Internet provides online services for afterlife

“Every soul shall have the taste of death,” [Al-i Imran, 185] is a verse in the Koran. Have you ever thought that such a verse could be a Web site slogan?

Internet provides online services for afterlife
“Every soul shall have the taste of death,” [Al-i Imran, 185] is a verse in the Koran.

Have you ever thought that such a verse could be a Web site slogan? At a time when the Internet has invaded every part of our mortal lives, did you ever imagine it might also have a say in the afterlife?

Services are already available that target our afterlife by means of a little entrepreneurial intelligence -- “Virtual cemetery visit,” “Virtual prayer for rest,” “Cemetery online” and “Virtual memorials” are but a few. There are Web sites aiming to maintain graves for people unable to visit and care for the final resting places of their relatives. There are even Web sites that provide virtual prayer mechanisms for people who cannot visit graves to pray for their loved ones.

Of course those virtual services do not claim to be serving the dead. They are targeting the living and offering a kind of remembrance and memorial service for those who can not access graves because of distance and time.

Today’s Zaman spoke to webmasters and religious authorities about their take on the Web sites providing cemetery maintenance and virtual prayer services.

Grave maintenance online:

The occupants of graves are certainly unable to maintain their resting place. But now there are companies to take care of the necessary cleaning, polishing marble and gardening -- and some are plying their trade online. The Web address above redirects you to a commercial site belonging to a marble company that engages in graveyard maintenance work.

Company owner Erkan Uçar spoke to Today’s Zaman in a phone interview about their services. He summarized their work by saying: “We are a marble company, we build graveyards. We do maintenance work in graveyards such as gardening and landscaping.” When asked what makes them different from other companies, he responded that they are selling their services online.

In response to a question about how the service works, Uçar said they take photographs of a grave both before and after services to demonstrate their work. Both pictures can only by consumers in a password-protected area of their Web site. In this way customers can see how well their service improved the grave.

The Uçar marble company uses a bank transfer method to charge for the Internet-based services. “We are at the very beginning of this online service. We are trying to make the service more value added. After that we may think of registering it as a trademark,” he explained, noting that business was still not as good as he hoped for.

Virtual memorials for loved ones

The diversification of services on the Internet is unbelievable in that it even provides services for people who cannot visit relatives’ and friends’ graves. Such sites can be found in any language in the virtual world. While, , and many others are in Turkish, and use English.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are differences between Turkish and English sites. Most of those in Turkish are only interested in the very basic details of the dead, taking a picture of them and a picture of their graves. However English versions incorporate biographies of the people, guest books and background music.

The Web site has its real world base in the town of Güney in Burdur province, southern Turkey. Webmaster Burçin Batur says the idea came from one of the villagers who lives and works in Germany. The expatriate asked Batur whether it was possible to put the graves’ pictures on the Web site. His positive feedback was the first step in developing his Web site. Batur later added some prayers recorded by his town’s imam. Now people can easily utter their feelings and the idea became an inspiration for other villages in Turkey.

The webmasters underline their objectives are not to earn money. Some even bear declarations in which the aim of sites is clearly stated. “Of course we didn’t think of making money. We want to help the people who cannot visit often. He couldn’t visit his hometown all the time. We want to share at least the pictures of the graves,” said Batur.

‘It is not important where and how people pray’

Religious authorities mostly give positive feedback about these virtual services. Professor Hayred-din Karaman, a guest lecturer at Islamic University in Rotter-dam, told Today’s Zaman that in terms of Islam visiting graves (and later photographing people) was once forbidden as it could open a means for “shirk” (the Islamic concept of the sin of polytheism specifically, more generally refers to serving anything other than the One God). However the Prophet Mohammed permitted visiting graves when it became clear that they were doing so in a proper and pious fashion. Nowadays photographing people is also generally accepted by Islamic scholars. Additionally, offering prayers to people and remembering their good deeds is encouraged and accepted for the most part. Therefore such services are not forbidden from an Islamic point of view.

Professor Karaman also said that in modern times people could not find an opportunity to visit their beloved relatives’ graves because of lack of time and the often long distances to be traveled. Such applications serve the need for such observances, albeit virtually. “They are reminding us to pray for those people (the deceased),” he added. In response to a question about earning money from such services Karaman replied that intentions matter. “It is required that people are divided into two parts; the first part is the people serving those Web sites and second part is the people being served via those Web sites. For example, when you want to visit a distant grave you may need to use transportation services and you pay for travel to pray at the gravesite. Now you use Web sites to access the gravesite virtually; it doesn’t matter whether the webmasters benefit. Intentions matter,” he explained.

According to Hüseyin Uslu, an imam from the Religious Affairs Directorate, it is not important where and how people pray for the dead. Thus unless someone misuses such a system, it is acceptable. Uslu added: “Nobody should think of earning money by manipulating people’s feelings. It is not condoned by religion. Apart from that, people can pray and remember their loved ones anywhere and anytime.”

Batur also explained that he had asked the Burdur Mufti Office whether his Web site was permitted under Islam or not. The authority at the office replied with a similar sentiment to that expressed by Karaman and Uslu, saying the most important thing was that Batur’s effort was good-intentioned.

Sunday's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Temmuz 2007, 13:50