The disruptive effects of the Covid pandemic are palpable in nearly every aspect of our personal and professional lives. It also happens to merged with the decades-long disruptions of digital media on religious authority and praxis in contemporary Islam. This presentation highlights the role of “personal agency” and unmosqued discretionary authority of Muslims in response to the Covid phenomenon, as well as the responses of institutional Islam (mosques, think tanks, content producers of influencers) in keeping their communities and audiences in adjusted proximity to their institutions and audiences via digital media.
Ibrahim N. Abusharif, Ph.D., is an associate professor in residence at Northwestern Qatar, in the Journalism and Strategic Communication Program. His academic interests include the study of the intersections of religion and media, particularly digital media disruptions and religious authority. Recently his chapter on “Researching Digital Media and Islam in Africa: Recommending a Framework” has been published in The Palgrave Handbook on Islam in Africa edited by Fallou Ngom, Mustapha H. Kurfi, and Toyin Falola (2021).
With the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, the online sphere was transformed into a sacred space (majlis) where religious and spiritual rituals were facilitated. The internet teemed with Zoom sermons and synchronous religious teaching. As Ramadan 2020 ushered in, suggestions were made to hold virtual tarawih prayers. Betrothed couples moved their marriage ceremony online. And the traditional rihla (travel) for hadith audition was relegated to sitting at a desktop many miles away from the hadith scholar. Is it correct to hold the tarawih prayer virtually? Is a marriage ceremony officiated through Skype valid? Can the continuity of an unbroken isnad be maintained where the hadith audition is through wireless means (al-tawasul al-la-silki). In all three cases, the answer boils down to how the majlis (gathering/occasion/session) is defined and conceptualised. In this presentation, I present preliminary findings of what a majlis is through an interrogation of the fatwas and religious advice produced on the question of virtual tarawih, skype nikah, and wireless hadith audition.
Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cardiff University. Dr Ali is an expert on Hadith studies and has a keen interest in Islamic ethics and practical theology. He has researched extensively on ethical issue from an Islamic theological point of view such as drug addiction, organ transplantation and Covid-19.
This presentation examines cyber, virtual, and other pilgrimages in relationship to hajj and other religious journeys involving place. These practices did not emerge with the COVID pandemic but may become more popular as Muslim communities deal with negotiations of tradition introduced by the pandemic. The role of permanent mementos is also introduced, as objects that connect Muslims to sacred landscapes and individuals when physical travel is not a viable option.
Sophia Rose Arjana is Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the Potter College of Arts & Letters at Western Kentucky University. She is the author of four books including Pilgrimage in Islam: Traditional and Modern Practices (2017). Her most recent book, Buying Buddha, Selling Rumi: Orientalism in the Mystical Marketplace (2019) explores the dynamics of the business of mysticism as it relates to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. She recently conducted fieldwork for her fifth book, which focuses on gender, material religion, and sacred space in Muslim practice.
This presentation explores how digital religious authority responded to the COVID-19 situation through the application of social media, extending the reach of cyber-Islamic environments and introducing new approaches in response to the pandemic crisis. The presentation questions whether these applications will have a long-standing impact on how religious authority is manifested online.
Gary R. Bunt is Professor of Islamic Studies at UWTSD. His research focus is on Islam and the internet. His fourth book on this subject, 'Hashtag Islam' (2018), examines the shifting nature of religious authority in diverse digital contexts.
Since March 2020, and the advent of COVID–19 Pandemic, the uptake of digital platforms as a means of communication has escalated in the social, academic, and political spheres. The digital-analogue pendulum of community communication in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pivot between the grassroots lived experience and digital space. One aspect does not ordinarily exist without the other. In this model, the generation and regeneration of information, coalesces into a complete form of communication. This presentation explores these dynamics, in the light of first-hand experience of interaction within communities at grassroots level.
Dr Yvonne Howard-Bunt obtained her PhD from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Her ethnographic work in East London centred on identity issues within the intersectional context of social inclusion, mediation and conflict management in the neighbourhood. Current interests include community action and engagement with mental health and environmental concerns. More information: diversitree.wales
Based on a late 2020 survey conducted in five countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia), this presentation will explore the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic on various aspects of Muslim religious life. The data provide indications regarding the relationship between the pandemic and overall trends in religiosity in key Muslim majority countries. The survey also looked at changes in religious behaviour due to Covid-19, as well as attitudes towards both public and religious institutions and authority figures.
Peter Mandaville is Professor of International Affairs in the Schar School of Policy and Government and Director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies, both at George Mason University.
