بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـانِ الرَّحِيمِ
This post is dated 2009. For a recent (2016) and final verdict on Adsense, skip/scroll to the end/bottom of the post.
Google AdSense has taken the global blogosphere by storm since a few years. It is a program that allows users to display Google advertisements on their websites and blogs when they sign up for it. Whenever a site visitor/content reader clicks on such an ad, revenue is generated and added to the website- or blog-owner’s account. When these little cent-trickles add up over time and reach a $100, Google sends the blogger or website owner this amount of money via express check or any other specified mode of payment, such as Western Union. “Easy” money while sitting at home! Sound too good to be true? Well, it is.
As a result of the Google AdSense phenomenon, many people have turned to making money online by operating several websites or blogs simultaneously, and focusing on generating more and more content on them, so that the greater the number of web pages displaying Google ads, the more the number of ad-clicks, and hence, the more revenue generated for the site/blog owners. You will not be surprised to find several writing websites popping up on the Internet that entice users to sign up to write articles on their areas of ‘expertise’ (which could be anything from agnosticism to kite-flying), in return for “being paid” by the website. This “payment” however, turns out to be a few cents per month, unless the writer has hundreds of articles under their belt. Enter the realm of online moneymaking scams! The website owners keep a percentage of the revenue, and pay the registered writers the remaining percentage. What goes on behind the scenes is anybody’s guess, because it is never known just how much of the chunk website owners actually keep for themselves.
My concern however, more than what people are doing elsewhere in the blogosphere (reportedly earning up to thousands of dollars per month through AdSense), is the implications of using AdSense and its generated revenue, for a Muslim blogger. This concern got me thinking about the permissibility of the ads displayed by Google on a Muslim’s blog, and whether facilitating readers’ clicks on that ad (which promptly takes them to that specific advertiser’s website) is actually an action that will cause that Muslim more harm than benefit in their Akhirah.
Having a few-months old baby and a toddler made me quite homebound over a year ago, and I turned to alternative da’wah that could make better use of my time at home with the babies. Like any naive start-up writer, I too, enthusiastically signed up to write for a how-to website, intending to fill up their embarrassingly empty “Islam” section with articles related to Islam, hoping to do my da’wah bit in the global cyberspace. Like any other novice at AdSense, I too, would be pleasantly surprised when a user clicked on an ad and I saw a big, fat “$0.21” appear in my account. Over the months, the cents kept adding up and I really did not believe that one day the so-called big pay-day would arrive (because in Pakistan, things don’t always go smoothly – it’s a developing country after all). However, it did. That was when my bubble burst.
When some of my Islamic articles started displaying ads inviting to other religions, I actually started to think about whether the income generated via AdSense was halal or not. When I started searching, I came across a post on a blog that talked about putting ‘questionable’ website URLs (which generated impermissible advertisements), in your AdSense “Competitive Ad Filter”, to block those ads from displaying on your article web pages. I did that, but soon realized, as I observed and monitored the ads displaying on my article pages, that there are tons of such ‘questionable’ websites out there that just keep popping up out of nowhere each day, and that, observing them all the time and putting them in my Competitive Ad Filter would take up all of my free time. Not to mention this filter allows only up to 200 websites. To be specific, since my articles (totaling less than 30) are mostly Islamic in nature (peppered with the terms ‘Muslim’ and ‘Islam’), the ads displaying on them take clicking users to websites inviting to Christianity or some other religion (“Find your religion today!”) or those providing online Muslim personals/dating services. That put my guard up and I no longer felt excited as the clicks brought in more cents. My articles were actually helping take readers towards misguidance! And paying me for this “service”!
I am incessantly thankful for having online access to scholars who answer questions related to the latest cyber trends. Quoted below is part of an answer to a question related to the permissibility of signing up for the Google AdSense program:
The basic principle is that it is not permissible to sign up for these advertising programs unless one can be certain that the sites advertised are sound and are free of haram things, because it is not permissible to advertise, promote or help to spread evil.
Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“Help you one another in Al‑Birr and At‑Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allaah is Severe in punishment”
And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Whoever calls others to guidance will have a reward like the rewards of those who follow him, without that detracting from their reward in any way. And whoever calls others to misguidance will have a burden of sin like the burden of those who follow him, without that detracting from their burden in any way.”
If the matter is as you describe, and most of the ads that will be placed on your site are for teaching languages and the like, then we hope that there will be nothing wrong with you signing up for this program, especially since you need the money.
You have to block the ads that go against shar’i rulings. If you are unable to do that, and these ads appear on your site against your wishes, then you have to leave this service because otherwise you will be a partner in spreading and propagating haram.
Source: IslamQA.com: Question Reference No. 101806
Well, if your eyebrow was cocked up till now, perhaps the above scholarly opinion might have made things a bit clearer. As for the fact that not all ads on which users click are actually impermissible/haram, but rather, some are permissible and some are not – that is, in fact, very true. However, how can an AdSense user ever know which clicks generated halal revenue, and which generated haram? As Muslims, we all know that, regarding matters which fall into such a “mushbooh” (doubted) category, it is best to be on the safe side, as indicated by the hadith of Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] quoted below, where he said:
“The halal is clear and the haram is clear. Between the two there are doubtful matters concerning which, people do not know, whether they are halal or haram. One who avoids them in order to safeguard his religion and his honor is safe, while if someone engages in a part of them he may be doing something haram, like one who grazes his animals near the hima (the grounds reserved for animals belonging to the King which are out of bounds for others’ animals); it is thus quite likely that some of his animals will stray into it. Truly, every king has a hima, and the hima of Allah is what He has prohibited. So Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh: if it is good, the whole body is good; if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.”
