Qari Asim: Why imams must win the fight against Daesh on social media

Prime Minister David Cameron talks to Imam Qari Asim (left), and Shabana Muneer, a member of Makkah Masjid Mosque's women's group, during a visit to the Makkah Masjid Mosque in Leeds. (Picture: Oli Scarff/PA Wire)
Prime Minister David Cameron talks to Imam Qari Asim (left), and Shabana Muneer, a member of Makkah Masjid Mosque's women's group, during a visit to the Makkah Masjid Mosque in Leeds. (Picture: Oli Scarff/PA Wire)
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THE world is changing at a speed we could never have imagined before. Around 20 years ago, we did not carry phones with us and now we cannot even conceive of a world without smartphones 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 religious leaders can no longer expect their followers to remain loyal to them for the rest of their lives, or follow their interpretation of the scriptures.

While the ever-growing pre-eminence of social media – especially on smartphones – 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 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.

Imams have been the cornerstone of the spiritual development of British Muslims. 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 young community in the digital age.

A tiny minority of young British Muslims are being targeted by terror groups operating from abroad. Daesh, also known as IS, is operating an extremely slick, sophisticated propaganda campaign online to entice Muslims from the West to the so-called Islamic State to build a nation over which Daesh can rule and implement its own twisted ideology. And it is this nation-building campaign that is posing a huge threat to Muslims living in the West.

Daesh use social media to appeal and exploit feelings of disaffection within Muslim communities by portraying a seemingly viable alternative; an Islamic State in which those who migrate will be free to live their lives without constraint.

British imams have been speaking out against the need to prevent online radicalisation since the rise of Daesh. ImamsOnline has formed a partnership with social media giants Facebook and Twitter to hold digital summits across the country, the first of which is taking place this Saturday in Bradford.

One of the key objectives of the digital summit is to train a team of imams and young people to formulate an intelligent, pragmatic and sustainable strategy to deal with the unprecedented challenges posed by the digital age and engage with the online Muslim community in a more dynamic and pro-active way.

The need to explore the online challenges and develop an imaginative and pragmatic approach to reaching vulnerable young people is more urgent than ever. Imams and religious scholars need to be au fait with 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.

Imams are holding this digital summit because they feel passionate about combating extremism and educating youths about authentic peace-loving Islam – empowering young men and women of their community and raising their aspirations, inspiring them to be active citizens of the digital world, involved in many online and off-line social actions.

One of the biggest challenges is the abuse of the internet. From bullying to sexual grooming, radicalisation to spreading hatred – all of these vile acts are committed online and have the potential to destroy young people’s lives.

A teenager may regularly accesses dozens of websites containing radicalising, hate-spreading material. One of the three British school girls from Tower Hamlets in London, who went to Syria to join IS, was reportedly signed up to 70 websites used to disseminate IS propaganda and aid recruitment.

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 these relatively troubling times, 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. Online radicalisation is a threat to us all and we have a shared responsibility to tackle it and root it out.

British imams have brought the digital fight to Yorkshire!

The digital summit will take place on Saturday January 23, at Cedar Court Bradford.