Young Muslims turn to technology to connect

Posted on August 7, 2009

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Manav Taneeru, cnn.com

Esra’a al Shafei, a recent university graduate in Bahrain, is young, Muslim and frustrated.

The 23-year-old says the complexity of who she is as a Muslim is being distorted by extremists and the media coverage of them.

Channeling her frustration, she started Mideastyouth.com, a Web site she describes as a place for young people in the region to “show a different side of our religion” and discuss topics big and small, taboo and not.

She represents a generation of Muslims who are using technology to express themselves, connect with others, challenge traditional power structures and create an identity in an era when Islamic extremists often grab the headlines.

“I think the word that clearly defines the younger generation and also separates them from their parents is ‘globalized,'” said Reza Aslan, the author of two books on Islam, including the recently published “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror.”

Access to technology lags in countries with large Muslim populations compared with Europe and the United States. Access also varies between those countries depending on a variety of factors such as governmental control and economic development.

But the numbers of people using the Web and cell phones are growing — and quickly. “The percentage increases of Internet users in places like Iran, Pakistan and Egypt are astronomical during the past five years,” Aslan said.

A recent study by Forrester Research predicted growth rates for Web usage would continue to soar in the region during the next five years.

A battle over interpretation

Al Shafei, who spoke to CNN by phone from Bahrain, said her Islamic identity was partly shaped by a childhood that included Christian classmates and American and British teachers.

She also grew up in a country that was relatively progressive enough to appoint a female Jewish ambassador recently. “Islam is much more relaxed here,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean we’re not good Muslims.” [more]

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