In exploring the intersection of digital life and Islam over the last couple of years I’ve come across a number of projects and articles examining Muslims and the metaverse, from virtual hajj tours and Islamic sacred spaces in Second Life to academic articles on the concept of “e-hijab,” which the author describes as Muslim women whose avatars wear the e-hijab as a clear visual manifestation of religious identity.
I was reminded of the idea of e-hijab in looking at images posted by Strawberry Singh, a resident of the virtual world Second Life, for this Ramadan and Eid, with the first in South Asian-influenced clothes, and another in more stereotypically “Islamic” abaya and green hijab, amid other images of avatars in bikinis and clothes not at all related to religion.
I was struck by the similarity between Strawberry Singh’s images of her avatars during Eid and Ramadan and the image on the cover of the “Understanding Islam Through Virtual Worlds,” a digital diplomacy project carred out by Rita King and Joshua Fouts from metaverse developer Dancing Ink Productions in 2008. I found it interesting that Rita King commented on how people objected to the image on the cover because they thought it was “too sexy,” while in fact it came from the avatar of a woman from Doha during an event in Second Life, “with a Muslim cleric and several members of the US military asking questions of each other” and Rita went on to say simply that “the graphic worked.”
I’d have liked to find out more about how this graphic worked to introduce a project that ostensibly involved exploring several Muslim-themed sites in Second Life, including the Ummah of Noor mosque, a replica of Mesopotamia by the Federation of American Scientists, and the Al-Andalus Caliphate project. As the title suggests, much of the focus was on understanding the religion and learning about how people experience it in a virtual world which, as the machinima says, “allows aspects of Islam to be examined without fear of judgement.”
Fear and judgement are a recurring theme, it seems, in discussions around Muslims in the metaverse. For example, answering a question about whether Muslims are more vocal with opinions online, King answered ”absolutely, for obvious reasons, which is not to say you won’t find outspoken Muslim women in the physical world; you certainly will and we did, but absolutely the absence of fear and physical intimidation is a major asset.”