Note: this is a draft proposal. We'll be tweaking it and putting up a final policy soon insha'allah.
Alim.org is a website which offers access to numerous Islamic texts, including the Quran (with various translations) and several books of Hadith. The website allows any user with a registered account to post comments online for anyone to see. Comments can be posted on a per-unit-of-content basis. In other words, each ayah, each hadith, etc. has its own page on the website and users can post comments on each page individually. Comments can be rated by other users, in terms of whether they were helpful or unhelpful, in providing something insightful pertaining to the content that is being commented on.
In order to make the commenting functionality more useful, Alim.org seeks to enlist the participation of as may individuals having performed formal studies pertaining to Islam as possible. Remarks they post as well as their interaction with rest of the user community should result in fruitful commentary and discussion that would provide enlightenment for an individual who was interested in the content that was being commented on (i.e. the ayah, or hadith, etc).
To make this successful, Alim.org will designate special user types to individuals who have conducted formal Islam-related studies. This would clearly delineate these users as having some level of expertise above a common user.
What special user types should be employed on Alim.org to improve the utility of the commenting functionality? How would verification be performed on an invidual to determine if they meet the criteria for a given type?
Typically, an individual who has gained aptitude in the classical Islamic sciences is considered an Islamic Scholar. There are different expressions utilized to describe this, some with legal implications, but for our purpose we’ll employ the fairly generic term “Alim”. The classical Islamic sciences usually boil down to the following broad subject areas: Sciences of the Quran, Sciences of the Hadith, Law and Legal Methodology, and Theology. The Arabic language is also part of this list but is unique from the perspective that it is not intrinsically an Islamic subject. Needless to say, the usefulness of an Alim in contributing to the discussions on the site would be immense.
However, as Islam is a vast subject, it is possible that an individual may have achieved excellence in studying a certain subject area pertaining to Islam or gained a general understanding level of several of the Islamic sciences. For example, one may have performed studies on hadith methodology but perhaps not Quranic exegesis. Another may have studied several of the Islamic sciences with Ulema, formally or informally, and gained some level of awareness and competency but has not completed a full degree program from an academic institution or achieved expertise in all the Islamic sciences. These are individuals who are typically already engaged in educating people, such as through discussions or lectures, and have a positive impact in the sense that people benefit from their Islamic knowledge and/or their ability to motivate. Individuals such as these would still have useful contributions to make on the site even though they would not be considered an Alim. Hence, a unique user type would be required.
Yet another type of individual who would be a candidate for a special user is one who studies subjects that are not inherently Islamic, but can provide great utility in the study of Islam. Examples of this are history and the Arabic language. There are many academians, especially in the west, who are engaged in concentrated studies pertaining to Muslim history and the Arabic Language. Both of these types of individuals have the potential to offer useful commentary and hence require a special designation.
To incorporate the aforementioned users in a way that would allow them to be distinguished from typical users, a proposal is henceforth extended to create three types of special users:
1. Alim (Islamic Scholar)
2. Ustadh (Lit. Teacher; learned individual)
An Alim would be a user who has completed a degree (4 years or higher) from an Islamic academic institution or has studied extensively with ulema in an informal manner and achieved a level of expertise to the extent that other ulema consider the individual to be their peer. As there is no universally accepted entity which grants accreditation to Islamic academic institutions, the Alim Foundation board will reserve the right to determine if any given institution does not meet the requirements of producing an Alim as necessitated by the standard expected by the foundation.
An Ustadh would describe an individual who has performed some Islamic studies and subsequently achieved some respectable level of competency. Since the possibilities of who can fit under this category are broad, the Alim Foundation will use its discretion and judge on a case by case basis if an individual is sufficiently qualified.
A researched would be an individual who has performed studies related to Islam in some form or fashion in an accredited western academic institution. The required minimum, in order to be considered for this user type, will be an associate’s degree or an equivalent 2 years of study.
Methodology of Verification
It will be necessary to verify if an individual fulfills the qualifications for the category they are being considered for. In order to accomplish this, the Alim Foundation will employ several methods. When applicable, the foundation will attempt to contact the academic institution that the individual purports to have studied from and verify their level of studies completed. If studies were performed informally under ulema, then if possible, the foundation will attempt to contact them for reference. In addition to these measures, members of the foundation will conduct an interview with the individual being considered to further verify their aptitude. To accomplish this, the foundation will assemble a set of interview questions that are suitable for each category of user. Lastly, in instances where the individual being considered is already well known to the foundation and their qualifications are already acknowledged to be sufficient, the foundation can, at its discretion, forgo any or all of the above stated measures.
The quality of discussion on Alim.org is expected to be highest when regular users are able to interact with the special users. This is expected to bring a level of discourse that the masses are capable of digesting while containing content of integrity. This can best be accomplished when there is a clear, concise, and consistent process in place to regulate the types of users that partake in the discourse. With this proposal, the Alim Foundation hopes to achieve such a process.