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Kuwait Times Technology

Pilgrimage accelerates the growth of digital worship

MINA: Muslim worshippers arrive in Mina to throw pebbles as part of the symbolic Al-A’qabah (stoning of the devil ritual) at the Jamarat Bridge during the Hajj pilgrimage, near Saudi Arabia’s holy city of Makkah. – AFP

MINA: The hajj
pilgrimage underway in Makkah has been accelerating the growth of digital
worship and spawning a slew of religious apps, tablet Qurans and faith-based
gadgets. At the peak of Mount Arafat, numerous Muslim pilgrims were absorbed in
Quranic verses displayed on their smartphones – rapidly replacing traditional
printed holy books.

“Of course I
read the Quran on my phone… it’s much more simple,” said Egyptian
teacher Ahmad Salim, 46, who had travelled to Saudi Arabia for the hajj, one of
Islam’s five pillars. For the first time in the hajj’s history, 5G super
high-speed mobile technology has been deployed around the holy sites to allow
the faithful to transfer data at breakneck speeds. Tech giants Zain and Nokia
will even “demonstrate advanced virtual reality… allowing users to
experience the hajj remotely as if they were there”, using 360 degree
high-definition video over 5G.

‘A success’

Many pilgrims
snapped selfies over the five-day rite, held this year August 9 to 14, and sent
video clips to friends and family back home. Almost 2.5 million Muslims have
travelled to Makkah in western Saudi Arabia, closed to non-Muslims, for the
religious gathering, which is one of the world’s largest and most logistically
complex. The hajj has taken on an increasingly high-tech dimension in recent
years with the emergence of mobile phone apps designed to help pilgrims from
around the world navigate their experience.

Software exists
to help visitors get around Makkah and the surrounding area as well as access
medical services and properly follow religious rites. Saudi’s hajj ministry
even sends text messages to pilgrims with a variety of information and advice.
A major digital innovation for this year’s hajj has been the introduction of
electronic hajj visas “delivered online for the first time without
necessitating a consulate visit. It’s been a success,” said hajj ministry
official Hassan Qadi.

‘It’s very
useful’

“It’s very
practical, especially for those travelling with family,” said Jordanian
Abderrahman Shdaifat, 44, making his first hajj. The authorities have also
increasingly turned to technology to improve the hajj experience and avoid
incidents like the stampede that claimed some 2,300 lives in 2015.

In the wake of
that tragedy, pilgrims are now issued with electronic bracelets containing
their personal data. “All of their information is loaded, a bit like an ID
card. If you can’t read or write and you get lost, you can give it to anyone
and they can help you find your address. Technology helps ease the hajj,”
said Sami Abdelaziz, a 37-year-old Saudi pilgrim. Shdaifat, the Jordanian
pilgrim, sheltering under an umbrella from the heavy rains that have lashed the
Mina Valley outside Makkah, said of the bracelets: “If a pilgrim gets
separated, their group can locate them.

“It’s very
useful.” Saudi authorities have also fitted GPS trackers to 18,000 shuttle
buses to monitor the flow of pilgrims. Shdaifat brandished a second bracelet
that gives him access to the metro system connecting Makkah’s various
pilgrimage sites. Classic watches and alarm clocks are also losing ground to
phone-based tools that alert worshippers to their five daily prayers.
“Nearly all the pilgrims have it,” said Egyptian Ahmad Salim.- AFP

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