Islamic religious authority in cyberspace: A qualitative study of Muslim religious actors in Australia

Shaheen Amid Whyte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The arrival of new technologies has always presented new challenges and opportunities to religious communities anchored in scriptural and oral traditions. In the modern period, the volume, speed and accessibility of digital technologies has significantly altered the way knowledge is communicated and consumed. This is particularly true for the way religious authority is constructed online. Using in-depth fieldwork interviews and survey findings of Australian Muslims, this article examines the way religious actors, including imams/sheikhs, educators and academics in the field of Islamic studies, perceive and use online platforms to convey their religious knowledge. The findings suggest Muslims value the benefits of accessing knowledge, communicating ideas and facilitating religious pluralism via digital platforms. By the same token, participants warned against the dangers of information anarchy, “Sheikh Google” and the limitations of “do it yourself Islam”. Importantly, the article shows imams, educators and Muslim scholars largely prioritise face-to-face learning as a more reliable and effective method of teaching and establishing rapport among Muslims compared to eclectic internet-based information dissemination. At the same time, religious actors are not averse to Muslims using digital platforms so long as they possess the skills to cross-examine online content and verify the credentials of religious actors. For more complex and circumstantial issues, participants encouraged Muslims to consult a local imam or trusted religious scholar from the community.

Original languageEnglish
Article number69
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalReligions
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

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