Gulf News Online Edition  
 Dubai:Wednesday, September 11, 2002  

IslamiCity gains popularity
Sharjah |Doaa Zeitoun | 11-09-2002
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Dr Doueiri
With over 2 million first-time visitors every month from more than 80 countries around the world, the IslamiCity website has been gaining vast popularity among Internet users of all religious backgrounds.

It is today claimed to be the most popular site of its kind in the world.

Launched in 1995 by a U.S.-based organisation, the site claims to be in the forefront of a myriad of Islamic sites that have emerged lately with the aim of promoting better understanding of Islam and projecting it as a way of life, not just a creed.

Dr Dany Doueiri, co-founder of the IslamiCity site and Professor of Islamic history, told Gulf News while on a brief visit to the UAE that the site promotes mainstream and objective Islamic information.

"It has no partisan or political affiliations, as it was designed to be a community site," he explained. "That holds the rising voice of moderate Muslims everywhere."

Predictably, it was September 11 that was instrumental in vastly increasing the site's popularity.

"Following the events of September 11, people in the West became thirsty to learn about Islam, and all the websites combined could not keep up with the growing demand. It is beyond imagination," he observed.

Visitors to the site have quadrupled since then. In that year, the current messages and inquiries have jumped from 6,500 to 15,000, he pointed out. Visitors of other faiths also increased notably.

With 60 million hits since inception, the site offers a comprehensive insight into the world of Islam, he said. "Translations of the Holy Quran have been provided in 17 different languages, and efforts are under way to add more," he added.

Although most of the information comes in English or Arabic, one can also find articles in French and Spanish, Doueiri said.

"We have links to 15,000 other websites including educational and technology, and have more than 23,000 websites linked to us around the world."

The mild, tolerant tone of the site has attracted to it people of other faiths. "It has even received e-mails from priests, pastors and rabbis, who share their views with Muslims on various topical issues," Dr Doueiri observed.

He said that new converts to Islam make up a handsome number of the site's visitors. "We get callers who ask to embrace Islam and take their (Shahadah) online," he said.

The number of people who converted to Islam through IslamiCity was 10 times higher after September 11, he added.

"We now receive an average of three people calling up daily and asking to take the Shahadah," Dr Doueiri said. In this way the site has proved to be an effective means for Da'wa (promoting knowledge about Islam).

One of the most visited sections is The Haj Information Centre, which guides Muslims through the pilgrimage rituals step by step and contains rare pictures of Makkah, Madinah and Haj sites. Visitors can also log on to the Haj rituals transmitted live from Makkah.

The Haj section has been in demand by various other media channels and information resources including Encyclopa-edia Britannica, he said. The site has  received awards from PBS and Yahoo.

On the other hand, the IslamiCity news link provides coverage of timely issues and analysis released by international media, presenting the view and the opposite view, he said.

"Over 50,000 people were able to watch the ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) convention, an annual event attended by some 30,000 people from all over the U.S., being broadcast live on IslamiCity," he said, by way of example.

Online shopping for Islamic books is also available on the site's bazaar hit, which features hundreds of items at competitive prices. Moreover, IslamiCity organises tours to Islamic sites in various countries such as Spain and China. Participants get a good discount on hotel stay and sightseeing tours.

"Those are edutainment trips that combine learning with fun," Dr Doueiri stressed.

For all its unique services, the site has been receiving guests from all over the globe, around 40 per cent of whom are non-Muslims.

Around 50 per cent of the visitors come for the U.S. However, a site with this level of popularity inevitably faces frequent attacks by hackers, although these have all been brought quickly under control.

"Apart from hacking, we also receive hate mail, which we take time to answer in an attempt to change hatred to understanding."

Dr Doueiri contended IslamiCity has, to a great extent, helped remove misconceptions about Islam and promote the inherent Islamic principles of peace, liberty and justice.

He cited a Los Angeles Times report that had earlier referred to one of the hate mail instances.

In its September 26, 2001 issue, the newspaper reported: "Culver City based IslamiCity.com, a popular Islamic website, was an easy target (for hate mail) after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"But Mohammed Abdul Aleem, the site's chief executive thought the insults had more to do with ignorance than anger, so he replied with a short compilation of Islamic scripture."
   
 

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