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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

Society, Politics, and Economy >
What role does the Internet play in Islam today?

Millions use the Internet daily for news, information, shopping, research, and social networking. Muslims are no exception. Many Islamic Web sites cater to both Muslims and non-Muslims who want to learn more about Islam. The Quran, Quranic commentaries, and collections of the traditions of the Prophet are available online in languages ranging from Arabic and Urdu to Spanish and Swahili. Imams use Web sites that allow Muslims worldwide to download their Friday sermons (khutba) and lectures without charge. Prominent religious leaders, scholars, and preachers have their own Web sites or use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to attract and educate large international audiences.

Social networking is also very popular among Muslims. E-mail has improved communication between Muslims in the West and their families and friends who live in different states and countries. Websites like Facebook and LinkedIn are popular cyber spots for people to make contacts and form business relationships. Some singles rely on the Internet to find a marriage partner in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia by logging on to popular Web sites such as Companionships.org, MuslimFriends.com, and SingleMuslim.com that provide opportunities to be matched by an imam or to meet, socialize, and decide if they would like to get engaged. Other sites, forums, and chat rooms online enable Muslims to make new friends, as well as to discuss and debate religious, political, and social issues and share views on popular culture.

The Internet also provides an open, anonymous space for Muslim women to explore their interests, from women's rights and roles in family and society to fashion and music, with others in cyberspace. It also offers an opportunity for some to obtain or broaden their education and learn marketable job skills. Nonprofit groups like Women's Learning Partnership help Muslim women to gain job skills through online courses. Some use the Internet to develop their own businesses. Women from very conservative families are able to work and earn money without leaving the confines of their homes.

A few major Web sites provide all the services mentioned above with one click. Sites such as IslamiCity.com and IslamOnline.net function as virtual Islamic cities, uniting Muslims across the world into one, online Islamic community. IslamiCity.com, for instance, aims to promote understanding of Islam and Muslims and to seek peace for all people. This site serves as a one-stop-shop for information on multiple topics, from the Quran to Muslim businesses across the United States. Web surfers can also log on to the site to watch Islamic television programs or join a forum to discuss politics with other Muslims around the world. The site also provides links to a bazaar where Web users can purchase Islamic gifts and books.

Non-Muslims often use IslamiCity.com to access information on topics such as Islamic beliefs or Muslim views of women's rights, or to use a glossary of common Islamic terms. People can also send questions to an imam (religious leader) or mufti (legal scholar) on a broad range of issues. This interactive site allows both Muslims and non-Muslims to engage others on Islamic issues and to debate in an open environment.

IslamOnline.net offers both Muslims and non-Muslims accurate and reliable information on Islam. Articles on health and science, art and culture, and family give readers multiple Islamic perspectives on current issues. This site also provides webcasts and live opportunities for Muslims to dialogue with each other or even to listen to fatwa (legal opinion) pronouncements. Surfers can also access online counseling with an Islamic counselor on personal issues. Of course, while historically, muftis were able to issue fatwas based on their knowledge of the people involved in the situation, now with fatwas being issued over the Internet, the petitioner and often the mufti are faceless, connected only by a computer screen, and the relationship between the mufti and the fatwa seeker is removed.

The benefits of the Internet are enormous. The downside is its use by anonymous extremists and terrorists who exploit chat rooms and forums to preach their messages of hate and violence. Often preying on the alienation and discrimination that immigrant Muslims feel in their countries of residence, terrorists advocate militant ideologies to recruit new members to their organizations. They participate in youth-oriented Web sites discussing topics ranging from pop culture to sports in order to target disenfranchised Muslims, especially young adults, and to indoctrinate them into radical Islam. They use the speeches of radical preachers and terrorists as well as fatwas to give religious justification to killing and terrorism in the name of Islam. Some Muslim youth in the West, who often experience discrimination and hostility, are targeted or drawn to these sites and their militant messages. Youth living in Muslim countries are also attracted to calls for jihad against their rulers or for giving aid to fellow Muslims wanting to remove what they see as Western military occupation from their countries.

The Internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it enables Muslims worldwide to engage and join with a global ummah online, and it offers access to important religious resources. Muslims can listen to Quranic recitations, sermons, and prayers with a click of a mouse. Families and friends can participate in each others' lives despite being oceans apart. On the other, the Internet's anonymity permits anyone to say or advocate anything. Legitimate religious leaders, scholars, and preachers as well as radical clerics and terrorists use the Internet to educate and propagandize in the battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims that is taking place in private, in public, and in virtual reality.

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