A 'halal' version of Facebook coming soon

KUALA LUMPUR - COME this year's Ramadan month in July, a "halal" social networking site called "Salamworld" will open its doors to netizens.

At the very basic, it aims to become an Islamic alternative to the hugely popular Facebook site.

The key to this is to make it a safe site that is free of everything that is haram or forbidden -- pornography, criminal activities, fraud, paedophilia and advertisements on gambling and alcohol.

It was launched in Istanbul, Turkey amid a gathering of Islamic leaders and intellectuals recently.

A promo video that outlined the idea behind Salamworld said: "By filtering out harmful content, and by making the content uphold and respect family values, we confirm to the requirements of Muslims throughout the world.

"At Salamworld, our aim is to overcome all political, language and cultural barriers, to open the world to Muslims, and open Muslims to the world."

This Islamic network aims to garner 50 million users in three years. In an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News, one of its owners, Siberian Muslim businessman Abdulvahed Nizayov said: "Muslims in the world are not well-represented on the Internet; we want to change this situation.

"However, we're not constructing an Internet mosque, we are just creating a halal environment for Muslims."

A number of prominent leaders from the Islamic world have joined forces with Abdulvahed's group to develop the site, which is being funded to the tune of tens of millions of dollars by a group of Russian and Turkish investors.

Malaysian Jumaatun Azmi (right), the founder-director of the World Halal Forum and the face behind KasehDia, is one of the latest additions to Salamworld's board of directors.

"I am helping them fine tune it. The main thing I want to push on the agenda is to make it universal, for Muslims and non-Muslims."

"Salam means peace in Islam and Salamworld is about just that - creating a safe, peaceful world that is free from haram (things that are forbidden in Islam) for everyone.

"And the thing that we're concerned about is that (so far) only the extremists are being heard as the voice of Islam.

"They are louder than the silent, peaceful majority that makes up the Islamic world," she added.

"That's why Salamworld, while being free of all that is haram, is geared towards providing the moderate and peaceful majority a platform for safe interaction and discourse. "This would mean that there will be a lot of censorship involved.

"I know there will be a lot of criticisms coming in because the Internet stands for freedom and free. In Islam, there is no such thing as total freedom.

"There are etiquettes and mannerisms and adab of public and private life as ordained by God.

"That's what we believe in and so the key thing for them (the owners of Salamworld) is to implement it in an environment where the tone is still welcoming," said Jummatun.

Jumaatun has three children that she has managed to keep away from Facebook.

The oldest is 10, and as Jumaatun admitted, all of them "really want to be on Facebook".

"We can make it a safe place for whole families. In Islam, the main unit of a society is family.

"This is going back to basics, it may be sound not so cool but we can make it cool and fun to have your mother and father together with you on Salamworld.

"I have ideas on how to do this but I need to talk to them first," said Jumaatun.

Jumaatun sees Salamworld as having the potential to be a "new global force for good".

"If done right, I think Salamworld will be able to help with better content, bringing in the role models and also assisting people who want to do something, not just chatting because we are living in an age where even just one person can make a lot of difference."

It will offer a platform for good initiatives around the world that's not just related to Islam, but related to humanity, she added.

Social media is increasingly viewed as a platform in which the moderate voice of Islam can emerge and like-minded people can come together to find simple solutions to the big problems that afflict their communities.

In view of that, the 7th World Halal Forum that will be held here between April 2 and 4, is including, for the first time, the topics of social media and Salamworld.

It will also be looking at entertainment -- what's suitable for Muslims and future generations.

"We're really about values and we don't see that in (channels like) MTV. It's hedonistic, (about) fornication, getting drunk and flaunting your bling-bling.

"I love music and so does my 10-year-old boy but I can't let him watch MTV because it's really bad and I know it'll affect his psyche," said Jumaatun.

"We're not angry people, we just want to offer an alternative. It can still be fun -- it doesn't have to be about religion or nasyid, just something on good values.

"That's why we're also looking at the soft sectors, the content industry. It'll be really exciting."

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