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Young Muslims turn to Web sites for information about their faith.

Net works: Internet-savvy and newfound confidence.
Net works: Internet-savvy and newfound confidence.

Shuriah Niazi

Contrary to popular perceptions of the community’s aversion to new skills, Muslims have quickly adopted modern technology, using the Internet to access information about their faith. The most recent example is that of a Muslim bride, Sadaf Sarwar, 21, and her three sisters. Hailing from the UK, the siblings had read up on the Net about the concept of Islamic marriages and discovered that women, too, could sign as witnesses of a nikah despite it being an uncommon social practice. Thus Sadaf’s sisters — Rahia (19), Sana (17), and Ana (14) — were able to play a formal role in the nikah of their sibling in Bhopal recently.

A growing number of Indian Muslims have turned to the Internet to seek answers and clarify their doubts on several issues. With many muftis (clerics) seeming unapproachable — not unnaturally, youngsters shy away from questioning formidable clerics about issues related to sex and relationships — they have turned to the numerous Web sites that offer information in the comfort-zone of cyberspace.

Sample these…

Sample some of the queries being put forth on these Web sites: On askimam.com, a curious youngster has asked: “Is it permitted under Islam to work as a bouncer (doorman security) at a nightclub or casino?” Another query on islamhelpline.com goes: “Would it be considered against sunnah ways if a newly married couple lit candles and had a candlelight dinner in their own house?”

Zeenat, 18, wanted to know if Islam gave sanction to love marriages. Unable to approach a cleric to seek such information, she logged on to islamhelpline.com. Similarly, Zakir Khan, 29, took the help of a Web site when he wanted to know about a sex-related issue. He says, “Had I asked a mufti, he would have either not replied or asked me to leave. But the Web site made my task easy.” Jawad Alam, who has a 17-year-old daughter, agrees it is probably easier to pose a question on the Internet. He realises that for young women, in particular, seeking clarifications on sex from a cleric would be embarrassing and out of the question. He admits that he, too, would not like to address such topics, thereby explaining the growing popularity of such Web sites.

Serious and not-so-serious

From the grave concerns of the heart to the lighter matter of grooming, youngsters are clicking away to find their answers. Sharia Iqbal, 30, reveals, “I sought the help of a Web site when I wanted to know whether Islam permits women to trim eyebrows. This Web site provided me with the answer.

It was not possible for me to talk directly to a mufti on such a topic. Unsurprisingly, “the maximum numbers of questions relate to terrorism. Youngsters are concerned about the way the media presents Islam and associates it with terrorism.” Clerics and scholars based in India, while pleased with the growing desire for Islamic understanding among the youth, have a word of caution. Says Qazi Abdul Latif Khan of Bhopal, “The replies should be given in the light of the Holy Quran and the Shariah (Islamic law),” adding that it would be better if those replying were men of religious authority — preferably muftis and scholars. He also cautions youngsters against the anti-Islam propaganda uploaded on a number of Web sites. He advises those surfing the Internet to guard against portals that are intentionally falsifying Islam under the guise of proffering authentic information.

Popular Web sites

Naimur Rehman Siddiqui, a professor at the Academy of Islamic Research in the prestigious Islamic institution, Nadwatul Ulama (Lucknow), suggests that surfers enquire about the standing of the scholars associated with the Web site. He recommends URLs such as islamicity.com, islamhelpline.com and askimam.com. The Academy of Islamic Research had earlier compiled a list of Islamic Web sites; however, it has not been updated recently.

Among the spiritually conscious who want to understand their religion better, the Web site islamonline.com is popular. It now gets up to nearly a quarter of a million hits each month. The information and responses are provided by the Egypt-based Yusuf Al Qardawi. Similarly, islamhelpline.com has scholar Burhan — who is India-born — replying from the US. On askimam.com, Deobandi mufti Ebrahim Desai replies to Islamic questions from South Africa.

And just in case the medium of the English language poses a barrier, helpful operators at the neighbourhood cyber café willingly help surf, log on to a Web site and even type out the query. But as Mohammed Shakil, who owns a café in Bhopal, points out, many of the youngsters are in the middle to upper income group and hardly ever need any assistance, as they are Net savvy.

Women’s Feature Service

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated October 12, 2007)
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