By Mahvish Irfan
Long gone will be the days that Muslims offer their daily prayers under dark staircases, cramped hallways and dangerous parking lots because they can’t find proper prayer areas throughout their work day. Musallah, a free iOS and Android app currently in the making, maps out nearby prayer areas to one’s location. It harnesses the help of users to scout out available mosques, churches, shops and an unlimited list of other places that don’t mind offering their spaces to Muslims on the go. The app aims to go global and is starting off with covering Manhattan, New York.
Founder Rashid Dar, a grad student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), is no foreigner when it comes to knowing the trouble of offering prayer in awkward places having prayed in cars, libraries and fitting rooms. “It starts to feel less like a blessing and more of a burden,” he tells Muslim Observer. “At times I’ve prayed in the dressing rooms of H.M. with music blasting everywhere and a mirror directly in front of me and I can’t tell you my heart is entirely into that prayer. Essentially what I’m doing is discharging an obligation and not getting as much out of it.”
Routinely experiencing these kinds of uncomfortable scenarios and tired of not giving prayer its due importance helped give birth to the idea of Musallah. “A thought hit me: we all have smartphones these days, so why couldn’t we use them to crowd-source musallahs for Muslims everywhere?”
With his wife Nushmia Khan, a video producer at Inc. magazine in New York City, the two set up a Kickstarter campaign aiming to earn $14,000 to fund Musallah. Dar says part of the reason he decided to crowdfund was to see if people would be interested in this invention in the first place. But, he was ready for it to fail.
Far from failing, however, Musallah’s organic growth exploded. On March 21, 2015, Musallah was 106% funded on Kickstarter, raising $14,861. “We received an incredible amount of support from all over the world,” he shares. People everywhere resonated with the struggle of finding suitable prayer areas nearby where they do not have to worry about inviting unwanted attention and could actually concentrate on their worship.
“Apps don’t really make all that much money when you crowdfund,” Dar adds. “$14,000 was actually quite a lot of money to make. None of our donations are larger than $500 and we only had a couple of that. It was really hundreds of people everywhere who were donating as little as $1 to make this happen. For us this was a huge validation that this [finding prayer areas] was a problem.”
Though Musallah is still early in the developmental process, the husband and wife duo have compiled a large database of 6000+ names and addresses of various places to pray across the country. From restaurants, to museums, to hospitals, “There are places to worship all around us. We want to give the prayer to everyone. It’s a communal obligation for this to be established. Allah tells us in the Quran to establish the prayer,” Dar explains his motivation behind creating this app.
The team hopes to release “a beta version for a selected team of NYCers by the end of this month” Dar states. They also aim to have the prayer areas that are added to the app have a minimum standard “just so the experience is great” by sharing a “best practice guide” to those places that have opened their doors.
Factors such as if there is an ablution area close by, separate area for women, and enough space in general will help users rate their experience in a given area. “If enough people get on this application and support it, we might eventually be able to start changing the culture of what it means to create a great musallah, a place that people love to go to,” Dar expresses.
The team also plans on handing out decals of their logo to place on doors and windows of available musallah areas so that those passing by know there is a prayer space inside open to the public.
“This is something we’re really excited about. We’re touching up our logo with our graphic designer. Once that’s done we can go around to these different musallahs that we’ve located in Manhattan …and give out these stickers as much as we can so that when people are walking around the city, they might find a musallah they didn’t even know about.”
To support Musallah’s incredible initiative, follow them on facebook.com/musallahapp and twitter @musallahapp