Dig­i­tal mufti to de­liver fat­was on­line in Dubai

▶ Ser­vice har­nesses ma­chine learn­ing to pro­vide instant answers to queries

The National - News - - EMIRATES | NEWS - HANEEN DAJANI

Dubai au­thor­i­ties are us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to de­liver on­line fat­was in an instant – part of a drive to in­crease ef­fi­ciency.

The Vir­tual Ifta Pro­gramme, launched by the Is­lamic Af­fairs and Char­i­ta­ble Ac­tiv­i­ties Depart­ment, aims to pro­vide swift and pre­cise fat­was – Is­lamic rul­ings – for Mus­lims seek­ing guid­ance on is­sues such as acts of char­ity and loans.

Muftis are jurists qual­i­fied to is­sue non-bind­ing opin­ion on points of Is­lamic law. The vir­tual mufti will pro­vide answers to thou­sands of queries loaded on a data­base.

While sev­eral au­thor­i­ties al­ready pro­vide such on­line ser­vices, the tech­nol­ogy used pre­vi­ously al­lowed only for hundreds of pos­si­ble answers to be dis­played for each ques­tion posed.

The new sys­tem, har­ness­ing rapidly de­vel­op­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, is able to an­a­lyse each query and of­fer a spe­cific an­swer.

“For [ob­ser­vant] Mus­lims the most im­por­tant thing for them is to know the Is­lamic opin­ion about any­thing that faces them,” said Mo­hamad Al Kubaisi, grand mufti at Iacad.

“And some­times those things can­not wait, so they need a quick an­swer.”

Be­fore the launch of the ini­tia­tive, peo­ple could only re­quest rul­ings in per­son or send in a ques­tion on­line, with a three-day wait­ing pe­riod.

“This pro­gramme is avail­able 24/7, so if a per­son has an ur­gent ques­tion af­ter work­ing hours he can have the an­swer right away,” Mr Al Kubaisi said.

Ini­tially, the sys­tem will an­swer var­i­ous ques­tions about the act of prayer, with 4,000 pos­si­ble in­quiries al­ready in the dig­i­tal data­base.

“It cov­ers ev­ery­thing from pray­ing while trav­el­ling to pray­ing in space,” Mr Al Kubaisi said.

“As a first phase we are an­swer­ing ques­tions to do with prayers.

“Then grad­u­ally, we will add fat­was on all acts of wor­ship like za­kat [the char­i­ta­ble dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth], Hajj and so on. Then we will add fat­was on day-to-day trans­ac­tions and fi­nan­cial is­sues.”

Ex­am­ples of fat­was to be pro­vided in­clude is­sues in­volv­ing za­kat cal­cu­la­tion, shares and the stock mar­ket, debt and loans, dis­tri­bu­tion of wills, bank­ing, in­ter­est and trade.

The vir­tual mufti is ex­pected to take some of the load off the au­thor­ity’s 16 flesh-and­blood muftis, who is­sue about 130,000 fat­was a year. “The pre­vi­ous meth­ods re­quired the pres­ence of a mufti, but the vir­tual mufti analy­ses the ques­tions and pro­vides the answers it­self,” Mr Al Kubaisi said.

The ac­cu­racy of the pro­gramme was tested thou­sands of times be­fore its launch yes­ter­day, said Mo­hammed Al Ka­mali, head of fatwa ar­chiv­ing at Iacad.

“It is im­por­tant to keep as­sess­ing how suit­able the answers are to the queries to main­tain cred­i­bil­ity. It is very im­por­tant that fat­was be ac­cu­rate be­cause it has to do with the per­son’s re­la­tion­ship with God,” he said.

The vir­tual mufti is equipped with a ma­chine-learn­ing fea­ture, which means if it fails to an­swer a ques­tion it is trained to an­swer it the next time.

“Ma­chine learn­ing is the abil­ity to an­a­lyse and recog­nise the ques­tion, and if it couldn’t an­swer the ques­tion to­day it could an­swer it to­mor­row,” Mr Al Ka­mali said.

“The pro­gramme’s con­fi­dence in analysing the ques­tion and giv­ing the right an­swer is very im­por­tant.

“So when it re­ceives a query, it tells the user: ‘this is what I un­der­stood from your ques­tion’, and it pro­vides how con­fi­dent it is out of 100 per cent, then it pro­vides the an­swer to the query.”

The vir­tual mufti is al­lowed to give answers only if it is 75 per cent con­fi­dent, or above.

But the pro­gramme will not be an­swer­ing wider ques­tions on sen­si­tive top­ics, Mr Al Kubaisi said.

The UAE has sought to tighten reg­u­la­tions sur­round­ing fat­was in an at­tempt to counter con­tro­ver­sial and hard­line judg­ments spread on the in­ter­net by unau­tho­rised sources.

In June of last year, the UAE’s fatwa coun­cil was created.

The Emi­rates Fatwa Coun­cil is the of­fi­cial ref­er­ence for fat­was and will over­see all work re­lated to fat­was.

The newly launched Vir­tual Ifta Pro­gramme can be ac­cessed through the au­thor­ity’s web­site, www.iacad.gov. ae, on its mo­bile app and via What­sApp on 8003336.

The new sys­tem uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to rapidly an­a­lyse each query and of­fer a spe­cific an­swer

Chris Whi­teoak / The Na­tional

Dr Ahmed Al Had­dad, di­rec­tor of the Ifta Depart­ment at Dubai’s Is­lamic Af­fairs and Char­i­ta­ble Ac­tiv­i­ties Depart­ment, Buti Al Ju­mairi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of cor­po­rate sup­port, Ah­mad Al Muhairi, chief ex­ec­u­tive of char­i­ta­ble ac­tiv­i­ties, Khal­fan Bel­houl, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dubai Fu­ture Foun­da­tion, and Mo­hammed Al Falasi, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Mosques Depart­ment at Iacad, among oth­ers, at the launch of the pro­gramme yes­ter­day

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