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Observing Ramadan? Theres an app for that
0814Ramadan
Imam Bilal Ali, the prayer leader at the Gainesville Islamic Culture Center, leads fellow worshippers in prayer during a Ramadan service Friday. Ramadan, which began Wednesday, is a Muslim observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Ramadan, the religious holiday observed by Muslims which began on Wednesday, is a time of reflection and prayer five times a day that include fasting from sunrise to sunset.

Muslim men and women, except for those with medical problems, fast throughout the month of Ramadan which ends with the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

But the prayer times change depending on which lunar calendar the mosque follows.

"We usually go to islamicfinder.com and we pull up (the prayer times)," said Imam Bilal Ali, the leader of the Gainesville Islamic Cultural Center. "I know a lot of brothers that have the iPhone, I go to YouTube.com and pull up recitation."

The five daily prayers in the Islamic faith are based on the position of the sun throughout the day, so times vary depending on location.

"The first prayer is basically at dawn and then it ends at sunrise, and then the you have the second prayer when the sun is vertical," said Hatem Selim, a member of the Gainesville mosque. "Then you have a mid day prayer ... then the fourth one is sunset and the fifth one is basically at dark."

But for Muslims that can’t make it to a mosque for every prayer time during Ramadan, some of the most ancient traditions of Islam are going high-tech, with a slew of modern offerings for those observing the holy month of Ramadan.

Cell phone applications such as "iPray" or "iQuran" offer a beeping reminder of requisite prayer times, while the "Find Mecca" and "mosque finder" programs help the Muslim traveler in an unfamiliar city find the nearest place to pray.

"You can make it much larger if you make it global," Ali said. "I like the technology ... I did my speech today from it. You can go on the Internet and anything I can do from the computer, I can do from here (his cell phone.)"

Added Selim, "There is no contradiction in technology and Islam because actually it is encouraged to use whatever tools you have to apply and use."

The applications aren’t just for Ramadan; there are Islamic-themed programs that help users find the nearest Costco offering foods prepared according to Islamic dietary rules, learn the correct Arabic pronunciations in a daily prayer, or count how many pages of the Quran they’ve read that day — all on a mobile phone.

There also are applications, or apps, for the holy books of several other religions, from the Catholic Holy Bible to the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu scripture.

The first time Sumeyye Kalyoncu heard the Adhan — or call to prayer — through surround-sound speakers on her iPhone dock, she was overcome with nostalgia for her native Turkey. Such applications are especially popular in the U.S., Kalyoncu said, as U.S. mosques do not broadcast daily calls to prayer from external loudspeakers, as they do in Muslim countries.

"These are traditions and these have been in our lives for ages, like almost 15 centuries, so they seem very old," Kalyoncu said. "I think this is like combining together the technology and the things that we do daily."

Kalyoncu uses an iPhone app called iPray Lite, keeping track of requisite daily prayers with a program that simulates the clicking sound of prayer beads or the turning wheel of a handheld metal counter Muslims use to keep count of prayer repetitions. Using headphones, the 24-year-old says she can now fulfill her daily spiritual obligations by counting prayers on her iPhone.

The programs aren’t just offered by Apple; Nokia has a Ramadan suite for its cell phones that consolidates everything worshippers need to know to observe Islam’s holiest month, in which Muslims worldwide observe daily daylight fasting.

Some apps are free. Those that are not generally range from about 99 cents to $2.99, although some are more expensive.

Times reporter Ashley Bates
and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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