Islam Tweets. Changing Power Structures due to Social Media

Textbook, 2019

120 Pages


Table of Content

Introduction: Around the world in 3,74 degrees

1 Chapter one
1.1 Structure
1.2 Methodology

2 Chapter two
2.1 One Community of Believers—One Islam?
2.2 One Source, many Meanings - who is right?
2.3 A Game of Revelations

3 Chapter three
3.1 The Advent of a New Society
3.2 Entering the Network Society
3.3 Virtual Islam 2.0
3.4 Re-thinking the Network Society?

4 Chapter four
4.1 Salafism [+] Wahhabism [=] ISIS?
4.2 A Movement of the many Faces
4.3 Lesser or Greater?
4.4 An Ephemeral Movement?
4.5 Jihad, quo vadis?

5 Chapter five
5.1 Looking behind the Wall—Manual Twitter Content Analysis
5.2 Categorization of Tweets
5.3 Approaching a first Content Analysis
5.4 Applied Tools?
5.5 How engagement is avoided

6 Chapter six
6.1 Visualization of a Network Analysis

7 Conclusion & Final Remarks

8 Future Work


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“Today, the average African with a cell phone has access to more information than President Clinton did in the 1990s …”

- Bregman: Utopia for Realists, 2016, page 193.

Introduction: Around the world in 3,74 degrees

“We exist at the intersection of technology and social issues.”

- Mark Zuckerberg.1

Yesterday was May 9, 2016. First thing in the morning, I checked my social media accounts, as I do on a daily basis. Immediately, my Facebook feed reminded me that May 9th was “Europe Day”, which celebrates peace and unity in Europe.2 At the same time my Russian friends posted pictures of their grandparents to show their pride on Instagram and on Facebook , as Russia celebrates “Victory Day” on May 9th, which commemorates the capitulation of Nazi Germany to the former Soviet Union and the end of the second World War.3 On Twitter, I read that “Obama Weighs Visiting Hiroshima or Nagasaki4 and that three Spanish journalists who had been kidnapped in Syria returned home.5 Around noon on Facebook and Twitter, my Austrian friends shared posts over the resignation of the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann.6 In the evening my, Philippine friends posted the first results of the Philippine elections.

All this I got to know while being in Helsinki. Long story short, we, as humans, have now reached a point of connectivity and information sharing unprecedented in human history, undoubtedly influencing all spheres of society. Or as Hank Green put it in his vblog “Crash Course Big History”:

“The Cambrian explosion went on for millions of years, the agricultural revolution proceeded for thousands of years, we are still right in the middle of the modern revolution. […] Now at the tremendous height of technological progress humanity is in terms of networks and building blocks the most complex system that we know of in the universe.”7

Since the introduction of the web 2.0 and with it the rise of social media platforms, human connectivity has steadily continued increasing. In 2012, Backstrom et al. conducted the largest Milgram-like experiment ever performed using the entire Facebook graph to show human connectivity.8 Their findings continued the works of Travers and Milgram, who in the 1960s were the first ones contributing to the shrinking-world phenomenon.9 Backstrom et al. concluded that on an average the number of intermediaries, meaning “degrees of separation”, between any two individuals on Facebook is 3,74. This means that 3,74 degrees separate one human being from every other human being on Facebook.

Even though we are familiar with the situation of knowing people from various angles, the Milgram’s experiment laid a scientific foundation to the world becoming a smaller place. A decreasing number of intermediaries also means having access to a larger social network and access to an increased social capital. Social Capital in the words of Bourdieu is “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to the possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintances or recognition10 Since the advent of the internet, academia has been arguing about the influx of technology on society (and vice versa). In “Bowling Alone” the political scientist Robert Putnam coalesced the functions of social capital with civic engagement in 2000. In his work, he claims that “civic virtue” is “most powerful when embedded in a dense network of reciprocal social relations”.11 Around the same time, Spanish sociologist and digital determinist Manuel Castells12 proclaimed that the post-industrial society enters the stage of networked societies. Castells’ work highlights the importance of networking opportunities brought by contemporary technologies and how this new chance shapes current societies by helping people to engage in networks rather than vertical, hierarchical, systems or organizations.13 Castells points out both aspects: liberation facilitated by technology and oppressive responses to this liberation.

