- Hussam Fazula
- BBC News Arabic
There is a complex relationship between technology and religion. Some of them may see that the two worlds are incompatible, while others see that technology can be one of the tools that can be used to spread the religious message.
Electronic rosaries, Islamic prayer qibla apps, muezzin, Bible apps, Christian prayers, and many other religious apps for smartphones and electronic devices designed specifically for worship testify that technology can be used to serve religion.
Back to religion
Some recent researches and studies have shown that there has been an increase in the number of people practicing religious rituals in the Arab region in recent years as compared to previous years.
But this demand for prayer in a region where the majority of the population is young is inseparable from modernity. Thus technology is inseparable from the spiritual landscape for many.
A BBC team toured the streets of West Bank cities in the Palestinian Territories and Medina, Saudi Arabia, asking young people how technology and religion relate to their daily lives.
The responses of most of the respondents to the survey indicate that a large number of Arab youth use technological applications in their religious rituals.
One of the participants says: “I always use the Quran on my mobile phone, it is easier and more practical than the book.”
Another young woman talked about the two applications she uses, namely the “decision application and the apology application”.
Some participants asserted that the current era is “everything digital,” including religious rituals.
Corona and religion from a distance
According to Forbes, the value of religious apps has doubled in light of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on gatherings.
In 2021, the value of these applications reached 175 million dollars, and the most widespread were applications of Christianity.
Father Albert Noum, a priest at the Chaldean Church in Baghdad, told the BBC that social media applications had been “a great helper” for his church in light of the pandemic and that it had helped to “protect the faith” of its followers.
According to Father Nome, the church reached more people because the attendance at private masses was low, while the masses were broadcast live in “very large numbers”.
From Electronic Rosary to Quran Cube
A step away from mobile applications, we see a whole range of purposes for the production of religious electronic devices: from electronic rosaries to prayer time clocks, religious lamps and e-readers.
“Quran Cube is the name of a new project launched in Northern Britain that brings its products to Muslims from all over the world.
Mohsen Sagheer, a British national living in the city and the founder of the Quran Cube project, told the BBC that he was “looking for an easy way” to help him and his family listen to the recitation of the Quran. Without using a mobile phone or computer, he memorized the Quran and put it into a small portable speaker, and then some of his friends asked him to “do something similar for them”. Over time, an advanced device was developed. A production line for “multiple devices”.
Among these devices are the “Islamic electronic teacher for children”, the “interactive children’s bed” and the “Quran reader” in its various forms.
Mohsen Saghir believes that “technology should not be seen as anti-religion” but rather “a means of making certain religious rituals easier and should be used to the fullest”.
He aims to end the exploitation of technology to bring people closer to religion, and he doesn’t mind “helping followers of other religions create devices that reflect their religion.”
Children are the most targeted group
A BBC team visited the Islamic Impressions series and spoke to its director, Asif Bahayat.
“Children are the most targeted group in Islamic settings,” Bahayat says, because “religion has become an integral part of identity, and parents are very interested in teaching their children their religion,” he asserted.
Asif Bahayat, former chairman of the London-based Smart Fund, believes that technology is making communication easier. “For example, it’s hard for kids to relate to a book, but if it’s colorful and interactive, they’ll love it.” Mentioning a colorful educational group for children that teaches them to pray and the Qur’an.
As for sensory impairments, electronic devices play an important role in overcoming them, “There are audio readers for the visually impaired, and other devices for people with various special needs.”
Bahyat considers himself a supporter of technology and believes that religion is “like any other field, it must evolve and adapt to the times.”
He continues, “Many of the devices received mixed reviews from the clergy and were then used to spread the call.”
The prevalence of technology in worship may be part of a public spectacle, but it does not imply enthusiasm for it.
Father Naum believes that “technology is a double-edged sword” and that although his church uses technological applications to spread worship, because of those applications, “thoughts that hurt the religion” or “harmful ideas and opinions are absolutely present.” alien to the spirit of religion” has been spread, whether he is Christian or Muslim or any other religion, considering social media a fertile ground for it.
Religious applications may be the latest image of technology’s relationship to religion, but in the twentieth century inventions such as radio, television, and the cassette were major levers for the dissemination of religious ideas.
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