My friend Reza Aslan always has his finger on the pulse of innovation. In 2005, he recognized the importance of people having an appreciative understanding of the history of Islam and wrote what I think is the most lyrical narrative of the religion I have read in No God but God.
Last year he published a book, How to Win a Cosmic War, on how to not cede the power of symbolism to terrorists.
This year he is involved in launching an interesting new iPhone application called “MeccaLocator“.
As Bill Clinton often says, there is another Middle East – a Middle East you don’t see on TV. That Middle East is a population of tech savvy, increasingly educated young people who are already a part of the modern world and eager to both live their Muslim tradition and contribute to the modern world. (For more on this see Vali Nasr’s new book, Forces of Fortune, on the rise and significance of the Muslim middle class.)
Reza sees technology as a bridge between tradition and modernity, and between east and west. So it came as no surprise to me when I heard he was involved in this new project. MeccaLocator lets you customize a prayer alarm – for 3, 5 or 6 times a day – points you towards Mecca, and adjusts to different time zones. It also provides automated adhans (calls to prayer from the muezzin of the mosque) directly from Mecca.
Seeing as over 75 percent of the population of the Middle East is under 35 – and Arab and Islamic markets are estimated at $2.7 trillion currently – this is not only cutting edge, but incredibly relevant to many of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
My guess is that MeccaLocator is just the beginning. As people realize that there is a huge audience of Muslims who both cherish their religion and live fully in the modern world, there is going to be a lot more aimed at them. I hope it changes our image of this rising Muslim middle class, and helps a layer of the Muslim world to aspire to be part of it.