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The Virtual Black Stone Initiative Will Bring the Kaaba to Muslims at Home

Over the last few years, Virtual reality (VR) has become more than just a fad, a useful digital medium that can immerse users into fictional locations and even recreations of real-life landmarks. This is why Saudi Arabia has launched the Virtual Black Stone Initiative, which promises to bring the Black Stone to Muslims at home. As pilgrims face possible travel restrictions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, VR is seen as a safe way to get close to the Black Stone without leaving town.

In association with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research at the University of Umm Al-Qura, the initiative is a brainchild of Dr. Abdul Rahman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque, and General President for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque. At the inauguration, he was the first to try out the tech using VR goggles and controller, and was joined with government officials and representatives of University of Umm Al-Qura.

In an official statement, Dr. Al-Sudais stated that Saudi Arabia has great religious and historical sites, which ought to be digitized and made accessible to everyone via tech. Although VR can visually replicate real-life locations, the ultimate goal is to also mimic the sound, smell, and touch of being near the actual Black Stone.

The Black Stone, also known as Hajr Aswad, is an iconic rock located on the eastern part of the Kaaba, held in place with a silver frame. Pilgrims get close to touch the Kaaba during the tawaf ritual and kiss the Black Stone. According to Islamic traditions, it is said to date back to the time of Adam and Eve when Gabriel brought it to Earth as a guidance for building an altar.

In fact, the Virtual Black Stone Initiative hasn't been the only attempt to digitize the Black Stone. In May of this year, Saudi authorities released exclusive photos of the Black Stone up-close.

The photos were taken using a new technique that implements stacked panoramic focus. With this delicate process, each photo took seven hours to snap, and 50 hours to develop the whole set. Regardless, it is a great way to produce high definition contents that closely resemble the human eyesight, with some photos said to measure up to an impressive 49,000 megapixels. 

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