Holy month of Ramadan 2009 is about to start (around this saturday) and the media battle has already begun in the Arab-Islamic world. This year is not only about musalsalat (soap operas) that are usually Ramadan’s special, having all Arab countries and TV stations fighting for the best (and more taboos-breaking) fiction.
Virtual worlds and avatars are officially entering the Ramadan media scene, being an effective tool to reach out to Muslim youngsters. That’s probably why Sheikh Ahmad Al-Ghamdi, the Mecca director of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Saudi Arabia’s vice police), has decided to deliver a Ramadan sermon from a virtual minbar in Second Life (SL). The sermon -entitled “Ramadan, oh youth!”- will be delivered tonight from a virtual mosque on the Middle East Island, a fictional SL island. Saudi officials are professionals in starting to blame a media and then using it to reach out a certain audience. They have been blaming television for years, at the same time financing the most powerful entertainment oriented private TV channels. But now Sheikh Al-Ghamdi has told the Saudi daily Al-Watan that new tools of communication are part of God’s gifts to mankind.
The sermon to be broadcast on the Middle East Island is not the first time Islam has been mixed with virtual worlds. Islam online, the famous organisation headed by Sheikh Al-Qaradawi (Al Jazeera‘s top preacher and host of “Sharia wal hayat” TV programme), purchased a SL island in 2007 where you can perform a virtual Hajj. Young generations of Muslisms around the world – like the fashionable bloggers’ avatars on Muslimness.com – are welcoming those kind of experiments, adding some interesting “remixes” like this picture of a virtual Muslim Darth Vader and a sexy young Muslim girl in a mosque “well, sometimes you tend to take that lightly, since it is a *virtual*world” says Madiha M.K.The Diva one of the hosts of Muslimness.
(picture via Muslimness.com)
For those who are interested in this topic there is an interesting research by Dancing Ink funded by Richard Lounsbery Foundation. “Understanding Islam through Virtual worlds” has been conducted in SL by Dancing Ink Productions’ Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts, senior fellows at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Different digital versions of the findings (including some You Tube videos shot in SL) are available here: http://dancinginkproductions.com/projects/understanding-islam-through-virtual-worlds/.