Dubai: Since the start of Ramadan, Muslim residents in the UAE are increasingly depending on applications to determine things like prayer timings, the direction of the qibla and to read the Quran as they seek to deepen their faith.
A long list of apps appears on play store and app store when the word ‘Muslim’ is typed in, and the number is on the increase. From helping them find the closest halal restaurants and supermarkets to keeping track of prayer timings and listening to Quran recitations and following up with the Quran text in the languages they desire, the apps are serving a variety of purposes. There is even an app for Ramadan recipes for iftar and suhour meals.
Anas Al Otoum, a Jordanian manager at a gas company, said he relies heavily on these applications, for example, to read the Quran when he is at the mosque or to wake up to an azaan call from his phone speaker.
“For over six years now, I’ve been using an app that notifies me [of prayer timings]. This constant reminder has helped me complete all my prayers on time,” he said.
Al Otoum is happy that apps like these are being created.
“The convenience is what makes this app [in which he can read the Quran] my favourite. I’m able to access the Quran no matter where I am and what time of the day it is,” he said.
The same app, he said, also informs him about the time left to end the fast and when to start his fast. “It also gives me the option of leaving a bookmark after reading the Quran, which has allowed me to keep track of the page I last read.”
Israa Al Sadek, an Egyptian university student, said she uses only two apps, but she finds them very efficient, especially when she wants to listen to Quran recitations in the car.
“I find it hard to read the Quran on my own, but these apps help me listen to the recitations and text I can read and follow,” she said.
Both residents suggested there could be some inconsistencies with regards to prayer timings in these apps even after setting locations, but this hasn’t stopped them from using them. Because of this, Al Otoum said, “I’m now used to receiving the notification five minutes before the actual azaan in Dubai, so I become alert that it’s time to pray and then I just wait for the azaan from the mosque close to my house or check Dubai TV.”
He follows a similar approach when it comes to his fast by waiting a couple of minutes more to end his fast or starting his fast earlier than the timing highlighted by the app.
Residents are advised to check the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department for accurate timings, since different apps are based on different calculation methods, which result in the timing difference.
As for the downside, applications with many pop-up ads pose a disturbance to users, with many of them posting negative reviews for this reason.
Israa said she would download other apps useful to Muslims, especially ones offering hadith and athkar, but added she hoped to find more user-friendly ones.
Bayan Ahmad, a media professional from Jordan, said she prefers the traditional methods of worship.
“People have been able to complete their worship duties without the need of apps. I like to wait for the azaan from the mosque rather than mistake any prayer timings or have my phone ring in a meeting room. I do, however, find the Quran app useful to download and read.”
Bayan said there’s not enough awareness about other apps and would want to know their features before downloading them.
Here’s a list of eight apps that Gulf News analysed. All the apps are free, but offer premium versions with more features and ad-free service.
Features: This user-friendly app has a variety of features and claims to have the most accurate prayer timings. With over 10 million downloads on Android as of June 22, 2015, first thing it does is ask for your location to determine the qibla direction and calculate the prayer timings.
It features different icons; among them is one that bears the entire text of the Quran, with an option to play recitations of verses in mp3 format along with the phonetics and translations in 31 languages. Users can choose to repeat verses and choose among three reciters in the free version.
Among the other features in the app is the Hijri Islamic Calendar, a reference icon with the 99 names of Allah (with a recitation audio), 132 Dua’as for different times of the day, lists of other apps to download for Muslims and also Halal place locator.
Download time: 49 seconds on iOS and 40 seconds on android.
Efficiency: The app is well designed and easy to use. It combines different features in just one app. The Quran feature is its best. There’s a slight difference in minutes when it comes to prayer timings and the halal locator is not very efficient, but the qibla direction is accurate. The ads are not very disturbing.
Features: This simple app is best for beginners and those who have embraced Islam and want to learn how to offer prayers in a step-by-step manner. Available only on iOS, users can learn steps for ablution and the five prayers through text and audio in English and Arabic along with a visual representation. It also has other features like some specific chapters of the Quran.