Others, noted that organizational and economic structures of the newly emerging network society -although affecting everybody-, are not inclusive towards everybody. In 2006, Gerloff added that inequality spreads form the society to the networked economy to the networked access to knowledge and information.14 Access to information and the distribution of information became interwoven into today’s society, but for most of recent history this access has been very limited. With the advent of social media platforms and applications, information gets distributed more evenly and shared in an unprecedented speed, established institutions, concepts and organizations struggle to adapt to this new environment.

“The so called network society that we live in contains a threat of appearing as a dematerialised [sic!] reality without any substance and without rm reference points. Therefore, this society fosters a strong wish for safety and new points of reference in replacement of the ones that disappeared.”15

In 2005 Barzilai-Nahon and Barzilai pointed out the another issue of the Network Society, namely the de-culturing of societies, which is a fostered effect of technologization. Barzilai- Nahon and Barzilai argue that de-culturing leads to radicalization of subgroups as the identity of the individual is questioned by de-culturing, leading the individual to turn to radicalization.16 Currently we witness such trends on several fronts globally, be it the rise of extreme nationalist ideas, or the radicalization of religious groups since the networked society challenges unified belief sets such as religions and the nation state.17

Being connected with any other Facebook user via 3,74 degrees indeed indicates that social media platforms flatten complex hierarchies. Social media channels enable us to build networks and at the same time networks enable us to pursue intellectual exchange and debates around almost every imaginable topic.18 Marginalized groups, such as women, now have easier access to engage in discussions online with their peers.19 Although, the access to information is not inclusive to everybody, it affects everybody.20 But the access to information also challenges established ideas and concepts due to several reasons. More individuals can now participate in discussions and certain people in this networked society play crucial roles as gatekeepers to the distribution of information. These key accounts may represent authorities using social media platforms to distribute knowledge, but can also be individuals or alternative networks challenging established concepts by the ways they distribute knowledge. Web Pages run by associates of extremist political parties question the established party system and public media, by distributing dubious online content to their network of followers.21 Especially religious systems that claim to be universal, such as Islam are challenged by alternative networks22. With an ever stronger networked society these alternative networks have the ability to communicate to a vast number of individuals via social media networks. Alternative networks can use controversial interpretations to challenge established notions and systems. Islamic Law per se only describes the duties and obligations of the community, the interpretations of the content had been done by human methodology and have led to controversial interpretations since the death of the prophet.23 Radical Islamist groups have used social media channels from the beginning on, but particularly the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levante (ISIL), or called Daesh, used social media to challenge not just Muslim religious leaders, but also the whole Muslim community of believers, by declaring the creation of the Caliphate and by calling for a global jihad.24 On their social media accounts, on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Kik, YouTube,, Skype, and Google Play they propagate their ideas to a global online community, while recruiting for their jihadist purpose, calling for the Muslim community to join their call for their combative and cyber jihad.

Similarly there are numerous Muslim preachers online using social media channels forming narratives by communicating to their believers.

This thesis aims to look at the different ways of social media usage by Muslim preachers. Scholars of various disciplines already examined ISIS’ social media strategies and how new technologies and newly emerging formats, e.g. blogs, influence our daily lives, these analyses are going to be used as reference material to see how ISIS uses social media. Further, the thesis tries to contribute to the ways how social media usage challenges established notions, particularly the historic notion of jihad. How do the selected scholars use social media in order to engage with their followers? How are Muslim scholars using the available tools offered by Twitter, such as hashtags? What are the similarities between ISIS’ use of social media and the selected preachers of the analysis?

