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Faith finds its place in the wireless world.


Miami Herald - Sat, Nov. 04, 2006

Faith finds its place in the wireless worldGospel ring tones, reminders on when to light candles before the coming Sabbath, and handsets that point to Mecca have found their way into cell phone technology.
BY DAVID HO

Michelle Williams goes to church, writes a journal and reads about spirituality, but lately relief from life's tough moments has arrived through her cell phone.

It's not wireless conversation that soothes her, but inspirational quotes from speaker and author Michelle McKinney Hammond, delivered daily as text messages through a service called FaithMobile.

'When I'm having a bad day and someone's getting on my nerves, I can just look at my cell phone and say, `Wow, I really needed that,' '' said Williams, a state traffic safety consultant from Atlanta.

The messages often concern encouraging women and ''getting to know God,'' she said. ``It's just something to uplift you throughout the day.''

From Christian rock ring tones and messages announcing Jewish holidays to handsets that point to Mecca and remind Muslims when to pray, the world of wireless content is increasingly getting in touch with its spiritual side.

Companies sensing growing demand have launched a variety of faith-based mobile services in recent months.

''Picking up that inspiration on the go whether you're in the car, you're at a traffic light, you're on a train, you're on the bus -- a lot of it is just reminding yourself who you are, reminding yourself what you believe in,'' said Martha Cotton, co-founder of Good News Holdings, the California firm behind FaithMobile.

FaithMobile offers $1.99 downloads of Christian hymns as ring tones and computer screen wallpapers featuring Bibles, angels and crosses.

Companies offering faith-based mobile content range from start-ups to telecommunication giants.

Cingular Wireless offers more than 750 cell phone ring tones from Christian artists ranging from gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to contemporary Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman, spokesman Clay Owen said.

''Contemporary Christian is clearly one of our largest special segments,'' he said. ``We have grown the number of ring tones available as demand has grown.''

Beliefnet, a New York company that runs an online community representing many faiths, launched a mobile service in August that delivers inspirational and humorous quotes from spiritual leaders, authors and others including the Dalai Lama and Maya Angelou.

Dubai-based Ilkone Mobile Telecommunications offers a handset that can alert Muslims of prayer times with a muezzin's voice and point them in the direction of Mecca from locations around the world. The phone also contains the full text of the Koran, with an English translation.

London-based MyAdhan, which dubs itself ''your intelligent call to Islam,'' offers prayer and fasting reminders and wireless charity donations. Future features include a mobile mosque locator.

Jewish information website AskMoses.com launched a mobile service in May that delivers free daily text messages with thoughts, questions and moments in Jewish history. It also can tell subscribers their local sunset time and when to light candles before the coming Sabbath.

Rabbi Simcha Backman, director of the Los Angeles-based site, said the next step will be live wireless text chats with Judaism scholars.

''We have a responsibility to harness the power of technology and use it for good things,'' Backman said. ``It all boils down to helping people.''