UK

Imams try to 'reclaim the internet' with Haqiqah magazine

Leading Imams and scholars (Front, L-R) Imam Asim Hussain, Dr Musharraf Hussain, Sarah, warraich, Dr Qari Muhammad Asim and Shaykh Ahmad Babikir gather ahead of the "Imams Online" digital summit on 26 March 2015 in London Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Leading imams and scholars gathered at the launch of the new digital magazine

A new online magazine has been launched with the aim of "reclaiming the internet" from extremists.

Haqiqah - "the truth" or "the reality" - has been created by British Muslim scholars who say they want to do more to educate young people about the reality of extremist movements.

They say it is a direct response to the threat of radicalisation from groups such as Islamic State.

IS extremists have widely used social media to spread their message.

More than 100 imams gathered in London for the launch of the magazine, which has been started by the website Imams Online.

"Someone has to reclaim that territory from ISIS, and that can only be imams: religious leaders who guide and nourish their community," according to Qari Asim, senior editor at imamsonline.com.

"But now that we live in a digital mobile world, some young people are not coming to the mosque so we must reach out to them - and this is the Muslims' contribution to combat radicalisation on the net," he said.

He termed the magazine a call to all Muslims to "log on, get informed, and share the magazine with all your friends and family online".

'Turning the tide'

Experts writing in the magazine aim to offer a counter-narrative to the radical rhetoric of IS and other groups, and provide clear explanations of verses of the Koran that have been used by extremists to urge youngsters from across Europe and the Islamic world to leave their homes to fight - and often to die - in Syria and Iraq.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption It has been estimated that there are as many 70,000 pro-IS Twitter accounts

"We're turning the tide," says Shaukat Warraich, the chief editor of Imamsonline.com.

"Though we still have a way to go, we know that by taking efforts to support and mobilise the huge online Muslim population, we will eventually drown out the violent voices."

He said that the speed and volume of communications by IS has taken everyone by surprise, with more than 100,000 pieces of information, tweets and Facebook posts coming out of Syria and Iraq every day.

Warraich said that imams had to move from the real world to have a greater presence online, where young Muslims go for much of their information.

Many ask serious questions about their faith and what it advocates - via the internet - and all too often, the quickest replies will come from extremists and their sympathisers.

"If imams are going to remain relevant, they cannot ignore the digital environment and if they disconnect from the digital space, it's do or die," says Warraich.

Battling propaganda

The summit was attended by respected imams, including Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, president of the Forum for Promoting Peace, and Hamza Yusuf, a leading US imam and co-founder of California-based Zaytuna College.

The organisers say it brought together every group within Islam, from Deobandi, Sufi, Sunni, Shia and cultural groups, and included Somalis, Arabs, Pakistanis and converts to Islam from many nations.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Imams Online say faith leaders need a greater presence online

However, the magazine is battling a rising tide of sophisticated Islamist propaganda that advocates violence.

It has been estimated that there are as many as 70,000 pro-IS Twitter accounts, while the group also uses other social media networks such as the open-source site Diaspora, and has its own magazine.

Social media is used by IS not just to spread its message, but also to encourage terror attacks and broadcast its execution videos.

The other voices raised online against IS include the hashtag notinmyname on Twitter and @wewillinspire

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