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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 15:20 GMT
Muslims mourn loved ones online
By Anwar ul-Hasan
BBC Urdu Online

Graves at Wadi-a-Hussain
Graveside technology has hit Pakistan
"Our graveyard is so pretty that it is to die for," said Syed Mohammed Alam Zaidi, caretaker of the Wadi-a-Hussain cemetery near the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.

"It sprawls an area of 12 acres, and we have capacity for 57,000 graves which is enough for the next 100 years."

But this final resting place has more than just beautiful facilities and lots of space to offer.

It also provides an interactive website - the first in Pakistan - enabling a mourner to attend the funeral of a loved one virtually. Live or recorded video streaming can be accessed using an internet terminal anywhere in the world.

The wonders of modern technology allow friends and families not able to visit the graveyard in person the opportunity to see this otherwise typical Muslim cemetery, with its rose petals, incense sticks and candles.

Allah is not dependent on the internet... but if someone needs a point of focus then there is no harm using the picture of a grave
Faiz Siddiqi
Muslim scholar

The technology does not stop at funerals via video streaming. The interactive website has a grave search engine, where it is possible to find graves by name or allotment number.

Once the search is done, a mourner can have all the details of the deceased including a picture of the grave.

"And then", says Mr Zaidi the caretaker, "one can offer 'Fateha' - a religious offering usually read in front of the grave."

'Criminals and addicts'

The virtual cemetery idea was developed in 1999 with the financial support of two brothers, Shaikh Sakhawat Ali and Shaikh Yawar Ali. Now this facility is managed by a trust.

Wadi-a-Hussain cemetery
The cemetery is better managed than state-run graveyards, say its owners

"In Karachi most of the state-run graveyards are badly managed or used by criminals and drug addicts. That is precisely the reason why security and illumination are among our top priorities," says Mr Zaidi.

All over the world, other religions offer high-tech funeral facilities but Wadi-a-Hussain is among the first virtual graveyards used by Muslims, who appear to have "faithfully" embraced the new digital technology in more ways than one.

Zeshan Haider, a student of King's College, London, has a grandmother buried in Wadi-a-Hussain, and says it is well run.

"I am happy to know that if my great-grandchildren would like to go visit my grandmother's grave, there won't be someone else buried there," he told the BBC.

Barrister Faiz Siddiqi, a Muslim scholar and principal of the Hijaz Islamic Collage, Nuneaton, UK, takes a more circumspect view.

There is no precedent for this kind of thing in Islam and it's completely outrageous
Abdullah, Lahore
"Allah is not dependent on the internet to accept our homage to the dead," he said, "but if someone needs a point of focus then there is no harm using the picture of a grave to offer Fateha. "In Islam we do have the concept of funeral prayers offered by people who are absent, in the same way as they did in Yasser Arafat's case.

"Those attending virtually will be able to offer Gaibana Namaz-e-Janaza [funeral prayers in absence] - but it has to be said that nothing beats being there to say prayers in person."

'Thank you'

Despite all the latest facilities, the price for an individual grave at Wadi-a-Hussain is competitive at around $75 (5,000 rupees). This price includes glazed tiles and an epitaph with writing.

For about $20 more, it is possible to access web video streaming on demand.

"Yesterday's science fiction is today's everyday practice," said Ghayyas Uddin Siddiqi, chairman of the Muslim Parliament of Britain. "We have learnt this much from history.

Wadi-a-Hussain website
Funerals available on computers have stirred up controversy
"At present some of us might feel a bit odd but I'm sure we will become more familiar using modern technology in these sort of things, as in other areas of life."

The virtual graveyard provoked contrasting responses from readers who wrote to the BBC to comment when news of its use first emerged on the BBC Urdu website.

"There is no precedent for this kind of thing in Islam and it's completely outrageous," said Abdullah in Lahore.

Others had no problem with using new technology - they argued that mosques were already using loud speakers to broadcast their message.

