Step Into Metaverse: Are Virtual Religious Influencers The Answer?by Helmy Sa'at
The future is already here. When religious piety and faith bleed into the online landscape of the metaverse with content delivered and driven by virtual faith influencers, how would global Muslims react? And, by extension, what does this mean for the evolution of religion inevitably propelled by another giant leap in the technological field?
Problematic Star Imams Everywhere. Really.
Commercialisation driven by capitalist greed cloaked in religious piety is nothing new. Religion is no exception in the money equation. Take a closer look at the en masse popular idolisation of Muslim religious figures in most pockets of the global ummah throughout the ages.
From the revered figures in small communities of yesteryear, rise of popular religious figures driven by the onset of mass media, specifically television, to another strong platform contender which has outperformed traditional mass media. Amplification of such popular personalities through social media platforms with instantaneous reach. All made possible with an Internet connection which trivialises geographical proximity, thus increasing the rate and frequency of individuals’ propensity to keep consuming such easily accessible digital content. A pattern that has always been driven by an innate sense of disposition to connect and relate offline and now, increasingly, online.
Yet, there are many challenges when such celebrated religious figures with a large following, fall off their pedestals for a multitude of reasons. This is a stark reminder that idolisation of such figures akin to pop singers or movie stars has always remained challenging.
They are after all human beings just like everyone else. Fallible human beings. Let that sink in. Fallible. Not perfect beings. Instead individuals with goals and desires who are also driven by worldly pursuits like millions of others out in the world. Star imams who are also influencers; but with the niche of religious realm, supposedly, under their purview.
Calculated Virtual Solution?
Where do we go from here? After constant disappointments in seeking religious guidance and inspiration to align ourselves with Islamic teachings.
Could marrying the existing concept of virtual influencers and the metaverse, blurring the lines of reality and fantasy, be the answer?
A recent buzzword that has escaped most of our lips is metaverse. Basically, metaverse is an evolution in digital social connection that has been touted as the future of the internet. Imagine, for not much longer, beyond creating an online account that comes with all the bells and whistles of life, from a virtual home to a virtual avatar representing you in the online landscape.
In a nutshell: A whole other life controlled by you that is parallel to the real world. A whole other world that does not necessarily mirror the offline lives of its users.
Next, marry this with the already existing concept of virtual influencers. Powered by artificial intelligence, these virtual influencers are built from the very granular level and could exist for eternity, outliving generations. Technology breathing life into virtual creations from movements, voice to thoughts. These virtual beings would populate the metaverse. Due to the elementary control behind the scene, such virtual influencers are free from scandals.
Therefore, should a religious virtual influencer be created to mirror your star imams, the former would be free of scandals as every facet of its lived reality in the online landscape is planned and controlled. In essence, infallible religious virtual influencers. Just like other virtual influencers, everything is planned, with no mistakes in sight.
Moreover, the wheels are already in motion. From a new niche marketplace that deals exclusively with faith-inspired NFTs called Funoon. In addition to avatars created in the NFT space, which aims to represent the heterogenous global Muslim identity with the specific aim of readying for mankind’s future in metaverse.
Questions To Be Asked
Such novelty is no longer in the pages of fantasy science fiction novels, or ideas that belong to the distant futures. It is only a matter of time before the popping up of a star virtual religious influencer dominating the fast approaching metaverse.
First, although in a controlled environment, is this truly something new and not just a rebranding of religious content? Namely, another avenue to abuse and monetise Islam.
Next, creators behind the scenes are still fallible humans. Such avatars remain in the control of human beings who are not precluded from making mistakes.
Lastly, what does such a technological leap do to the global ummah? Is it not lamentable that a detachment from reality is being implicitly sold through the idea that perfection is desired and feasible with no regard for understanding of making and learning mistakes? That an understanding of complex human beings comes with the baggage of sinning could possibly be wiped out.