Tarek Masoud is Professor of Public Policy and Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
A. Kadir Yildirim is a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
News reporting on COVID exhibits typical features of news reporting: Journalists both seek fresh or different stories and follow the "pack" so as not to miss stories and themes their competitors have covered. Coverage concerning Muslims similarly fits into patterns identified by scholars, with representations of Muslims as a threat to Western civilisation, a poor fit with British values, and a source of gender discrimination. I make some initial observations about how Muslims have featured in UK news about the pandemic, loosely categorising themes in which Muslims are the ones to suffer, to help, and to blame for the pandemic.
Michael Munnik is Lecturer in Social Science Theories and Methods with the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University. He is a sociologist of media and religion, and his work concerns the engagement of Muslims in Britain with news media. Prior to postgraduate study in the UK, he worked as a journalist for Canada's public broadcaster.
Nowadays, the growing presence of female religious authority is evident throughout the Muslim world. Studies on Muslim women have portrayed the global existence of female preachers within moderate Muslim circles and varied progressive and ultra-conservative movements, including various Salafi groups. In the world’s largest Muslim majority country, Indonesia—widely known for moderate Islam but which is facing the rise of conservatism—public religious authority is also not the prerogative of male ʿulamāʾ (Muslim scholars). Indeed, similar to male ʿulamāʾ, women ʿulamāʾ have used varied avenues to colour Muslim publics with their religious messages. This includes their presence in the masājid (mosques) and muṣ alla (place of prayer), TV, radio, and online platforms. This presentation focuses on how these female religious authorities adjust their daʿwa (proselytisation) amid the restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19. Digital religion referring not only to its capacity to provide an avenue for religion to be performed online but also to signify the users’ agency to shape the online public space (Campbell 2012), has been prevalent during the pandemic. Many religious authorities who were initially careful in using computer-mediated and digital technologies, evident from the issuance of ethics in using the internet in some religious circles, now have used the digital platform extensively. Women ʿulamā in this context are also not immune. The pandemic has pushed tech-savvy young female preachers, previously non-tech savvy older female preachers and various Muslim organisations to adapt to this situation due to the fact that the new normal includes an increasingly required active and creative online presence.
Eva F Nisa is a senior lecturer of anthropology in the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow in Religious Studies at the School of Social and Cultural Studies, and Honorary Research Associate, the Faculty of Graduate Research, Victoria University of Wellington. She is a scholar of anthropology, Islamic studies, religion and gender, researching how global currents of Islam reshape the lives of Muslims in Southeast Asia. Her research interests include Islam and Muslim societies, gender relations, gender and religion, Islamic cultural economy, Muslim marriages and divorces, female Muslim judges, the global politics of moderate Islam, religion and media (social media), Islamic thought, digital Islamic economy and Islamic philanthropy, Qur’anic exegesis, Muslim fashion, and Muslim refugees and migration.
This presentation will address some of the issues that mosques in Canada had to face because of COVID-19 since early 2020. Patel will illustrate how some mosques in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) responded to these issues by shifting mosque services from offline to online spaces. Mosques such as ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) offered drive-thru Ramadan and Eid celebrations instead of the usual in-person iftar and Eid events. Taraweeh and khutba took place online by being live streamed on social media platforms like Facebook. Congregational prayers like jummah prayers required registrations for limited in-person prayers. These changes in how Islam is practiced by Canadians amid a pandemic are examples of Muslims continuing to adapt to changes and creating spaces in the infinity of the Internet.
As a case study of digital religion in practice, this presentation spotlights a diasporic Sufi community rooted in South Asia and headquartered in the United States. The Inayati Order was founded by Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), a classical musician who was born in Gujarat, initiated into the Chishti-Nizami tariqa, and established the first Sufi brotherhood in Europe and North America. Under the leadership of his grandson, Pir Zia Inayat Khan, this hybrid community has launched a sweeping overhaul of its institutional organization and public profile. Focusing on the order's new flagship website, I illustrate how the Inayatiyya has responded to the COVID crises through a savvy and strategic use of digital media as an alternative platform for narratives and networking, piety and performance.
Robert Rozehnal is a Professor in the Department of Religion Studies and the founding director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies at Lehigh University. He holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Duke University, and an M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of numerous articles and four books: Cyber Muslims: Islamic Digital Media in the Internet Age, editor (Bloomsbury, forthcoming); Cyber Sufis: Virtual Expressions of the American Muslim Experience (Oneworld, 2019); Piety, Politics and Everyday Ethics in Southeast Asian Islam: Beautiful Behavior, editor (Bloomsbury, 2019); and Islamic Sufism Unbound: Politics and Piety in Twenty-First Century Pakistan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). He previously served as the national co-chair of the Islamic Mysticism program unit at the American Academy of Religion.
