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Mosque tech and innovation take giant strides forward
Photo: A Saudi policeman monitors screens connected to cameras set up at all the holy places in Mecca during the annual pilgrimage, November 7, 2011. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
With an estimated 210,000 mosques in the Middle East and 3.85 million worldwide by 2020, mosque tech and innovation present a huge opportunity for technology solution developers
New technologies in building, upgrading, and management of mosques are being introduced by regional and trans-national companies that view this as a business opportunity. Recent mosque tech and innovation include enabling zakat transactions via payment cards, centralising the employment of imams, automating temperature control, and creating domes using ultra high performance concrete to render elaborate geometric concepts.
Mosque authorities have been keen to keep up with new technology that is relevant to the lives of a new generation of believers, with an emphasis on experience and function.
During Ramadan this year, Darul Makmur Mosque in Singapore, for instance, held a hackathon inside the mosque with the idea of providing youth with “a platform to seek, implement and share the best and coolest ideas with technology towards the benefit of the community.”
“Whether it’s in the format of a mobile app, a web app or a hardware implementation – or a combination – we want to see how you innovate. It could be a game, a matchmaking service or even just an info website, but we want it to be cool,” the event organisers explained.
Technology developed for use in mosques incorporates much more than youth events.
According to a Deloitte study, there will be 3.85 million mosques around the world by 2020, even at a modest CAGR of 1.3 percent. The study identifies the need for smart solutions in more effective mosque management and administration, dealing with issues such as “wastage of water, unsecured mosque premises, electricity wastage, maintenance and cleaning, locating mosques and understanding the Friday sermon.”
Smart mosque solutions, the report says, are being included to offer mosque information services (via QR coding, for instance), multi-screen projections for Friday sermons and eco-tech solutions.
“The GCC and South East Asia countries are leading Smart Mosque initiatives,” said the report.
In the GCC, which leads in eco-friendly solutions, technology is not only being used for the greater comfort of a growing population of Muslims, but to create increased awareness about the environmental cost of buildings.
Jimmy El-Hajj, Product Manager at Honeywell said that from just under 180,000 in 2014, the number of mosques in the Middle East, comprising Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE, is expected to reach 210,000 by 2020.
With new mosques being built and old ones undergoing renovation and expansion, including the $100 billion King Abdullah Haram Expansion project in Saudi Arabia, the sector represents a huge opportunity for suppliers. The KAHE project, seen as the largest in its 4,000-year history, comprises new prayer-yards, walkways, tunnels and the development of existing service facilities to increase capacity to more than two million people.
Photo: Construction works are carried out as part of the Grand Mosque expansion project in the holy city of Mecca March 21, 2014. As a result of the expansion project, the whole space of the mosque, including the outdoor and indoor praying areas, will reach up to 800,000 square meters (197 acres). It will accommodate 2.6 million worshippers, officials said. REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hwaity
“Mosques represent cultural core buildings and require best design, value and sustainability,” Armin Kainz, technical director at Germany’s Lindner, told Salaam Gateway. The company tailors façades of different types.
“It provides architects design flexibility for modern mosque concepts, taking traditional ornaments into consideration,” Kainz said, citing the 98,000-square-metre special ceiling built for the Haram project, with geometric patterns created with surgical precision using deep drawing tools. The ceiling is not only light-weight but is also packed with fire stability and acoustic performance.
Chinese company ZTE has developed a solution for public safety using RFID technology, which allows mosque managers visibility of how many people are visiting the mosque, the peak times and any crowding issues. Worshippers, in turn, can access smart services, such as contactless payment, personal lockers, smart parking and GPS location through an all-in-one ‘smart card’. Real-time video surveillance with sophisticated recognition and analytics capabilities is also incorporated.
Such solutions eventually find their way into viable markets.
