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Internet

By:
Jon W. Anderson
Source:
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Internet

The Internet has joined broadcasting and print as media for communicating Muslim ideas, discussion, and outreach, especially for opening these to new populations. In addition to new consumers, the Internet has brought into prominence new interpretations and authors that range from traditionalists to modernizers, affording them worldwide reach and exposing the real diversity of Muslim opinion, piety, and belief, which was previously a concern primarily of scholars.

The Internet breaks with the model for mediated communication that prevailed from the introduction of the printing press to the Muslim world in the nineteenth century through broadcasting in the twentieth. Print and broadcasting expanded audiences for religious discourse but limited mass publishing to those with extensive political, financial, or technological resources. In contrast, the any-to-any model of Internet communication and its simple publishing technologies lowered the practical barriers to mass communication, permitting nearly anyone to become read by worldwide audiences.

Sūfīs and new Islamic intellectuals seized on print in the nineteenth century and governments monopolized broadcasting in the twentieth, but information technology professionals were typically the first to bring Islamic content online from the computers at their workplaces, typically universities and research labs. They were followed in the 1990s by activists who often shared a larger professional culture and then by more official voices as the Internet became easier to use with the introduction in the World Wide Web and graphic browsers. By the new millennium, the online Muslim population included radicals and even terrorists, conventional ʿulamā, and the growing population of pious middle classes. Muslims who worked and sought leisure online found the Internet a forum for propagating their views, acquiring information, and connecting with others similar to themselves. The core of this Islamic cyberspace is a transnational population, trained in modern professions, and ready to reach beyond local societies in which they often feel themselves minorities.

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Islamic presence on the Internet grew to include millions of sites: simple Web pages grew into sophisticated “portals,” online gateways that provide users with a single point of access to a wide variety of information and related Web sites, “chat rooms” that allow users to communicate with others online in real time, and “blogs” of online personal or opinion journals. All major schools of theology, major and many minor Ṣūfī orders, and numerous religious schools and movements developed an online presence. Visitors to the Internet could find online databases of fatwās and sermons, directions on how to find a mosque or a ḥalāl butcher in a Western city; practical advice on dealing with in-laws, religious instruction for children, or maintaining the Islamic faith under modern conditions from classic daʿwah to political activism.

This migration to the Internet continued the expansion of religious discourse outside the realm of scholars already begun by print intellectuals over a century earlier. It fostered transnational communities of discourse and put hard-to-find religious texts at the fingertips of Internet users worldwide, as well as modern interpretations that fragmented traditional Islamic structures of authority, bringing into question the role of religion in private life, politics, and the modern world.

Many Muslim countries restrict Internet access for both users and content producers, and many sites typically refrain from criticism of official policy. Others have developed in the postmodern diaspora of Muslims that openly discuss visions and practice of Islam in the context of contemporary politics, economics, and social relations. These variously reaggregate “old school ties,” issues of common concern, or mutual support in virtual worlds of discourse that extend and aggregate local networks, such as those centered on mosques or around preachers, into wider public realms, where they come to the attention of outsiders in the problematic registers these moves have for authorities.

Among the Internet 's effects have been a continued vernacularization of religious discourse, but alongside a wider circulation of the solemn language of piety in classical Arabic. The pious, seekers, and others can find famous Qurʿān reciters on the Internet, the call to prayer from major mosques, and texts and sermons from preachers in other parts of the world; they can also access discussions of Islam in the idioms and practical epistemologies of modern education, professions, and practical local concerns. In this, some see the advent of the Internet as expanding an Islamic reformation toward more open and varied interpretation that began with public intellectuals and now extends to much wider circles that began with listservs and now extend to blogs by ordinary Muslims, who have been the leading edge of the migration to the Internet and have contributed to expanding the public sphere of Islam.

Bibliography

  • Anderson, Jon W.“New Media, New Publics: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere of Islam.”Social Research70, no. 3 (2003): 887–906. How bringing Islam to the Internet has been shaped technologically and socially.
  • Bunt, Gary. Virtually Islamic: Computer-Mediated Communication and Cyber-Islamic Environments. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2000. Extensive study of informal and formal ijtihād on the Internet.
  • Eickelman, Dale F., and Jon W. Anderson, eds.New Media in the Muslim World: The Emerging Public Sphere.2d ed.Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. How new media from popular novels to the Internet foster new interpreters and new interpretations of Islam.
  • Ernst, Karl W.Following Muḥammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. A concise introduction to issues facing contemporary Muslims.
  • Mandaville, Peter. Transnational Muslim Publics: Reimagining the Umma. London: Routledge, 2003. On diasporic Islam, particularly in Europe.
  • Weimann, Gabriel. Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, the New Challenges. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, 2006. Jihādī uses of the Internet for information and mobilization.
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