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The metaverse is opening up the world’s holiest sites to virtual pilgrims

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Image shows Mecca as seen in the metaverse.
Image shows Mecca as seen in the metaverse.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
By Roselyne Min and AP

Faith-based virtual reality spaces are allowing users to pilgrimage to and explore some of the holiest cities, experience rituals, pray and worship in the metaverse.

BSocial is one of the pioneers of virtual holy-city experiences.

In 2015, the chief executive of the digital agency, Ehab Fares, created some of Islam's most sacred sites including Mecca in a metaverse they named Experience Makkah.

"There's a young generation which is glued to the mobiles, and I wanted to reach that generation and introduce Islam using technology," said Fares.

The latest version can be explored through Google Cardboard, a low-cost cardboard attachment that turns smartphones into virtual reality viewers.

The Holy City, also invented in 2015, allows pilgrims to follow Orthodox clerics as they emerge from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Holy Fire ceremony, let them tuck a prayer note into a crack of the Western Wall, or follow the steps of thousands of worshippers during Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"We believe that virtual reality is the new Internet, the new way for people not to watch things passively on the screen, but to actually teleport themselves and can go and travel and explore," said Nimrod Shanit, producer and director of The Holy City virtual reality experience.

Academia is convinced of the vision of the 360-degree holy experience industry.

"At some point, religion engages your mind and it also engages your body," said William Green, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Miami. "And you can't do that in two dimensions, but you can do it in the metaverse".

Green intends tobring the VR headsets to the classroom.

This spring, students at the University of Miami walked into a Haitian Voodoo ceremony, a Hindu funeral rite and a Christian baptism through the metaverse during a course called Religion and Sacred Spaces in the Era of Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Additional sources • Video Editor - Roselyne Min