It is intriguing to note the extent to which the Internet and social media in particular – such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other digital tools – have become newsworthy topics in their own right in the context of press coverage of the dramatic popular uprisings we have seen across the Middle East.
But how have cyberspace and its myriad platforms affected the predominant religion of the region? A new book “Islam Dot Com: Contemporary Islamic Discourses in Cyberspace” examines contemporary Islamic discourse online and analyzes the threads of discussion forums on three of the most mainstream Islamic websites. VOA’s Mohamed Elshinnawi spoke to the book’s co-author, Sahar Khamis, who is also an assistant professor of communication at University of Maryland. Among the questions posed were (listen to the conversation using the audio player below):
- What prompted you to decide to examine Islamic discourses in cyberspace and analyze the threads of discussion forums in mainstream Islamic websites?
- Have Islamic websites weakened or consolidated the control of the mainstream Islamic establishment over the production and distribution of religious information?
- Through your analysis, did you find these sites ‘providing a forum for resistant voices that can challenge sources of internal public authority, such as governments in the Muslim world, as well as forces of external domination?
- To what extent do these sites act as platforms for the display of collective identities within the realm of the “virtual umma” (Islamic community) in the digital age?
- What were the most striking findings as you examined the different ways through which members of the Muslim umma are capable of creating, intersecting, overlapping or clashing identity positions and subjectivities around various issues and discourses in cyberspace today?
- What are the issues that caused Muslim users to sharply disagree and forgo civil discourse?
- What are the major conclusions Islam Dot Com has reached after analyzing online interactions between Muslims?
Join us and listen to these expert insights and share your thoughts with us in comments below.
Egyptian-American Mohamed Elshinnawi is a senior reporter at VOA. He covered the Middle East peace process from Camp David in 1978 through the 1993 Oslo Agreements to Syrian-Israeli talks in 2000. He interviewed Arab heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers and as well as ranking U.S. officials, including members of Congress. He hosted "Dialogue with the West," a live TV show which, broadcast via satellite from Washington, reached 35 million Arabs. He is fluent in Arabic and English.