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Islam on the Internet
Part I: Building Islamic Communities Online

Listen Listen to Davar Ardalan's report on building Islamic communities.

Hana Baba

Hana Baba, program director for the Islamic Broadcasting Network, a start-up company that Webcasts Islamic-oriented news and entertainment shows from the Washington, D.C. area.
Photo courtesy Islamic Broadcasting Network

March 16, 2002 -- Surfing the Web to Islamicity.com is almost like entering a virtual city. There's an education center, a business and finance plaza, and an online shopping bazaar that offers a range of Muslim-themed items, from Islamic books, videos, and artwork to a Barbie doll wearing the Muslim hijab, or headscarf.

IslamiCity.com is one of the biggest of a whole range of Muslim-oriented Web sites. Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion, and the Web is seen as a powerful way for Muslims to connect.

Weekend All Things Considered producer/reporter Davar Ardalan recently spoke with Mohammed Aleem, the CEO of Islamicity.com, who says that in an era where Islam's more radical elements are under scrutiny, the Internet is an effective way to educate non-Muslims about the faith, and portray Islam as a religion where diversity and debate are encouraged.

Medical ethics questions asked by Muslims in the United States via e-mail, answered by Shahid Athar, MD, FACP, FACE, former chairman of medical ethics for the Islamic Medical Association of North America:

Q. My wife cannot conceive. Can she use her ovum and my sperm to be fertilized in her sister's uterus?
A. No. Surrogacy is not permitted in Islam.

Q. My sister, who is pregnant, found out the baby has the congenital defect, Down syndrome. Should she abort the fetus or carry it to term and spend her life caring for a disabled child?
A. Carry to term. There is extra reward in going through this test from God in caring for such a child.

Q. I am on a heart transplant waiting list. Should I accept a heart from a criminal or an atheist?
A. Yes, and pray that God changes your new heart to adopt it to your pious body.

Q. Is patient's autonomy (i.e. right to not seek treatment) equal to planned suicide? If so, should it be allowed?
A. Patient's autonomy involves a sound mind, while a suicide decision is made in severe depression. One can refuse treatment because of side effects, but to kill yourself is against the will of God.

Q. Is gene therapy and genetic manipulation to cure diseases allowed? Can we use embryonic stem cells for this?
A. To seek cure for a disease is mandatory. Thus, gene therapy is allowed and stem cells from spontaneously miscarried embryos can be used. However, it is wrong to conceive or create an embryo just to harvest cells and then destroy it.

E-mail your questions to Dr. Athar at Islam USA.com

Aleem says Muslims use his site to get together in chat rooms, post messages to discussion boards and download lectures or debates. "We feel that all of these discussions allow us to express ourselves in ways that maybe in other countries they don't have the ability to do," he says. "We are still a very young community, a growing community. But the advent of the Internet... is bringing us a collaborative tool, where we can make sure we can leverage our strengths in a meaningful way."

And that includes Muslim women. "I think for the first time for a lot of Muslim women they can be equal partners in a discussion on anything," says Samer Hathout, co-founder of the Muslim Women's League in Los Angeles. "That is, I think, primarily the beauty of it -- that nobody knows who you are. They don't know if you are a woman or a man -- or if you're covered, or you're not covered."

The Islamic Broadcasting Network (IBN), a start-up site based in the Washington, D.C., area that Webcasts original programming, features a variety of shows. Omar Toor, a Pakistani-American, hosts a technology news show on IBN. He points out that while the Internet has been a great boon to Muslims worldwide, they also face the same problem as everyone else who uses the Web: There's plenty of misleading material out there that he says is not Islamic.

IBN Program Director Hana Baba says there's no way of controlling information -- that's the nature of the Web. She says IBN tries to stay neutral, but that can be difficult. "For instance, one person will call up and say, 'What is the rap music you are playing?' They associate rap with a certain look. That is also what we are trying to change," she says. "It's not just one culture, it's not just Arabs -- people express themselves differently all over the world."

Razanne student Barbie doll

"Razanne" student Barbie doll, complete with headscarf, available for sale online at IslamiCity.com

Dr. Zahid Bukhari, who studies American Muslims at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, says the Internet will play a crucial role in sorting out difficult issues in the Islamic world. That's especially true in the United States, where he says a recent survey found Muslims from 80 different countries call America home. There is only one other parallel for that kind of diversity in the Muslim world, Bukhari says: Saudi Arabia, during the Hajj pilgrimage season.

Bukhari says consensus among the jummah, or major Islamic scholars, used to take decades -- sometimes centuries. But thanks to modern communications and the Internet, in the next few years he expects consensus to emerge on issues such as extremism, interpretations of the Koran and the role of Muslim women. Over the Internet, American Muslims are engaged in a global conversation, one that Bukhari says is no longer limited to the views of a single mosque or imam.

Links to Sites Heard on This Segment

IslamiCity.com

Islamic Broadcast Network

IslamOnline.net

Muslims in American Public Square

Islamic Medical Association of North America

Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Muslim Women's League

Islam-USA.com

other resources Browse list of all Islam on the Internet resources.

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