INDONESIA - USA

The "Jewberry" and the "Muslim mobile" – making a business out of religious handsets

One of our Observers in Indonesia has alerted us to the launch of Hidaya, a Muslim-certified mobile phone. Meanwhile, over in the US, the "Jewberry" - a Blackberry on which you can read the Torah - is selling like hotcakes. Read more...

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One of our Observers in Indonesia has alerted us to the launch of Hidaya, a Muslim-certified mobile phone. Meanwhile, over in the US, the "Jewberry" - a Blackberry on which you can read the Torah - is selling like hotcakes.

"Frequently, I would be without a prayer book (…) but, as all Blackberry users know, you are never without your Blackberry"

Jonathan Bennett is the creator of Jewberry.

I found myself participating in daily Jewish prayer groups (minyanim) that would take place in stairwells or conference rooms of office buildings in New York City. Frequently, I would be without a prayer book, which, although I know the prayers by heart, provides a heightened level of concentration, focus and experience. But, as all Blackberry users know, you are never without your Blackberry. I thought it would be great to have that same level of access to my prayers.

I wouldn't agree [with someone who found the idea an inappropriate way of making money from religion]. Publishers who print prayer books have to make a margin; otherwise, the books wouldn't be printed. However, in our case, we are not making large profits anyway. There are costs associated with maintaining the software, upgrading it as Blackberry releases new devices, and with operating systems, customer service, etc."

Jewberry – read the Torah on your Blackberry

A straightforward play on words, the Jewish-friendly version of a Blackberry, the "Jewberry", is sold for $30. It allows you to access prayers in Hebrew on your handset, if you don't feel like hauling your books around. Thousands of the programme have already been sold.

Photos: Jonathan Bennett.

"Not really the first Muslim phone in Indonesia"

Dyssia Hayat is a French expat living in Indonesia.

What is really important to understand is that the Hidaya is not really the first Muslim phone in Indonesia; there have been other cell phones with religious applications. Not many, and most of them were very expensive and less all-inclusive, but above all, they were not officially certified as being Muslim. And here is the big difference. Indonesia is a democratic republic where religion is separated from the government. But the Council of Indonesian Ulama, called the MUI, which represents Islam here and is pretty conservative, is getting more and more influential. And they are the ones who have officially certified the Hidaya as being the first Muslim phone in Indonesia. Such a recommendation is a moral guarantee for Indonesian people and an amazing advertising asset for Esia. Of course, the recommendation itself is free. But Esia committed itself to giving 70 cents to a Muslim organisation out of each Hidaya sold. And part of the first donation, which is more than €75,000, will certainly be given to the MUI, even though Esia hasn't officially said it yet."

"A big success"

Ridzki Kramadibrata is marketing manager for Esia, the company that sells the mobiles.

The Hidaya is a big success. We had planned to sell 100,000 units the first month, but our stocks ran out after less than three weeks. We had to order new phones from the factory and are expecting to sell 300,000 units before the end of the year. We are very proud of our success!"

Hidaya, the mobile approved by Islam

The Hidaya is named after a term used in the Koran to define "guidance" or "the good way" of Islam. The phone is fitted with various religious applications. For example, for a small sum, users can avoid missing a prayer with a foolproof alarm that goes off five times a day even if you've changed the clock. There's also access to the Koran both in Arabic and translated into Indonesian; religious wallpapers, and ringtones that sound like Muslim chants. Service provider Esia also plans on integrating a mosque-finding facility and an inbuilt imam who recites prayers. The concept seems to be going down well in Indonesia; which is home to 200 million Muslims.

"Hape Muslim pertama di Indonesia" ("The first Muslim mobile in Indonesia"). The wallpaper is a picture of the biggest mosque in Jakarta, which is the also biggest in Southeast Asia.

 

An Esia shop decked out with a tambour and Arab-style arch for the launch of Hidaya.