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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

New Ramadan app tells the story of the Prophet Mohammed

Called The Sira, it depicts the Prophet’s life and times in 10 easy-to-understand episodes.
Ayham Gorani developed The Sira, an app that aims to educate children about the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Ravindranath K / The National
Ayham Gorani developed The Sira, an app that aims to educate children about the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Ravindranath K / The National

An Abu Dhabi-based company has built the first app in the UAE to bring to life the story of ­the Prophet Mohammed. Called The Sira, it depicts the Prophet’s life and times in 10 easy-to-understand ­episodes.

The creative force behind the landmark app is Ayham Gorani, a Syrian application developer who was raised in Germany. Three years ago, he came up with the idea of breaking down the story into a modern format that would appeal to children.

“Apps are all about making complex things easier,” he says. “I wanted to create Arabic content and package it in a modern way. We felt this region has a lot of stories. But the media hasn’t caught up on how to tell these stories in a format suitable for these times.”

Gorani, 33, says he learnt about the life of the Prophet from his parents. In 2007, Gorani co-founded Widgetlabs, which devised mobile apps for corporate companies such as Vodafone, as well as community apps such as Go Flow for surfers.

Fuelled by the belief that the Arab world has great potential for such content, he moved to Abu Dhabi in 2011 to co-found ­AlphaApps. The company first devised the Arabic social trivia game, Almwajaha.com, which now has 1.5 million users.

Gorani and his team soon turned their attention on to attempting to restyle Arabic fairy tales into an app. But as time went on, the idea of telling the story of the Prophet Mohammed’s life ­became more compelling.

“We felt this was a big need, especially given the current political climate. There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam.”

Gorani and his team worked closely with the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments and the UAE’s National Media Council.

“In general it’s been a very challenging app to make because of the importance – it has to be historically correct, but also engaging for the kids.”

Because Islam forbids depicting Prophet Mohammed, the challenge was to present the story in a visual format.

“We went around the issue by creating fictional characters living in Medina or Mecca at that time, who tell the story of the dramatic events they saw unfurl,” says Gorani. “The technical and creative teams had to work with the writers to create a script that was suitable from language, interaction and artistic perspectives.”

The first episode opens with a man and three children sitting outside their home – tapping each character makes them speak their part. “Uncle Yahya!” says one child. “My father says you are the best person to teach us about the message of Allah, because you know so much about him.”

Gorani explains that dialogue is used as much as possible in place of narration to keep children engaged. Every episode also has mini-games to make it more fun, and things children can use – for example an interactive bird or a door that opens.

Voice-overs are in both English and standard Arabic for the two versions of the app.

“We did not use dialects, to ensure kids are also learning proper Arabic,” says Gorani. “And we used a cartoon style for illustration, so there’s no direct link between reality and the app itself.”

It took about 90 people – twofour54-based freelancers and external companies as well as ­AlphaApps employees in the region – a year and a half to complete the app. Every month, a new episode is launched, with seven available so far.

The Sira, which has a five-star rating on iTunes, has already been downloaded more than 150,000 times.

Although Gorani had initially intended the app for Arabs living in the West, half of its users are from this region.

The app targets children between the ages of 6 and 8, “but funnily enough, our marketing channels tell us that most of our users are adults”, says Gorani.

While he can’t give details on future projects. Gorani sees the potential of using virtual reality in the future, to enable people to understand more about life in the time of the Prophet Mohammed. “VR is definitely a thing,” he says.

• The first episode of The Sira is free; the rest cost US$15 (Dh55), reduced to $4.99 over Ramadan. Available on iTunes

artslife@thenational.ae