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Getting Real in a Virtual World

A conversation about God, Fear and Polygamy
By Pauline Bartolone, August 14, 2007

The following conversation took place between News21 reporter Pauline Bartolone and Faces of Faith panelist Muhammed Yussif Wikinger during the Second Life showcase on Sunday, July 29th. The Plural Living, God Willing tent featured photos and audio taken during Pauline Bartolone’s two-week trip reporting on Muslim polygamy in the United States.

This audio of a Shia prayer service was streaming in the tent during most of the conversation.

After the panel discussion and a little celebration on the dance floor, I retreated to the “Plural Living, God Willing” tent for a little alone time. I wanted to see if any participants were milling about ripe with questions about Islam and polygamy. Instead, I found Germi Runo in front of the tent pointing a long gun at me. It instantly turned into a sword, which swooped towards ClayW Winkler’s head, shaped like a fox.

"PB: what are you doing there?
PB: what is that gun?"

I typed them, alarmed. Without a word, they both flew away. I stepped up into the tent and knelt down on the carpet. My black hijab was falling over the Faces of Faith T-shirt I was wearing, and wasn't doing a good job of covering my hair. Muhammed Yussif Wikinger, the panelist who represented Islam, approached the tent.

MYW: You had a question before, Redqueen

Redqueen, Redqueen Rehula. That’s my avatar’s name. At first, I didn’t notice Muhammed standing there. I was still traumatized by almost getting tased. He sat down on the mat with me, crossed his legs, and leaned over one knee with his elbow. We had a brief conversation about Muhammed’s thoughts on the Shia vs. Sunni line of thought, which revealed that Muhammed was a Sunni Muslim living in Sweden. I started wondering about Muhammed Yussif in the ‘real world.” Was he a Middle Eastern immigrant? What was the Muslim community like in Northern Europe?

PB: How is it being Muslim in Sweden?
MYW: It’s all right…
MYW: There is a mosque… in every larger town
PB: Is there a big community?
MYW: 300, 000
PB: Where do they come from mostly?
MYW: Somalia. Lebanon, Iraq
PB: And you?
MYW: Originally from Sweden
PB: ah ok
MYW: revert

Here’s another term I learned during my reporting: “revert.” A revert is what Muslims call converts to Islam. Their idea is that everybody is born Muslim, but are misguided during life. Therefore when people journey back to Islam, they are reverting.

PB: ah
PB: Most of my sources were reverts as well
PB: Do you mind me asking what faith you were brought up in?
MYW: not at all -
MYW: My grandfather was Protestant Lutheran
MYW: My parents - mostly non religious
PB: interesting
PB: What drew you to Islam?
MYW: I was psychiatrist for Muslim refugees
PB: wow
MYW: and I [read] about [the] Middle East and Islam to understand their problem

At this point, a tall muscular female avatar named Ludmila flew into the tent, and sat down next to me. I asked her to put on a headscarf. Then she got up and walked out of the tent, as if bored.

PB: Continue
PB: with your story
MYW: well
MYW: I saw the importance of the Holy Qur’an
MYW: and reading it I got an answer on my teenage question
PB: What was the teenage question?
MYW: How God could be loving - almighty at the same time
PB: I wonder that was well
MYW: Islam has the answer

Hmm, was Muhammed trying to convert me? Many of my sources had told me to open my heart to Islam. I would usually avoid the proposal by sharing a story of how I fell out of Catholicism, after reading the story of Job. Job was a pious man that was tested by God, and in the process, tortured. The lesson in the end was that you must be God fearing, and believe that God is Almighty. So that’s what I told Muhammed.

PB: I know to be a good Muslim you need to be god fearing
PB: You need to submit
MYW: yes
PB: but at least in Catholicism
PB: I had a hard time believing that I have to live my life in fear
PB: At that time in my life, when I stopped being catholic, I had a lot of fear in my life
MYW: That’s one thing Islam is better with
MYW: We have no hereditary sins
MYW: If we obey God it’s no fear

Obeying without fearing. That was a novel idea to me. In my reporting about Muslim polygamy, my sources told me that fearing God was a requisite to practicing it successfully. I wanted to know what Muhammed, a computer savvy Swedish convert to Islam thought of the plural life. I whipped out a copy of the Qur’an (in real life) and showed off a little of my expertise.

PB: well, not all Muslims agree about the aya in the Qur’an
about multiple wives -4:3 and 4:129
MYW: ok - that one
MYW: it’s not an order it’s a possibility
MYW: when there are few men
PB: uh huh
PB: in the 4:129 it says “You will never be able to do perfect justice between wives, even if it is your ardent desire… And if you do justice, and do all that is right and fear Allah, by keeping away all that is wrong, then Allah is Ever oft-forgiving, most Merciful”
MYW: very good
PB: So it seems that you have to fear god in order to be just

We were starting to get somewhere on God, fear, and polygamy. But it was late Muhammed’s time, almost 10:52, the time for the last of the day’s five prayers. Muhammed had to teleport to the SL mosque to do salah (prayer).

MYW: nice meeting you
PB: it was good to have you on the panel and yes, nice meeting you
PB: will see you again in Second Life I hope
MYW: insha’allah

Insha’allah - God willing, I will meet MuhammedYussif again in Second Life.

The Latest

Aug 14, 2007 - Our site is near completion. We have all of our projects up - or in some cases samples of the projects to come.

Please check out our wildly popular Moral Compass project, which has been averaging 1,500 visitors a day.

The Data Road Trip project continues to inform viewers by showing the human side of religious statistics we found during our reporting.

Our very own Jason Blalock has completed a powerful video documentary about spending a week with his Christian family in Florida in My Brother, The Christian.

Also taking place in Florida, the Ave Maria project shows the dichotomy between two Catholic communities, and how two cultures exist under one faith.

Recently featured in a full page spread in the San Francisco Chronicle, Pauline Bartolone's project about Muslim Polygamy is taking viewers into an intimate world most know little about. Stay Tuned.

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