ISLAMABAD: Pakistanis outraged with Facebook over "blasphemous" caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed have created a spin-off networking site that they dream can connect the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
A group of six young IT professionals from Lahore, the cultural and entertainment capital of Pakistan, launched www.millatfacebook.com on Tuesday for Muslims to interact online and protest against blasphemy.
The private venture came after a Pakistani court ordered a block on Facebook until May 31, following deep offence over an "Everyone Draw Mohammed Day" page considered "blasphemous" and "sacrilegious."
"Millatfacebook is Pakistan’s very own, first social networking site. A site for Muslims by Muslims where sweet people of other religions are also welcome," the website tells people interested in signing up.
Dubbed MFB, after Facebook’s moniker FB, its founder says professionals are working around the clock to offer features similar to those pioneered by the wildly popular California-based prototype.
Each member has a "wall" for friends to comment on. The site offers email, photo, video, chat and discussion board facilities.
The Urdu word "Millat" is used by Muslims to refer to their nation. The website claims to have attracted 4,300 members in the last three days — mostly English-speaking Pakistanis in their 20s.
The number of aficionados may be growing, but the community is a drop in the ocean of the 2.5 million Facebook fans in Pakistan and there have been some scathing early reviews of the start-up.
Neither has Facebook been immediately reachable for comment.
"We want to tell Facebook people ‘if they mess with us they have to face the consequences’," said Usman Zaheer, the 24-year-old chief operating officer of the software house that hosts the new site.
"If someone commits blasphemy against our Prophet Mohammed then we will become his competitor and give him immense business loss," he told AFP, dreaming of making "the largest Muslim social networking website."
Once signed up, members are a click away from debate on the bulletin board.
For example, "Enticing Fury" wrote: "The reason is that this forum must be reserved for ALL MUSLIMS OF THE WORLD and not only Pakistan. So using the word MILLAT is very good!
"Well done guys. You have made a great alternative for the whole muslim ummah (nation)!"
But the nascent quality of the work-in-progress website has preoccupied and dismayed some, as well as drawn at least one damning newspaper review.
One member wrote: "they need 2 hav more info". Another posted a mournful: "need games here as well. I missed cafe world" — referring to the popular Facebook page where members can run their own virtual cafe.
"It was a good idea… as it can give us a forum to connect, but its reach is too limited," Mohammad Adeel, a 31-year-old pharmacist told AFP in Karachi, who joined to keep up with friends he missed due to the Facebook ban.
Local newspaper The Express Tribune was crushing.
"The quality of user experience is so abysmal that it does not merit the humble title, ‘Facebook clone’," it wrote online.
"To sum up, MillatFacebook is a bold effort… but it is unlikely to capture a large audience, judging by the online experience it offers currently."
But Zaheer is pleased with his handiwork, saying the site has already attracted members living in Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
Pakistani law student Rana Adeel, 21, signed up to MillatFB in Lahore after receiving invites through SMS and email from friends.
"In two days, I got more than seven friends. If the Facebook ban is lifted, I’ll keep networking on both," he told AFP.