The first time that I cried at the wonder of Allah (swt) was when I witnessed the resilience of a sixteen-year-old shy Mexican girl converting to Islam in my college in the USA. Born and brought up in a strict Catholic household from a small town near Los Angeles, Rosario had never met a Muslim before. She was brought closer to Islam solely through research over the Internet, which she started at the age of fourteen.
Discovering Islam Online
Rosa, as friends called her, would have faced serious repercussions at home, had her parents found out she was taking an interest in Islam. Since she could not bring books on Islam to her home, she spent her time on the Internet, preparing for a school project that led her to know more about Islam.
Every year during Ramadan, a few of us, Muslim girls at college, fasted and sent an email out to the entire college, asking if anyone else would like to join us for fasting during the holy month. It was Rosa’s first year away from home, and she came forward not only saying she wanted to fast with us but also that she wanted to convert.
Types of Spaces Discussing Islam in Cyberspace
Rosa knew that Islam spoke to her, but it was our responsibility now to ensure that she remained steadfast in her decision to convert. Young college students such as ourselves had the passion for our religion but not the right resources or knowledge. The Internet world was literally where college students lived, and it became also the place where we would research in order to get help for Rosa. Islam’s cyber world was a myriad of resources with unending amount of knowledge. It became our group effort to make sure that Rosa utilized the Internet world to her most advantage.
I would classify resources on Islam in cyberspace into the following:
- websites of organizations/institutions backed by scholars and teachers;
- individual blogs and personal websites for Dawah;
- Forums and chat rooms, discussing topics on Islam.
Comparison of the Above Classifications
Our number one source of information remained the websites that were run by known organizations/institutions or were backed by learned scholars and teachers. They include such resources as Quran translation, Ahadeeth, stories of prophets and Fiqh related questions and answers. They may even provide short courses or online seminars.
Individual blogs and websites can be less reliable, because the developer of the site may not be a learned scholar. However, because it is a more personal approach, it may deal with more of everyday stories or discussions that speak to a person surfing the net.
Forums and chat rooms, on the other hand, are interactive spaces, where a number of users discuss issues and topics. In such websites, a lot of opinions and information come up, and it is for us to choose what suits us most or what sounds most correct. The users are not always scholars or learned teachers with the relevant knowledge of Fiqh, but their various backgrounds and experiences may be a great source of learning.
Remembering Adab (Etiquettes) in the Cyberworld
We wanted to succeed at every level of the challenge, but we faced situations that we had not confronted before. Since Rosa still did not know the text of Salah, was it okay to lead prayer and recite each world of Salah out loud? On the days, when we were exempted by Allah (swt) from prayers and fasting, could we still assist the new Muslim in her prayer? If someone like Rosa found certain fasting days tough and ended up sipping a little water, was it okay to show her the merciful side of Islam or were we expected to teach her the importance of fasting laws?
We found the sites and forums useful, and our daily discussions at the Iftar table were more often than not based on the Internet findings. At times, we were so passionate about a discussion on a website that we decided to leave comments or join the discussion. This brought us closer to studying the Adab of Dawah, which is just as applicable in the real world as online.
The Lessons We Learnt
- It is best to present your case in a simple, straightforward manner, backed by Quranic verses and verifiable Ahadeeth.
- The aim should be constructive criticism with a view to reaching consensus.
- Politeness is the key to winning hearts. It is easy to be blunt, curt and rude online, because not much is at stake and you are not physically present in front of the other person. It should be remembered that we are communicating not with computers but with real people – politeness will win more hearts.
- Politeness can only be achieved by killing one’s pride. It is rude to demean other religions, especially when we have the strength of Islamic teachings to convince people.
- Do not ask such personal questions as age/sex/location. It is easy to cross the border online. Many young Muslim boys and girls, who otherwise avoid useless talking, begin chatting for the sake of Dawah and end up discussing personal lives and becoming friends. It is easy to break rules online; however, the limits of respect and honour in cyberspace are the same as in real life, and Allah (swt) is watching us everywhere.
- Answer in terms the questioner can relate to. It is best to emphasize commonalities, so that the questioner can understand more easily.
- Differentiate between an Islamic act and an act of a Muslim. Not all actions of Muslims are in line with Islam; therefore, acknowledge, if a Muslim has done wrong.
- Nothing justifies dishonesty, not even Dawah. Always speak truth or remain silent.
- Study to gain knowledge for answering more coherently and wisely.
- If someone is being unnecessarily argumentative, politely walk away from the argument.
Finding Enlightenment Online
After accepting Islam, Rosa understood that her faith will only be strengthened by officially accepting Islam and finding a community of her ethnic and linguistic background. She needed to stand strong against the family and peer pressure she would get on the announcement of her faith. Over the Internet, Rosa found a mosque, which was led by a Latino Muslim and attracted a great number of Latino converts.
After Ramadan, Rosa visited the Masjid for a Friday prayer and read the Kalima in front of scores of Latino Muslims. With an understanding of Islam, Rosa attracts new Muslims towards her every year, sharing her experiences online. Alhumdulilah, it has been four years since she accepted Islam.