Hashtag Islam: How Cyber-Islamic Environments Are Transforming Religious Authority

Hashtag Islam: How Cyber-Islamic Environments Are Transforming Religious Authority

Hashtag Islam: How Cyber-Islamic Environments Are Transforming Religious Authority

Hashtag Islam: How Cyber-Islamic Environments Are Transforming Religious Authority

Synopsis

Gary R. Bunt is a twenty-year pioneer in the study of cyber-Islamic environments (CIEs). In his new book, Bunt explores the diverse and surprising ways digital technology is shaping how Muslims across vast territories relate to religious authorities in fulfilling spiritual, mystical, and legalistic agendas. From social networks to websites, essential elements of religious practices and authority now have representation online. Muslims, embracing the immediacy and general accessibility of the internet, are increasingly turning to cyberspace for advice and answers to important religious questions. Online environments often challenge traditional models of authority, however. One result is the rise of digitally literate religious scholars and authorities whose influence and impact go beyond traditional boundaries of imams, mullahs, and shaikhs.

Bunt shows how online rhetoric and social media are being used to articulate religious faith by many different kinds of Muslim organizations and individuals, from Muslim comedians and women's rights advocates to jihad-oriented groups, such as the "Islamic State" and al-Qaeda, which now clearly rely on strategic digital media policies to augment and justify their authority and draw recruits. This book makes clear that understanding CIEs is crucial for the holistic interpretation of authority in contemporary Islam.

Excerpt

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an imposing landmark on the skyline of Abu Dhabi—an oasis of air-conditioning and minarets within the concrete heat and frenetic bustle of the United Arab Emirates. When I visited there in 2011, I was shown how it acts as a networking hub, integrating digital media in its precincts and streaming sermons and other religious materials to other mosques in the region. Many mosques and religious institutions can stream multimedia across platforms and services, a service now embedded in the expectations of their core users within Muslim digital worlds. Digital content has become a key part of expressions of contemporary Islam in many contexts, in terms of the ways in which faith, command, and control are manifest across complex systems of Muslim beliefs.

We live in a phase of sustained information technological development, where significant innovations in communications have combined with diverse Islamic agendas to create a significant shift in the ways in which command and control of Muslim contexts are driven. Muslims in many zones are attuned to the various ways in which the internet can be applied to fulfill religious and other objectives, demonstrating innovation and technological aptitude that can contradict some prevalent stereotypes of Islam and Muslims being “behind the times” or stuck in a “medieval” phase of development. While there may be much of merit associated with Islam and Muslims in medieval periods, it is clear that in many cases Islamic cyberspace is up to speed (or ahead) and delivering technologically adept objectives to a public for whom online systems are a natural adjunct to everyday life. Through the application of technology, some sectors of Muslim society have engineered elements of positive social change and activism in diverse political and cultural contexts. Other elements might be deemed “negative” in terms of technological application, such as the emergence of online “jihad” associated with the “Islamic State.”

The diminished digital divide and increased web literacy across generations feed into forms of Islamic cyberspace that have a growing influence across diverse Muslim contexts—especially in relation to religious authority . . .

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