Summary of the Issue
Cairo, Egypt. 2011. Nesma, 19, works on her laptop computer outside the library at the American University in Cairo. Photo Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/AP Images.
The proliferation of digital media and online social networks has enabled Muslim women around the world to develop their own understandings and discourses on Islam and gender relations. Although limited research has been done on the scope and types of Muslim women’s activities online, available studies and recent events suggest that the Internet has become a critical site in discussing, challenging, and understanding normative hierarchies of power and authority on both the transnational and community level.1 Just as the Internet reflects the plurality of Islamic traditions and interpretations, it also highlights a wide spectrum of political, social and religious activity among Muslim women.2
Muslim women have utilized technology to create various networks of political reform.3 For instance, the Arab Spring, a wave of democratic movements that swept across the Middle East beginning in late 2010, exemplified the critical role women played in using digital media to disseminate local news to a global audience.4 Technology and digital media additionally facilitated women’s ability to coordinate, organize, and implement efforts to protect the injured, form public protests, or deliver food or medical supplies.5 Moreover, digital media has empowered women to speak out and take stands on culturally sensitive, political issues. In Somalia, for example, the Uniting Communities to Mitigate Conflict program has educated women and youth on how to use digital media tools to promote peace and address clan-based conflicts.6
In addition to expanding the boundaries of political engagement, digital media has expanded social interaction and communication, particularly among overseas communities. From online dating, social networking, to online activism, Muslim women are building local and global networks.7,8 In 2010, Egyptian activists created Harass Map, a site which maps out user-submitted cases of sexual harassment in Egypt, and sites like Muslimah Media Watch monitor and comment on how Muslim women are represented in the media.9,10 Online sites that specialize in fatwas, or religious legal opinions, have also provided a means for women to ask private questions about religion or culture in a public setting, which they might not be able to do or want to do in a face-to-face encounter.11
The benefits of the Internet and digital media have also come with the dangers of participating online. Although the United Nations has recently declared access to the Internet as a human right, censorship and online surveillance limit women’s access.12 In Afghanistan, female bloggers have created sites to resist patriarchal attitudes, yet they have also received death threats for writing about the causes of prostitution and poverty.13 In addition to government censorship in some countries, Muslim women face other barriers in participating online. Muslim women generally have less access to computers and technology, and English remains the dominant language of the Internet.14 Despite these current barriers, however, Internet access and digital media are enabling Muslim women to speak out and become their own agents of change.
 Anna Piela, “Muslim Women’s Online Discussions of Gender Relations in Islam,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Vol. 30. No. 3. pp. 425-435.
 Gary R. Bunt, “‘Rip. Burn. Pray.’: Islamic Expression Online,” in Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet, ed. Lorne L. Dawson, et al (Routledge: New York, 2004) 123..
 “A Modern Narrative for Muslim Women in the Middle East: Forging a New Future,” American Islamic Congress.
 Garry Blight and Sheila Pulham, “The Path of Protest,” The Guardian, June 1, 2011.
 Xan Rice, Katherine Marsh, Tom Finn, Harriet Sherwood, Angelique Chrisafis and Robert Booth, “Women have emerged as key players in the Arab spring,” Guardian, April 22, 2011.
 Uniting Communities to Mitigate Conflict.
 Shaista Aziz, “Can halal speed-dating work?” The Guardian, May 23, 2011.
 Harass Map
 Muslimah Media Watch
 Shaheen Sardar Ali, “Cyberspace as Emerging Muslim Discursive Space? Online Fatwa on Women and Gender Relations and its Impact on Muslim Family Law Norms,” International Journal of Law Policy and the Family, v. 24 (October 2010) 338.
 Adam Clark Estes, “The U.N. Declares Internet Access a Human Right,” The Atlantic, June 6, 2011.
 Almudena Toral, “Afghanistan: Afghan Female Bloggers Wince and The Upload,” Women’s Feature Service, March 21, 2011.
 Gary R. Bunt, “iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam,” University of North Carolina Press, New York: 2009.
Related Current Issues
Organizations Active on this Issue
Mona Eltahawy, “HerSpace: Mideast Women Log on, Speak Out,” Toronto Star, December 19, 2010.
Almudena Toral, “Afghanistan: Afghan Female Bloggers Wince and Then Upload,” Women’s Feature Service, March 21, 2011.
L. Heidi Primo, “Digital Muslimas: ICT Skills of Females in Middle Eastern Countries,” Educational Technology v. 50 no. 3 (May/June 2010) p. 38-42.
Bruce B. Lawrence, “Allah Online: The Practice of Global Islam in the Information Age,” in Practicing Religion in the Age of the Media, ed. Stewart M. Hoover, et al (Columbia University Press: New York, 2002) 237.
Deborah Wheeler, “New Technologies, Old Culture: A Look at Women, Gender and the Internet in Kuwait,” in Culture, Technology, Communication: Towards an Intercultural Global Village, ed. Charles Ess, et al (SUNY Press: New York, 2001) 187.
Ananda Mitra, “Voices of the Marginalized on the Internet: Examples From a Website for Women of South Asia,” Journal of Communication v. 54 no. 3 (September 2006) p. 492-510.
Robert Rozenhal, “Review: iMuslims: Rewiring the House of Islam,” The Middle East Journal, v. 64 no. 1 (Winter 2010) 152-153.
Shaheen Sardar Ali, “Cyberspace as Emerging Muslim Discursive Space? Online Fatwa on Women and Gender Relations and its Impact on Muslim Family Law Norms,” International Journal of Law Policy and the Family, v. 24 (October 2010) 338.