The world is changing rapidly most due to innovations in information technology/digital media/computer technology. Changes in human society include politics, economic, social, culture and religious /spiritual. The changes are real and complicated. Muslims of the digital age have to wake up to challenges within their society that consist of islamophobia & discrimination, religious extremism, modernism and secularism.
One of the biggest challenges for Muslims living in the Muslim-minority countries is relentless Islamophobia and an outrageous discrimination that is stemming from it. Western people are influenced negatively by media in its all kinds, especially in this era which is called the “digital era”. The Image of Islam is affected hugely by misleading news reports and online contents about Islam and this is creating a really dangerous and never ending Islamophobia. It is getting worse and worse since 9/11 attacks. According to a new research, the number of organized anti-Muslim hate groups in America nearly tripled last year, and reached over 100. It is found that the rising in the number of hate groups in US is triggered by online hate websites (Beckett, 2017).
From music industry to movie industry, Islamic figures are used as an object of ridicule, or are depicted in certain images. For example, in American movie industry, the Muslim characters are mostly known to be either terrorists, or an unwanted person in the society like a criminal or a wretched immigrant. Luckily, there are recent attempts which aim to present Muslims as characters other than terrorists. To overcome this issue and to have more positive attempts like this, Muslims need to have good writers, directors and producers (Schilling, 2016).
Islamophobia has reached a level where there are countless bans on the rights of Muslims all over Europe and US are taking place. The increasing number of immigrants to Western countries rose some concerns about safety and the level of welfare while causing Islamophobia to perpetuate. According to statistics, majority of Europeans want an immigration ban from Muslim-majority countries to be established (Osborne, 2017).
Islamophobia comes with the reality of endless discrimination in society towards Muslims in almost every field that is imaginable. The most affected group is the Muslim minorities who live in non-Muslim countries. For instance, according to the researches, British Muslims who are seen in a much worse status than being a disadvantaged minority are the number one minority group in the UK that face job discrimination (Dabson, 2014). This discrimination of Muslim minorities has no benefit for the society, rather it damages the society and causing friction among people. Some Muslim entrepreneurs no longer think that US is open to business because of these discriminations and bans. A large group of Muslims and Muslim companies are getting affected (Ismail, 2017). Europe is no longer a free society for Muslims. Muslims are being negatively discriminated in their daily lives and they cannot practice their faith as they need to. Muslims in the West face all kinds of social pressures where they say that the way people see them has changed after numerous terrorist attacks. Non-Muslim governments are trying to make their society more and more secular in the result of islamophobia. This puts Muslims in a place where they feel less and less comfortable living their day to day lives (Dremeaux, 2016).
British Muslim women are another important example who face this discrimination. They are the most disadvantaged group in Britain and because they are women, Muslim and has minority background. They are trying to be eliminated from every field of society (Alibhai-Brown, 2016).
Muslim youth today are another group who face this discrimination that when a Muslim youth object to a principle based on faith, he or she is labeled as an extremist or uncivilized individual. He is most likely to face rejection from his peers. Muslim youth want to be known not solely by their religion, but with their identities as an individual as well. This makes them act differently in home and outside home, where most of them like to shine out as an ordinary young person just as everyone else; that’s why some even change their names (Amrani, 2016).
Muslims, like any other faith community, deserve to live their religion. They should be able to practice their religion without fear. If one community of faith is targeted to racist hate crimes and being ridiculed for carrying a particular faith today, the same discrimination and hatred would be seen tomorrow for the other religious groups (Sarsour, 2016).
Another challenge that Muslims face in the digital era is religious extremism. There are couple of reasons why people get into these kinds of extreme ideas about religion and why they see no bad in harming others by using them. Among these reasons there are biases of them being the only truth and dehumanizing whoever does not fit their view, having a sense of absolutism, having a sense of unwillingness to compromise and so on (Rad, 2013). This black and white thinking these people has causes a serious damage not only to themselves but also the others and more importantly, the religion itself. This kind of mentality has to be countered.
