How Muslim Youth Use the Internet

Benina Gould
Benina Gould

A new study shows that freedom of expression online is compatible with Islam – or at least that’s what Muslim teenagers think.

Benina Gould, a faculty member at Saybrook University, recently completed a study of the internet habits of Muslim youth in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country. The study includes both “conservative” Muslims who would be described as “fundamentalists” in the West, and “modern” Muslim teenagers, who would be described as “progressive.” It’s published in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences vol 29, Spring 2012 number 2.

Students surveyed were from 16-19 years old and attended three private pesantrens (Islamic boarding schools), three Islamic madrasahs and one secular school.

Regardless of their outlook, it turns out that Muslim students in Indonesia do not regard the internet as one of their top sources of information for any news – whether religious or secular. TV, newspapers, and friends were listed as the sources they got most of their information from – with the internet running a sometimes distant fourth. In total, only 10 percent of students regarded the internet as a top source for Islamic news, and only 13% for non-Islamic news. 

That said, both conservative and moderate Muslim youth use the internet about as much as the progressives – a few times a week, and their favorite sites include Yahoo and Google. While conservative students tended to prefer conservative Muslim websites, students from every group went to sites with a variety of perspectives.

Gould suggests that young Muslims in Indonesia are in “an early period of exploration” with the internet, and that the extremist views online that so many in the west find so alarming have limited impact on Indonesian teenagers.

“(A)lthough the Internet may socialize a potential mujāhid to the ideology of global Salafi Jihādis, it is still uncertain whether he or she is willing to make the sacrifices for the jihād and can be securely counted on. He or she still needs to undergo an intense period of face-to-face interaction to check one’s commitment and devotion to the cause and generate bonds that will prevent him from betraying the cause,” she writes.

The study found no support for the stereotype that either Islamic boarding schools or madrashahs are “breeding grounds” for terrorists, as students at each kind of school in Indonesia had “a variety of outlooks: modernist, conservative, and moderate.

Gould is a faculty member of Saybrook University’s Social Transformation program, which emphasizes the role social media is playing in a new generation of activists, and the new opportunities its giving ordinary people to address issues of social change.

Posted at 03:33 PM in

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