By Jeremy Blaney
EAST LANSING, Mich., Nov. 11 (UPI) — If you want to read a verse from Qur`an, there’s an app for that. If you want to be reminded of the five daily prayers, thereâ€™s an app for that. And if you need to know what direction to face when it’s time to pray, there’s an app for that.
There’s a computer application for just about anything and some Muslims are taking full advantage of such technological innovations to practice their faith.
“I have downloaded a few of the Islamic applications for my iPod touch,” said Nada Zohdy, a senior at Michigan State University.
One application consolidates Islamic prayers into a central location that can, once downloaded, be accessed with or without wireless connectivity. It includes, for example, prayers that are said before entering or after leaving a mosque.
“These prayers aren’t mandatory,” said Zohdy, who refers to her iPod to recite prayers in her car before and after Friday prayers. “They’re like extra things that you can do. Because of the iPod touch, I was able to do things I wouldn’t typically do.”
Apple says developers have created more than 100,000 apps covering 20 categories for iPhone and iPod touch users in 77 countries. The query “Islam” or “Muslims” returns dozens of applications that vary in cost and purpose.
“I have the Qur`an application,” said Khasim Jafri, president of the Muslim Students Association at Michigan State University. “I use it more for reference, like if I am trying to look up a certain verse or just want to read a short chapter.”
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Other technologies are also helping Muslims follow the rituals of their religion. Mounzer Kassab, an associate professor in the department of neurology at Michigan State University, travels with a customizable clock that sounds when it is time to perform each of the five daily prayers that are obligatory in Islam.
“You put in the city code,” he said, “and it will automatically do the call to prayer, five times a day. It has solved a lot of problems while traveling.”
Followers of other religions have also discovered conveniences offered by technology. In May, the Roman Catholic Church launched Pope2You.net, a portal that provides access to several applications, including ones for Facebook and the iPhone and iPod touch.
“It’s a good communication tool, education tool, and evangelization tool,” said the Rev. Mark Inglot, a pastor in East Lansing, Mich. “The Internet has connected people in a way that they’ve never been connected before, and we’re embracing that technology.”
Inglot admitted, however, that the technological shift required some adjustments in attitudes. Inglot has a Catholic prayer application on his BlackBerry to help guide his recitation of the Divine Office, daily prayers that are obligatory for priests.
“My first thought was, does this take away from the sanctity,” Inglot said. “Instead of holding this prayer, you’re holding your BlackBerry, but we just have to get used to it. And as we use technology for this purpose, we are sanctifying that medium. It is another way that God can work in our lives.”
Zohdy shared Inglot’s initial unease about the medium delivering the religious message.
“When I read the Qur`an online, she said, it feels a little less genuine. It still is different from the experience of holding the Qur’an.”
Another potential problem with mixing technology and religion, Zohdy said, involves distractions.
“Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that when I am on the computer, I am doing several things at once,” she said. “If I am reading the Qur`an online, I might not stay as easily focused as if I were holding the Qur`an in my hands.”
Some Muslims, however, see technological advancement as a threat to rituals. Kassab cited the holy month of Ramadan for one example. Muslims traditionally look for the new moon to verify that Ramadan has ended. But if clouds cover the moon, tradition dictates that Ramadan is not over and fasting must continue for an extra day.
“A lot of authorities are calling for astrological calculations, which are extremely accurate,” Kassab said. “But some don’t see a need for change. Some say they are going to follow tradition. You’re always going to find someone who is resistant to technology.”