Muslim leadership at the forefront of the Covid-19 response has been crucial in providing direction in their communities and online. This presentation will discuss the personal experiences of a Muslim leader as she attempts to guide the Muslim community during the crisis.
Shaykha Safia Shahid is an award-winning leader trained in the Islamic Sciences in Syria with over ten years of public engagement. She has delivered talks and courses at many universities including Imperial College London, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, Utrecht and Erasmus in the Netherlands and IAIS in Malaysia and has made numerous guest appearances on television and radio both nationally and internationally. Her interview was featured in the journal of Oasis International Foundation, which fosters an understanding between Christians and Muslims, and her interviews refuting extremist ideologies were published in Malaysian media. She has worked alongside local councillors, police, mayors and community leaders promoting community cohesion and a better understanding of Islam. She has presented on Ramadan at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London, organised by the City of London Multi-Faith Staff Network as well as delivered alongside Christian and Muslim leaders in interfaith events. In 2015, she was awarded the British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements (BISCA) award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Women’s Empowerment’. She serves as the Principal of the Women's Muslim College, which is devoted to nurturing women’s education and reviving female Islamic scholarship.
This presentation offers an overview of digital responses to managing the hajj and umrah pilgrimages in the COVID era. It focuses on digital efforts by the Saudi government to manage pilgrim health, including the umrah registration app Eatmarna (I`tamarna), launched in September 2020 with the resumption of umrah pilgrimages, and the national COVID app (Tawwakalna), which began requiring proof of vaccination in Spring 2021. Umrah serves as a crucial part of Vision 2030’s religious tourism efforts and also offers the Saudi government an opportunity to test out COVID-safe protocols for Hajj 2021 (AH 1442). In closing, the presentation surveys other hajj and umrah apps for their COVID updates, and examines renewed efforts by some developers to promote virtual hajj experiences.
Andrea Stanton is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Denver (USA). Her research takes a lived religions approach, focusing on 21st-century Islam and connections between digital media and contemporary piety. Recent publications include articles on hajj apps and on online debates over emoticon usage, and a chapter on the Malaysian reality television program “Young Imam”. She has received grants from the American Academy of Religion, the Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the US Institute of Peace.
This presentation explores undergraduate student responses to the covid-19 pandemic through the use of podcasting. During the shift to online learning through Zoom, both Muslim and non-Muslim students produced virtual podcasting projects exploring Muslim identity and practice in American mosques and articulations of Muslim identity in hijab. Students also expressed their thoughts surrounding vaccine rollout in the U.S. and Islamic responses to epidemics. Discussion will focus on the use of podcasting an alternative pedagogical tool, useful for exploring contemporary issues relevant to the Muslim experience.
Dr. Tauheeda Yasin is a Professor in the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Division at Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria Campus where she teaches courses in Religion, Humanities, English, and the Social Sciences. Her research centres on critical analysis of poverty and social institutions, cultural responses, and social movements. Her work offers interventions through methods in public policy mapping and the digital humanities.
It has been more than a year since the first COVID-19 case was detected in Malaysia. As any other countries in this world, Malaysia also struggles to fight this pandemic in order to break the chain of infection. Malaysia was acknowledged as among the best countries in Asia to control the pandemic at its first wave, yet the challenges currently seem to exacerbate and the circumstance is obstinate. Hence, the government with all measure put maximum efforts in every part and jurisdictions to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizen. The domino effects of the crisis COVID-19 seriously affected other sectors comprising economy, education and socio-religious activities. Throughout the discussion, we will be enlightened on the roles and responsibilities played by religious authorities in this country. Among others are creating awareness among the public regarding the disease from Islamic perspectives, developing standard operating procedures for the performance of religious obligations affected by the pandemic, encouraging people for better treatment and helping out people in need through Islamic social finance. A dual system of administration of Islamic affairs in Malaysia involves various governmental institutions at the federal and state levels. Whilst these institutions have better access to reach the communities during Movement Control Order (MCO), non-governmental institutions are also welcomed to help the government to ease the burden through several ways especially via better application of the internet and digitalization.
Taqwa binti Zabidi is a Senior Assistant Director at Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM). She obtained her first degree on Bachelor of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Bachelor of Political Science from International Islamic University of Malaysia. Later, she pursued her PhD in Islamic Studies at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, United Kingdom. Her research interests are on Shariah specialising on Usul al-Fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence) & Islamic bioethics. She utilises her field of research on Islam, Maqasid al-Shariah and medicine throughout her working experience for about 13 years in the public service department.