Adnan in the US said online cemeteries would be a great help to those living far away.

"I live in a foreign country, so I know that some people have to spend huge sums of money to buy last-minute plane tickets to see their loved ones for the last time," he said.

"In some cases people can't even travel because they're students or have immigration difficulties, and for them it's very good news. I would like to thank the people who started it."

Here is a selection of your views on this subject.

I think it is interesting. No harm in it of course but it begs the question 'will this mean more sons and daughters abroad will consider it sufficient to watch their families buried over the internet?' I suppose it would have a lot to do with how soon the culture accepts the idea that 'I attended the funeral... online'
Sam Mirza, USA

I'm not sure how this will be viewed from a religious point of view. But this is a great example of how modern technologies can gel well with life and of service to the society.
Pratheep, India

It's harmless, interesting, touching and lastly, if you think it's "outrageous" then just keep your feelings with yourself. No one is forcing you to do the same.
Sadiq Ali Bohra, Hyderabad, Pakistan

Someone has a strange sense of humour. I thought I was innovative and inventive. I was wrong! I have no idea why I find this funny. Being from Pakistan, I don't think this would be a popular idea. If not because it is not as personal as being there, then because of bandwidth issues. Somehow, I have a feeling, there would be some mullah out there who would somehow be able to make it a violation of the Quran or Sunnah or something of that sort.
Fahd Rafi, USA/Pakistan

Bravo Pakistan, welcome to the 21st century!! This is a marvel concept, especially when relatives are scattered outside of Pakistan and due to unavoidable circumstances may not be able to attend the graveside ceremony. Having a readily available "video" is something we all could cherish for years to come.
Sami, Fort Knox, KY USA

Technology is really shaping our lives. But I never thought it would also start shaping our religious life. I prefer to be buried simply and in an unmarked grave. No need to preserve a grave for 100 years. What for?
Muhammad Junaid, Australia

It is nice to know that somebody thought about this issue that we have in Pakistan. Coz this is something not many people pay attention to and it goes as a routine, graves being built on graves. I am glad that somebody thought of putting it on website too coz people like me who are far away from their loved ones and God forbid they have to say prayer for the loved one who they didn't get to see before they died can at least go to the website and see their last place of rest.
Urooj Qazilbash, USA

Some people may think it is trivial to have a website for places like graveyard. But in my belief, I consider that there are two advantages. The first one is that I get to see my loved ones grave from miles and the second reason is my faith reminds me that one day I will be buried and this reminder makes me behave humanly in this temporary world
Mehdi Ali, UK

It's the western way of burial, I am sorry to say that our Islamic way of life is diminishing. Now even graveyards are becoming more "Technologically Advanced"... If one's loved one passes away, in that case best for them is to do Dua for their maghfira (may Allah Tala forgive there sins etc) not this virtual crap. These types of things are misleading Muslims big time.
Zeeshan Ahmed, Us

This idea is revolutionary. For those against the idea should simply not indulge in the process. However, people like me can experience to be a part of the ceremony, which might not have been possible otherwise. I have my own relation with God and let me deal with it on my own terms.
Bilal, USA

I thought it was a good idea but after reading a few paragraphs of this story and actually seeing the site itself, I find it very disturbing. The owners of the site make it look like a commercial project. The site is actually a 'version 6', which offers 'services'. It even offers wallpapers and screen savers. Looks like the owers of the web site are looking for publicity. This seems like an open resume for the owners, with a special section for 'credits'. Very sad indeed.
Abbas Al-Lawati, Montreal, Canada

Wonderful idea. This is how we should keep up with the modern times. I am surprised that I have not heard about this site, since it is located in my city. I know it is in the outskirts of the city. It is wonderful to know that if my children cannot visit my grave, they can access it through internet and pray for me. Allah bless the founders and the persons who came up with this wonderful idea.
Ali Raza, Pakistan.

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