Muslims will be able to surf the internet without the fear of accidentally encountering sinful material after a Dutch company launched the world’s first Islamic search engine.
The ImHalal service works like any other search facility until potentially illicit words are entered, when it rates the search from one to three on its risk of generating “haram” or forbidden material.
Reza Sardeha, founder of AZS Media Group which runs the search engine, said: “The idea grew up when some friends of mine complained that when they searched on Google or Yahoo once in a while they bumped into sexually explicit content.”
About 100,000 separate users have accessed the site since its launch on Wednesday, but this is small fry compared with Mr Sardeha’s ultimate ambition — to become the standard homepage for the world’s online Muslims, who number at least 100 million.
Seven months in development, the search is available in 15 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi and Turkish, as well as English. The company expects its largest audience to develop in the Middle East.
When a search rates one or two on the haram scale, the user can still decide to take the risk and click through to the results. But a three-rated search yields no results, only the message: “Oops! Your search inquiry has a Haram level of 3 out of 3! I would like to advise you to change your search terms and try again.”
Mr Sardeha said: “Before we started this, we got the feeling that a lot of people in the Middle East, a lot of Muslims, really avoided the internet and prevented their children from accessing the internet because they were afraid their children might come into contact with sexually explicit material.”
The filter works by examining the user’s search terms and the websites that come up, trawling for a “danger list” of words that may indicate forbidden fruit. On the site, sex-related terms such as “gay”, “lesbian” or simply “sexy” merit a haram level of three. But “beer” and “pork” only merit one point, while “drugs” earns two.
There is no restriction, however, on those interested in “dating” or “wrestling”, nor more abstract concepts generally held to be forbidden in Islam, such as “mortgages”, “suicide” or “magic”. “Hot pants” are also judged to be halal — although Mr Sardeha admits the mechanism needs fine-tuning.
“We are a social company — we have a feedback button and every two minutes someone gets in touch,” he said.. “Someone already pointed out the problem with ‘bikini’.”
AZS has developed the site in consultation with Islamic scholars, but says it will not be entering into theological disputes over the possible sinfulness of Facebook or rock music. Rather, it is aimed at “the moderate Muslim”.
It hopes soon to expand into Islamic widgets such as programmes to generate Koran quotes and prayer times, in which there is already a competitive online trade.
Days after launching, the search engine’s founders are engaged in a fierce online debate with bloggers who claim it represents a form of censorship.
“It’s the people’s choice — anyone who actually wants explicit content can easily choose another search engine,” Mr Sardeha said.
….Article courtesy of Judith Evans, Times Online