The annual observance of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer that more than one billion Muslims participate in each year, brings to mind a collection of timeless images: the communal evening meal of iftar, twinkling lanterns, works of charity, Google+ hangouts.
That last snapshot might not fall into the category of traditional ritual observances, but times, they are a-changing. And this year, for the first time, Ramadan is going digital.
On its official blog, Google explains the inspiration for its decision to present “Ramadan with a digital twist”: “Ramadan is about more than just prayer; it is also a special moment to gather with friends and family… [And] this year, we’re bringing some of the most venerable Ramadan traditions online.”
The high-tech holiday offerings feature a variety of content on the Web: one YouTube channel, MakkahLive, broadcasts live daily prayers from Mecca, while a separate Ramadan channel provides access to more than 50 specially-produced Ramadan television programs that viewers can watch the same day that they air. (This is a significant improvement over the regular broadcasting schedule – as Google explains, many of the Ramadan-specific features overlap on television, forcing audiences to choose one program over another.)
In addition to the dedicated YouTube channels, Google is hosting more than 30 virtual hangouts on a Google+ channel called Google Arabia – one for each day of the month. Celebrity chefs will share their favorite recipes for breaking the daily fast and doctors will provide tips on eating healthy throughout the month; actors will discuss their favorite Ramadan entertainment and poets will speak about literature inspired by the holiday; religious figures will answer questions pertaining to the observance of Ramadan and its place in Islamic tradition.
The offerings will cover the wide swath of rituals and traditions, both religious and secular, that make Ramadan such an important holiday to so many people around the world.
Google’s unprecedented effort to bridge the chasm between what has historically been a highly individualized experience of religious observance and the shared virtual environment of the Internet has got me thinking: What will come next – Hajj check-ins on Foursquare? Skyping with Santa Claus? Google+ bar mitzvahs? The possibilities are endless.
For more on Google’s Ramadan programming schedule, visit the company’s official blog.