These days, it’s really hard being a Muslim in Nigeria and elsewhere since no matter what you do, you have to answer questions on terrorism and your religion. This could be the reason why some Muslims are quiet on social media on this subject and other critical topics. The silence is so strong that many are beginning to assume that social media is haram (sin) in Islam. But Yusuf Hassan, founder and CEO of Tutlub disagrees. Hassan might just have found a way to create fruitful and open online dialogue.
“Islamic scholars and Imams’ position on social media is that it is a medium, channel, instrument, means and not the end. It is the purpose for which we use them that matters and not the channel or medium. A knife on its own is not unlawful but the use can either be for good or for bad,” he said.
“It could be used to slice bread and spread butter and could also be used to do harm to another person,” the entrepreneur added. “So even when using the knife for an evil act, the knife itself does not become unlawful but what becomes unlawful is the act itself.”
Although he admitted that a lot of social networks were categorised as unlawful by some Islamic scholars in the past, this was only because of the way they were being used. “It is now left up to you to choose how you use the social media; social media itself is allowed,” he said.
Since social media and technology are not sin, I became to know why many are not actively involved in online dialogues on topics of Islam especially with people from other faiths. He blamed this on the traditional media.
“Muslims are definitely on the social media, but the truth is that Muslims do not have as much a say or chance on the traditional media and my experience in the field led to the general knowledge that what eventually drive the social media is the headline in the traditional media,” he said.
According to him, the multinational media are the base of news and issues; the social media are the distributors who escalate it. He said what Muslims have been able to do is respond to the escalation as much as they can, but where what Muslims are doing is deliberately ignored, under reported or misrepresented, hence, if Muslims’ efforts are not the basis for discussions, it would become more difficult to see the effect.
Based on this observation, he decided to launch Tutlub out of the desire to give Muslims a stronger media base. He said the general base has unfortunately been taken over by too much negativity towards Islam that the positives are not being noticed. However, leaving social media, he said, is not a solution, rather qualitative specialisation is a way out and that’s what Tutlub offers.
“Countless numbers of Muslims are using different media including social media to emphasise that ISIS and any other terrorist group should not be considered as true Muslims. One recent example of this is the fatwa (Directives) that is jointly passed by 70 000 Islamic Scholars and Imams against global terrorist organisations, including the Taliban, al Qaeda and ISIS,” he said.
Hassan’s startup recently softly launched the Android version of its mobile app that allows Muslims to connect with other Muslims to supplicate, communicate and learn together as an online Muslim family.
“At Tutlub we are… connecting users with verified and vetted religious leaders to request for prayers or advice. By so doing we will be helping in our own way to solve the problem of indoctrination through social network by providing moderate, vetted and verified Muslim leaders for users to ask questions. This will show true modern values of Islam and support Muslim individuals at risk of misinformation by extremist groups,” Hassan said.
Vacuum being filled by Tutlub in the social networking ecosystem
With so many social networking tools available — Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Myspace and several others — the question now is why should there be yet another social media platform?
Hassan said religious affiliations and religious social graph forms the basics of social interaction for the majority of emerging market population (example: Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia India, UAE and Middle East).
“We are taking advantages of this at Tutlub and this could potentially make us a force to be reckoned with in the nearest future as larger social networks such as Facebook, are now looking for ways to further penetrate the emerging markets,” he said.
He said they believe they are most likely to capture these users’ needs better as they are more religious compared to the western/developed market. Hassan noted that the response to Tutlub app has been really great.
“Following the soft launch of the Android version of the app we are enjoying a very fast growth. Tutlub is second on Google Play Store for Muslims Social Network in the world, only religious social app on the top chart in Nigeria and nineteenth most used social app in Nigeria according to Appannie. All within one week,” he said.
He added that nothing has changed fundamentally in terms of the mission and objectives they had in mind when developing the product.
“Nothing has changed except for the fact that we will have to scale faster. We got more response than we expected and so we will have to grow faster,” he said.
The Tutlub edge
Every successful tech product is expected to have an edge and for Tutlub, Hassan said it setting the pace on many fronts.
“First, we are the first product that captures this need for religion as basics of social interaction. Unlike Twitter that is based on celebrity culture — an ideology that people loved to be followed and people loved to know more about others — Tutlub’s emergence goes beyond the self-importance, vanity and celebrities culture on other social network. It has is root in human oldest ideology — religion,” he said.
He added that as religion is very close to people’s heart, Tutlub is very close to the user’s heart and as such they are building not just a social network but also an online Muslim family.
Paul Adepoju is a media entrepreneur, published author and award-winning Nigeria-based freelance journalist. He speaks regularly at major African technology events including NigeriaCom and Nigeria eHealth Forum. More