It’s Google for Muslims; Halal meat for Web users.
“The lack of tools for Muslims to initiate activities on the World Wide Web in a safe, clean and effective way has inspired us to develop I’mHalal.com,” says the site’s CEO and Co-Founder, Reza Sardeha.
In simple terms, I’mHalal.com is a search engine that filters out haram (forbidden) content, allowing Muslims to surf the net halal (as permitted by Islam), preventing them from “accidentally” bumping into explicit content.
“Alternative search engines use algorithms that are based on Western values. I’mHalal uses a algorithm that is based on the culture, mindset and lifestyle of Muslims.”
I’mHalal 3.0 is set to relaunch in 3 weeks, after fine tuning its system since the initial launch in September 2009. From what was once a three-tiered ranking system that flagged content on different levels of “haram-ness”, the Web site now “has been integrated in the back-end so the front-end users won’t even see which sites are haram because those Web sites won’t even show up in the results anymore,” Sardeha says.
So what is halal, and what is haram?
“Halal nowadays stands for pure, Islamic and quality,” says Sardeha. “Haram Web sites would be: Web sites containing adult content, misinformation, hate, discrimination, violence, etc.”
“I do worry about what my children are seeing there, in the open space of the Internet,” says Shazia Ahmed, mother of two teenagers in Pasadena, California. “But even as a Islamic mother, I will be hesitant to use this site. Maybe it limits them?”
Sardeha assures parents that I’mHalal does no such thing. “You and your children will be able to search for general information about any topic you can find on other search engines. For certain search queries, we return more relevant results. The only difference is that we guarantee you that you or your child won’t bump into explicit content via I’mHalal. Queries containing adult keywords will only return educational Islamic-oriented results.”
Jalil Mueed, a single father raising his twelve-year-old daughter in London, UK is concerned that asking her to use I’mHalal will send a mixed message.
“There are programs here in school that teach children about sex, alcohol, about drugs, many such things. If I protect my daughter from this, when she goes to university and sees them happen in real life, she will not be prepared.”
“I’mHalal is the perfect portal for your children in this case,” Sardeha says. “On I’mHalal your children wouldn’t get redirected to pornographic sites, but only to educational and informational Web sites about drugs, sex and alcohol. Something around 80 percent of the Web sites that will return for a certain general search query in alternative search engines will also return if you use I’mHalal simply because those Web sites contain the content you’re looking for, while not being haram at all.
So is I’mHalal just a site that saves users from explicit content? Should non-Muslim parents use it as a tool, too?
“I’mHalal doesn’t only focus to filter out haram content, but we aspire to return more relevant results simply because we Muslims have a different mindset, culture and lifestyle, and search engines are very culturally biased. We’re the first and only search engine that returns more relevant results for Muslim Internet users.”
And who decides what is most relevant to Muslim users?
“From the first day we launched we mentioned we’re the search engine for the community, by the community, for the community. In the first month of our launch we allowed people to fine tune the basic filters we had so that we wouldn’t be the authority, but the Muslim community would be.”
Some halal food for thought:
If I’mHalal does allow educational content about topics such as sex and drugs, is it a better tool to use so that I can prevent my children from looking at pornographic and other explicit material?
By using an engine that returns search results in order of relevancy to Muslims, am I encouraging my child to think and learn in a ethnocentric manner? Or am I doing that regardless, by letting them use Google and Yahoo, search engines based on a Western belief system? Is using I’mHalal a step towards making my child more attuned to her own culture and religion?
Is I’mHalal dividing the one area of global space we all share? Is there a danger in encouraging search engines based on separate religious values?