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Islam in Cyberia

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  • Islam in Cyberia

    By Prof. Shahul Hameed
    21/07/2004

    The computer, as we have come to realize, has become an extension of our central nervous system. Software substitutes most hardware, and we now live in a world where the dividing line between virtual reality and physical reality is fast disappearing.

    The Internet spans the globe in all languages and cultures, bringing spatially distant individuals virtually close together. Millions are now online. Almost everyone in the developed countries is wired and connected, and the rest of the world is expected to reach the same level of information-rich existence: Virtual reality is slowly supplanting the real reality.

    And the digital gurus now feel that we need much more than the present cyberspace, so they are planning Internet-2. Once this is realized, you will be able to check your e-mails over a high-speed Internet connection while waiting for the bus, or chat with your friends using high-definition television. You will even be able to inject a chip the size of a grain of rice under your skin, that will help others track you wherever you are, check your credit card details, and so on and so forth.[1]

    [2]

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    The Internet, unlike television or newspapers, provides interaction. Everyone contributes in some way to its organization. We may call it a huge dream machine. We know we are likely to fall asleep anywhere, and on the Internet we are prone to spiritual sleep. But probably the Internet is less sleep-inducing than TV because surfing the Web is a relatively proactive pursuit.

    The problem with high tech is that it tends to impede spiritual growth. No doubt, superhighways facilitate speed. But speed is basically injurious to the spirit. We need time to pray, to meditate. And a mad rush is not likely to yield any spiritual benefit.



    Probably the most serious shortcoming of the Net is its divorce from nature, as it means a divorce from the body, which is our primary anchor to reality as also to spiritual energies. Certainly, many people go to the Net to escape, to abandon themselves to a make-believe world, even a world of Technicolor dreams. The result is that those who are constrained to spend much time in cyberspace will learn to cherish the natural world. After spending hours on end staring at a computer monitor, there is nothing like the scent of a flower or the push of the wind against your face.

    Religion on the Netraditionally we posit two kinds of space: the material world in which our bodies exist, and a spiritual world where our souls dwell. We can think of cyberspace as existing somewhere in between: a world that shares some of the qualities of the material world, such as space and time; and some of the qualities of the spiritual world, such as interacting with thousands of souls at thousands of locations at once.

    This takes us to the social, as well as to the spiritual, implications of the Internet: The Net offers us an opportunity for a new community life, and it can create in us a new interest in religious pursuits or even open before us hitherto unexplored areas of spiritual awakening. This is the positive aspect of it.





    Islam on the Internet



    Around 15 million Muslims all over the world surf the Net. This is a little above one percent of the total world Muslim population, and only a fraction of those who watch TV channels. Gary Bunt, in his pioneering work, Islam in the Digital Age, explores how the application of electronic media has affected Islam and Muslims.[3] Bunt explores the whole new life of cyberjihad, cyberimams, and online Muslim communities. He defines the themes that characterize the Islamic lane on the cyberhighway.

    Bunt says that before September 11, there were e-jihad sites that encouraged Muslims to fight the oppression faced by Muslims in different parts of the world such as Palestine, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. Many of the Web sites contained graphic images of victims of oppression as a means of gearing support.



    A lot of positive work like e-da`wah is done on the Internet now, which merits more attention than it now gets. In fact there are hundreds of sites designed to educate the user about Islam and Muslims. They also provide an interconnectivity between reverts and other Muslims, giving them a channel to share views and concerns.



    And what about the people of the Land of the Free, the United States of America? They, too, have discovered that freedom cannot be completely free! The American unease with Muslim presence is made clear in a book entitled The War on Islam by Enver Masud.[6]

    Information Overload and Portals of Knowledge




    These sites encourage women to study and seek jobs and have a more visible role in social development. Naturally enough, most of the women sites focus on health, family, and beauty. Particularly noteworthy is the emergence of an Islamic feminism in a good number of these sites.

    One of the advantages of the Islamic Internet is the fact that more and more worldwide debates and discussions are going on about different topics in Islam. I think this openness and freedom lead to greater consensus on controversial issues. Over the Internet, Muslims are engaged in a global conversation no longer limited to a single country or group.


    Perhaps because they are not sure what to think, Americans are inquiring more directly about the faith, prompting a big increase in sales of books about Islam. According to Publishers Weekly, before September 11, not one of the top 1,000 religion books on Amazon dealt with Islam. Today, among the top 10 titles in religion, four deal in part or entirely with Islam. According to a December survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, during the same time period, 23 percent of Internet users turned to online sources to get information about Islam, according to a December survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.



    One point about American Muslims is that they are growing their own style of Islamic activity.


    After September 11 Muslims in America and other Western countries have recognized a need to get out of their cocoons and get involved in the socio-political life of the country of their adoption. So there is the chance that within a decade, despite all odds, Islam may become a mainstream Western religion. And in this evolution, Cyber-Islam has a crucial role, as is becoming more and more evident.

    Certainly the chief concern of Muslims is with the news and features that daily spew forth from Western media sources to tarnish the image of Islam and Muslims. This is the major challenge that Muslims have to tackle diligently and rationally.

    And the prospects are good, as many Muslims in the field have proved themselves capable of taking the bull by the horns. And


    * Prof. Shahul Hameed is a prolific writer and a poet specialized in Islamic topics and comparative religion. He is also a consultant to Ask About Islam.



    [3] Gary R. Bunt, Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber Islamic Environments (London and Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 2003).

    [4] A review of Islam in the Digital Age, on www.salaam.co.uk at http://www.salaam.co.uk/bookshelf/review.php?option=24


    [6] Enver Masud, The War on Islam, 3rd ed. (Arlington, VA: Madrasah Books, 2003). The book is available online in Adobe format at http://www.twf.org/Library?woi2edL.pdf .



    [9] Ibid.

    http://www.islamonline.net/english/C...rticle02.shtml
    Last edited by abdulhakeem; 26-10-04, 12:15 AM.
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