I came to US in 2002, for first six month I struggle with finding the halal restaurants, near-by mosques, and some Muslim friends specifically from Pakistan. Here is the thing, when you are in a brand-new world and if you want to learn something quick about that country then you usually go and try to find out people from your own culture or similar culture and then the navigation in to the brand-new world for you become bit easy.
I came on H1B visa as a “ASP Developer”, and carrying an eternal curiosity in my DNA I was already getting myself hands-on with Microsoft .Net programming and Microsoft Pocket PC Programming. Then I met my friend Ameem at mosque, and he told me to find the halal restaurant there is a website known as zabiah.com where you can access their address and all the related detail. Well, I did struggle to get the details, somehow I was able to navigate that site. My reaction to the unusable website is always a big middle finger with the ample amount of cursing follow through. That may be the reason I switched from coding to UX design in 2008. I noticed that website just duped the whole interaction for the sake of God-knows-what? Well after struggling with my laziness somewhere in 2004/2005 I crafted a small interface on Pocket PC and on a website and that was the birth of NaanMap.com (not active anymore). However after fiddling with this idea and officially launching it in 2008 still it didn’t survive and I put it off, but it helps me to get the job as a UX designer (there are other apps that helped me too) in a largest bank of US. The sweetest bit from my stint related to NaanMap.com is … zabihah.com copied my design!
Till today zabihah.com is still littered with the UX issues, but I think they are just cursory issues in my opinion. Not a big deal at all, but there is one key ingredient missing and I will cover it in next few paragraphs that what is the core issue with Muslims in this tech-savvy country.
Lets take a small de-tour and explore some interesting facts about Muslims in North America; especially in United States. Islam is the fourth largest religion in United States, and there are 2.595 million muslims alone in United States, 1 million in Canada, and almost 300,000 muslims in Mexico. The number of mosques in the United States in 2011 was 2,106. The six states with the greatest number of mosques were: New York 257, California 246, Texas 166, Florida 118, Illinois 109, New Jersey 109.. Immigration retention rate of Muslims is 77%, along with Hindus 80% and Jews 75%. 23% of American Muslims were converts, including 8% from historically black Protestant traditions, 6% from being unaffiliated, 4% from Catholicism, and 3% from mainline or evangelical Protestantism. By race, in 2014, 38% were non-Hispanic white (including Arabs and Iranians, up from 32% in 2007), 28% were Asian (mostly Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, up from 20% in 2007), 28% were black (down from 32%), 4% Hispanic (down from 7%), and 3% of mixed or other race (down from 7%). Since 2007, the black proportion had shrunk, while the white and Asian proportions had grown, mainly due to immigration as most black Muslims were native U.S. blacks. From education perspective Pakistani community stand out! Most of them are doctors, engineers, and financial analysts and large number of them are entrepreneurs. There are 15,000 doctors from Pakistani origin. Then we have Shahid Khan a Pakistani-born American multi billionaire and owner of the National Football League (NFL) Jacksonville Jaguars . 45 percent of immigrant Muslims report annual household income levels of $50,000 or higher. Immigrant Muslims are well represented among higher-income earners, with 19 percent claiming annual household incomes of $100,000 or higher (compared to 16 percent for the Muslim population as a whole and 17 percent for the U.S. average). This is likely due to the strong concentration of Muslims in professional, managerial, and technical fields, especially in information technology, education, medicine, law, and the corporate world. One in three American Muslims are earning $75,000 a year. Growing Muslim populations have caused public agencies to adapt to their religious practices. Airports such as the Indianapolis International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Kansas City International Airport have installed foot-baths to allow Muslims, particularly taxicab drivers who service the airports, to perform their religious ablutions in a safe and sanitary manner. As of May 30, 2005, over 15,000 Muslims were serving in the United States Armed Forces.
This means the following:
- Muslims are a vibrant and active member of the society
2. They are well-off and most of them are professional
3. They have strong sense of being-American.
Where is disconnect?
You may wonder why I used the word “disconnect” then? They are totally connected with the American society and they have a vibrant presence, but what’s missing? According to my experience, and I am dead sure there are many who can resonate with me on the that that Muslims have two big issues:
1- Finding halal restaurants and stores and related stores in the neighborhood
2- 3 biggest celebration dates and timing across all mosques (Prophet Muhammad Birthday, Eid-ul-fitr, and Eid-ul-Adha)
You may wonder why I say finding halal restaurant is an issue, lets check out the status of zabihah.com from a perspective of usability, in short it sucks. When I came up with the idea of NaanMap, and then launching it formally was the biggest issue I was trying to answer about usability. However, there were so many missing pieces at that time, and still are.
Issue with finding halal restaurant is
1) Some are serving mix type of food (halal and non-halal)
2) Some are already switched to non-Halal ingredients and that thing is not mentioned on their site.
3) Some of them are out-of-business.
However these days you can google up Halal restaurant quite easily using Google Map or Apple Map on your smartphone, and get the accurate detail. At least the detail related to if they are open and what’s their timing, and if they are halal, using the data backed up by Yelp these service provide you somewhat accurate data, so there is no need for Zabihah or NaanMap in that context.
Now, let us talk about the 2nd issue I talked about. I lived-in San Jose, San Francisco, Daly City, Fremont and now I am in Mountain House (Tracy). You know what I noticed among all the Muslims living in those cities? “When will be the Eid day?” or “Are you celebrating with the MCA (Santa Clara) or you are following SBIA moon-sighting stance?”
Root cause is not “should Muslim go with the Calendar based approach, or pre-calculated dates or moon-sighting approach”. Islam is not confined in one single stance”. As Muslim believes it is purely a universal thing, and where or what type of sighting you believe don’t impact on you being Muslim.
Then what is the root cause? Both camps Calendar-follower and Moon-sighting do not communicate properly with the Muslim community in general here in USA. As a Muslim who follows these events you either a) call a friend to verify b) browse the Mosque Facebook page (if they do exists and properly managed) c) call mosque (usually their lines are busy on that occasion) or d) hopelessly struggling on mosque website to find out.
Interestingly mosque website are pathetic and do not communicate the first two key information when a) what is a Hijra Calendar date? b) Any upcoming Hijra Event.
Out of 2609 mosques, only 606 mosques do have website. I got the list of mosques in Americas from Wikipedia, and then from there I calculated that exact figure. Now you see the disconnect, out of those 606 mosques 80% of them do not mention Hijra Calendar right up front for their site visitor. That’s a big shame; we still have to phone and/or a quick text to Imam of that mosque or someone from the Mosque Board member. A quick solution for those mosques who don’t website, they can quickly setup the Facebook Fan Page for their patron, this is a cheapest way (almost $0) to solve the “disconnection” issue.
How to solve that disconnect? Today’s world solved our some key data related issue, which is related to storing data and then retrieving it and making it available across all type of interfaces (Smartwatches, Smartphones, SmartTVs etc etc). I believe utilizing API based implementation of common data and then making it open source will help tons of people not just American Muslims but it can be a role model for Muslims in different part of the world.