Terrorism in the name of religion is one of the most, if not the most apparent result of religious extremist thinking and it is being associated with Islam and its texts only. However, the reasons lying behind this kind of an act are sometimes political, sometimes economic, sometimes due to misunderstandings about the religion and its teachings and so on. The latter one is probably the most notable reason why someone becomes extremist in his religious thinking and commit unacceptable actions. It is true that the holy scripture of Islam contains a certain amount of violation but this is also the case with the other religious texts and it has to be read carefully. When this is the case, one cannot argue that Islam itself is the cause of terrorism (Shariatmadari, 2017).
The world of terrorism is changing through sophisticated online contents on internet. The use of internet and technology has improved and many good-quality elaborated works are done that can easily have an impact on people and the number one affected segment is the youth that are unpleasant with their current life or looking for a cause to fight for; and they are attracted or pulled to this groups and ideologies by good-quality videos, chat sessions and all kinds of websites (Kraft, 2015). The draw for young people to join a terrorist group has never been as strong as it is today. The identity crisis young people have are non but a trigger to radicalism and this particular characteristic of young people seems to have made easier the process of getting into these actions that they are driven or pushed to. They want to have the sense of belonging (Sibena, 2015).
While the public and the media have often focused on radicalization and terrorism emanating from the Middle East or South Asia, extremism has become a serious problem in a number of European countries as well, such as the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium. While these attacks caused by religious terrorist groups are continuing increasingly, this has been one of the top concerns and the reason for uneasiness of not only the the Muslims in Europe, but also the Muslims all around the world; as the word ‘jihad’ has become the scariest one. It is believed now that the number one reason of terrorist attacks in Europe is Islam itself. The world must come to the realization that the problem is not the Muslims nor Islam in and of itself, but the people who are radicalized in the result of misunderstanding of the religion and using the religion in this path of terror. It is obvious that it is extremism itself that should be countered, not the religion (Holland, 2016).
Yet another challenge that Muslims face in 21st century is modernism. This might seem a little complicated compared to the other problems and challenges Muslims face in the digital era. It is fair to say that the world is going through a heavy and rapid globalization. Muslims, and also non-Muslims nothing less than them, are getting affected, either positively or negatively. In this global world, the circumstances of modernity or being modern is inescapable. Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are firmly a part of the modern world and are grappling with the challenges of modernity in myriad ways. From education to technology, from being a leader to being a mother, everyone has their own way of getting affected by this flow. In the contemporary world this has become the necessity for every well-informed, tolerable life journey. Being modern does not mean being ‘Western’, however, it does mean that a degree of secular knowledge or action might have to gain more importance in a Muslim’s life. Muslims are to face a real danger if they don’t be sufficiently critical of Western world’s perceptions and accept them as how it is: A serious dilemma that is faced by Muslims, leading to disruption (Masud, 2009).
Muslims, both women and men are entering a negotiation process with modernity like others and they often do it on their own terms (against a large external press). Many re-read their religious texts for guidance in this negotiation process; because religion, according to their experience, is not an enemy of the modern world, but an ally. However, this can stir up issues that has never existed before, and only is product of the modern world. One example of this is Islamic feminism. Projects are being launched to connect Islam to feminism and the women that are unseen in the world-wide campaign of supporting the women’s rights now seems to appear (McVeigh, 2014). This current attempts are raising the question ‘can feminism and Islam mix?’.
There is no doubt that modernity comes with both negative and also positive reforms, but both of them can be challenges –especially if you hold firm principles in a world that is bending everyday in a different direction. On a bright side, when social media played a significant role in bringing people together, modern Muslims of the digital era also found themselves in the fields where every modern person is in. Due to globalization, the impact of social media made Modern Muslims start to appear more than before in these areas and this led to a new page opened in sports, fashion, media, movie and music industries for Muslims; like we see in the modest fashion for example (Khan, 2017).
Another great challenge that Muslims living in the digital era face is secularism. Muslims today find themselves in a position where they have to resist to make certain choices in their day to day life. A great number of Muslim societies today are not living their religion to the fullest due to a western heritage of secularism (Bokhari, 2017).
