As Ramadan Begins, Muslim iPhone Apps Abound

Need help with the holy month? There's an app for that ... a few, actually.

For the hundreds of millions of Muslims observing Ramadan, a month of fasting that is one of the five pillars of the faith, a round of high-tech solutions has emerged for remembering prayer times, browsing an electronic Quran and even pointing oneself toward Mecca with the help of a GPS.

Islamic applications for the iPhone and iPad are abundant. The Qibla Compass Pro points a red arrow toward the Kaaba, the shrine in Saudi Arabia considered most sacred in Islam. Muslims are instructed to pray five times a day in its direction.

Another app, the iQuran, comes with "verse by verse recitation and full text search" of the Muslim holy book. An app called the Daily Dua -- dua being a prayer of supplication -- is made especially for Ramadan. It offers hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, and reminds users of the obligatory charity tax, or zakat, that Muslims are required to donate to the poor.

Other apps help locate the nearest mosque or restaurants serving food that's deemed "halal," satisfying religious requirements.

The high-tech tools for Muslim smart phone users come after years of similar functions for traditional cell phones.

LG mobile devices were the first to offer a compass pointing to Mecca, said Dubai-based investor Prashant Gulati, who focuses on technology and media.

Also popular were phone functions that calculated prayer times based on a user's longitude and latitude, and text message prayer alerts offered by local phone companies.

"This is an exceptionally early adopting market with a lot of disposable income, and you do see the stuff in action," Gulati said.

He believes that more iPhone apps are downloaded per person in the Arab Gulf states than in the United States.

"People are savvier, more curious, and always looking for something to do," he said.

Sales of the iPhone are rising in the region, especially in the United Arab Emirates, where it's being pitched as a substitute for the soon-to-be-banned BlackBerry. Both devices have found success in the young demographics of the Arab world, where more than half of the population is younger than 30.

Watch the Under-30 Crowd

That generation is embracing other forms of Islam in technology. A new Islamic search engine, www.im-halal.com, was billed as an alternative to Google, while in 2008 a service called Muxlim Pal offered "the first Muslim virtual world," a religiously oriented version of Second Life.

There is a market for high-tech Islam, Gulati said. "Is the market getting what it's looking for? It's just getting started," he said.

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