World Middle East

Ramadan? There's an app for that.

understanding others

Millions of Muslims worldwide now are using Ramadan apps to help them observe, and revise, centuries-old traditions: when to eat, when to fast, when and how to pray, and how to donate to charity.

Volunteers distribute free iftar meals, one of several initiatives funded online as part of Ramadan's spirit of giving. Tkiyet Um Ali's Ramadan food delivery is sponsored by online donations and through its zakat app.
Courtesy of Tkiyet Um Ali
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Caption
  • Taylor Luck
    Correspondent

Ramadan is a holy month of reflection, prayer, and selflessness.

It is also a month of fasting – and carefully timed schedules. Of particular challenge is the ever-shifting times for sunset, dawn, and prayers.

After fasting all day, families gather at sunset for the iftar meal, individuals offer supplemental prayers throughout the night, and households must prepare the pre-dawn suhour meal before the final call for morning prayers and before the next day’s cycle, steeped in tradition, begins again.

But when the time nears to break his day-long fast, engineer Omar Hussein does not wait for the call to prayer or watch state-run TV to confirm that sunset has arrived.

He reaches for his mobile phone … and his Ramadan apps.

“I have apps for the call to prayer, for prayer times – this Ramadan I am never late,” Mr. Hussein says in Amman one evening as he rushes off after supplemental tarawih prayers. (There’s an app for that.)

“People use technology for all aspects of life,” he says. “We are using technology for devotion to God.”

This Ramadan, the proliferation of apps and online programs have been revolutionizing centuries-old traditions, with technology helping Muslims connect with the spiritual event and organize the 1,400-year-old observance.

Millions of Muslims worldwide now are using Ramadan apps produced by several individuals and groups. One of the most comprehensive is Ramadan 2017, which provides prayer times and fasting schedules for more than 200 countries. It sets alarms to inform users anywhere in the world when to break their fast, and counts down the last minutes to have the suhour meal before the fasting resumes.

Which way is Mecca?

Apps have even updated the centuries-old tradition of families gathering to await the adhan, or sunset call to prayer, from the nearest mosque before iftar.

Muslim Pro-Ramadan 2017, a comprehensive app reportedly used by 30 million Muslims across the world, provides an adhan accurate to the user’s geographic location, a useful tool in Western countries where mosques are not numerous, or in households where boisterous family gatherings can drown out the call to prayer. 

There are even digital updates of the millennia-old practice of prayer groups, maqrah, and well-versed clerics who provide Quranic recitation lessons in the mosque before or after prayer. Apps such as Khatmeh assist in Quranic recitation and give suggestions for additional supplications to recite after each prayer, while the iPhone app iQuran allows worshipers to select and repeat Quranic verses in several languages. Also widely popular among the devout is Dua 2017, a collection of hundreds of special prayers and dua, or supplications, read by leading Islamic clerics and imams.  

Entering mosques in Amman prior to prayer-time, nearly a third of those gathered to recite prayers hold their phones as they would the Quran itself.

Even Google is taking part in the festivities, having launched a new Android app this Ramadan called Qibla Finder, a detailed chart and augmented reality map pointing users in the direction of the Kabaa in Mecca, toward which all Muslims are to face as they pray.

Facilitating charity

The other pillar of Ramadan is charity.

While good deeds are encouraged throughout the holy month, Muslims who are able are required to provide for the poor during Ramadan in what is called zakat al fitr.

Again, the apps and internet don’t disappoint. Now, charitable organizations are providing ways for Muslims across the world to donate, with the click of a button, to those impacted by war, poverty, and hunger.

One of the largest charitable organizations with an online zakat donations is Tikyet Um Ali, a Jordanian NGO that works to eradicate hunger throughout the country.

All zakat proceeds go directly to Tkiyet Um Ali’s food parcels, providing the daily food needs for 25,000 families – more than 150,000 people – across Jordan. The Iftaa Department, the top Islamic body in Jordan, certifies that donations go to families in need in accordance to sharia law.

Tkiyet Um Ali has seen its online donations double to 10 percent of all the donations it receives for the year; the vast majority of donors are Jordanians abroad, while 10 percent are non-Jordanian Muslims across the world looking to donate to a worthy cause.

Tkiyet Um Ali’s online zakat also has been a tool for wealthy individuals in the Gulf looking to reach impoverished communities.

“We are witnessing tremendous growth online and through the app. It is an easier way for people to give back,” says Samer Balkar, Tkiyet Um Ali CEO.

Worldwide donations for Syrians

For a more specific cause, the Molham Team, a Syrian charitable organization reaching Syrians both within and outside the war-torn country, allows persons to donate their zakat online to individuals with specific needs.

But it has been the organization’s Ramadan appeals that have seen the most interest.

Organizers say they have been receiving increased online donations during the holy month, including $100,000 to provide iftar meals for Syrians in besieged towns and villages, and raising $50,000 for a special Ramadan zakat fund.

“People across the world have shown an interest in donating to help Syrians during the holy month. This Ramadan we have seen donations from the Gulf, Europe, and even Palestine,” says Ahmad Abushaar, the Molhem Team organizer in Amman.

“People are generous during Ramadan, it is like a call to action – and we are using technology to continue this call,” Mr. Abushaar says.

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