There are articles circulating reporting that Al-Azhar has issued a warning against the popular videogame Fortnite. Here is an example:
The renowned Al-Azhar University in Cairo has issued a warning about the multi-player video game called Fortnite which encourages players to demolish the Kaaba in order to advance to the next level. The warning was issued through the university’s International Centre for Electronic Fatwas (faith-based rulings by Islamic jurists).
“The centre has previously warned against some electronic games that preoccupy the minds of young people, distract them from their basic tasks of acquiring useful knowledge or work, and lock them up in virtual worlds away from reality while inciting them to hatred and self-harm or the harm of others,” it said on Facebook today.
The Fortnite video game, the statement added, encourages players to destroy the Kaaba to win weapons and advance to the next level. “This affects young people’s beliefs and self-respect and underestimates the importance of their sanctities. Hence, the centre reiterates the banning of all electronic games that encourage violence or contain false ideas which distort faith or show contempt for religious beliefs.”—Middle East Monitor
The part about gameplay undermining religious values and virtues carries weight and needs to be applied everywhere in life—and not just videogames and virtual activities. It’s worth noting that virtual activities are a wonderful opportunity for developing character—especially moral character and decision making—and habits related to them both. It’s just that virtual vice is easier to monetize than virtual virtue.
Assuming that the reporting on the warning is accurate, I am left wondering whether the makers of Fortnite really did include a pre-built model of the Kaaba that people are required to demolish to advance to the next level, or whether it is something that their building tools enable users to build and someone went and did it?
I have doubts that the developers provided a pre-built model of the Kaabah and encourage players to destroy it. While I can find videos of people building models of the Kaabah, I could not find any videos of gameplay of people destroying pre-built Kaabas nor anyone reporting it.
A maxim I would hear a lot when studying and working at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah is that it is not the mufti’s job to investigate or verify the claims of the information presented to them. Reporters and journalists, on the other hand, are supposed to.
There shouldn’t be anything wrong with a virtual game or world that merely gives users and players the tools to build a model of the Kaabah without providing one itself and encouraging its destruction. If there was, there would also be warnings and fatwas against using anything that can be used to construct (virtually and physically) or to depict the Kaaba and then destroyed, including Minecraft, SecondLife, Legos, rocks, sticks, wood, cement, sand, pencils, pens, paints, crayons, erasers, paper, and substances in general. Which, obviously, is absurd! One maxim-like reason used in many late Dar al-Ifta fatwas is that “usage is permissible when unlawful usage is not definite” (“إذا لم يتعيّن الحرمة جاز الاستعمال”). In other words: multi-use items are permissible by default.
You can read more about this top in a short paper on Islamic ethics related to virtual worlds and video games. You can read it here.