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
As for the revenue that Muslim bloggers earn through AdSense; knowing that there is a very high chance of it being mixed with impermissible income, how should the money be dispensed with? Can we use it for operations maintenance for our websites? Should we dispose it off by giving to the poor (without hoping for any reward)? Should it be used to buy meat to feed wild animals? Or should it, literally, be thrown away? Or better yet, just not collected i.e. the check can be torn up, or the Western Union payment passed up?
I’d really be interested to hear the opinions of our Shuyookh and other, more experienced Muslim bloggers regarding this issue.
Since a great (and growing) percentage of online bloggers and users is Muslim, alhamdulillah, we can just not chuck something away without actually trying to be proactive enough to devise and promote halal alternatives to it. That is where still-new services such as the Muslim Ad Network and halalads come in. I must admit and profess my ignorance here, though. I do not really know what these services are about, in-depth, except their face-value i.e. they are offering Muslims a chance to display Muslim ads on their blogs and websites. Any information that readers can offer on their validity will be greatly appreciated.
In the end, I must say, as a very concerned AdSense user, I’d jump at the opportunity to have the Google ads displaying in my articles become a 100% halal! Just for the sake of clarity, this personal blog of mine thankfully does not display AdSense ads, but those of my articles that have been irrevocably published on the website howtodothings.com, do. In fact, when Google AdSense crawls my articles, most of which are mostly faith-related, it picks up keywords related to religion/faith/belief etc. and, as a result, displays ads of other religions (e.g those calling towards Scientology or Christianity) within my articles’ text body! Even if I do not collect my AdSense payment, I will still have those ads being displayed on my article pages, and will therefore be partly responsible for driving user traffic towards the websites advertising them (some of which, I reiterate, call away from Islam – as they are based on other religions – because my “Islamic” articles automate Google Adsense to display only “religion”-related ads within them).
I ask Allah to keep us safe from spreading evil on the web.
UPDATE (21st April 2012):
Google Adsense has now made it not just possible, but very easy, for a blogger to review (and block) the ads from Google Adsense that appear on his or her website/blog, before they actually get displayed on it.
I would like to quote the exact words from the email I received this month from Adsense (which I have not been using up till now because of my hitherto lack of control on the ads that got displayed on my “Karachi Eating Out” blog):
We’re writing to let you know about recent changes we’ve made to the Ad review center in your AdSense account.
We’ve just rolled out an entirely new version of this tool, with added functionality that gives you more control over your ads and makes it easier to manage the ads showing on your pages.
– View and take action on any ads that have run on your pages, whether they’re placement-targeted, contextually-targeted, or interest-based. You can continue to hold placement-targeted ads for review before they appear on your site.
– Make decisions on individual ads and control what appears on your site at a granular level.
– Review ads that are getting or will likely get the highest number of impressions on your pages first. Ads that don’t receive any impressions on your sites won’t appear in the Ad review center, so you can focus your efforts on reviewing only the ads that your users may see.
– Block a group of ads at once by highlighting and dragging the ads, or simply click an ad to block it.
– View larger versions of ad thumbnails by hovering over the ad, or even view the ad in its original size. The new version of the Ad review center is now available in your account under the Allow & Block ads tab.
Sincerely, The Google AdSense Team
This new feature makes it extremely easy for any blogger to use Google Adsense to earn only halal money online.
I have stopped using Adsense completely, which I had been using since several years on my “foodie” blog, Karachi Eating Out (not that the use of Adsense garnered anything that came even close to what can be considered an income for me, which was good).
The Ad Review center in which a blogger or any other online publisher who is using Adsense and displaying their ads on their website or blog, could previously easily review the ads showing on their website, now has hundreds of new ads added to it — every single day.
That is, the ads in the Ad Review Center, which were previously not so large in number, are literally innumerable now viz. if you open the Ad Review Center, there are literally thousands of ads, and I do not think it would be possible for the blogger/publisher to review each and every single new ad that was added every day — unless he or she employs a team specifically dedicated to exclusively performing this task on a daily basis.
Secondly, most of these ads contain or lead to questionable (i.e. haram) content, even if the business that is advertising its products through them is itself halal. E.g. a clothing brand that uses photos of female models who are displaying their full beauty, to promote its new clothing lines. Having a clothing business is halal, but displaying female models to promote it is not.
Even if the blogger/publisher has meticulously applied broad website filters to completely block ads from domains/websites/businesses that are haram in and of themselves, such as pornography, adult gaming, gambling, religions, alcohol, music, drugs, and dating — ads containing and leading to impermissible (haram) content will still get displayed on their website or blog.
To be more specific, if a visitor to your website clicks on these ads, the cents that will be added to your income due to those clicks will most probably not be halal. E.g. the fashion and travel industries dominate the ads being displayed on Adsense, and most of them lead to content that is not permissible for a Muslim to view. E.g. it is permissible to own and operate a restaurant on a beach in Maldives, but to promote it via Adsense using the photograph of a scantily clad lady or couple wrapped in an amorous embrace, is not. And Allah knows best.
Therefore, I am officially declaring now that it is not advisable for a Muslim to use Adsense. I, too, have removed it from my Karachi Eating Out blog, and I am grateful to a sincere Muslim brother for pointing this out to me, and for requesting me to pen this update here. May Allah grant him ongoing rewards for this endeavor.
All of us should strive to prevent even one cent or paisa of haram income from entering our incomes. I ask Allah to grant us provision that is 100% halal. Ameen.
And Allah knows best.