The Internet is revolutionizing the everyday life of ordinary people. Many Muslims do not recognize the unique opportunity the Internet offers for conveying Islam. Many non-Muslims searching for truth also benefit from the Internet. The Internet will never replace face-to-face da`wah and direct mailing of Islamic literature, but the Internet will continue to broaden da`wah opportunities in new ways that benefit both Muslims and non-Muslims. With the growth of the Internet, we have seen an amazing growth of business conducted over the Internet, or E-Commerce. I want to encourage using the Internet to convey the guidance of Islam, or E-da`wah. I want to explain specific ways we can use the Internet to propagate Islam. This article is only meant to be a starting point.
The Internet is the largest communication network ever produced. Before accessing the Internet, your computer must be connected to the Internet. Connections to the Internet include dial-up, cable modem, and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL). A dial-up Internet connection is less expensive but much slower than a cable modem or DSL connection. A DSL connection is generally recommended over a cable modem connection. With DSL or cable modem, you do not have to reestablish a connection each time you want to access the Internet. An Internet Service Provider (ISP) is a company that provides a connection to the Internet. For a monthly fee, an ISP gives you a username and password along with a software package and customer support. For an ISP near you, search the Yellow Pages for Internet Service Providers or Internet Access Providers. ISPs are often called Internet Access Providers (IAPs). Most online services, such as American Online (AOL) and Microsoft Network (MSN), also offer access to most Internet services along with free customer service.
The best known feature of the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW), or the Web. You use software called a web browser to access the Web. Web browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Netscape, make the Web full of colors, filled with graphics, sound, and video. Both browsers can be downloaded for free. Internet Explorer is generally recommended over Netscape. When you are viewing web pages, you are browsing, or surfing, the Web. The Web can also be used for e-mail, Usenet groups, and file transfer.
Electronic da`wah (E-da`wah) is using the Internet for da`wah purposes. There are many benefits of E-da`wah. Using the Internet, traditional means of communication are transformed into electronic messages. The Internet allows you to easily and inexpensively communicate with people from around the world. Much time and money can be spent to purchase, produce, print, and mail literature. Much time and money can also be spent regularly calling people and keeping a staff available to answer questions. The Web makes learning more accessible. People are no longer totally dependent upon a teacher, classroom, or library. The Web offers world-wide resources as text, images, audio, and video. Using the Internet to perform research can help cut research costs and is often quicker. The Internet offers year around, up-to-the-minute information. Therefore, E-da`wah can become more efficient, effective, and less expensive. E-da`wah includes creating websites, writing e-mails, online research/education, and chatting for the purpose of propagating Islam. Perhaps, the biggest challenge for the Internet is getting rid of computer phobia.
A website is a place on the World Wide Web. A website consists of web pages that contain text, graphics, sounds, and videos. Web pages will also contain links to other web pages and e-mail addresses within and outside the current website. Web pages are created using HTML. Each website is managed by an individual, company, or organization. Each web page has an address called a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). For example, the URL for the website of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is http://www.isna.net.
There are many benefits for creating your own website. People from across the globe can access your website. Web pages on your website can be printed from any computer connected to the Internet. People can also download information found on your website. Links to your website can also be e-mailed. Updating anything that you publish on the Web is simple and inexpensive. You can build a free website at geocities.yahoo.com, angelfire.lycos.com, homestead.com, or fortunecity.com. The downside to free websites are annoying banner or popup ads. These ads can be removed by upgrading to a payment plan. After purchasing a domain name such as name.com, www.name.org, or www.name.edu, you can find services that will host your domain name inexpensively if not for free.
Electronic mail (E-mail) is used to send and receive messages over the Internet. The e-mail messages are usually notes typed using a keyboard. You can also e-mail attachments such as documents, pictures, and sounds. E-mail users can send e-mail any time of the day from anywhere in the world to essentially anywhere in the world. E-mail is also highly reliable. The recipient generally receives your e-mail within a few seconds or minutes. After reading your e-mail, you can reply to it, forward it, store it, or delete it. E-mail can also be printed out on a printer. E-mail systems offer various services such an address book for e-mail addresses, folders for saving messages, and the ability to send the same message to many people at once. All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and online services such as AOL offer e-mail. You can also sign up for free e-mail account at mail.yahoo.com or Hotmail.com. I prefer the Yahoo e-mail service. Many individuals, organizations, and companies offer free e-mail accounts as a way to promote their website.
