Mobile apps help Muslims observe prayers

Numerous software applications are now available on cellphones and PDAs for Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan, which began Wednesday.

Numerous software applications are now available on cellphones and PDAs for Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan, which began Wednesday.

Cellphone applications such as iPray or iQuran offer a beeping reminder of requisite prayer times while the Find Mecca and Mosque Finder programs help the Muslim traveller find the nearest place to pray in an unfamiliar city.

"When I saw these applications for the first time, I thought: this is amazing," said James Otun, who has several Islamic applications on his Apple iPhone and iPad. "Whoever came up with this idea: God bless him or her."

The applications aren't just for Ramadan. There are Islamic-themed programs that help users find the nearest Costco offering foods prepared according to Islamic dietary rules, learn the correct Arabic pronunciations in a daily prayer, or count how many pages of the Qur'an they've read that day.

There also are applications, or apps, for the holy books of several other religions, from the Catholic Holy Bible to the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu scripture.

The first time Sumeyye Kalyoncu heard the Adhan, or call to prayer, through surround-sound speakers on her iPhone dock, she was overcome with nostalgia for her native Turkey. Such applications are especially popular in the U.S., Kalyoncu said, as U.S. mosques do not broadcast daily calls to prayer from external loudspeakers, as they do in Muslim countries.

"These are traditions, and these have been in our lives for ages, like almost 15 centuries, so they seem very old," Kalyoncu said. "I think this is like combining together the technology and the things that we do daily."

Kalyoncu uses an iPhone app called iPray Lite, keeping track of requisite daily prayers with a program that simulates the clicking sound of prayer beads or the turning wheel of a handheld metal counter Muslims use to keep count of prayer repetitions. Using headphones, the 24-year-old says she can now fulfil her daily spiritual obligations by counting prayers on her iPhone on the commuter bus to Manhattan from her Edgewater home.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller said the company doesn't track the more than 225,000 apps for its phones by category so she doesn't know how many are Islamic-themed. The programs aren't just offered by Apple; Nokia has a Ramadan suite for its cellphones that consolidates everything worshippers need to know to observe Islam's holiest month, in which Muslims worldwide fast during daylight hours.

Some apps are free. Those that are not generally range from about 99 cents US to $2.99, although some are more expensive.

Otun, a technology aficionado, said the apps he uses on his iPhone and iPad make him a more observant Muslim: from the beeping reminder to stop and pray during his busy schedule running a limo service to an app that tells him which nearby restaurants serve food prepared within Islamic guidelines.

Otun says there's no longer an excuse to live an unobservant life.

"If you forgot to pray, you might not be responsible, because you're human; you forget, and you can make it up later — but not now that you have those apps," said Otun, 35. "That might change things in God's level."

Otun's favourite application is Find Mecca, which is a compass-like program with an electronic indicator that changes from red to green when you've reached the requisite prayer angle of 58-degrees, northeast, to ensure you're facing Mecca from any location — a requirement of all Muslims when praying.

Otun said he was amazed to see an image of Mecca on his cellphone screen for the first time and to realize he could carry a library of religious texts with him everywhere.

"IPhone makes you emotional," he said. "I can't carry 10,000 pages of books. Now, you have it in your phone. It's priceless."