Site Offers a New Online Community of Muslims Who Play by the Rules
June 30, 2006 — – A teenager is assaulted by someone she meets on MySpace.com.
Another goes halfway across the world to meet her MySpace soul mate.
What started out as a place where artists and musicians could find a following has turned into a potentially dangerous place, especially for young people.
One man decided to make a safer space — for Muslims.
Don’t even think about swearing or hitting on other users, and don’t post any inappropriate pictures.
You’ll get kicked off in a heartbeat if you do.
Mohamed el-Fatatry of Finland created MuslimSpace in March to provide a clean, safe and Islamic forum where Muslims and people interested in Islam could network. It is not related in any way to MySpace.com.
Using the Internet for religious purposes is no new phenomenon.
According to a 2004 Pew Research Center survey, 64 percent of Americans — about 82 million people — use the Web for religious purposes.
University of Missouri online journalism professor Clyde Bentley recognizes the growth potential of social networking sites, especially religious ones.
“The ability to quickly make relationships is enormous,” Bentley said. “Social networking will explode in a couple years, and that includes religious groups.”
He said that the Internet had always been a place for marginalized or minority groups to get together and that everyone was looking for people with similar interests.
The similar interest in this case is a safe, clean Islamic forum with enforceable rules.
Playing by the Rules
A former member of MySpace and a practicing Muslim, el-Fatatry found the Web site disgusting, filled with lewd pictures and often explicit sexual content.
“I created the Web site [MuslimSpace.com] to provide an alternative social networking service to people who like to socialize without being constantly exposed to adult advertisements, corrupt content, and racial/offensive comments about Islam and Muslims,” el-Fatatry said.
To be a part of the MuslimSpace.com global community, you have to play by the rules — and there are a lot of them.
El-Fatatry makes it clear in the terms and conditions of use that anything deemed un-Islamic will not be allowed on MuslimSpace.
This includes any kind of violence, lewd, or sexual content and vulgar language.
Aside from the more obvious rules, el-Fatatry also requires that women not post pictures of themselves without hijab, or a head scarf. Men and women, in fact, must both abide by the rules of modesty in Islam if they want their pictures posted.
MuslimSpace.com already has about 12,000 members and is growing by 150 members to 200 members each day, according to el-Fatatry. About 80 percent of the members live outside the United States.
Meeting — Even Dating — Online
There are other popular Muslim sites, but they tend to be less strict. Some allow online dating, in fact.
That’s what makes them especially popular among Muslims who are traditionally not allowed to date before marriage.
One such site, Naseeb.com, was launched in 2003 and has more than 200,000 members, according to the site.
Naseeb, which means destiny, is more of a matchmaking site and doesn’t have requirements on dress or speech. Muslims — practicing and nonpracticing — can freely interact.
Another similar but less popular Web site is Muslimarea.com. It has about 1,000 registered users in the United States, according to the site. Again, there are no restrictions on interactions between men and women and what they wear.
Saladin Ahmid, a member of MuslimSpace.com, said that he was more interested in spreading da’wa, or Islamic teaching, and used MuslimSpace.com mainly for that purpose.
Rachel, a 26-year-old mother of four children from Alabama who asked that her last name not be used, found MuslimSpace.com through a forum on a Web site called Whyislam.org, where a member first told others about it.
She doesn’t mind the rules about posting pictures too much.
“When in Rome, do as Romans do,” said Rachel, who started observing the rules of hijab three years ago. “If you’re really interested, you follow the rules. Know people who post pictures of just their face.”
El-Fatatry and a small team of volunteers have the overwhelming task of monitoring the activity of more than 12,000 users, so they expect users to self-regulate as much as possible and report people who break the rules.
Many have gotten kicked off the site for lapses.
Some of these lapses, Rachel said, were not bad enough to warrant being kicked off.
“I had two friends kicked off for a little while,” she said. “One friend said ‘crap’ in the guest book, and that was kind of lame. And the other one said something, but it really wasn’t that bad.”
Both were readmitted on the site.
Despite the rules, Rachel said she had found a support system through MuslimSpace.
She said that she had nobody else to turn to with her marital problems and her mother’s failing health, but that she had found support from MuslimSpace.com members.
“I don’t know where I would be without them,” she said.