#431: Hajj and Umrah Through Virtual Reality (VR)

Question:

Assalamualaikum ustaz. Recently, the Saudi Arabia government through Masjid al-Haram Management introduces the “Virtual Black Stone” Initiative / “الحجر الأسود الافتراضي” which enables the Black stone to be touched through virtual reality that some even think that it is no longer necessary to go for hajj and umrah at the Masjid al-Haram because Masjid al-Haram can now be visited through virtual reality at any time and one can just perform the worships through VR. Hope for your opinion.

Answer:

Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,

Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.

Virtual Reality (VR), is an environment generated by computers. Most virtual reality environments focus on visual experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or through a special stereoscope display, but some simulations incorporate additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. Some advanced systems and test systems include tactile information, called limited feedback.

Users can interact with the VR environment, either through standard input devices such as keyboards and mouse, or through specially designed devices such as wired gloves and multi-directional walking machines (treadmills). The simulation environment can resemble the real world, for example, a simulation for training aircraft flight or combat, or it can be completely different from the real world, as in VR games.

It is extremely difficult to produce a true virtual reality experience due to technical constraints on processor power, the resulting image resolution and bandwidth. However, these constraints are expected to be overcome as the technology of developing such simulations becomes more advanced and inexpensive.

Virtual reality originally carried the meaning of a complete system, although it was later used to describe systems without wired gloves or touch suits, for example, such as VRML and X3D on the World Wide Web and sometimes also for text-based interaction systems such as MOO or MUD. Non-full virtual reality systems use regular computer screens, and users control the virtual environment using a mouse or other input device.

The term virtual reality was coined by Jaron Lanier in 1989. Lanier was one of the pioneers in this field, founding the company VPL Research (from “Virtual Programming Languages”) which created the first part of the system in 1980. The term related to artificial reality has been used since 1970 and cyberspace since 1984.

The first hypermedia and virtual reality system were the Aspen Movie Map, produced at MIT in 1977. The program is a rough virtual simulation of Aspen, Colorado in which users walk down the street in three modes: summer, winter, and polygon. The first two are photo-based-researchers have taken actual photos of every possible movement through the city’s street grid in the second season and the third is the basis of a 3-D model of the city. [1]

Saudi Arabia Introduces the Virtual Touch of Hajar al-Aswad Initiative  [2]

The Saudi Press Agency (SPA) through its official website reported on 13 December 2021 that the President of the Management of Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabawi, Sheikh Dr Abdul Rahman bin Abd al-Aziz al-Sudais, in his office officiated the “Virtual Black Stone” (مبادرة الحجر الأسود الافتراضي) launched by the Exhibition Affairs and Museums Agency of Saudi Arabia in collaboration with Umm al Qura University. The initiative aims to use Virtual Reality (VR) and digital experiences that simulate real reality.

He stressed the importance of creating a virtual simulation environment, to simulate the greatest number of senses, such as sight, hearing, touch, and even smell, to convey them to all corners of the world. Through this virtual world, it is almost like reality, bright and clear. He stressed that Masjid al-Haram and Masjid al-Nabawi have great religious and historical sites, which must be digitized and communicated to all human beings, based on the capabilities and support from philanthropists given to their management.

The Turkish Government Announces the Ruling of Visiting Kaaba Through Virtual Reality to Perform Hajj and Umrah  [3]

The Turkish Board of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) has declared that visiting the Kaaba through the metaverse (Virtual Reality) will not be considered “valid hajj”. After a month of deliberation, Diyanet concluded this decision on February 1st, 2022, that although a visit to the Kaaba could be done through Virtual Reality (VR), it would not be counted as performing a valid hajj. This is because the hajj should and will be done by setting foot on the holy land.

It is obligatory for hajj and umrah to be performed in real life by physically being in the Masjid al-Haram Mecca

Hajj lexically means headed or visiting a certain place. While the terminology is used to mean visiting the Baitullah (Kaaba) at certain times (hajj month, Zulhijjah) and performing the obligatory matters for hajj. [4]

Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam and it is the obligation of all Muslims both men and women who are capable to perform it, the obligation is once in a lifetime, if one performs it more than once, then it is considered sunnah.

