A virtual reality tour of the Islamic pilgrimage responds to a critical lack of diversity in VR experiences
Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and a major part of a Muslim’s life. My final project for Professor Jenny Kijowski’s First-Year Interdisciplinary Seminar “Technologies of Meaning: (Un)Making the Digital World” consisted of creating an authentic virtual reality tour of the Islamic pilgrimage. Two things inspired me to create this project and influenced my research questions. The first was the lack of representation that I experienced when exploring VR, and more specifically Google Tour Creator, for the first time. I was browsing the religious tours that Google created and was shocked to see that Islamic historic and religious sites were not featured despite there being ample representation for the other major world religions. Consequently, I decided to explore the issue of representation in the media.
The second source of inspiration was the limitations concerning the ability to make the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is obligatory on all Muslims except those who have health or financial restrictions. Also, non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the holy sites. I thought this was a fantastic opportunity to level the playing field and allow people from all walks of life and circumstances to be able to experience this remarkable and significant pilgrimage.
My virtual reality project is a small response to the lack of Islamic representation on Google Tours. Through this project, I learned more about the limitations of virtual reality. More representation is still something that virtual reality engineers and developers must work on. As you experience the Hajj tour, here are some questions to keep in mind: Do you think VR can ever replace the experience of being in the moment and place of a spiritual pilgrimage like the Hajj? What are the limitations of virtual reality compared to an in-person experience? Does the whole experience the views, the sounds, and information blurbs feel authentic? What experiences are being lost because of the lack of diversity in VR development?