Religion in the Virtual World


Monday, March 15, 2010

Religion in the Virtual World

The internet has become an indispensable and necessary part of our lives. Whereas communication without the internet has become nearly impossible, encyclopedias are now almost nostalgic items in the library, with search engines have been declared king, crowned by their ability to achieve "search results" in seconds. As the internet has dominated almost every dimension of our lives, it is not possible that religion could have escaped this process.

What kind of a religion do we find in the virtual world? What is the main mission of the Islamic sites and how is Islam used here? The increasing use of the internet and the propagation of Islamic web pages show us the growing demand and interest in Islam, while also revealing a critical dilemma about how Islam is actually lived. With the help of the internet, more information about Islam is made available to people; millions of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims, now have easier access to primary sources and a greater chance to access religious debates in which thousands of people from all over the world participate via chat rooms and forums. On the other hand, all these competing opinions and resources have created a great confusion; in other words, there is an enormous and misleading accumulation of information that results in serious divisions over who speaks for Islam; this in turn leads to the question, "Who is right?" Nevertheless, as a result of the nature of this virtual world, it is almost impossible to control this flow of information. 

The internet is also undoubtedly proof that the Islamic way of living is undergoing an important process of transformation. The Islam on the web pages; the "virtual" Islam, now offers a totally new realm for Muslims from every culture, every sect and even from every community. Almost every group or foundation has one or more web page that introduces itself directly or indirectly. When we enter the word "Islam" on the web we receive thousands of links that feature everything from shopping to sermons, even "Web-muftis" who provide answers to theological and legal questions. Today, any person can discover a  fatwa on any subject, with a number of different points of view, within minutes. Moreover, the internet is considered by many to be an effective way to educate non-Muslims about the faith and to demonstrate that Islam is a religion in which diversity and debate are encouraged. While non-Muslims and Muslims enter a debate thanks to modern communications and the internet, Muslims all over the world also are now able to get in touch and to discuss problems and troublesome issues from the Islamic world. Communication experts believe that in the next few years a consensus in the Islamic world will emerge on issues such as extremism, interpretations of the Qur'an and the role of Muslim women.

The internet is not only a sphere where there can be an explosion of viewpoints and information; it also provides another very interesting service in the name of "virtual Islam". Many prayers and religious acts can be carried out on the Internet today. Among these, listening to the Qur'an, attending online religious talks, participating in "prayer chains", traveling by virtual means to the holy places are the easiest practices today; websites accept donations and hold funerals according to Islamic rules and provide Islamic matchmaking services, thus reflecting the variety of ways in which the Internet has dominated our lives.

So, now that "living Islam" is just a "click" away, there is no excuse for not knowing about the Prophet of Islam. When we search for the name Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the search engines we come across more than 3 million sites that are directly or indirectly related to him. Generally intended for Muslims all over the world, many of the sites about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) aim to discuss his life and character. Naturally, explanations about the Sunnah and examples from the hadiths cover most of the content of these sites. As mentioned before, among the huge accumulation of information, we can pull out a great deal of resources about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). But on the other hand, many of these sites unfortunately are not sufficient to serve the purpose for establishing a firm basis or providing a convincing answer to the actual criticisms that are raised about Islam and Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), or to offer alternative solutions to problems about integrating the Sunnah to the world to today. 

عن أبي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه قَالَ:
قَبَّلَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم الْحَسَنَ بْنَ عَلِيٍّ وَعِنْدَهُ الأَقْرَعُ بْنُ حَابِسٍ التَّمِيمِيُّ جَالِسًا‏.‏ فَقَالَ الأَقْرَعُ إِنَّ لِي عَشَرَةً مِنَ الْوَلَدِ مَا قَبَّلْتُ مِنْهُمْ أَحَدًا‏.‏ فَنَظَرَ إِلَيْهِ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ثُمَّ قَالَ ‏"‏ مَنْ لاَ يَرْحَمُ لاَ يُرْحَمُ ‏"‏‏
God's Messenger kissed Al-Hasan bin Ali (his grandchild) while Al-Aqra' bin Habis At-Tamim was sitting beside him. Al-Aqra said, "I have ten children and I have never kissed anyone of them", God's Messenger cast a look at him and said, "Whoever is not merciful to others will not be treated mercifully." (Bukhari, Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab), 18)

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