Among the Quranic and sunnah evidences of the obligation of hajj is as stated by Allah SWT:

وَلِلَّـهِ عَلَى النَّاسِ حِجُّ الْبَيْتِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا

“And [due] to Allah from the people is a pilgrimage to the House – for whoever is able to find thereto a way.” [5]

Istito’ah (capable) meant here in the statement of Allah SWT doesn’t refer to physical strength. The reason is if physical strength is what Allah SWT wants, then it wouldn’t be mentioned, for it is known that Allah SWT never burdens a person more than he can bear. [6]

Ibn Kathir said: “Istato’ah (capable) is a person’s capability in terms of (his capability to perform hajj) his capability and others.” [7]

This verse clearly shows the capability of performing hajj is obligatory for those who are capable and this includes his capability in terms of his body and health. The word ‘’ here shows the obligation and necessity for a person who wants to perform hajj to be physically present at the set place by syara’, which is the Masjid al-Haram, Mina, Arafah and Muzdalifah. Imam al-Nawawi in the book al-Idhah fi Manasik al-Haj  [8] stated that a person’s capability means:

  • Capable to provide supplies and expenses for himself and his dependents who he is leaving.
  • Capable of securing return transport.
  • He and his property are safe from enemies and illness.
  • Has the time to perform hajj and umrah.

Allah SWT states:

وَأَذِّنْ فِي النَّاسِ بِالْحَجِّ

“And proclaim to the people the Hajj [pilgrimage],” [9]

Allah SWT states:

الْحَجُّ أَشْهُرٌ مَّعْلُومَاتٌ فَمَن فَرَضَ فِيهِنَّ الْحَجَّ فَلَا رَفَثَ وَلَا فُسُوقَ وَلَا جِدَالَ فِي الْحَجِّ

“Hajj is [during] well-known months, so whoever has made Hajj obligatory upon himself therein [by entering the state of ihram], there is [to be for him] no sexual relations and no disobedience and no disputing during Hajj.” [10]

Umrah lexically means visit, while the terminology is agreed by scholars to be tawaf in baitullah, saie between safa and marwah in the state of ihram. [11]

Some scholars are of the opinion that performing umrah is obligatory or fardhu for those who have yet to perform it when he is capable to do so.

Allah SWT states:

وَأَتِمُّوا الْحَجَّ وَالْعُمْرَةَ لِلَّهِ

“And complete the Hajj and ‘umrah for Allah.” [12]

This is the sahih opinion from madhhab Imam al-Syafie, however, some scholars such as Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifah stated that the worship of umrah is sunnah mu’akkad for the first umrah. [13]

Here, we can simplify the differences between hajj and umrah as the following:

  • Hajj is only performed in hajj months; it begins from 1st Syawal until the sun rises on 10th While the time for umrah is at any time throughout the year.
  • Hajj is obligatory for every individual, while umrah is sunnah for those who are capable (according to some opinions).
  • Hajj calls for wukuf in Arafah on 9th Zulhijjah, spending the night in Muzdalifah and Mina as well as throwing jamrah while umrah doesn’t include the mentioned matters.
  • There are five requisites for hajj, which are, wukuf in Arafah, tawaf, sa’ie and tahallul, while umrah only has four requisites which are, ihram, tawaf, sa’ie and tahallul.

Conclusion

To conclude, we fully support the initiative implemented by Saudi Arabia through the management of Masjid al-Haram which introduced the technology of Virtual Reality (VR) that enables the Muslim ummah around the world to experience the environment and feel as though one is in front of the Kaaba in Masjid al-Haram. The reason is not everyone is capable to experience it in real life. Furthermore, through this initiative for the purpose of teaching and education, many will be able to benefit from this technology to learn to perform hajj and umrah through Virtual Reality (VR).

However, it isn’t reasonable for some people to consider that with VR in front of the Kaaba it is sufficient and one doesn’t have physically visit the Kaaba to perform worship, whilst the truth is he is in his room.

We emphasize that the worship of hajj and umrah is obligatory to be performed live in the sanctioned places, such as Masjid al-Haram, the place for sa’ie, Arafah and Muzdalifah. If one is only present virtually, then the hajj and umrah are invalid.

Lastly, may Allah SWT grant us all understanding in this religion.

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] See https://ms.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realiti_maya

[2] See https://www.spa.gov.sa/2312371

[3] See https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkiye-visiting-kaaba-in-metaverse-is-not-real-hajj-54403

[4] See al-Mausu’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 17 / 23

[5] Surah Ali-Imran: 97

[6] See Al-Muhalla li Ibn Hazm, 7/54 and Subul al-Salam li al-Son’aani, 2/180

[7] See Tafsir al-Quran  al-Azim, 1/364

[8] See al-Idhah fi Manasik al-Haj1/96

[9] Surah al-Hajj: 27

[10] Surah al-Baqarah: 197

[11] See Al-Mausu’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 30/314

[12] Surah al-Baqarah: 196

[13] See al-Mausu’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, 30/ 315

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