Unsure about Islam? Thanks to Austin woman, there’s now an app for that
Amanda Quraishi wants to assure you that downloading 365muslim, her new smart phone application, will not cause you to be “converted, indoctrinated, hypnotized, browbeat, jihad-ed, or added to an FBI watch list.”
Well, she might not be able to guarantee the last one, but Quraishi’s disclaimer on the Web site promoting the app captures both her relentless humor and some people’s troubling perceptions of Islam.
That’s part of the reason the Austin social media maven designed the app, which provides daily facts about Islam, including passages from the Quran, sayings from the prophet Muhammad, explanations of Muslim words, traditions and beliefs and historical anecdotes.
An example: “Prophet Muhammad said, ‘There is no man who kills even a sparrow or anything smaller without its deserving it, but Allah will question him about it on the judgment day.’ Yes that means the spider on your windshield, too!”
Users of 365muslim, available for free on 4G iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches and in the works for Android phones, can mark and save favorite facts and share them on Facebook.
Quraishi is all too familiar with the Web sites and emails that disseminate skewed information about her religion. (Most of us have received warnings in our inbox about the Muslim plot to take over the world.) It seems nearly everything related to the planet’s second-largest faith is somehow tainted by suspicion.
The 37-year-old Web administrator can’t help but chuckle when she hears the conspiracy theories. Muslims, she likes to joke, are far too disorganized to hatch such a scheme.
But she knows these ideas can do real damage. Most people, she says, are willing to give Muslims the benefit of the doubt, but they are understandably concerned by what they hear and often don’t have accurate information about Islam.
She scoured the App Store on her iPhone for Muslim content. She found Islamic quizzes and a prayer time app, complete with a compass that orients the user toward Mecca, but she found nothing in the way of educating non-Muslims about Islam.
“For a lot of Westerners, Islam can seem really intimidating,” she says.
Because there’s no central authority in Islam, many people don’t know where to go for information. And often, Quraishi says, they are afraid of asking Muslims questions for fear of offending them.
Though the app speaks for itself, any attempt to describe Quraishi, an irreverent, wickedly funny mother of 8-year-old twins, is sure to fall short.
In a conciliatory letter to conservative women on one of her blogs, Quraishi labeled herself as a “Flaming Liberal Progressive Muslim-American Feminist.” But that’s just a sliver of “The Q,” as she’s known online. She’s helped start companies and nonprofits and participated in a documentary about Muslim women.
A passionate supporter of interfaith dialogue, she contributes to a Jewish blog and last month took a job as Web and database administrator at the Catholic-founded charity Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which delivers food, clothing and comfort to people on the streets.
“Why would I not want to spend my time doing something worthwhile with people who have the same kind of vision for the world?” she said.
Her Facebook page is jammed with links to news stories, amusing photos and her own sardonic commentary on everything from motherhood to world affairs. As of this week, she has 1,201 friends. Her Twitter persona, @ImtheQ, draws 8,000 followers. She was one of 25 winners of the American-Statesman’s Texas Social Media Awards this year.
She loves talking about religion but says she doesn’t have an agenda.
Raised a Jehovah’s Witness, she understands the implications of spreading the word. That’s not her thing. She’s a student of the world’s religions and sees truth and wisdom in all expressions of faith. Some people cry at weddings. Quraishi cries at church services. Religion, she says, moves her.
She said she chose Islam in 1999 because the Quran made sense and helped her to focus on family, community and charity. In Islam she found a progressive, social justice-centered religion — quite the opposite of its current image. She regrets that with all the talk of terrorism and politics, the deeply spiritual aspects of Islam are overlooked.
“(People) always want to know what you’re wearin’ and whether you want to blow something up,” she says with a half-grin.
This is why Adam Black, Web strategist and Jewish studies doctoral student who got to know Quraishi through Twitter, is happy his friend created 365muslim.
The app, he told me in an email, “helps combat the very human tendency to mistrust the Other.”
Or, as Quraishi writes on her site, “After using 365muslim, you may even be able to rest easy at night, knowing that that Muslim family who lives on your block isn’t building WMDs or planning to subjugate you into wearing burkas and stone your adulterous relatives.”
But underneath the veil of humor lies Quraishi’s sincere desire for interfaith understanding, the motivation for developing an app on Islam for non-Muslims.
“It may not inspire them,” she said, “but at least they will see why it inspires someone else.”
Eileen Flynn blogs at eileenflynn.wordpress.com.