Download time: 37 seconds
Efficiency: The app has been simply designed to cater to specific segment of people who want to learn their prayers. The ads are on top of the screen and do not bother the user. It allows you to play the animation or click next to learn the prayer postures.
Alternative app for android users with similar features: Salat and Haj for Kids
Features: Quran app is mainly for those who want to listen to Quran recitations of well-known reciters from around the world while also following it in text. The text scrolls down as the audio is being played. With over 100,000 downloads on android as of June 22, 2015, the app also provides other features like helping users listen to recitations offline, receive verse of the day, and links the user to other apps from the same publisher.
Download time: 50 seconds on android and 1 minute and 24 seconds on iOS.
Efficiency: The interface design is great, but the pop up ads can be too annoying every few minutes. An icon with the pictures of the reciters makes it easy for the user to recognise the reciter. It also allows you to use a bookmark with an icon especially for that.
Features: This app mainly sends azaan notifications and keeps users notified about prayer timings. Athan Pro and Quran are linked together and users can toggle between the apps easily. This app almost has the same interface design as the Quran app but has different options. A dashboard with a Ramadan theme appears and there is a menu with other features. It has a qibla direction finder, locates mosques, and an interesting tasbeeh option (praising option) where you tap to keep count of the times you praised God.
For the azaan feature, users can choose from among the different voices before they receive the audio notification of azaan. The app offers other features too. It gives a list of Islamic channels, hadith of the day, and lists the 99 names of Allah, among other services.
Download time: 50 seconds on android and 1 minute and 21 seconds on iOS. It has been downloaded 100,000 times on android.
Efficiency: Well constructed and contains a variety of options Muslims can use, but the pop up ads can be a bit bothersome. Prayer times might show variance at times, but it helps keep you notified before the actual azaan in Dubai.
Features: A very basic app that gives users the time left for iftar and the time left to begin fasting again. Users can choose the calculation method from the settings depending on the region. Users are asked to allow the app to determine their location to adjust the timings. The app shows a clock with a caption below showing the time left. A month view feature shows the iftar and suhour timings for the rest of the month.
Download time: 1 minute and 20 seconds on android and 1 minute and 7 seconds on iOS. It was downloaded on android 50,000 times.
Efficiency: The interface is very basic and it doesn’t have lots of features. The timings are not always accurate, so it’s preferable to follow the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Department to check if the minutes are correct. The ads are not bothersome and are barely noticed.
Features: This guide for halal restaurants says it brings the world’s largest and most comprehensive halal restaurant database to a user’s phone. It locates markets and mosques up to 100 kilometres away with an option to choose how many kilometres away you want it to locate. Allowing access to location is required to get a response from the app.
Download time: Takes less than five seconds to download on both android and iOS. It has 10,000 downloads on android.
Efficiency: A basic and organised app with only the option of locating restaurants, markets and mosques. In Dubai, this app is mainly useful for locating mosques because most food outlets are halal-compliant. Muslims living abroad though would definitely use this app to locate halal places close by. There are no ads to disturb the user.
Features: It has a colourful and well-designed interface with a menu to choose from. It gives all the ingredients, preparation time, cooking time and the number of people a dish would serve. Users can learn how to make 16 different dishes from different cuisines with some visuals of how the dish looks like.
Download Time: 9 seconds on iOS
Efficiency: The app is user-friendly and quite helpful for those who want to prepare a variety of dishes for Ramadan.
Features: This interactive storybook app is new to the app store and has been launched this Ramadan to walk children through the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), from his birth to his last pilgrimage. Available in English and Arabic with text and narration, the app also offers a tutorial for new users to learn how to use the app. Also in the menu is the option of switching between episodes. The episode on the childhood of the Prophet is for free, while the rest of the episodes can be bought for $14.99 (Dh55).
Download time: Only available on iOS and takes nine minutes to download.
Efficiency: Very artistic and advanced-looking app with a beautiful narration. It’s also very user-friendly and colourful and seems to be developed by a very advanced team. Despite the time it takes to download the app, children will enjoy the illustrations and narrations.