1 Chapter one

1.1 Structure

Within a larger frame this thesis adds to discussion of online group behaviour, and particularly religious group behaviour. It contributes to the lacking debate on religion and Network Society and New Media Communication. By analyzing Twitter content of three Muslim scholars and juxtaposing their content with the ways ISIS uses its Twitter accounts, the author hopes to add to the ongoing debate of netwar. Both ISIS and the selected scholars represent gatekeepers, controlling the distribution of information since both (ISIS and the selected scholars) have access to a large network of users and adherents. ISIS’ call for a global jihad questioned established religious notions, namely the jihad doctrine.

This thesis is divided into six chapters: the first part outlines the historical making of Muslim religious authorities; in this, concepts are presented and outlined which shaped the authoritative character of Muslim entities; the following chapter questions whether Muslim communities are seen as part of the Network Society. By introducing Castells’25 concept of the networked society, the historic status of Muslim jurist-theologians as authorities over the interpretation of law, are embedded within a technological frame. In short, it is argued that religious communities are embedded in the Network Society by showing that extremist Muslim groups fulfill criteria outlined by Castells. The third chapter examines the links between the chosen scholars and ISIS to the movement of Salafism and Wahhabism, and their historic interpretation of jihad.

Moreso, this chapter tries to establish a continuation between the historic interpretations of jihad and the concept of netwar. The fourth chapter a manual content analysis of the Twitter accounts of three contemporary Muslim Sala preachers, namely Abdur Raheem Green,26 Abdur-Raheem McCarthy27 and Bilal Philips28. This analysis gives insight into the social media usage of recognized religious authorities with large numbers of online adherents. This analysis allows to juxtapose their social media content with the previously described ISIS’ approach. The final chapter includes a visualization of Twitter networks of the three selected scholars and their most commonly used hashtags. Lastly, final remarks try to juxtapose the results of the conducted content analysis with the results of research conducted on ISIS’ Twitter usage of other scholars, and outlines what further work could be done.

The research questions which the authors tries to answer throughout this paper:

RQ1: How do official Twitter channels of Islamic preachers engage with their followers and how does the engagement resemble ISIS’ communication?
RQ2: How is the Islamic notions of jihad challenged by the social media content of Muslim preachers?
RQ3: How has technologization fostered the embodiment of religious communities within the societal concept of the Network Society? What criteria does an alternative network fulfill and is ISIS one?
RQ4: How can the Twitter activity of ISIS and the selected scholars be a continuation of a 21st century doctrine of jihad?

1.2 Methodology

The thesis uses discourse analysis, particular discourses for Internet content. As parts of this paper deal with religion online opposed to online religion, and focus on the perception and presentation of religious authority online, it is necessary to apply particular forms of methodology and discourse for these online purposes. Therefore, Heidi Campbell is suitable, who has identified four common discourses which are employed by religious users conceptualizing the Internet for their uses. She argues that these discourses prove the “spiritualising of the Internet”. Spiritualising the Internet merely refers to the means in which the internet is seen as a technology or space which nurtures engagement - in Campbell’s case religious engagement. Religious shaping of technology is a combination of linguistic legitimation and pro-active culturing by religious groups. “Spiritualising technology involves creating and maintaining certain rhetoric about the technology that presents it as a space suitable for religious use and engagement.29 Moreover, spiritualising technology allows users to include Internet-based issues into the rhythm of their spiritual lives.30

