Turkey: ‘Muslim Facebook’ plans to be launched in Istanbul in Ramadan

ISTANBUL, 11 Rabi al-Thani/ 4 March (IINA)-Described as a “Halal Facebook,” the new social networking phenomenon, Salamworld, set to hit the Muslim world during the fasting month of Ramadan, will create an Internet platform for Muslims of all ages. The headquarters of the company are located in Istanbul.

There are currently 800 million Facebook users around the world, 300 million of whom are Muslim. This number is expected to increase by 100 percent in 10 years’ time.

Speaking to Sunday’s Zaman in an inclusive interview, the chairman of Salamworld, Abdulvahit Niyazov, said that the platform has been developed with the aim of providing a more “halal” (Islamically permissible) website for Muslims to interact with each other online.

Niyazov said Istanbul is seen as an ideal location due to its unique position between the Eastern and Western worlds and that Turkey is economically stable, thus attracting many businessmen from all around the world. He added that Turkey is seen as a leading Muslim country among Islamic countries. Niyazov says this project is solely a business project that intends to serve needs of Muslims in the modern world and it is not supported by any political movements or countries. He added that he has always shown great respect to the works of Turkish scholars around the world, including well-respected figures Fethullah Gülen and former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.

Salamworld states that its 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, interactive session with recognized scholars and qualified experts and consultants. A multilingual online Islamic encyclopedia will be available in interlinked pages created by multiple users.

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.

The company chairman stated that there will be an online store of Islamic goods and services and, additionally, tours will be advertised and organized for annual pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca. Mentioning that 54 percent of the Muslim world is under the age of 25, Salamworld targets Muslim children and youth to be educated on Islam with interactive online games.

Salamworld states that this project is not only going to be created to serve as an ordinary social networking platform. It 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.

Salamworld chairman Niyazov stated that he was inspired to start this social networking project in April 2011 and he says the main reason for starting the projects was to provide a chance for Muslims to have their own space on the Internet and in social networks, taking into account that one-fifth of the Earth is Muslim.

Niyazov told Sunday’s Zaman that they are in the process of actively developing the company. The product and the project is planned to be launched during the fasting month of Ramadan.

“Besides Istanbul, we have offices in Moscow, Russia and Egypt. Between March and April 2012 we plan to open a technical office in India’s Hyderabad and Indonesia’s Jakarta in June or July and another technical office in New York in October or November. Our plan for this year is also to open an office somewhere in the Persian Gulf (either in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha) and also in Iran. Our plans for the next year also include openings in Almaty or Astana to supervise the Central Asian region, Mecca and Medina as the Holy cities, Paris and London for Europe and Beijing and Kuala Lumpur for Southeast Asia. Our professional team now consists of experts from 12 countries. The executive board has representatives from 17 countries,” the Salamworld chairman said.

Salamworld says they aim 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. “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,” Niyazov added.

Many have previously tried to set up Islamic social networking projects but they failed and later closed.

“Speaking frankly, 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. Having no competitors in this market of course increases the risk of failing; from the other side, it also increases the potential area of dissemination. As people have no alternatives, this gives us an opportunity to grow faster,” said Niyazov.

The company chairman said 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 the Salamworld development plan, the company plans to spend not less than $50 million in the next three years. Niyazov said he is absolutely confident that these figures are correct, and will give good results. He added that Salamworld’s 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 that we even planned to,” he added. Moreover, within next four to six years, Salamworld plans to launch as a public company, with its head office in Hong Kong. However, it’s very difficult to make any kind of forecasts for the next six years, especially regarding the economy and finances.