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Islamic websites – religion online or online religion?


After getting firm with Christopher Hellands contrary concepts of “online religion”, with a high level of interactivity and freedom, and “religion online”, just providing information without interaction, we had the possibility to apply this categorization to some websites.

In our lecture about “The Role of individual and Community. Web 2.0 and the Rise of a New Form of Religious Community” by Hans G. Kippenberg we talked about some Islamic activities in the Internet. He started with the idea of subnationalization, the establishment of cultural enclaves below the national level, which are driven by religious associations and authorities. These communities come together through medial communication, which is the base for their social existence. They also adopt internet-based communication like WWwebsites, which is used in a very different way due to technically founded characteristics: the nearly unlimited international availability. On the base of maslaha (“public interest”), a traditional concept of the Sharia, these websites establish an Islamism that claims a strong Islam in the public realm. This discourse is focused on practical considerations of public welfare and social justice.

A person who is very strong in this discourse is Yusuf al-Qaradawi. The Islamic scholar living in Qatar is a very influential authority for Sunni Islam and his comments are well-known from TV-broadcasts and top-selling book publications. Furthermore, he is running the Islamic website, which is very popular within the transnational Islam. Even if this scholar is known for his conservative statements according to Islamic law, his positioning to new media is very liberal. The working group, which was checking his (not longer available) online-declaration for, found out that he judges the utilization of WWW as a possibility to get in contact with scholars all over the world. It would be important to release knowledge online for giving it to a wider community. That is also the reason why the website is available not only in Arabic, but also in English.

The idea of online fatwa – a religious question about how to act or what is right and wrong in a special situation – is very common in this sort of online environment. A religious authority, or rather someone who presents himself as being so, will answer online to these fatwas and – if his authority is also accepted – have some influence on the users of these fatwa-websites. One of our groups was intensively dealing with these online fatwas and found that is has some useful advantages: There is a very direct link between the believer and the expert, which can reduce the distance between the religion of authorities and the everyday religion.

The last group dealt with problematic circumstances emerging during the research within Islamic websites. They tried to follow some references made in the scientific text about the „Islamic Legitimacy for the London Bombings” of 2005. Unfortunately, most of the Islamic websites didn’t offer any English version – you should be able to read Arabic not only for understanding the offline texts but also for the online sources. Additionally, many links were dead and couldn’t be reconstructed with helping tools of the “never-forgetting” internet, like The Internet Archive or Google Cache. The availability was especially bad for those websites who represented opinions supporting the bombings as lawful Islamic fight. Links to websites declining the Islamic acceptance of the bombings were more likely to be available after years.

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