Saudi Arabia is investing in Artificial Intelligence, setting up robots with touchscreens to help pilgrims navigate the Hajj process, learn about weekly schedules at mosques, as well as provide religious edicts.
Saudi Arabia has launched robots, putting artificial intelligence (AI) to use in tandem with Islamic practices. The robots are being stationed at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and they will recite the Holy Quran and give sermons to Muslims at the Islamic holy site.
The robots are equipped with barcodes, allowing users to download their services to their smartphones or press commands on the robots to learn about imams leading the prayers, muezzins, weekly schedules of mosque staff including names of clerics leading the weekly Friday sermons.
According to Gulf News, “the advanced machines were launched by Chief of the General Presidency for Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais.”
He said “The launch is part of a massive-scale strategy that aims not only to launch more smart robots at the two holy mosques, but to implement the Smart Haram [Holy Mosque] Project according to the blessed [Saudi] Vision 2030,” in reference to the development scheme of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Gulf News also notes that in recent months, “a series of robots have been launched into service at the Grand Mosque for providing fatwas (religious edicts), sterilisation and cleaning the rooftop of the Holy Kaaba housed at the mosque, visited by millions of Muslims from around the world.”
Earlier this year in April, Saudi news outlet Arab News wrote about the Guidance Robot in Mecca, located in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque, near the King Abdulaziz Gate, which assists Muslims in Arabic, English, Turkish, Farsi and Urdu, with a total of 11 languages: “It is designed to provide advice to pilgrims, including guidance on how to perform rituals, as well as to provide fatwas on legal issues for performing Umrah.”
The wheeled robots communicate via touch screens, read a Saudi press release, Al Monitor reported.
Doing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the tenets of Islam, and every year thousands of Muslims flock to the holy city to pray at al Masjid al Haram (the Great Mosque), surrounding the Kaaba in Mecca. Pilgrims also usually visit the city of Medina to pray at al Masjid an Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque).
The robots are there to help pilgrims navigate the umrah pilgrimage (outside the holy month of Ramadan) to Mecca. This is not the first time that robots were used in Mecca – they were used to hand out water to worshippers during the Hajj when the city reopened after the pandemic, while social distancing rules were in effect.
According to Al Monitor, Saudi authorities are considering using robots for non-religious purposes as well, and “some Saudi government entities such as the state-owned oil company Aramco are investing in artificial intelligence.”