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Helping pilgrims The smart way to Mecca Economist, Feb 13th 2012, 18:15 by T.R. | BERLIN THE haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca every Muslim is expected to make at least once, can be a pretty stressful experience. The rites, which last from the 8th to the 12th day of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, are fiendishly complex. Missing one of them or performing it ineptly can be costly. Offenders have to sacrifice an animal, or even come another time, to make amends. The holy city is also notoriously tricky to get around: each year more than 2m Muslims converge on it and often have a hard time finding their tents in the giant camps whose alleys are not well marked. "Some people get lost for days before being able to rejoin their group," says Habiburrahman Dastageeri, a 31-year-old German-Afghan, who has yet to go on his own haj, but has already struggled with the umrah, a less complex, and less crowded, pilgrimage to Mecca that can be performed at any time of the year. The experience inspired the computer scientist to develop a smartphone app which helps hajjis to avoid stress so they can focus on their religious duties. The app, currently available only for iPhone, though an Android version is in the works, is called Amir, which means "guide" in Arabic (among other things). It offers a check-list to ensure the pilgrim is fully prepared before setting off to Saudi Arabia. It also includes interactive tutorials, for instance on what to do while walking seven times counter-clockwise around the Kabah, the Black Stone, or how properly to stone the Devil. Once they arrive, pilgrims can use Amir to check where they are and to locate their tent. On top of that, the app has a built-in emergency button so people in need can easily be located by an ambulance or the police. Writing a haj app was not easy, says Mr Dastageeri. It took him more than two years. Yet the effort is starting to pay off. Although downloads of the app, which is not cheap at €19.99 ($26), still number in the dozens, it has already sparked interest. Several Middle Eastern investors want to buy a stake in Mr Dastageeri's start-up, which is based in Stuttgart. And the Saudi government seems keen on having pilgrims use Amir. When Mr Dastageeri recently met with officials, they immediately started brainstorming about how the app could be used to improve crowd control and security in Mecca, where collapsing ramps and stampedes have already caused many deaths. Helpfully, religious rules do not seem to prohibit pilgrims from using smartphones on Islam’s holy grounds. Some have argued that cameras should not be allowed in Mecca. But since virtually all modern phones include one, bringing them along is accepted as long as no pictures are taken. Even conservative Muslims do not appear to have a problem with Amir, says Mr Dastageeri. But just to make sure, he has asked Abu Muneer Ismail Davids, an Islamic scholar based in Australia who has written several books on haj rites and teaches preparation classes, to endorse the app. Mr Davids gave Amir the thumbs up. ------ Personally, I don't see the need for this. once the saudi usurping monarchy is overthrown, more oil money will be pumped into Mekkah and Madina to improve infrastructure and accomodation. ( I would demolish the clock tower complex first). And anyway, HAJJ is SUPPOSED to be a challenging experience, and it's SUPPOSED to exhaust you, and you're SUPPOSED to make the extra effort to read and prepare yourself mentally and spiritually. I would find better ways to filter out the holiday hajjis from the true pilgrims. and the first people I would ban would be the gulf nationals who go every year on 50k$ dollars plus packages. I know people in Iran who've been waiting more than 5 years to get a hajj ticket....
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