‘Uber for imams’ promises to revolutionize access to religious services

‘Uber for imams’ promises to revolutionize access to religious services
Launched in the UK and US at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, ImamConnect provides an online space for imams and scholars to offer Islamic services directly and at the click of a button. (Screenshot: ImamConnect)
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Updated 12 September 2020

‘Uber for imams’ promises to revolutionize access to religious services

‘Uber for imams’ promises to revolutionize access to religious services
  • ImamConnect services include weddings, funerals, matchmaking via online portal
  • Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on Muslim way of life was catalyst for idea

LONDON: A London-based entrepreneur has launched an online platform that promises to revolutionize the way Muslims access religious services.

Launched in the UK and US at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, ImamConnect provides an online space for imams and scholars to offer Islamic services directly and at the click of a button. 

Qur’an lessons, weddings, funerals, matchmaking and more can all be found on the website, along with customer reviews, insights into the providers’ specialisms and their spoken languages.

ImamConnect’s founder Muddassar Ahmed told Arab News that the best way to think about the platform is as “Uber for imams.”

He said: “The vast majority of Western Muslims don’t have continuous access to religious services, but that doesn’t mean they don’t require them. I wanted to make those religious services more accessible.”

This became critically important when coronavirus hit and so many people’s lives were turned upside down, Ahmed added.

“During the pandemic, there was demand for things like therapy and bereavement counseling. There was a need for these services, and if you were connected to a mosque you could access them, but what happens if the mosque is shut?” he said. 

This method of accessing religious services is particularly useful for young Muslims, Ahmed explained, because many of them do not have a local mosque they regularly attend.

The fourth industrial revolution, he said, has finally arrived in the realm of religious services. “If we can order food and see a doctor through an app, we can do the same for religious services,” he added.

The launch of the online marketplace has not only allowed people to access religious services on demand throughout the pandemic, it has also given imams and scholars a 21st-century way to access new markets and audiences.

Tarek Elgawhary, a US-based imam and scholar who offers, among other things, Qur’an studies, marriage counseling and guidance for new Muslims through ImamConnect, said the platform gives him a way to finally be recognized for his work.

“This is an efficient way of organizing my time and receiving feedback — people I’ve advised leave a review, and that way I stand on my own merits,” he told Arab News.

“There’s a lot more of this type of thing on the way. Whether it’s women’s fashion, Islamic services or things linked to mindfulness, we’re starting to see that Muslims are consumers,” he said. “They have wealth to spend, and they’re selective in what they want to spend it on.”

This could be a “dawn of a new day for Muslim minority populations,” Elgawhary added, as service providers have to up their game and make sure they are catering to what their communities want.

As for ImamConnect, he said: “Much like so many other successful ideas, you’re left wondering, ‘Why has nobody done that before?’”

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Updated 03 December 2020

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed
  • New laws ‘could leave farmers landless, at mercy of corporate players’

NEW DELHI: Farmers’ protests across the Indian capital New Delhi have gained momentum as several new groups joined from various parts of the country on Wednesday.

Protesters repeated their demands for the government to scrap new agricultural laws which they say could destroy their livelihoods by opening up the sector to private players.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government argues that the laws passed in September would allow farmers to be self-sufficient by setting their prices and selling produce directly to private firms, such as supermarket chains.

Farmers are not buying that and say that the new laws would instead pave the way for the government to stop buying the crops at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the “mercy of private buyers” fixing prices.

Bhanu Pratar Singh, president of the Indian Farmers’ Association, said: “Our basic demand is that the government gives us in writing that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government gives to farm produce should be codified in law in the farm laws.”

Protests escalated last week when tens of thousands of farmers marched to New Delhi, with a majority saying that the new laws would also allow traders to stockpile grains, which they fear will lead to rising prices and more profit for traders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrations led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against protesters.

Farmers sell their products at wholesale markets owned by the government, which also sets the MSP for grains.

All of that could change with the entry of new market players in the agricultural sector, where individual market prices could supersede the MSP, Jagjit Singh Dalewal of the Indian Farmers’ Union, a joint forum for 30 farm unions, told Arab News.

“It will leave us at the mercy of the big business houses. We don’t want that uncertainty,” he said.

“The traditional market system and the MSP have sustained farmers in Punjab and Haryana for a long time. They assured us a guaranteed price which is higher than the market. The new farm laws deprive us of that,” Dalewal added.

On Tuesday, talks between officials and the farmers’ union failed after the latter rejected an offer to establish a committee on the issue.

A joint statement released by farmers’ groups said that they found the offer “an attempt to buy time without addressing the real issue.”

The next round of talks is expected to begin on Thursday.

“Most of the farmers in India have small landholding, and they cannot compete with the big corporate houses,” Sunil Pradhan, a farmer based in Greater Noida, a suburban city of Delhi, told Arab News.

“A farmer having less than two hectares of land cannot have bargaining power with the corporate groups. He will succumb to pressure and become a pawn in the hands of the big players. Such farmers need government protection,” he added.

The government says that the new laws are not “anti-farmer.”

“The new agricultural law implemented by the government is not anti-farmer at all,” Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankara Prasad said on Wednesday.

“Under this bill, the safety net of the MSP will remain and will also add new options that the farmers have. Farmers will be able to enter into direct agreements for sale of food grains with production companies,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

Economists have questioned the claims, drawing attention to the “genuine” concerns of farmers.

“Many small farmers are worried that the free market in the agriculture sector will dispossess many small farmers of their lands, which will become corporatized, and they will become landless,” New Delhi-based Prof. Arun Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News.

“The government is not doing enough to address the existential concerns of the farmers,” he added.

Kumar said that “86 percent of the farmers are small farmers and cultivate less than 2 hectares of land.”

He added: “They generate a small income, and fear that the new laws will not give them the right kind of prices and that they will become landless laborers.”

Most of the farmers have camped along the Delhi border for the past week and refuse to move to a designated protest site allocated by the government.

“We have been protesting since September in Punjab, but the government has been ignoring us. Now we are at the gate of Delhi and suddenly the government is desperate to engage us for talks,” Punjab-based farmer Sarwan Pandher told Arab News.

According to one estimate, more than 50,000 farmers are camping in different borders of Delhi, with medical professionals sounding the alarm over a possible spike in coronavirus cases due to the large gatherings.

“I blame the government for playing with the lives of the people. They should understand the gravity of the pandemic and address the farmer issue urgently,” Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum told Arab News.