Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Halal search engine: Can it get any more ridiculous?

When Koogle (Kosher google) came out, I wrote a post on how religious web engine may lead to cyber segregation. I noted that a Hoogle (Halal Google) may not be so far behind. Well,  now its here. A Dutch media company AZS has announced the launch of, created for Muslims who avoided the internet due to proliferation of explicit content. The company press release states:

The site offers a broad range of functions that are developed specifically to increase the users search experience. Besides focusing to be a great Islamic search engine, also aims to deliver the best search product as well.

The creator Reza Sardeha  got the idea  after he and his friends kept getting explicit content when using Google and Yahoo!. 
First of all, we have blocked all sexually explicit content. We are also in talks with Imams [Muslim scholars] to determine what might be considered haram and therefore be blocked."

The searing filter is static but is made up of three different layers which serve to give the user as good an engine as possible
  He also plans on adding Islamic widgets for prayer time or a quote from the Koran into the search engine.

There are a host of ethical issues associated with determining with  halal online content.  Firstly, what is halal? As we all are aware, there are many denominations within Islam.  What is considered halal in one denomination may not be halal in another.Even within Sunnism,  the concept of halal differs between Hanafis, Malikis, Shafaiis and Hambalis.

Secondly, who determines what is halal?  It is a fact that there is no universally accepted Islamic scholar. Even within different sects there is no one person who is universally accepted. So, which scholars should be used to determine halal online content?

Added to that is the potential for many conflicts of interest. Obviously porn sites are not halal, but what about those advocating safe sex or abortions. Will these sites be filtered through as well? How about those criticizing Islam? How about those that are critical of organizations that support the clerics determining what Halal is?

Religious search engines may provide a way for the faithful to both surf the net and safeguard their souls, but they can also contribute to cyber segregation making it impossible for people from different religious, social, moral and political values to interact with each other.  By transferring power from the hand of the populace to the hands of the clerics to determine what is and is not acceptable online, people no longer have the right to determine their own morals.Something that I find very disturbing.

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