Another face of Internet in Islam -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Another face of Internet in Islam

Ayesha Shahid

From the hotness of the new mehram in a girl’s life to saying no to a potential date, online chat rooms and blogs deal with religion and twenty-first century issues in an appealing manner

What is the newly-wed woman of today to think about her new family – should she dread her in-laws or dream of eternal happiness with the husband? For Malo, an active blogger, the answer is heavily inspired by Islam as she writes in her post “The hot new Mehram”:

“Stop thinking of the in-laws as a re-run of ‘Something wicked this way comes’. Yes your husband is hot, and he’s your garment and all, and yes insha’Allah it will be love forever literally (with pious spouses being together in Jannah also) but he’s also someone’s son/brother and in all honesty he was their son/brother first. Really, why the insecurity?”

And there are many other such cheeky tidbits to be found on Malonama.com, a blog run by two bloggers based in Islamabad and Canada. Malonama is one of many Asian and Middle-Eastern blogs and websites that have popped up in the last few years and have given a new voice to what had forever been regaled as the territory of stringent ulema in local newspapers.

Proselytizing and advising on religious matters is no more about fiery sermons or even the dark sombre tones of the local aunty-brigade led dars (lectures) – these online ventures from the region show that the East has finally clambered on to the westernised rhetoric of Islam with all its wit and relaxed humour.

For the educated youth of the country who have adopted internet as an integral part of their life, these websites take orthodox Islam and present it in a contemporary and easily digestible manner.Western sites like yasminmogahed.com, suhaibwebb.com and muslimmatters.org can be frequently seen making rounds on Facebook profiles showing that they are fast entering the Pakistani consciousness.

Yasmin Mogahed, an Islamic scholar based in America, is oft-quoted for her articles on very personal topics like love, marriage and relationship with Allah while MuslimMatters.org provides Islam based views on everything from the Muslim ways to reject prom dates to Halal mortgages.

This is not the only face of internet Islam. A much older and longer existing face is of forums and websites being maintained by local madrassahs. A popular site with locals as well as Pakistani diaspora is that of Madrassa Jamia Binoria of Karachi, with people posing questions on marriage to end-of-life care. Women form a considerable chunk of this traffic as they are bound at home and have freedom with the anonymity that comes with online chat rooms.

One visitor to such websites is Sidra Tariq, whose parents would not agree to any marriage proposal from outside the family. In late night hours and under stress, the easiest thing for her was to get on the internet and search what Islam suggests in such testing circumstances.

“When I feel helpless and do not know what to do or how to find a solution, I go search online. There are all these people who post similar questions on different forums and other sources of guidance and that helps,” she says.

Unlike her, Ayza Karim started going to specific chat rooms for discussions on religious issues and clear other people’s misconceptions about Islam after 9/11. But when confronted with questions from other faiths, she said she started watching online video lectures of Zakir Naik and Ahmad Deedat.

“When I started learning more about Islam, internet was my friend. I found any and all information I wanted about any issue on it. And really all sorts of information is out there, you just have to go on two or three different kinds of websites and you’ll realise which one is making the most sense,” she explained.

“But if someone quotes a Hadith or an Ayah, I always go back to the primary source at the end of the day because an unaccounted internet website cannot be trusted,” she added.

And then there are those blogs that discuss serious issues in Islam and get trolled. On Saudiwoman’s Weblog – a blog by a Saudi woman – a post on Misyar marriages (travel marriages, often the second for the man, where the wife is kept separate and gives up many of her basic rights) and their validity in Islam was bound to generate a heated discussion. However, in the comments section, almost half the commenting men dropped their numbers or emails expressing their interest in getting a Misyar marriage – needless to say they were mostly from Pakistan.

For people like Ayza and Sidra – and the visitors of Saudiwoman’s Weblog – perhaps the new blogs that present a very soft, personalised image of Islam are still unknown. But for others, they have managed to grab a substantial amount of interest.

Raina Ijaz, another urban 20-something who describes herself as moderately religious, says that she reads these softer blogs not because of Islam necessarily, but because they are interesting:

“I don’t really read them to learn about Islam, it’s just interesting to see the Western world from their perspective,” said Raina who has spent her share of time surfing such blogs.

At randomnightsandinsights.tumblr.com, a frank post about the author’s struggles with prayer touched many hearts. The author writes: “First prayer used to be all about fulfilling one of the pillars of Islam, but now it’s different. Now I want to talk to Allah, I want to thank Him for all the clothes I have, for all the beautiful people He blessed me with, for His love, for making me a Muslim.”

And in a frank comment, another blogger responds: “You’re so lucky to reach the stage of such a connection with your namaz. I wish I could have that too.”

And in this quite space, a camaraderie in Islam seems to have developed among people who will likely never meet.

All the names in this story have been changed to allow frank conversations on the issue.

Dawn