The study of social shaping of technology (SST) considers how religious users shape technology towards their goals and desires. Users often redesign new technologies to incorporate them easier into their human life practices.31 SST also enables us to see technology as the product of the interplay between technical and social factors in both design and use. It views technology as a social process. This results in various social groups of users shaping technologies towards their own ends as it is usual to use or modify a particular technology. In other words, contrasting groups employ a given technology in unique ways meaning that they keep or re-introduce patterns of group life into their online behaviour.32 Another concept relevant for this paper, is the “domestication” of technologies, which was coined by Roger Silverstone, Eric Hirsch and David Morley.33 The “domestication” of technology argues how choices of technology of communities are based on their values, and examines the reasons and ways how communities include technology into their daily lives. “Domestication” of technologies basically refers to the phenomenon how technology has been adopted and is adopting into the social sphere, becoming en-cultured or embedded into everyday life. In her work on Amish people and their telephone use, Diane Zimmerman-Umble34 argues that the telephone becomes a communal thing rather than an individual one. The community rejects the privatization of communication and tames technology - this interpretation is similar to the argument of Silverstone, Hirsch and Morley. Markham35 described the Internet as a tool, a space and a state of mind. Jones36 called it a social network, in similar ways to Castells. The Internet had also been referred to as a public discourse37 urging communities to explain and manage this technology. Similarly, Campbell’s religious discourses about the Internet are needed in order to define acceptable uses and shapes emerging from online activities such as rituals and practices. Those discourses offer an apologetic for religious online engagement. The four discourses are commonly used to “describing the internet as a spiritual medium facilitating religious experience, a sacramental space suitable for religious use, a tool promoting religion or religious practice and a technology for affirming religious life.”38

Two discourses are for further purposes crucial: the first one treating the Internet as a tool to promote religion and religious practice; secondly and more importantly the discourse treating the internet as a technology for affirming religious life. The former describes the Internet as a technological tool promoting a given religion or religious practices. Thus its use is dependent on the motives and desires of the users and its designers. Therefore, the Internet can be used to seek religious pursuit, information, spiritual relationships or simply to move classical religious activities online. “This discourse describes the Internet as a tool for promoting religious practices, or in some cases, presents the image of the Internet as a new terrain for proselytizing endeavors.39

Walter Wilson40 claims in his work “The Internet Church” that due to the Internet everybody is able to reach their religion, stressing its ubiquity and in the end highlights the ability to cross borders.The latter discourse frames the Internet as a social technology affirming one’s beliefs or religious lifestyle. The internet helps people to gather together and creates new images on a “global community of the faithful”.41

Brenda Brasher42 showed how the Internet helped members of Jewish communities to reconnect with their faith. The Internet encouraged them to explore and participate in religion, framing the Internet as a place for practice, but also as a source to connect. If the Internet is framed as a technology affirming specific beliefs or religious lifestyles then this discourse highlights how the Internet is a social technology supporting the communal aspect. The Internet offers a tool for people of shared faith or convictions to gather together. This latter discourse is crucial as this thesis treats Twitter as a technical tool offering connectedness and engagement with the community, helping to cultivate a virtual community which would be separated by geography, time or other obstacles.43

As the Internet is used through the lens of specific discourses certain ideas emerge on how the Internet is shaped and employed by religious users. Campbell has connected these discourses with four narratives of use, “showing how the framing of the Internet creates opportunities for religious groups to use the technology in order to fulfil (sic!) certain goals or support the beliefs of their religious culture.44 The Internet can be seen as a spiritual medium - being a connecting point for users, seeing it as a tool to encounter God. Perceiving the Internet as a worship place makes the Internet a sacramental space, or forum, which can be used to conduct rituals. For the purposes of this thesis two narratives are essential as Campbell connected them with the discourses explained above. The narrative connecting the Internet’s purpose of promoting religion and religious practice makes the Internet a missionary tool. “The Internet becomes a dynamic resource for encouraging certain practices among religious followers or seeking to convert spiritual seekers to a particular religious belief or tradition”.45 One example of this narrative is the “Online Missionaries Project”, which was a collaborative partnership of three youth-oriented Christian organizations in the United Kingdom in 2002. According to the project team, they described the Internet as a catalyst and tool for missioning.46 This narrative encourages users to include the Internet into their proselytizing strategies. However, when seeing the Internet as a technological tool affirming religious lifestyle it empowers “users to see the Internet as a place to also affirm their religious identity”.47 This second narrative argues that a common motivation for religious Internet use is to connect with people due to their religious backgrounds, tradition or theology. By sharing a religious identity believers subscribe to common beliefs based on traditions which are normally lived out in public, thereby the Internet affirms and builds a communal identity. “Identity comes from reinforcing a particular set of convictions or values that are transported online.48 Alf Linderman and Mia Lövheim49 explored the idea of religious identity in their work considering how religious identity is built by discourse with Swedish youth discussion boards. In their paper they argue that the Internet can play a crucial role in forming identity and especially religious identity.

