The Ping to Prayer – The Atlantic


Looming over the palatial inside of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, in Abu Dhabi’s central district, are 9 multi-faceted digital clocks formed like flowers. Surrounded by an imposing setting of white marble and crystal chandeliers, the LED screens would possibly seem misplaced in the event that they weren’t additionally encapsulated in gold pedals, mixing in with the gilded designs of vines and flowers crawling alongside the partitions.

Every of the clocks current Muslim worshippers with the present time and date, together with the 5 common day by day prayer instances (a apply known as “Salat,” or prayer, which represents the Second Pillar of Islam). These instances fluctuate barely every day, relying on geographic location and the altering place of the solar. Fajr, earlier than dawn. Zuhr, noon. Asr, afternoon. Maghrib, sundown. Isha, night.

It was an uncommon undertaking for U.Ok.-based LED Synergy, the corporate that designed and manufactured the clocks (which are actually seen by over 3 million worshippers and guests annually, based on knowledge from the mosque). Along with establishing the ornate timepieces, the staff developed a Salat-based content material system able to producing correct prayer instances for over 1,200 cities in 216 international locations, hoping to construct on its success in Abu Dhabi and win extra profitable authorities contracts across the area.

In Muslim societies throughout the Center East, these 5 prayer instances set the rhythm of day by day life. Calls to prayer (or “Adhan”) are broadcasted by mosques all through cities and cities, amplified by the crackling sound of loudspeakers. Throughout a two-week journey to Abu Dhabi in 2013, my sleep was reduce quick every morning, simply earlier than dawn, by the decision to Fajr from a mosque throughout the road. The broadcasted voice (carried out by a “Muezzin”) was deep and lyrical, its echoes spilling into the adhan’s intermittent pauses. “I assume it might probably appear unusual however I’m continually conscious of the solar,” my good friend Zeshawn Ali, a training Muslim and filmmaker primarily based in New York, informed me. “Time is all the time on my thoughts. I’m instructed to consider it 5 instances a day.”

The expertise of an city group ceasing (typically financial) exercise to partake within the non secular felt, to an outsider, like a type of anachronism, a apply that defied trendy logic and timetables. But when the routine initially appeared cumbersome, it wasn’t lengthy earlier than it felt important. Pushing oneself to be extra conscious, a number of instances all through the day, from sun-up to sun-down, had the side-effect of creating days really feel richer and extra absolutely lived.

However for Muslims like Zeshawn, who reside in non-Muslim communities, there aren’t any public calls to prayer, and it turns into dependent upon the person to stay disciplined about Salat. Conventional prayer “aids,” comparable to printed books or pamphlets, have lengthy supplied a hard and fast set of prayer instances and Quranic excerpts. In current a long time, the Web has fostered new sorts of digital “aids” that help Muslims in all features of their day by day worship.

Imam Masud Tariq-Towe stands beneath a prayer clock in New York. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Web sites launched within the early Nineteen Nineties, like IslamicFinder and IslamiCity, provide not solely a big database of prayer instances (together with SMS-based prayer time notification companies), but additionally a broader on-line hub of historic and academic supplies about Islam, e-learning quizzes and flashcards, opinion articles and dialogue boards. Newer cell functions like Athan and Muslim Professional embrace geo-based options comparable to a digital “compass” expressing path and distance from Kabba (in Mecca), and “finders” that find close by mosques, halal eating places, Islamic schooling facilities and companies, and extra.

Athan, developed by VentureDive (a product consultancy agency) together with IslamicFinder, can also be experimenting with non-traditional options to combine into the app. Its common “Prayer Guide” extension permits customers to log each accomplished and missed prayers all through the day (in order that they are often made up at a later time). “I believe there is a chance to introduce a component of gamification,” Saad Fazil, a co-founder of VentureDive, informed me. “As an example, a sure variety of prayers can garner a badge, and customers can examine these scores on a standard leaderboard.”

For apps like Athan, Fazil says, the introduction of the Apple Watch may very well be enormous. “The Athan app is an ideal use case for wearables, particularly sensible wristwatches,” Fazil stated, predicting that this transition will occur over the subsequent two to 5 years.

Fazil additionally famous that as new units and platforms come into mainstream use, the promise of older options can grow to be extra complicated. His staff is investigating the right way to adapt Athan’s prayer-time algorithm to accommodate uncommon circumstances, comparable to airplane journey (which frequently spans a number of time zones) and distant areas the place the times are both very quick or very lengthy.

Possibly essentially the most aspirational cell initiative to this point is Ahli, which goals to make praying in teams extra handy by notifying customers when fellow Muslims are close by. Group prayer is taken into account to be particularly essential in Islam.

The marketplace for these apps continues to be untimely, based on Fazil, however Athan’s person base already spans Muslims of their early 20s to late 50s. If the older generational mindset was that Muslims ought to reposition their day round Salat, newer interpretations are permitting for a level of flexibility, and digital prayer aids are serving to individuals higher match the faith into their trendy life-style. Equally-minded apps at present available on the market embody Christianity (PrayerMate), Judaism (Shabbat by GPS and Is It Kosher?), Hinduism (iPuja), Buddhism (Each day Buddhist Prayers) and the nondenominational Peter Thiel-backed Instapray, which just lately surpassed “30 million prayers shared.”

One of many prayer clocks at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (Bert Roelse/Flickr)

This market is catering towards a extra digitally inclusive model of non secular apply at a time when non secular leaders, too, are fascinated by new methods to include applied sciences. The imaginative and prescient behind the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, which was constructed solely a decade in the past, was certainly to display “that custom and modernity can coexist, even interconnect, with out one cancelling the opposite out… [that] in reality, every supplies a supply of richness for the opposite,” based on textual content from a speech by Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the U.A.E., posted on the mosque’s web site. This journey in direction of co-existence pushes onward at a gradual tempo: older and youthful generations feeling their means ahead, searching for the suitable stability.

“There may be all the time the worry of creating issues too straightforward for individuals,” my good friend Zeshawn informed me, explaining how a number of mosques have begun livestreaming Friday congregational prayers, in order that individuals who can’t get away from the workplace can comply with alongside at their desks.

“Among the prayer apps now ship out motivational quips that may be cute or humorous, which is nice, however even these can simply grow to be inappropriate,” he stated. “The opposite day I noticed somebody Snapchatting a prayer whereas he himself was praying, and that positively felt unsuitable.”


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