Dubai: Dubai on Tuesday launched ‘Virtual Ifta’, said to be the world’s first service using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to issue fatwas, or Islamic rulings on religious matters.
Instead of an Islamic scholar answering questions over the phone, the AI-powered Virtual Ifta takes live questions on internet chat and replies back.
At the moment, it is only able to answer around 205 questions related to salah, or prayer, Tariq Al Emadi, Head of Fatwa Section, Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (IACAD), told Gulf News on Tuesday.
His comments came during the official launch of Virtual Ifta by IACAD at The Boulevard, Emirates Towers, where a three-day exhibition has been set up for visitors to experience Virtual Ifta. A video is also being played at the exhibition, narrating the evolution of issuing fatwas – from face-to-face meetings, to writings, phone, video conferencing, email, website, and now AI.
In the first pilot phase, the AI service is available – in Arabic and English – through the IACAD website, http://www.iacad.gov.ae, but the next phase will include WhatsApp and cover more topics, such as fasting, purity and ablution, and financial matters, among others, Al Emadi said. More languages will also be added in the future.
The service is accessible on the IACAD website by clicking on the “Chat with us” icon at the bottom right corner of the homepage. Once the user selects the preferred language, a message pops up: “Hello, Welcome to the virtual assistant of the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities in Dubai, you can ask your question about one of the following topics: Prayer, Zakat, Purity, Worship.”
Once the topic is selected, another message reads: “Dear Questioner, the answers to your questions are generated automatically using AI technology. Despite taking precautionary measures, errors are always possible. Please contact us in the event of any error. May Allah reward you.”
Virtual Ifta, which operates 24/7, has been introduced in line with ‘Dubai 10X’, a government programme to keep Dubai 10 years ahead of other cities in delivering public services and using the latest innovations to solve issues.
Virtual Ifta is accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time through the IACAD website and will soon also be available through the free-to-download smart app ‘IACAD’ on Apple store and Google Play Store.
Tuesday’s launch coincides with the 50th anniversary of IACAD’s establishment.
In the future, people will be able to hear audio replies of Virtual Ifta in addition to written responses, Al Emadi said. Users can frame their questions as they please, he added.
“This is an intelligent process, Virtual Ifta will understand you. But if it’s not sure what you’re asking, it will give you a few options – do you mean this or do you mean that – to make sure you get the relevant response,” Al Emadi said.
Tuesday’s launch ceremony was attended by Khalfan Juma Belhoul, CEO of Dubai Future Foundation, and senior officials of IACAD, including Ahmad Abdul Aziz Al Haddad, Director of IFTA Department; Buti Abdullah Mohammad Al Jumairi, Executive Director Corporate Support; Ahmad Darwish Saif Al Muhairi; Chief Executive of Charitable, among others.