mosque with frequency, in other spaces not specifically designated as sacred such as homes, hotels, etc.

[25] ‘Chebi Mosque' 2007, The Metaverse Journal: Australia's Virtual World News Service 1 Apr, Retrieved 3rd March 2008 from URL http://www.metaversejournal.com/2007/04/01/chebi-mosque/

[26] This is another convention, the conversion of architectural style, symbolism, and behavioral protocol, that Jacobs noted among his case studies.

[27] Notecards are objects that appear on the screen when an avatar interacts with a particular object, usually by touching that object.  Notecards contain various types of information, in the case of the Mecca sim, instructions for what the avatar should do at that particular station of the Hajj or the history of a particular place or activity, sometimes including verses from the Qur'an.

[28] The Metaverse Journal, 2007.

[29] Ibid.  It is interesting to note that this viewpoint, that the mosque continues to be sacred despite its virtuality, that mediated prayer does not replace RL prayer, and that prayers, and even the space designed to house them is supplemental to the physical spaces and actions, is reflected among other religious groups.  Jacobs has identified similar sentiment in his research on Internet Christian churches and Hindu Temples.

[30] Au, WJ 2007, ‘The World From My Window: The Mosque of Chebi-And Muslims in Second Life', Retrieved 20th March 2008, from URL http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2007/03/the_world_from__1.html

[31] ibid.

[32]Salah' or ‘Salat' refers to the five daily scheduled prayers that Muslims are required to perform.

[33] ibid

[34] O'Leary, SD 1996, ‘Cyberspace as Sacred Space: Communicating Religion on Computer Networks', Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 64, no. 4, pp. 781-808.

[35] Grimes, R 1982, ‘Defining Nascent Ritual', Journal of the American Academy of Religion, vol. 50, no. 4, pp. 539-555.

[36] Jacobs, 2007.

[37] Grimes, 1982:541.

[38] Jacobs, 2007.  Jacobs has also criticized the notion that religious ritual in cyberspace will create new forms of ritual or ritual encounter, instead showing how virtually mediated religious ritual reproduces conventional ritual forms in a different medium.

[39] O'Leary, 1996.

[40] Jacobs, 2007.

[41] Schimmel A 1991, ‘Sacred Geography in Islam', in J Scott & P Simpson-Housely (eds)  Sacred Places and Profane Spaces, Greenwood Press, New York.

[42] ‘IslamOnline.net - Home' 2008, IslamOnline.net, 29 February, Retrieved 29th February 2008 from URL http://www.islamonline.net/english/index.shtml

[43] Yahia, M 2007, ‘IOL Virtual Hajj in Second Life', IslamOnline.net, 6 Dec, Retrieved on 11th April 2008 from URL http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout&cid=1196786035497

[44] Yahia, M 2007, ‘IOL Opens Ramadan Tent in Second Life', IslamOnline.net, 13 Sept, Retrieved 11th April 2008 from URL http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1189064917267&pagename=Zone-English-News%2FNWELayout

[45] ibid

[46] The ihram clothing is meant to symbolize the universality of the Islam faith as embodied by the equality of its practitioners.  Scholars like Frederick Denny have noted that the male restrictions as to the ihram clothing create horizontal equality and universality while women's diverse expressions of modesty and submission suggest the diversity of Islamic practice.  Other scholars such as Barbara Cooper have alternatively suggested that the retention of female dress offers a means by which men, through their wives' display of finery, are able to reassert socio-economic distinctions.  It is therefore interesting that SL establishes an environment that is open and egalitarian, providing for the experience of both male and female users through the embodied actions of their avatar, who wear the clothing and perform the ritual actions.

[47] Yahia, 2007.

[48] Delaney, C 1990, ‘The Hajj, Sacred and Secular', American Ethnologist, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 513-530.

[49] ibid

[50] ‘Second Life Visit to Mecca for the Hajj' 2007, Sky News, 19 December, Retrieved 29th February from URL http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,91221-1297721,00.html

[51] Hajji or Hajjia is the title given to Hajj participants upon their return.

[52] Delaney, 1990.

[53] Cooper, B 1999, ‘The Strength in the Song: Muslim Personhood, Audible Capital, and Hausa Women's Performance of the Hajj', Social Text, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 87-109.

[54] Metcalf, B 1990, ‘The pilgrimage remembered: South Asian accounts of the Hajj,' in Eikelman D & Piscatori J (eds) Muslim Travelers, Routledge, London.

[55]‘Babylon and Beyond: Tracking the Hajj.' The LA Times, Retrieved 9th January, from URL http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/ 2007

[56] Lawson, S 2007, ‘Wi-Fi Mesh Lights up Mecca for Hajj', The New York Times, 19 December. 

[57] Hine, C 2000, Virtual Ethnography, SAGE Publications, London.

[58] Mcluhan, M 1964. Understanding Media, McGraw-Hill, New York

[59] Scott J & Simpson-Housley P (eds) 1991, ‘Introduction: The Geographics of Religion', in Sacred Places and Profane Spaces, Greenwood Press, New York.:xii.

[60] Schimmel, 1991:164.

[61] It is interesting to note that the television screen featured in this image has "HDTV" printed at the bottom, recalling not only what Gordon wrote about metaphors of spatially, but to direct references to aspects of technology that are entirely irrelevant in Second Life.