E-mail is an important means of communication. You can e-mail Islam-related information to Muslim and non-Muslim friends. You can use e-mail to contact and to be contacted by the media. You can also e-mail a letter to the editor and to television producers. You can visit websites of media outlets to find the e-mail addresses you need. You should always feel free to pitch news worthy topics to them. The media will love you if you can give them a great topic to report. They will love you even more if you can give them contact information for people who can contribute to the story.
After entering keywords in a search engine, the search engine will search the Web and return a list of the web pages where the keywords were found. You can visit the web pages that contain the information you are seeking. For a more refined search, enter more detailed keywords. For example, rather than entering ‘Muslim’ in a search engine, you may want to enter ‘Latino Muslims.’ Keywords can be anything you want to research. You can also use search engines to search Usenet newsgroups. Google.com, Yahoo.com, Search.com, MSN.com, AltaVista.com, and Excite.com are popular search engines.
I use Google.com on a regular basis. I suggest Download.com and Shareware.com to find a variety of software. Both are part of CNET Central (Cnet.com). I recommend searching for images at images.google.com. And I recommend using FindArticles.com to search over 300 magazines for articles covering various subjects. FindArticles.com also contains a comprehensive list of websites for various magazines and journals categorized by subject. If you need to search online dictionaries, encyclopedias, check out Reference.com.
Many search engines, such as Yahoo, MSN, and Excite are called portals, or more specifically horizontal portals. These websites serve as a starting point for whatever you want to do on the Web. For example, Yahoo attempts to provide for all your Internet needs with its website. Yahoo offers free e-mail at mail.yahoo.com, map searches at maps.yahoo.com, yellow pages at yp.yahoo.com, news at news.yahoo.com, and shopping at shopping.yahoo.com. You can also search for phone numbers at people.yahoo.com, play online games at games.yahoo.com, plan vacations at travel.yahoo.com, and check the weather at weather.yahoo.com. To take advantage of Yahoo.com services, you must register for a Yahoo ID by registering for a free Yahoo e-mail address at mail.yahoo.com. To take advantage of MSN.com services, you must register for a .NET Passport by registering for a free Hotmail e-mail address at hotmail.com or by registering any e-mail address as a .NET Passport at register.passport.net. MSN offers services similar to Yahoo.
Whereas horizontal portals attempt to be an all-purpose, vertical portals cater their content and services to consumers within a particular industry. For example, Islamicity.com focuses on everything about Islam whereas Garden.com is centered on everything about plants. Both websites are created with a different audience in mind and attempt to meet the needs of that particular audience.
Once a chat session has started, an Internet user can send messages by typing on a keyboard and the entered message will instantaneously appear on the monitor of anyone participating in the chat session. Anyone who receives your message can reply, and you will see the message instantaneously. You can chat with old friends and make new friends. You can chat with people from anywhere who share similar interests. You can chat by using an Instant Messenger or by visiting a chat room.
The most popular Instant Messaging programs are AIM, Yahoo, ICQ, and MSN Messenger. A typical Instant Messenger (IMer) chat session involves only two users, and both people must use the same IMer to initiate a chat session. AIM is available at aim.com. Yahoo Messenger is available at messenger.yahoo.com. MSN Messenger is available at messenger.msn.com. ICQ is available at icq.com. All four are free to download and install. You need a Yahoo ID to use Yahoo Messenger. You need a .NET Passport to use MSN Messenger. You can sign up for a free account to use AIM and ICQ before and after installing either IMer.
In addition to sending text messages, Instant Messengers allow you to send files such as documents, images, and movies over the Internet. You can also send emoticons, such as a smiling or sad face. Instant messengers also give you a contacts list to add screen names of other users. They allow you to search for other IM users and to accept messages from only the IM users you want. If you don’t want certain IM users to send you instant messages, you can block their screen names.
A chat room is an online “room” where you can chat with many people at the same time. Everyone can see what everyone else writes. Most chat rooms also allow users to send private messages to others in the chat room. Some chat rooms have moderators who monitor the online discussion. Some chat rooms have moderators who determine which messages are ultimately sent out to the chat room. Moderators can warn or kick users who misbehave out of the room. Some chat rooms have no moderation.
