Hurst £10.99 (358pp) £9.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

iMuslims, By Gary R Bunt

The internet has rewired Islam. The web is now at the core of all Muslim communities and performs a central role in Islamic expression. It is being used to reinterpret Islam; and Muslims themselves are being transformed.

The "i" in iMuslims, says Gary Bunt in this fascinating study, is not simply the internet. It also represents repacking of information on Islam, new pathways of interactivity and interconnection among Muslims, and an innovative online universe. A plethora of travellers on the religious path - scholars, students, activists, mystics – are developing new affinities that go far beyond traditional boundaries. Cyber Islam is challenging and mutating a conventional understanding of Muslim identity.

But not everything is new. This "Cyber Islamic Environment" has strong historic resonance. The new networks are not unlike traditional networks during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, when religious knowledge evolved as an open-source system. Just like Wikipedia, experts and ordinary people collaborated to develop a consensus on Islamic knowledge.

For example, the scholarship that developed around the collection of sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, hadith, was a collaborative effort. Scholars travelled far and wide, making connections with networks around centres of knowledge, both to collect and transmit versions of hadith. The criteria for evaluating hadith were also a product of collaborative efforts. This "open-source Islamic scholarship", Bunt writes, "was subjected to limitations and restrictions over time". It has now been rediscovered by an internet-savvy generation.

Even the terms employed to describe online activities invoke traditional connections. The Arabic term for a blogger is mudawin, defined as "to record... set down, put down in writing". It evokes the image of traditional Muslim chroniclers of eye-witness history.

The conventional ways of seeking religious guidance through questions and answers, as well as the madrassa, where young Muslims would normally go for religious education, are both available online. Not surprisingly, some Muslims now explain their religious affiliation by identifying with a specific website, rather than a mosque or religious sect.

The strongest and most authoritative Islamic voice in cyberspace, Bunt says, is the Qur'an. Online translations and commentaries provide unrestricted access. Most religious institutions, such as Egypt's al-Azhar and Iran's Qom, have a strong web presence with designated sheikhs and ayatollahs responding across the net to petitioners.

The loudest voice belongs to the jihadis. Networks like al-Qa'ida use the net with cunning and panache, both for logistic and publicity purposes, utilising free web space, encryption and anonymising tools to manipulate agendas, public opinion and promote their worldview. Bunt provides examples of jihadi sites, where trendy jargon blends with fiery polemic based on obscure references to medieval scholars.

But for every jihadi there are thousands of reformers. The net has made basic sources, such as the Qur'an, the life of the Prophet Muhammad and classic texts on law and history, available to everyone. Young Muslims use these sources to create fresh dialogues, present new interpretations and thus transform the Islamic knowledge economy.

Groups like Indonesia's Liberal Islam Network have used the internet to alter traditional outlooks and introduce new ways of thinking. Reformist blogs in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Malay and Bengali play a major part in shaping opinion, challenging state media, and are frequently used as an instrument of resistance – as we saw recently in Iran.

iMuslims is an excellent guide to the emergence of "specific forms of online Islam". Along the way, Bunt explores some very interesting questions. Can humanity's relationship with God take on a digital interface? One thing is clear: cyberspace is transforming both Islamic beliefs and Muslim practices.

What is really new, as Bunt shows so powerfully, is the contribution of concerned and thinking Muslims, with no background in traditional education. This opening of Islamic knowledge to ordinary believers is a good development. "Open source" provided Islam with its strength in history; it will play a major part in rescuing Muslim societies from the current impasse.

Ziauddin Sardar's 'Balti Britain' is out in paperback from Granta

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'