The discourses for Internet use are going to be combined with a straight content analysis and with the use of keys categorizing the analytic frame of the religious-social shaping of technology approach by Heidi Campbell, and content analysis based on methodological procedures of grounded theory.

1.2.1 Why Twitter?

“Whether participants are actively commenting or simply acknowledging that they’re listening, they’re placing themselves inside a conversation. Even when they are simply trying to spread a tweet to a broader audience, they are bringing people into a conversation.”50

As almost half of this thesis deals with Twitter, this part briefly outlines reasons for choosing Twitter, using its data and explains particular methodology used for Twitter data analysis. The author uses Twitter as a precedent social media platform as it currently comes the closest to a publicly accessible global virtual discussion network. Even though, Twitter underlies the capitalist market system, making it difficult to assert its independence and user-orientation rather than market oriented. There are several reasons which speak for Twitter as a data serving webpage. Studies51 indicated that Twitter users mostly tweet to inform others and express their opinion about a particular topic, accumulating easily accessible data. Other studies have shown52 that Twitter users are not just more likely to interact with people sharing their own points of view, but are also more likely to engage with users disagreeing, questioning established concepts and notions. As Damian Guzek has pointed out when he examined the Twitter activity of the pope: “Twitter considered as a tool of communicating devotional content, while not as a tool of papal daily affairs, strengthens the misunderstanding of the nature of Twitter.”53 And Twitter offers direct pragmatic insight into style and wording of tweets.54 The tweets can be treated as the result of a reasoning process. This helps to understand how Twitter’s tools can produce an active participation into reasoning on the interpretation of the Qur’an, community shaping and re-negotiating established ideas.55 The emphasis of this thesis is on the notion of conversationality in Twitter. That is, why a large part of this thesis focuses on the analyses of content and engagements, and their visualization.

1.2.2 About Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging service founded in 2006. The service enables users to share short status updates called “tweets” with other users of the service.56 Contrasting other social media platforms, Twitter does not have any complex definitions of degrees of connections between followers, e.g. family, friends, friends of friends.57 The company currently holds more than 320 million active users and according to their official numbers 80% of their users use the social networking site from mobile devices.58 Originally designed to be shared via text messages the length is limited to 140 characters per tweet. For the general user the service provides combined elements of social network sites and blogs. The main feature of Twitter is providing a stream of posts by those who are linked to one and another. The linking of users on Twitter is called to “follow”. Following another user allows one to see one’s tweets, though “the act of following is not automatically reciprocal”.59 On the contrary to other social media channels, there is no option to comment on posts, thus liking. In order to address certain topics participants use the combination of a hashtag (#) and a particular keyword. This practice allows users to categorize web content.60 By default the public nature of tweets offers itself to organizing conversations around particular topics.61 As Twitter users began using the “@user” syntax referring to specific users, Twitter incorporated the feature into its services by adding the users hyperlink. Additionally, Twitter included a button for retweeting, which is best comparable to an email-list. Retweeting became a way of engaging into conversations among Twitter users.

Boyd, Golder and Lotan pointed out that the reasons for retweeting range from spreading particular topics to new audiences or commenting and adding new content to a particular topic, to saving tweets for future personal use - as retweets are saved on one’s profile page.62 When content is retweeted tweets are bound together and provide a conversational infrastructure, ideal for discussing, archiving and in general engaging with the community. The current tools that Twitter provides to its users allow conversations taking turns, referencing to previous statements creating a cohesive conversation in a non-cohesive network.