You can access chat rooms in several ways. You can use IMers such as those by Yahoo and AOL to access chat rooms. You can access online chat rooms at chat.yahoo.com and at chat.msn.com. To access their available chat rooms, you should sign up for either a Yahoo ID or .NET Passport. Many websites offer their own chat rooms. Online services such as AOL and MSN offer chat rooms available only to subscription members. AOL subscribers can use AOL’s own software for e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, and newsgroups. All AOL services and web pages are not available to all Internet users. MSN is far more compatible with the Internet than AOL is. However, AOL continues to have far more users than MSN. MSN and ISP subscribers can both access an Internet chat room service called Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Perhaps, the best IRC program available is mIRC. mIRC is available at www.mIRC.com. Whether you choose to use an IMer, online chat rooms, or IRC, you can search available chat rooms to find those that suit your interests.
Usenet is a worldwide system of Internet newsgroups, or electronic billboards. The Usenet contains thousands of newsgroups hosted all over the world, covering every imaginable topic. It is used daily by millions of people around the world. You can read, post, and reply to messages. Newsgroups you may want to visit include those within alt.religion.*, soc.culture.*, soc.religion.*, and alt.politics.* Categories under alt.religion.* include alt.religion.islam.* and alt.religion.christian.* Many non-Muslims often post general questions about Islam. You can post questions and answers about Islam. You may want to monitor newsgroups for negative comments to clear up misconceptions about Islam.
You can access Usenet newsgroups at Deja.com. You can post and read messages after you have registered. Some search engines such as Google also offer access to newsgroups. You can also use software such as FreeAgent to access newsgroups. Because FreeAgent is incompatible with AOL, AOL subscribers must use either the Web or AOL to access newsgroups. Many websites maintain their own electronic billboards. For example, Islamicity.com maintains an extensive billboard system. These billboards are often called message boards, forums, or discussion groups. Some websites also maintain a guestbook for posting comments and questions. These types of billboards and guestbooks are not to be confused with Usenet newsgroups.
People with a common interest can subscribe to an email service called a newslist. When a member sends an email to the newslist, the member sends the message to the entire group. All members receive messages posted to the newslist. Newslists can be a very important and effective communication tool. Various kinds of organizations use newslists to discuss, plan, and announce events and to discuss recent news, various topics, and concerns. Subscribing to a newslist can keep you informed. Most newslists have at least one moderator. The moderator is very much like that of a chat room moderator, enforcing the rules of the newslist. For example, the moderator decides what ultimately gets posted, decides who can join the newslist, and can kick people who violate the rules off the list. Some newslists are not moderated.
Subscribing to a newslist is an easy process. You usually have to send an e-mail to an address that looks something like “[email protected]” Depending on the newslist, you may need to include on the subject line something such as “Subscribe FirstName LastName.” Afterward, you may receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your subscription. This e-mail will explain how to complete the subscription process. It will also explain how to unsubscribe from the list. You can also subscribe to some newslists on the Web using an online form.
The two most popular newslist services are Yahoogroups at groups.yahoo.com and MSN groups at groups.msn.com. I recommend Yahoogroups, although both services are very similar. Anyone can join a Yahoogroup by visiting groups.yahoo.com. Anyone with an e-mail account can subscribe to a Yahoogroup by e-mailing [email protected], unsubscribe by e-mailing [email protected], post messages by e-mailing [email protected], and e-mail the group owner by e-mailing [email protected] where ‘NAME’ denotes the Yahoogroup name.
To take full advantage of Yahoogroups, you have to get a Yahoo ID. You can set settings for your Yahoogroups at groups.yahoo.com/mygroups. Each Yahoogroup has a website where you can access previous group postings at groups.yahoo.com/group/NAME where ‘NAME’ denotes the Yahoogroup name. The website for each Yahoogroup also contains a chat area, a polls and surveys area, and a place to share pictures, files, and website links. You must have a Yahoo ID to start your own Yahoogroup.
As Muslims, we must continue to communicate the message of Islam. We will always continue to use traditional means of communication. You will still use the telephone and the postal service for planning activities. You will still mail Islamic brochures and books. You will also continue to hold interfaith dialogues at churches. You will also continue to educate yourself at your mosque’s library. However, now you can also write e-mail to Muslims and non-Muslims around the world. You can create an Islam-related website and e-mail its link around the world. You can use a newslist for planning activities. After finding an interesting article, you can print the article from the Web to distribute among friends. You can have interfaith dialogues in Christian chat rooms. You can use a search engine to answer your Islam-related questions. Regardless of the means, we must continue to communicate the guidance without deviation, distortion, or innovation.
Taken with slight modifications from Islamfortoday.com.