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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

‘Haqqathon’ builds apps for Islamic youth

An app that provides short video answers to youths’ questions on Islam is just one idea from a forum aimed at battling the online influence of violent extremists.
At Haqqathon, Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, projects aim to counter online extremist propaganda. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
At Haqqathon, Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, projects aim to counter online extremist propaganda. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // An app that provides short video answers to youths’ questions on Islam is just one idea from a forum aimed at battling the online influence of violent extremists.

Chief executives, media figures, psychologists and other professionals from around the world on Tuesday gathered in the capital for Haqqathon, part of the second annual forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

Ideas also included a website where Muslim youths could openly ask scholars about sex.

Five groups of participants were given the task of fusing technology and faith to bridge the gap between Islamic scholars and young people.

“We have been working with the forum on connecting scholars with the more than 500 million young Muslims across the world through digital means,” said Shahad Amanullah, one of the organisers of Haqqathon.

Mr Amanullah is also co-founder of AffinsLabs, a company that helps start-ups. He said that it had been a struggle in the age of social media to get the messages from Muslim scholars through to youths. But he said it was crucial to bring the groups closer.

Waseem Mahmoud’s group decided to try to achieve that with a “60-second scholar” app.

“The youth will not be interested in hour-long lectures,” said Mr Mahmoud, 31, a British lawyer. “We want to limit the user and the scholar to a one-minute video to ask and reply.”

Mr Mahmoud said the idea was to give answers from scholars around the world within three days and have users rate the response.

“We need platforms which not only offer bite-sized clips but also interaction so the user can remained engaged,” he said.

Such apps would not only help to battle the misleading messages of violent groups such as ISIL, but also counter a rise in atheism within Muslim communities, Mr Mahmoud said.

“People are getting fed up with the sectarianism and violence they are exposed to and some are abandoning Islam,” he said. “We need to counter this with access to authentic, reputable and credible sources who reject these messages.”

Mohsin Khan, an English teacher from Britain whose group was creating a website dedicated to answering Muslims’ questions on sex, sexuality and relationships, said: “If scholars want to be relevant they need to meet the youth where they are, and they’re on digital platforms.

“If you look at one of the major searches online for Muslim youth, sex and sexuality tops searches on praying, fasting and the basic tenets of Islam.”

Mr Khan said seven of the top 10 countries for online pornography searches had majority-Muslim populations, so it was clearly a relevant topic.

“Due to cultural norms or misunderstandings this type of information is not conveyed, but if you look at Islam you’ll find that it is open and candid – many people would say progressive – on this subject,” he said.

The tentatively named “Sheikh-Shack” website would target Muslims aged between 15 and 22.

Mr Khan said sexual frustration was undeniably one of the reasons for disenfranchised youth being susceptible to the messages coming from extremist groups.

“We want to provide a healthy outlet for this age group by those who can guide them in the right direction,” he said.

The five teams will be presenting their final ideas to the organisers on Wednesday.

“We are looking for ideas that the scholars attending the forum will be comfortable with, as well as ones that can receive further funding and support,” said Mr Amanullah.

The winning group, which will be announced on Thursday on the final day of the forum, will have an opportunity to make their idea a reality through the support and funding of the forum organisers.

tsubaihi@thenational.ae