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Ali Dabaja's Hajjnet Merges Technology With Spirituality

Every year millions of Muslim pilgrims focus their attentions on one place – Makkah. Ever since Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) first led his companions on the first pilgrimage from Medina to Makkah in the year 629, the ‘major pilgrimage’ – Hajj – has been an integral part of Islam. Today, devotees from around the world make their way to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage, performing various rituals along the way. Indeed, it is one of the religion’s five pillars, and as such is a duty which must be carried out by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so at least once in his or her lifetime. Taking place each year during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah – the last month of the Islamic calendar – Hajj is the largest gathering of Muslims in one place at one time, with more than 3m people attending annually. Add to that the number of people performing Umrah – the non-compulsory ‘lesser pilgrimage’ which can take place any time – and Makkah regularly welcomes several million people to the Al-Masjid al-Haram mosque, and other sacred sites, each year. Logistically tricky at the best of times due to the sheer numbers, performing Hajj and Umrah has an added layer of difficulty due to the specific rituals and actions required during the experience. And this is all on top of ensuring you have the correct clothing, hotel booking, flight details, and much, much more. With so much to remember, and such importance placed upon it, it’s no surprise that a raft of books, websites, and now apps have emerged over time to help people navigate their way successfully through the pilgrimage. With varying levels of quality and user-friendliness, however, there was a sizeable gap in the modern market for a comprehensive, interactive, fun, and visually stunning app to be launched.Which is where Ali Dabaja comes in. Previously a high-flier in the banking and finance world, Dabaja turned his attention to smartphone apps, launching Hajjnet in January 2012 after hearing numerous stories from pilgrims about the challenges they faced. When he took time to look at the facts and figures that would be associated with launching a business in this area, he says it made immediate sense. “Today Muslims are a quarter of the world’s population, and almost all are using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Islam is a way of life and when it came to something as integral to the Muslim as the fulfillment of the Hajj pilgrimage it became something of a no-brainer. “A quarter of the world’s population must perform this religious obligation which involves travel, can be dangerous, for many is extremely expensive, and for the majority of people doing it for the first time they have no idea what exactly they need to do. “I believed we could change that. “I believed there was a way of creating something for people like me who want to fulfill this integral part of my life with confidence and not be too reliant on other people – to be as independent as possible. It’s an empowering event if one can do that.” Aiming to provide guidance and support to the millions of people undertaking Hajj and Umrah, Hajjnet’s apps (HajjSalam and UmrahSalam) offer a number of features to help make the process easier. Interactive maps not only help pilgrims find their hotels, tents, and important sites, but also give a wealth of information about key landmarks, helps them find the nearest mosque or hospital, and is equipped with full GPS functionality. Videos show you how to wear the traditional Ihram towels, a counter keeps track of your number of circuits around the Kaaba, you can input a collection of personal Duas (prayers), packing lists make sure you take everything you need, and much more.

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