Halaal internet? Islamic browser promises better web experience

SalamWeb mobile browser. Photographer: Justin Chin

SalamWeb mobile browser. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

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A Malaysian startup is betting that there’s plenty of pent-up demand for a new browser that’s compliant with Islamic values, at a time of mounting concerns over privacy, bias and online abuse over the internet.

SalamWeb, a mobile and desktop browser, is designed to deliver a Muslim-friendly web experience. The app, which includes messaging, news and other features, has users from mainly Malaysia and Indonesia, according to Hasni Zarina Mohamed Khan, managing director at Salam Web Technologies MY Sdn.

Her goal is to eventually capture 10% of the 1.8 billion global Muslim population. She pointed to some of challenges facing the web, as the world’s largest technology companies, from Google to Facebook, face criticism for doing too little to address harmful content and false information.

Human rights group Amnesty International looked at abusive interactions and concluded that Twitter is a “toxic place for women.”

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“We want to make the internet a better place,” Hasni Zarina said. “We know the internet has the good and the bad, so SalamWeb offers you a tool to create this window that lets you go to the internet to see the good.”

SalamWeb relies on community-vetted content filters that mark web pages as appropriate, neutral or inappropriate, while warning users when they approach sites with gambling or pornography. It also has Muslim-specific functions, such as prayer times and an indicator for Qibla, or the direction that a Muslim must face when praying.

The products are certified compliant by the independent Amanie Shariah Supervisory Board, and is built on the open-source Chromium software that’s the basis of Google Chrome web browser. Shariah law prohibits activities considered unethical, such as gambling, prostitution and alcohol- and pork-related businesses, as well as interest-based financial products.

“We’re promoting universal values – although SalamWeb is targeted to Muslims, it can be used by anyone,” Hasni Zarina said. “The internet can be a harmful place. It’s obvious that we need an alternative.”

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