Nigeria's Muslim-only social media
|February 26th, 2016|
|tags:||Boko Haram, Google, Islamic, Muslim, Nigeria, social media|
Tutlub is Arabic, meaning to ask, a name Yusuf picked to embody the spirit of asking. “To ask other Muslims to connect with you, to ask Allah (Islam for God) for help and to ask for knowledge from Allah, Islamic leaders and friends,” said Yusuf.
Yusuf could not stand the hate and ignorant sentiments directed to Muslims on social media which he said further fanned intolerance. “A Muslim cannot post a simple dua (prayer) on social media without being attacked and branded a terrorist. I felt that the world had greatly misunderstood Islam and it was not fair. I had to do something,” he said.
Riding on the impressive internet penetration in Nigeria that stands at 93 million according to Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, the industry regulator, Yusuf decided to carve his niche by targeting Muslims who were looking to interact with each other on the internet but were afraid to do so on mainstream media.
Muslims make up 50 per cent of the over 180 million Nigerians according to the CIA fact book. It is this group that Yusuf has had his eyes on.
“I decided to think differently following my personal experience on Facebook where I was misinterpreted and stigmatized based on posting Islamic content. Such stigmatizations and misrepresentation discourages some of us from posting and engaging with Islamic content as much as we would prefer to. Furthermore employers nowadays do check potential employees’ Facebook pages and a Muslim candidate with a page full of Islamic content might be misconstrued,” said Yusuf.
The journey to get the app registered and accepted by network operators and even Muslim scholars was long and bumpy. Muslim content was disallowed by mobile network operators like MTN and Globacom following directives by some scholars on whether or not Islamic contents were appropriate for such purposes.
“I couldn’t understand why this had to be. I pushed for discussions with Islamic scholars in Nigeria concerning the appropriate use of Islamic content and got approval from the highest Islamic body in Nigeria, the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs before the network operators could agree to use the content,” Yusuf told Fairplanet.
It was worth it. The group moved from 0 user to second most trending app on Google play store listing for Muslim social network within one week of launch and became among the top 20 social apps in Nigeria.
To date there are over 30,000 prayers posted on the app and more than 100,000 Amins, the responses given by users after reciting the prayers.
The application has also inspired another novel use. According to Yusuf, Tutlub is helping fight indoctrination and radicalization of young people by terrorist groups like Boko Haram the Nigerian terrorist outfit that has meted untold violence and suffering to the citizenry.
As social media becomes ubiquitous and widespread and countries step up surveillance, the terror groups have found new recruitment platforms in social media where they create groups and virtual communities affiliated with the terrorist web sites. This allows them to bridge the gap between sympathizers and leadership. Sympathisers mostly consists of vulnerable youths who are looking for a cause and a source of income.
To counter this, Tutlub connects users with verified and vetted religious leaders who they can request prayers and advice from. “By so doing we will help 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 exhibits true modern values of Islam and support Muslim individuals at risk of misinformation by extremist groups,” Yusuf said.
While currently only available in Nigeria, Yusuf is working on having Tutlub go global to reach a larger Muslim population and avert further radicalization.
The platform is gravitating towards related Islam only social network like Muslimface.com which enjoys fanatical following in South East Asia and Middle East.
The social networks are providing a safe haven at a time when reports show that Muslims live in fear of attacks both online and offline. One such report, We fear for our lives, offline experiences of anti-Muslim hostility, commissioned by Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks)shows that there is a growing concern that online bullying of Muslims online could materialize in the real world.