All in all, roughly 6,000 tweets are sent out per second, accumulating more than 500 million 140-character posts per day.63 With its easy and fast way of publishing content the site has played a crucial role in recent socio-political events and also in the aftermath of natural disasters.64 Moreover, with the return of the company’s former CEO Jack Dorsey and speculations around a possible end of the 140-character limit, and its promise to undergo tremendous change opening its real-life communication tool possibly to a greater extent towards a more conversational framework. Twitter derives its value from its real-time nature of conversations.65 So summing up Twitter’s ability to share, post and reference are crucial for a community dispersed around the globe, which needs tools such as Twitter offers for engagement.

1.2.3 Twitter Methodology

Twitter hashtags provide scholars insights into real-time feeds of conversations coordinated around them. General Twitter hashtag tracking across a large user base over a longer time is cost- and resource-intensive.66 However, using open source tools, which researchers subscribe to offer the tracking of large hashtagged tweets across a more manageable amount of users. Open source tools capture Twitter data for hashtags and keywords.67 Depending on the tools used one of the two Twitter API components is going to be captured.68 However, research based on the Twitter API is heavily reliable on the API’s ability to monitor all tweets in time according to the criteria, which is not at all guaranteed.

The most common research methods dealing with Twitter data are: Social Network Analysis is an approach describing the communicative network structure of ones network through visualization. By doing so it generates a static snapshot of the network. Though, social network mapping ignores the network’s dynamics.69 Social network visualization allows researchers to pinpoint key participants and clusters within the network in order to point out those users whose activities seem to be most interesting to study.70

Manual Content Analysis and Genre Analysis are two methods used to offer insights into the actual content of tweets. This is done by manually categorizing and clustering the messages based on a coding scheme enabling researchers to conclude ndings in the overall data-set.

Sentiment Analysis is a systematic computer-based analysis of the written text extracting the attitude of the author. It labels tweets regarding their emotionality. Its mere concern is identifying new sets of features to add to the already existing models, which can be hashtags, emoticons and some kind of intensifiers, e.g. all- caps and character repetitions.71 Sentiment Analysis for Twitter is rather difficult due to the previously mentioned sets of features and the short lengths of tweets.

As for the purpose of the analytical chapters of this thesis, which examines the Twitter activities of three selected preachers, the author uses the aforementioned most common Twitter methods. First a manual content analysis categorizes and analyzes all Twitter posts from December 2015 and March 2016. This goes hand in hand with a genre analysis categorizing and clustering the tweets. After this has been done, a visualization of the network analysis concludes the final chapter, describing the communicative network structure of ones network through visualization of the most common hashtags used and of assumptions based on the conclusion of the foregoing chapter.

2 Chapter two

2.1 One Community of Believers — One Islam?

Today, there are more than seven billion people living on this planet72. Islam constitutes the religion for roughly 1.6 billion of them73, being the clear majority of population in 44 states.74 These 1.6 billion Muslim believers are not one homogenous group of people, even though, roughly 90 percent of Muslims are considered to belong to the Sunni-sect, within this sect there are several competing interpretations. The remaining 10% are considered to be Shi’a Muslims, which themselves again split into several groups.The sectarian division goes back to the founding period of Islam. When in 632 C.E. the Prophet Muhammad passed away, the “once-unified Islamic umma was fragmented […], all disputing over who was the rightful leader of the umma”.75 The question of succession disintegrated the unity of believers for centuries. This was not a sudden shift, rather than a progressing process over several decades. The Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian division resides not just in the question of succession, but specifically in the question of rights of the “imamate”.76 The Sunni sect declared the caliph to be purely an administer and enforcer of the divine law, while reducing his judicial function to a mere interpretative one, rather “than to make new law. […] the caliph’s powers were derived from and limited by the divine law; only his appointment was made by the people77

