TEL AVIV, Israel – For Muslims who just can't fit the five-times-a-day Salah prayer routine into their busy schedules, an Israeli mobile phone provider has a new solution: Mobile Koran.
Pelephone has begun offering a Koran text service that enables users to tap into verses of choice from the Muslim Holy Book at will.
For the modest sum of $1.50 per month, subscribers can download what appears onscreen as an actual book of Koran, and scroll through chapter and verse.
"We are providing something to subscribers who want to be connected to these texts any time and any place," said Pelephone Product Content Director Moti Cohen. "So naturally we are targeting a population that would use this type of service. Our Arab sector customers are very enthusiastic."
News of an Israel-backed Koran-on-demand launch targeting the Arab sector seems rife with irony — particularly as Jews and Arabs clash in the West Bank city of Hebron and rumors float freely of an Israeli re-entry into the Gaza strip, which is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.
But business is business, and Cohen said Pelephone is happy to take advantage of an uptapped market, as neither of the two Palestinian mobile operators, Jawwal and Wataniya, provides the service.
"This was a natural move for us," he said. "We offer services to Israel's entire population — Arab and Jew — and the Arab sector makes up about 15 percent of our client base. In this market almost every person has a mobile phone. Why wouldn't we offer something like this when the Bible service has been so popular?"
The "Bible Service" is Pelephone's Old Testament text-on-demand feature, launched last year to target religious Jewish mobile phone users. As with the Koran application, the service enables clients to download and page through an almost real — yet still virtual — copy of the Old Testament whenever the spirit moves them.
Ironically, the country's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is barred by religious law from surfing the Web or using data services in general, so that specific sector isn't privy to the advantages a mobile Biblical offering might provide.
Among Muslims, however, those rules don't apply.
"The Arab sector is pretty adherent and many work outside the house and pray five times a day," Cohen explains. "So we expect a high percentage of our Arab customers to opt for this feature."
Nasser Nawasi, a 19-year-old computer sales rep from Faradis Village, signed on to mobile Koran last week, and he's thrilled.
"It's with me at the beach, at work — wherever I go. Whenever I want to be closer to Islam I pull out my mobile phone and turn on the Koran. I don't necessarily pray from it — it's not the same as the genuine book — but if I feel like I need a shot of enlightenment or direction in my day, it's great. It means a lot to me."
Does it bother Nawasi that an Israeli carrier is serving up his daily verse?
"Not at all. We both have our cultures and different messages in each. They get their Bible and we get our Koran. Plus, why shouldn't they do it? It's a very marketable idea," Nawasi said.
The marketability aspect also speaks to Israeli Islam researcher Dr. Mordechai Kedar, who looks forward to tapping into the new service.
"I can see myself going into the Koran via a 3G phone and urgently retrieving a specific verse for a lecture. It's certainly accessible.... And the integration of Muslim ideas born in the 7th century with 21st-century gadgets is a welcome phenomenon."
Cohen said that mobile religion is not a viral phenomenon, even though Pelephone is the sole carrier of chapter and verse in Israel.
In the U.S., AT&T offers a similar MyFaith application for customers to get daily Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and and Sikh updates, prayers and verses and offers a social networking FaithBase site for connecting Christians 18 and up.