Free virtual reality tours of Al Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s holy sites extended into Ramadan

As Muslims around the world face Ramadan in lockdown, one VR initiative could bring people closer to one of Islam's holiest sites

Viewers can join Ramadan prayers in a tour of LA Aqsa Mosque. Courtesy Atta Awisat
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Muslims hoping to experience some escapism during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in lockdown can tour the Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem in virtual reality.

Holy City VR gives viewers a chance to travail the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, in 360-degree virtual reality. It takes in the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Holy Sepulchre with commentary from local religious leaders.

The eight-minute documentary, designed to be viewed through a virtual or augmented reality headset at the Tower of David Museum, was made available online for free on March 24.

April sees Ramadan, Easter and Passover falling in the same month for the first time since 1992, at a time when Jerusalem is shut down due to coronavirus containment measures.

Israel has declared over 13,800 cases of the virus and 181 deaths. The Palestinian Authority has confirmed 449 cases and three deaths.

The museum says the tour has been viewed thousands of times since the launch.

“We had always thought that it was an incredible experience for people of other faiths to explore and understand more about the different religions in Jerusalem and allow access for different backgrounds/genders to Jerusalem's holiest sites,” said Eilat Lieber, Director and Chief Curator of the Tower of David Museum.

“Never did we imagine that The Holy City would be playing such an important role this April in allowing pilgrims to ‘travel’ to Jerusalem and to ‘participate’ in the ceremonies and prayers because physical access was indeed stopped to these holy sites due to the pandemic.”

The tour was produced by people of the three faiths featured, working between a group of Christian and Muslim creators in Toronto and a team of Jewish creators in Jerusalem.

The free tours were due to end on the first day of Ramadan, but have been extended by a week to April 30. After this deadline, visitors will need to pay $3.99 for the experience.

Viewers can form part of the crowd as tens of thousands of Muslims gather at the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock for Ramadan prayers. The film captures the prayers during Laylat Al Qadr, commemorating the first revelation of the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad. Normally, during these prayers, the site is closed for non-Muslims.

The Al Aqsa Mosque, which sits in a compound known as the Haram Al Sharif, is the world's third holiest site after Makkah and Medinah.

The creators hope to give comfort to regular visitors to Jerusalem and bring something new to those who have never visited.

“During these trying times, it is important for all of us to hold family and tradition close to our hearts,” said co-director Timur Musabay.

“The Holy City is a project that, at its core, is a means for all to visit Jerusalem, including the sites of Al Aqsa Mosque and The Dome of the Rock.”

Israel has claimed the whole of Jerusalem as its capital since 1980. The Palestinians claim the east of the city as their future capital.