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In This Article Islam and the Internet

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies, Journals, and Online Resources
  • Text Collections
  • Muslim Groups
  • Radicalism and Political Violence
  • Online Fatawa
  • Social Media and Blogs
  • Online Computer Games

Islamic Studies Islam and the Internet
by
Göran Larsson

Introduction

The development of the global system of interconnected computer networks that we generally call the Internet has revolutionized the world of communications and transformed the society, economy, and private lives of billions of individuals. Even though the Internet still remains largely a Western phenomenon that depends on its users’ financial situation (for example, that they can afford to have a computer with a modem), language (most communication is still in English), and technological skills, the Internet and related technologies (especially cell phones) have rapidly spread to all parts of the world. Internet cafés that provide their customers with access to the Internet are a common future and a meeting place for an expanding number of users all over the world. People who do not have access to the Internet are also indirectly affected by the rise of the “network society,” to use a term coined by the sociologist Manuel Castells. With the development of Web 2.0, which among many things facilitates information sharing and places the user in a more influential position as a producer of information, the Internet has become more interactive, and its users can communicate to a greater extent with a growing number of users all over the world by taking part in online discussions or by setting up their own web pages or blogs (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). On the one hand, Web 2.0 has been presented as an opportunity and as supporting democracy and critical discussions in the third world, but on the other hand, it is evident that the technology also is a problem for those in power, since it can be used to question authority and the established order of society. Censure and conflicts over media use are still common topics in, for example, the Middle East and other countries located in the so-called third world, and even though a growing number of religious authorities have started to use the Internet and satellite television to promote their ideas, the new media are still viewed as a double-edged sword that can provide sorrow as well as prosperity. For example, it has become more difficult for political regimes to control public media, and thus alternative views on politics, religion, and so-called alternative lifestyles (for example, sexuality) have become more difficult for those in power to control and block out. However, if the users stick to the sites supported, promoted, and suggested by the religious and political elite, the Internet can be a tool that upholds the prevailing system.

General Overviews

Turning now to the study of Islam and the Internet, it is clear that individuals and groups that emphasized their “Muslimness” were among the earliest users of the new media. According to studies by Jon W. Anderson in Eickelman and Anderson 2003, this has to do with the fact that Muslim guest students in the United States had enrolled in technological programs at universities that were to become leading departments in the development and promotion of the Internet. As Bunt 2009 and Roy 2004 have documented, Muslims from a large variety of ethnic, linguistic, religious, and political backgrounds are using the Internet for discussing Islam and Muslim affairs and for apologetic or polemical reasons. A growing number of Muslim scholars (ulama) as well as established Islamic institutions (for example, the Sunni Muslim Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt) have also started to use the Internet and satellite television to promote their interpretations of Islam (for example, Skovgaard-Petersen 2004, which deals with the Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s use of new media). It has also become more important to reach out to Muslims in the West, that is, individuals of Muslim cultural background who live in Europe or the United States. The transnational dimension has also been highlighted in several studies, such as Mandaville 2001, that directly or indirectly discuss Islam, Muslims, and the Internet. As noted in the Introduction, the Internet provides new opportunities to explore and find alternative interpretations of Islam or to ask questions about Islam (for example, to ask for a fatwa), but it is also clear that this possibility can be perceived as a problem by religious authorities and political leaders, since the Internet is an arena for a large number of different groups ranging in interests from sexual orientations to various political and ideological tendencies. The tension and complexity of the new media are highlighted in Eickelman and Anderson 2003, Brückner and Pink 2009, and Larsson 2006, which deal with Islam, the Internet, and the new media in local, global, and transnational contexts. It is also evident that a growing number of Muslim preachers (for example, the popular Egyptian lay preacher Amr Khaled) are using the Internet to promote their specific interpretations of Islam.

  • Brückner, Matthias, and Johanna Pink. Von Chatraum bis Cyberjihad: Muslimische Internetnutzung in lokaler und globaler Perspektive. Würzburg, Germany: Ergon Verlag, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book covers both the social and the political functions of the Internet in the Middle East and the use of the Internet by German-speaking Muslims.

  • Bunt, Gary R. iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam. London: Hurst, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an informative and detailed description and overview that provides information about how various Muslim groups are using the Internet and how the development of the new information and communication technologies has influenced and affected the discussion of Islam and Muslims in contemporary society.

  • Eickelman, Dale F., and Jon W. Anderson, eds. New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is an excellent volume that deals with a large number of aspects of the Internet and the new media in the wider Muslim world. The chapters include examples from the Middle East to Indonesia, and the editors bring in new theoretical discussions by applying the theories of the German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas about the public sphere.

  • Larsson, Göran, ed. Religious Communities on the Internet: Proceedings from a Conference. Uppsala: Swedish Science, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    This conference volume includes, among other things, both empirical papers describing how Muslim groups use the Internet and theoretical papers that discuss the differences between online and offline communities.

  • Mandaville, Peter G. Transnational Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203453155E-mail Citation »

    This books deals with how Muslims are influenced by the new information and communication technologies, globalization processes, migration, and transnationalism.

  • Roy, Olivier. Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. London: Hurst, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book explores how globalization processes, migration, and the new information and communication technologies have affected the Muslim community (especially in the West, where Muslim live as minorities). According to Roy, it is obvious that these processes have delocalized Islam and made room for interpretations arguing that it is necessary to free Islam from cultural traits and return to a so-called pure form of Islam.

  • Skovgaard-Petersen, Jakob. “The Global Mufti.” In Globalization and the Muslim World: Culture, Religion, and Modernity. Edited by Birgit Schäbler and Leif Stenberg, 153–165. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    This chapter deals with the Egyptian theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi and his use of the latest information and communication technologies (that is, the Internet and satellite television).

LAST MODIFIED: 06/29/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0116

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