The world is changing at a speed we could never have imagined before. 15-20 years ago, we did not carry phones with us and now we cannot even conceive of a world without smart phones and social networking. Social media is helping shape the world’s events and culture. From the Arab Spring to the global Occupy movement, individuals and groups are more engaged and empowered than ever before. From personal to public life, politics to religion, social media is constantly posing challenges.
Because of the fast-paced and ever accessible data in digital age, religious leadership can no longer be the province of just a few elites. The leaders can longer expect their followers to remain loyal to them for the rest of their lives. Whilst ever-growing preeminence of social media – especially on mobile computing devices like smart phones– has brought religion back into the daily lives of many, it has also challenged religious leadership and institutions to revive notions of spiritual guidance and identity in both online and off-line.
The emergence of social media has posed tremendous challenges to Imams and their traditional ways of teaching, preaching and engaging with their communities. In the digital age, the role of British Imams, the skills required and services offered by them to guide, nourish, engage and empower the young Muslim community, are very different to those 20 years ago.
An Imam is an invaluable resource for a community. Imams have always provided a variety of inter-connected spiritual and civic services. It is often the messages from Imams that have significantly contributed to the revival of the Muslim community. Imams have been the cornerstone of the spiritual development of the British Muslim community. The digital revolution has meant that only those professional Imams, who are able to ‘connect’ online with Muslims – offer a true voice of Islam and present innovative solutions and opportunities to tackle the global religious-political challenges – will remain ‘relevant’ to their community in the digital age.
With this in mind, leading British Imams, from across the country, have come together, for a two day ImamsOnline digital summit in central London to consider, evaluate and formulate an intelligent, robust, pragmatic and sustainable strategy to deal with the unprecedented challenges faced by religious, political and social leadership and to engage with the online Muslim community in a more dynamic and pro-active way.
ImamsOnline Digital Summit is held under the leadership of one of the most influential Muslim scholars in the world, His Eminence Shyakh Abdullah bin Bayah. One of the key objectives of the summit is explore the online challenges and developing an imaginative and pragmatic approach to reaching vulnerable young people; supporting Imams to understand the online space and utilise the power of social media to engage young people and fight religious violent extremism, stereotypes and bigotry in digital space.
British Imams are holding this Digital Summit because they feel passionate about educating traditional and authentic peace-loving Islam to the Muslim community, nationally and globally; they want to empower young men and women of their community and raise their aspirations, inspiring them to be active citizens of digital world, involved in many online and off-line social actions.
One of the biggest challenges faced by young people is the abuse of the Internet. From bulling to sexual grooming, radicalisation to spreading hatred – all of these vile acts are committed online and have the potential of destroying young people’s lives. A teenager regularly accesses dozens of websites containing pornographic, radicalising, hate-spreading material and all of that has incredible impact on a young person. One of the three British school girls gone to Syria to join ISIS was reportedly signed up to 70 websites used to disseminate ISIS propaganda and aid recruitment. The online radicalisation appears to have been one of the key factors in her leaving her family and friends behind of join the violent gang of terrorists.
Nothing could be more worrying and troubling for Imams than seeing young Muslims being groomed and brain-washed by such sites. British Imams are of the view that, in the age, ensuring that mosques are free of hate-preachers is no longer enough; ensuring that radicalisation does not take place in the mosques is no longer sufficient.
In order to prevent teenagers falling prey to sexual perverts and hate-mongers who want to groom these young impressionable individuals into sexual acts or violence, British Imams have launched a digital fight!
Imam Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Editor, Imams Online