x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mobile applications tie in to Ramadan

During the Holy Month tech-savvy users have a good range of apps available to provide tips and information about the fasting period and other related material. And increasingly it is the younger generation who are taking advantage of the technology.

A man reads the Quran during afternoon prayers at a mosque in Abu Dhabi in the Holy Month of Ramadan. Silvia Razgova / The National
A man reads the Quran during afternoon prayers at a mosque in Abu Dhabi in the Holy Month of Ramadan. Silvia Razgova / The National

Even when Syed Muhammad Mudassir is on the Dubai's metro in the mornings he can still conveniently read the Quran in the palm of his hand.

An app he downloaded free on to his BlackBerry has digitisedthe Holy Book, providing him with English translations for each verse as well as bookmarks to note where he stops reading.

Another free mobile program on Mr Mudassir's smartphone, called Salat, rings an alarm whenever it is time to pray. This one also displays the qiblah, or direction towards Mecca, using GPS technology and includes an additional feature that can locate nearby halal restaurants and mosques.

"The prayer alarms help when you're on the go and do not keep track of time or are somewhere where the Azaan [call to prayer] isn't heard," says Mr Mudassir, 19, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Dubai.

"Kudos to and God bless the developers - the prayer timings app freezes everything else and plays the Azaan when it is time."

Mr Mudassir is just one of the many Muslims turning to technology this year to help observe Ramadan. More than half of the 23,000 respondents in a survey conducted in the Middle East and North Africa region this year said they went online as the first step to gather information about Ramadan. The majority of them called up recipes, visited social networking sites to congratulate family and friends as well as seek religious content, according to the study conducted by Yahoo Maktoob Research.

"Having access to key information related to Ramadan in the palm of your hand is increasingly important as our lives are busier and more complex and international than ever before," says Bashar Hafez, the product operation manager in the Middle East and Africa for Motorola Mobility, a smartphone maker now owned by Google.

More tech firms have been rolling out new apps to feed the growing appetite for digital content related to the Holy Month.

Ramadan Recipes is one. The US$1.99 (Dh7.30) app for Apple devices calls up healthy and halal meals for the month of fasting.

Through Google Play, an online portal with apps for Android devices, hundreds of programs specifically pegged to Ramadan are available for download. Mr Hafez says key features of these include the ability to listen to or read the Quran, or explanations of the Holy Book, as well as reference guides for recommended supplications and salutations, such as Hadith and Dua.

"Other interesting innovations Muslims can benefit from include Motorola's Smart Actions application, which adapts to the user's behaviour and can, among other things, automatically switch off the smartphone when entering a mosque," adds Mr Hafez.

While savvy tech companies may have built in mobile advertising schemes to help generate revenue for some of these apps, many of those downloaded by consumers are free.

Wahda Ali, 22, from Abu Dhabi, graduated this year from Zayed University. Occasionally she taps an app on her Samsung Galaxy Tab to find out what day of Ramadan it is. Her free Hijri calendar program calls up dates according to both the Islamic Hijri calendar and the commonly used western one. It also specifies the dates when fasting should occur during other important times of the year. "I will keep using it even after Ramadan," says Ms Ali.

Tech companies are also providing more Ramadan-themed entertainment online than in the past.

YouTube has provided access to more than 50 Ramadan shows the same day they air on television via a dedicated channel on its site.

The link, www.youtube.com/ramadan, is a gateway to the same "anytime, anywhere" content YouTube's parent company - Google - is trying to provide for millions of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa via smartphone apps.

Media connected to the Holy Month might be growing more popular, due in part to its wider availability, although technology sales to a large degree are not expected to rise until later this year.

"Just before Eid, we tend to see a spike in sales again as a lot of gifting tends to happen then so products like smartphones, tablets and laptops tend to sell better during that time," says Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer of Jacky's Electronics.

"Ramadan is when those who are fasting tend to spend time reading the Quran, so you may find some of these apps or e-books become more popular."

No one tracks exactly how many people have been downloading different programs related to the Holy Month but anecdotal evidence suggests the younger generation seems to be the most adept at discovering new ways to experience religious traditions.

Ayesha Almazroui, 22, is a journalism graduate from Abu Dhabi and says she accesses a free app each day to read the Quran, after first hearing about it via Twitter.

"I tend to read the Quran more in Ramadan and it just makes it easier," says Ms Almazroui.

"It's more convenient since [it's] always with me and I can access it anytime without having to carry a hard copy everywhere I go."

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