This article originally appeared on Motherboard last year, but it's been updated for today.
There are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, and on Saturday, many begin observing the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan. During fasting hours, from dawn to sunset, they refrain from food, water, sex, cigarettes, gossip, and a whole lot more. It is a time for reflection, discipline, and spiritual growth.
A growing number of smartphone apps, like Ramadan Legacy, are helping Muslims to keep track of everything from their prayers to good deeds.
The tech boom has produced thousands of apps hoping to help people of different faiths to practice their religion, including Muslims. Ramadan Legacy hopes to put key information about daily fasts, prayers, and good deeds at the user's fingertips. Users are given a fresh page for each day of Ramadan, with a list of the tasks they are obligated to do that day.
While Muslims are required to pray five times a day all year round, many are particularly attentive to their prayers during Ramadan. Through the app, a user can click on a check mark next to the prayer name to note it has been completed.
Since its launch in June 2015, it has had 160,000 downloads in 500 cities, from London to Tokyo to Toronto, in 90 countries.
Glasgow-based Shahbaz Mirza, the founding director of Ramadan Legacy, dubs the app "a high quality, distraction-free space for Ramadan."
In 2013, Mirza created a PDF called "My Ramadan Action Plan," which was downloaded a few thousand times from his blog. Realizing it struck a chord, he enhanced the document into a more comprehensive PDF ebook, which saw around 10,000 downloads.
So Mirza, a strategy consultant by day, decided to create an app next.
"The reality is that mosques are dying out, books are dying out, and we need to cater to twenty-first century Muslims," he told me.
Mirza says one of the goals of the app is inclusion. "There are so many different types of Islam, different groups, different sects, different philosophies. The key thing about us is we are independent from all of that, we aren't excluding any group nor are we leaning towards a particular way of thinking."
During Ramadan in 2015, the app briefly became the third-most searched in the world on the iOS platform. And it was ranked sixth place in the lifestyle category of iOS, right below Tinder.
Global Muslim consumer and lifestyle markets were worth $2 trillion in 2013
The app's most popular feature then was the 'Reflection Stream,' which is a social stream that allows users to share a story, photo or a tip about Ramadan with others using the app. "Last year, there were 10 posts a minute. Someone in New Zealand would post a picture of their iftar (evening meal) and a person in Hong Kong could see what [they ate]."
Mirza says this social aspect highlights the power of connectivity. In the UK, fasting from sunrise to sunset can last up to 19 hours and be particularly challenging for those who are working or in school. The app can help Muslims "be a part of a community" and "help and motivate each other."
A recent report estimated that the global Muslim consumer and lifestyle markets were worth $2 trillion USD (Rp 26,594 trillion) in 2013. That number is expected to reach $3.7 trillion USD (Rp 49,198 trillion) by 2019.
Muslims make up almost a quarter of the world's population, so it's no surprise that businesses, including tech companies, increasingly cater to Muslim holidays.
Google's My Ramadan Companion offers information about sunrise and sunset times to help people figure out their fasting hours, as well as options for the nearest Halal restaurant. In 2015, Uber used its platform to create a special food delivery system in Indonesia called "UberBUKA," targeting fasting Muslims in the city of Jakarta.
In May, an Islamic scholar named Zakir Naik released Peace Mobile, the world's first Islamic Android smartphone. The phone comes with preloaded Islamic apps, ringtones, and over 80 hours of Naik's own lectures.
While the digitization of religion can certainly make you more organized, can it help your spiritual condition?
Imam Yahya Abu Sumayah, one of the Imams at the Sakinah Community Centre in Toronto, believes apps can help strengthen one's faith by "attaining certain goals and taking advantage of the time in Ramadan. Tracking your progress can be a real motivator." The key is to focus on "your own individual religious growth" and not get "distracted" by the social aspect of these apps, he said.
Abu Sumayah says technology is no different from television or the media. "It can be both an asset or a detriment depending on how it is used and who uses it."