In Dubai alone, the total project cost for a recent tender for an eco-retrofit of the first phase of 650 mosques is estimated at between 90 million Emirati dirhams ($24.5 million) and 180 million dirhams. According to the Supreme Council of Energy, the more than 2,000 mosques in Dubai, each being visited by the majority of the population multiple times a day, are the key to showcasing excellence in demand-side management and efficient use of resources.
The council is promoting efficient appliances that ensure optimal use of electricity and especially water for ablution. The biggest opportunities for savings are in cooling and lighting – reduction of electricity use without any loss of comfort.
“As the energy demands go up, operational expenses go up. The air-conditioning stays on all day when it is being used only 25 percent of that time. With one set point [for air-conditioning] there is no consideration for prayer times, or for unoccupied periods, or for a night set back,” El-Hajj said, presenting Honeywell’s mosque thermostat in April during the Mosque Design and Development Summit in Dubai.
The product, developed in consultation with officials, allows users to set prayer times according to the local time zone. The thermostat then adjusts the prayer times through the year. It activates the air-conditioning half an hour before prayer time and then returns it to a more energy-efficient level after.
After a study in neighbouring emirate Sharjah, the product was launched in December 2015 at Al Tawba Mosque, which has a capacity for 600 worshippers. “We used night set back and five prayer times for the six months of the pilot. The results were 37 percent energy savings versus the previous year, translating to 14,000 dirhams of savings in six months. The solution pays for itself in three months through energy savings,” El-Hajj said.
In Abu Dhabi, Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is working with the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments to install a smart sensor system in local mosques. The system, already being tested in two Abu Dhabi mosques—Masjid Fatah and Masjid Al Haq—uses algorithms to analyse a video feed of the mosque. After learning the times of the day when the mosque becomes full, the system then automatically begins cooling the mosque slowly prior to those times, so that once full, the mosque will be cool, allowing worshippers to pray comfortably, without requiring high-energy rapid cooling.
At the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, smart building technology is used to monitor and control the environment. “It’s not just about air temperature; the air quality is also very important,” said Koen Bogers, senior executive vice president of building technology at Siemens Middle East. “When the sensors detect a reduction in the quality of air, the building management system automatically brings in fresh, cool air to maintain a consistently high quality, at a temperature appropriate to the occupancy.”
Photo: Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE on Mar 31, 2013. Smart building technology is used to monitor and control the mosque's environment. A-image/Shutterstock.com
Many of these solutions come alive during Ramadan, when worshippers throng mosques for not only prayers but to pay zakat as well.
“During Ramadan, with Qatar Foundation, we are launching 19 kiosks machines as a pilot in mosques or places where there is zakat. Every riyal is accounted and we will know how much money is coming in from people via their cards for charity and zakat,” Niranj Sangal, group CEO of OMA Emirates, told Salaam Gateway.
The payments technology company, which counts major GCC banks among its clients, has said that integrating the latest payments technology in mosque solutions is one of the areas of focus this year. Mosque-centric innovation accounts for about 13 percent of OMA Emirates’ innovation spend in a year.
Last year it acquired Morocco-based BRS Solutions, which works with the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on the Imam Management System, an integrated process for the management of mosques and religious attendants currently deployed at more than 50,000 mosques covering over 100,000 employees. The system is used for, among other things, payment of bi-monthly bonuses and is integrated with a mosque’s geo-location system.
“The staff in a mosque, particularly the imam, are appointed and approved by the ministry. The system allows remuneration to be processed automatically. Each system is integrated with a camera in self-recording mode. This allows activities to be monitored on a real-time basis.
“The second phase is about payments. We’ve enabled the payment system adding about 12,000 to 15,000 mosques in a year. For example, if the imam needs to renovate a certain section of the mosque, the approval is sought and granted online. There is no physical intervention,” said Sangal.
Adding a payments section to the system would allow for greater monitoring and transparency in the use of funds. “Budgeting is already part of mosque management. Now we can find out who has donated how much, in which month, and how the funds are being used,” he said.
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