By Shaik Zakeer Hussain, TwoCircles.net,
Bengaluru: One of the main disadvantages of being on sites like Facebook is the amount of unproductive time spent on it and the annoying ads that one is forced to look at, says Ummaland’s Denmark based co-founder Maruf Yusupov.
Launched on 1st of February 2013 by friends Maruf Yusupov (Design and Strategy) and Jamolidding Daliyev (Backend Programmer) and Mahmudjan Memethaji (Frontend Developer), Ummaland.com is a social network for Muslims, trying to enable the community to become more united and productive. In an Interview to TCN’S Shaik Zakeer Hussain, Maruf explains the need for an online platform exclusively for Muslims and more.
Can you elaborate to us what Ummaland is and how it works?
Before explaining what and how, I would like to focus on why first. As you know we have many Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others, so why do we need yet another one in our daily busy life, correct? To cut it short, the main reason is ‘time’ and how we use it.
Time is the most precious asset we have and most of us don't pay attention to it. Allah (SWT) swears by time, that humanity is in loss, except those who have Iman and do good deeds and call each other to truth and patience.
You see every Muslim can have Iman and do good deeds on his own; however, it is not enough for success, we should also call each other to truth and patience, which is Dawah. We can call each other to the truth as Muslims, or we can call non-Muslims to the truth. So it is all encompassing.
So with Ummaland, you are trying to fit in these ‘all-encompassing’ components at one place?
We will do our best, Insha’Allah. Let me elaborate this for you, on other social networks people use tons of time by checking trivial posts; someone is boasting, someone is gossiping etc. We are creating Ummaland on Islamic values, no small talk, no boasting, no gossiping and backbiting but focusing on the message that really matters. We encourage every user to ponder upon if the message they share will benefit Ummah or not, if not, it is better to be silent.
And how would you do that, I mean it's a social network with tons of people on it, how do you ensure that no one is using it for any other purpose?
Good question! We believe if you really want to change the behaviour, you should change the environment too, which is a key component, for example, on Facebook, you think twice before you publish anything related to Islam, you may be worried what others think about you, this is how many of us act, since everybody is talking on other subjects, you think it is ok to do so, but on Ummaland, we can see another trend, Alhamdulillah, most of the posts are actually about learning the true message of Islam. And don't just take our word for it; have a look on your own.
Right, so you created an environment which is Islamic, and by doing this, you made sure only interested ones sign up, and this takes care of pretty much everything?
Insha’Allah! Of course, at times there will be some posts related to spam, or some extremist points of view, Alhamdulillah, most of the time our users report us and we will remove it immediately. We also decided we will focus on Islamic Education, Productivity, Charity and Dawah; we don't focus on Politics, Violence, War, Hatred, etc.
And how do you do that?
By offering courses, by enabling individuals to share their stories, actually, next week, we are launching something called Global Dawah Mission, which will change Dawah for ever, Insha’Allah, if you want, we can make another interview on that.
Great, but could you tell us something about it in brief?
Sure, today Dawah is done only by a handful of brothers and sisters, May Allah reward them, but their manpower is limited to location and time, besides they try to get some attention from people on the go. Most of the time people say no or don't pay attention, in our case, it is different. We have 10,000 passionate Muslims in one place socializing; there is a great synergy, if we can guide our efforts correctly, we can change things.
For example, the image of Islam in the mainstream media, it used to be that, a couple of TV stations dictated what you should see and hear and "believe". Unfortunately, many people believe whatever they see online, Alhamdulillah, this centralized power is declining with the rise of Social Media and other platforms. I don't want to go into detail, but the point is we will inspire our members to write their stories, if they are converts, how they come to Islam, if they are born Muslims, what their daily challenges are and how Islam helps them.
You may ask how it is going to help.
You see, there is a group of people who are searching and seeking solutions to their problems, they are not necessarily searching for another religion to follow, especially Islam with our current coverage on media, but they have some issues in their lives and looking for solutions, for some, it is the purpose of life for some it is depression, etc. On the other side, we have brothers and sisters who were in the same condition before, by sharing their stories and challenges and they found a solution in Islam, Insha’Allah, we can change the image of Islam, one voice at a time.
Our goal is, whatever these people are writing as their challenges, we want to present Islam and its solution, on the first page of Google or any other search engine Insha’Allah. We will give the message and leave the rest to Allah (SWT). It is all about connecting the dots. That is briefly about Global Dawah Mission.
How do you monetize the site?
Our revenue model has two parts: 1. Ads as you can see on the right and 2. Courses - mainly Islamic ones. We have one course available now; soon we will launch more courses in cooperation with Islamic Online University (IOU) Insha’Allah and hope other Islamic Institutions will join us.
Islamic courses for website monetization? Could you shed some more light on how exactly this works?
It depends on the courses; our interest is not only to make money, but to educate Ummah anywhere, anytime, at any cost. We believe in changing the Ummah with proper Islamic education and we believe in productivity in our daily lives. That is why we are working with IOU which offers free courses, so that anyone who wants to learn, they will have a chance, Insha’Allah. Then it is up to them, if they want to donate for the course or not.
Ok, so a person takes up the course free of charge, and then if interested donates the money, correct?
Yes, Insha’Allah! This offer applies mainly for IOU Free Diploma courses, if the publisher offers courses for money, then we can't offer it for free.
Right, so how do market your site and how big is Ummaland?
A good thing about social networks is that, our marketers are our customers, if they believe in what we believe they will call their friends and family, so our strategy is not to spend any money on marketing; at least not for now. If we are doing the right things, listening to our customers and adjusting to their needs Insha’Allah, they will love this platform. This is our marketing strategy.
How big is Ummaland? Alhamdulillah, we are growing. Every day the number of people who join to Ummaland is increasing.
Any figures that you can share?
We have at least 1000 new members on the site every day; the interesting point is that, a week ago this number was about 100 new members a day.
That's a huge transition.
We have tripled our number of members in the last 7 days, Alhamdulillah. Numbers are increasing; however, we put more focus on quality over quantity. So the real question is how many of these new members keep using Ummaland.
Right, especially when they have so many other social accounts to manage.
Though I didn't find it mentioned anywhere, but is Ummaland only for Muslims?
We got asked this question a lot. Insha’Allah, we are working on a special feature which would help non-Muslims to get started. Our vision is that Ummaland is not only for Muslims, but also for those who want to learn more about Islam.
We are open to any nation, race or culture, as long as there is no hatred, condemning for Muslims. We as Muslims are open to dialogue for anyone who wants to learn about Islam, having said that we would avoid debates if possible, they are good to make your point, but most of the time both parties leave the debate, being sure they are more right than they were at the beginning. Instead, we would like to share our stories and how Islam gives a solution.
It's good to see sites like Ummaland trying to make a difference, and we see a lot of Muslims taking to internet to bring about change, but do you feel this is enough and if no how can Muslims change this situation?
Good question! I believe we have a long road ahead of us however, that should not discourage us. You see everyone wants to change the world, but very few of us really realize the real change begins within ourselves.
The change is not easy, especially to the right direction, if we try our best relentlessly, one thing at a time, if each of us tries to be a better Muslim today than we were yesterday, yes, we can make a big difference. The key point here is to keep trying, consistently by not losing hope and holding fast to the rope of Allah (SWT).