In a different sense of secularism we find that in some of the Muslim-majority countries, secularism found its way in both private and public life; in a family and also in the constitution. In some Muslim majority countries that are known to have declared their laws as secular, although secularism presents freedom of religion a Muslim may still not live his religion without facing any hardship (Ghribi, 2016). Even today some Muslim countries are forced to live a life of secularism by the authorities (Samuels, 2016).
The situation is even worse for the Muslims who live in non-Muslim countries. They face an outrageous hatred towards their religion and generally they can hardly get the chance to live their religion. In France, one of the most well-known countries when it comes to secularism, Islamic objects like niqab, burkini and so on are banned and are being seen as a threat against secularism (Ganley, 2016).
Muslims are trying to face this challenge that causes them hardship in practising their religion openly. There are secular Muslim-majority countries who hope for changing their way of living by showing positive attempts to re-establish Islamic lifestyle and to bring the real freedom to their people. Like the case in Turkey, the government is aiming for changing the public life, the military, the official places from being separated from religion into being places that Muslims can live their faith (Osborne, 2016).
These are some of the challenges that Muslims face in the digital era, surrounded by the effects of globalization are to be considered carefully. Muslims all over the world are facing challenges from within the wider world and they are trying to find solutions to protect their religion from any harm. While new issues are being presented before them every passing day, we can see great efforts coming from Muslims to confront those issues that can change the world over. Positive attempts are being made to prove that Muslims actually have a great spirit and that they can achieve anything without compromising over their religion.
Beckett, L. (2017, February 15). Anti-Muslim hate groups nearly triple in US since last year, report finds. Independent. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/15/anti-muslim-hate-groups-increase-far-right-neo-nazis
Schilling, D. (2016, February 4). Bloodthirsty terrorists and duplicitous spies: does TV have a Muslim problem?. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2016/feb/04/muslim-television-characters-us-tv-shows-terrorist-spy-24-homeland-obama
Osborne, S. (2017, February 7). Most Europeans want immigration ban from Muslim-majority countries, poll reveals. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/most-europeans-want-muslim-ban-immigration-control-middle-east-countries-syria-iran-iraq-poll-a7567301.html
Dabson, R. (2014, November 30). British Muslims face worst job discrimination of any minority group, according to research. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-muslims-face-worst-job-discrimination-of-any-minority-group-9893211.html
Ismail, R. (2017, January 31). As a Muslim video-game developer, I no longer feel the US is open for business. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/31/muslim-video-game-developer-us-trump
Dremeaux, L. (2016, September 2). The Way People Look at Us Has Changed’: Muslim Women on Life in Europe. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/03/world/europe/burkini-ban-muslim-women.html?mtrref=www.nytimes.com&mtrref=www.nytimes.com&gwh=582299B6D56FC164EC3821E92A71545C&gwt=pay
Alibhai-Brown, Y. (2016, September 2). For Muslim women life had been getting better. No longer. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/11/muslim-women-excluded-society-employment-communities
Amrani, I. (2016, August 11). I’m proud to be young, British and Muslim. Why should I change my name?. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/11/young-british-muslim-change-name-discrimination
Sarsour, L. (2016, August 11). A Muslim woman was set on fire in New York. Now just going out requires courage. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/13/new-york-muslim-woman-set-on-fire-eid-al-adha
Rad, M.R. (2013, August 6). What Turns Ordinary People Into Religious Extremists?. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roya-r-rad-ma-psyd/what-turns-ordinary-people-into-religious-extremists_b_3375890.html
Shariatmadari, D. (2017, March 27). Should we blame Islam for terrorism?. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/27/should-blame-islam-terrorism
Kraft, M.B. (2015, December 17). Counterterrorism Challenges: The Role of Technology. The World Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-b-kraft/counterterrorism-challeng_b_8829860.html
Sibena, C.C. (2015). Media epidemics: Factors that motivate youth towards terrorism in Mombasa county, Kenya (Report No. C50/60722/2011)
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