Monday, July 16, 2012

SalamWorld | New Social Network

Thursday 10 May 2012
The Muslim world will have its own social networking site this summer. SalamWorld, a cleaner, Islam-centered alternative to Facebook, aims to reach 50 million users within the next three years. "The high-profile launch of SalamWorld is set for sometime in July this year in the Turkish city of Istanbul to coincide with the holy month of Ramadan," said Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, chairman of the SalamWorld board of directors, in a special interview, here.
Abdul-Vakhed pointed out that the site will be available in eight languages including English, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, and Russian. Abdul-Vakhed is currently visiting Saudi Arabia with a delegation from SalamWorld to interact with Saudi officials, Islamic scholars and businessmen to seek their endorsement and to generate moral and financial support for the project. A local businessman Fahad Abdullah Al-Rajhi, who is a member of the SalamWorld executive, is one of the hosts for the delegation.
Ahmad Azimov, SalamWorld's deputy chairman; Nurserik Kudereyev, CEO; and M. Zahran, GCC regional director, attended the press briefing. The delegation has had talks with senior officials of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, officials of the Muslim World League (MWL) and a few other prominent Islamic scholars during their stay in the Kingdom.
Spelling out the features of the SalamWorld project, Abdul-Vakhed said: "Some 300 million Muslims use the Internet, and about half use social networks. Unfortunately, none are managed by Muslims," adding that the plan is to tap into the large number of Muslim Internet users. The major difference between SalamWorld and other social networks will be the filtering of "offensive" content like pornography, and anything inciting terrorist activity or human rights violations, he said.
He pointed out that SalamWorld will be a far cleaner version of Facebook. By "filtering out harmful content and ensuring that its pages uphold and respect family values, SalamWorld can be described as 'Halal Facebook', the new social networking phenomenon," he noted.
Referring to the growing popularity of social networking sites, Abdul-Vakhed said there are currently more than 800 million Facebook users around the world, 300 million of whom are Muslims. This number is expected to increase by 100 percent in a few years. Hence, the platform has been developed with the aim of providing a website for Muslims to interact with each other online, he added. He said any political movements or countries do not support the project.
SalamWorld users will be provided many applications, including a vast collection of books on Islamic heritage in a number of eBook formats, certified distance learning programs tailored to various levels of education, and interactive sessions with recognized scholars, qualified experts and consultants. A multilingual online Islamic encyclopedia will be available in interlinked pages created by multiple users.
"In fact, we want Muslims to engage with technology instead of cursing it as evil," said deputy chairman Azimov. He said: "As a Muslim, religion and business are not separable...whatever you do for business has to be in line with your religious principles and values."
"Part of its goal is to provide a better picture of Islam to non-Muslims," said Azimov.
The company says it will ensure halal content through filters, moderators and user-based moderation. Those are features similar to Facebook, but will likely be much more strictly applied. Another important application will be the online city guide, where users will be provided with worldwide city guides to mosques, Islamic centers, Halal restaurants and other Muslim businesses. Users will also be given opportunities to broadcast sermons, lectures and newsworthy events. SalamWorld will provide daily updates of breaking news and a space for online discussions.
Commenting on the availability of e-commerce content, Azimov said there will be an online store of Islamic goods and services and, additionally, tours will be advertised and organized for annual pilgrimages to Makkah.
The social network describes its mission as being multi-faceted; an alternative to popular social networks, offering Islamic content generated by Muslims for Muslims, a place for Muslims to raise their voices, a platform for communication between Muslim communities, a channel between Muslims and the international community, offering a field of opportunities for Muslim youth and a range of Internet services for modern Muslim society.
Azimov noted that he and his team were inspired to start this social networking project in April 2011. He says the main reason for starting the project was to provide a chance for Muslims to have their own space on the Internet and in social networks.
"Our plan for this year is also to open an office somewhere in the Gulf region," said Azimov.
Asked about the massive technical know-how required to launch such a mega project, he said: "Our professional team now consists of experts from 12 countries. The executive board has representatives from 17 countries. Our aim is to provide an alternative social network that is safe for young users, without the harmful content that is usually associated with social networks."
Several leading Muslim countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan ban thousands of websites to protect their Internet users from harmful content, he noted.
"I strongly believe that without a reliable alternative to choose from, and with a lack of Islamic content, young Muslim Internet users are unprotected against the harmful contents of websites and social networks that are devoted to today's popular culture," said the company's GCC regional director Zahran. He said that many persons and organizations previously tried to set up Islamic social networking projects but failed and eventually shut down.
"All of them failed; when a website has 20,000 users from the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, this is also a failure," said Zahran. He said having no competitors in this market increases the risk of failing and it also increases the potential area of dissemination.
As people have no alternatives, this gives us an opportunity to grow faster, said CEO Kudereyev. He noted that well-known scholars and intellectuals in the Muslim world support the project. Some of them joined the company's executive board and others have become SalamWorld's "true friends."
According to its development plan, the company plans to spend not less than $50 million in the next three years. Its major goal for the next few years is to become a global company with a $1 billion turnover. "I can say with certainty that we're moving much more efficiently than we even planned to," Kudereyev said.

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