The truth marathon – Building bridges in between Muslim Youth and scholars

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SHAFAQNA – The Muslim world has found itself increasingly facing a barrage of negative coverage in the world press due to the oversaturation of violence sweeping the news transmitted from the Middle East and North Africa.

To rectify the falsehood of the image being widely circulated about Islam, the first ever Haqqathon (from the Arabic word “haqq” meaning “truth”) was hosted in Abu Dhabi on April 27-29 as part of the second Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies forum.

In partnership with the U.S.-based startup incubator AffinsLabs, the three-day hackathon revolved around bringing youth, Islamic scholars and technology experts together to promote peace.

Through the use of technology and social media, five groups of participants were tasked with finding ways to bridge the gap between the modern lifestyle adopted by the youth and spiritual teachings from Islamic scholars.

“We have been working with the forum on connecting scholars with the more than 500 million young Muslims across the world through digital means,” said Shahad Amanullah, cofounder of AffinsLabs, and one of the organizers of Haqqathon.

On Wednesday, the judges chose the project Champions of Islam as the winning initiative. The social media app, which allows users to upload pictures of everyday Muslim heroes, was one of several ideas that tackled a more positive portrayal of righteous Muslims as opposed to the violent image that is too common in the Western media.

The proposals also aimed to counteract the fierce polarisation of Muslim youth and the recruitment of the disenfranchised by extremist groups such as ISIS.

“This is an advantage that ISIL has over our scholars,” said Chris Abdurrahman Blauvelt, founder of Launch Good, whose team created the app, commenting on the importance of using technology and social media to reach out to the Muslim youth.

Among the other pressing topics that were brought up by the participants was the lack of proper sex education, if any at all, in the MENA region. This concern was paralleled with the observation that seven out of the top 10 countries for online pornography searches had majority-Muslim populations.

“If you look at one of the major searches online for Muslim youth, sex and sexuality tops searches on praying, fasting and the basic tenets of Islam,” said Mohsin Khan, an English teacher from Britain whose group proposed answering Muslims’ questions on sex, sexuality and relationships through a website.

Another group said that the preaching style of Islamic scholastics was a barrier keeping the youth from approaching trustworthy scholars on matters of religion. This made way for their “60-Second Scholar” app which builds around user interactions to ask questions, receive short answers from worthy scholars, and include votes and ratings for the supplied answers.

“The youth will not be interested in hourlong lectures,” said Mahmoud, 31, a British lawyer. “We want to limit the user and the scholar to a one-minute video to ask and reply.”

We hope that such initiatives don’t stop at this one event, because the key is that “if scholars want to be relevant, they need to meet the youth where they are, and they’re on digital platforms,” as Khan put it.

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