The heterodox group of the Shi’a believe that Ali, Muhammad’s cousin (601–661), who was designated by the prophet himself, passes on the “esoteric knowledge on to his male descendents from generation to generation78. Ali’s descendants were, therefore, chosen by God. According to the historian Khadduri, Ali’s successors were considered ruling by divine right making the Shi’ites rule more authoritarian and more detached from social reality than the Sunni sect. Within the Shi’i group the question of succession led to further subdivisions, most notably the “Twelvers”, which supported the claim of the younger son (Musa al-Kazim, 745 – 799 C.E.) of the sixth imam (Ja’far al-Sadiq, 702 – 765 C.E.), and the minority group, the “Seveners”, which supported his elder son, Isma’il (721 – 755 C.E.).79The revolutionary character of Shi’i opposition tended to accentuate the Sunni-Shia schism and rendered the recognition of their doctrines as Orthodox exceedingly difficult.”80 In the opinion of the legal historian Mayer the Shi’is choice of solving the question of succession only led to more disputes regarding the same question, leaving Shi-branches without an imam.81 Nonetheless, what all sectarian divisions share is their demand for unconditional loyalty from the “umma”, the community of believers making the question of the correct authoritative interpretation clearly difficult to answer.

2.2 One Source, many Meanings - who is right?

In early Islam the authority belonged to God. The society was only necessary to constitute and fulfill certain aspects of social functions. Allah, meaning God, the supreme of the society does not rule the state directly but acts merely as a titular head of state and as the governing source of authority. Muhammad was the head of government.82 Therefore, the relationship between authority and society was not one of equals rather than a compact of submission. Even though, Muhammad did not provide his community with specific regulations about his succession, he left his community with a legal order which compromised the Islamic natural law and the Arabian jus gentium83. The key players in interpreting the laws governing this “communitas islamica84 were the jurists, who by doing so enjoyed an authoritative nature as they were in charge of distributing knowledge about the laws governing the community.

Muslim jurist-theologians derived their authority directly from God as they were the ones interpreting the God given signs.85 The scholar Waardenburg calls the sources which jurist-theologians interpreted “signs”. He puts them into two groups primary and secondary “signs” or sources. The former referring to the Qur’an, the latter describing tradition, Sunna. “Most of the primary signs of normative Islam are connected with behavior, in particular ritual action. They constitute the prominent features of the Muslim community”.86 Comparatively speaking, the Sunna received its authoritative status later than the Qur’an and includes reports on the life of Muhammad (hadiths). The obligations and duties of normative Islam became to be known as Islamic religious law or Shar’ia.87Normative Islam develops the truths and norms that are accepted as valid for the whole Muslim community irrespective of place and time. It does this by interpreting and elaborating texts that are considered to have absolute authority. Normative Islam tends to stress the sign character of religious things, that is to say the orientation they give towards objective truths and realities that stand for themselves. This remains so even if the sign may be interpreted differently by different people in different situations. Practiced Islam can be subdivided into literate and non-literate (usually called ‘popular’) Islam. As lived in different cultures and societies, it is rich in social symbolism that in many respects conveys explicit or implied religious norms and meanings.88

As Islamic territories continued expanding after the death of Muhammad, the legal system became more complex and diverse. This was primarily caused by jurist-theologians coming from newly acquired territories and being incorporated into the already existing legal system. Thereby, bringing new ways of interpreting law into the already established system of thought. The contradicting interpretations of law slowly led to the establishment of law schools in the eighth and ninth centuries C.E.. Within a wider scope this institutionalization led to the gathering and verification “of what came to be accepted as authoritative records of Sunna”.89

By the eighth century C.E. four schools had been acknowledged, namely the Hana , Māliki, Shā ’i and Hanbali90 - all belonging to the Sunni sect. The religious scholars dealing with the interpretation of the Shari’a came to be known as the “ulama”. The Islamic “ulama” is based on religious communal hierarchies based on the subordination of large parts to an elite religious authority, which itself bases its authority on a divine authority.91 The “ulama” was responsible for developing normative Islam.92

Besides the “ulama” another group of religious leaders evolved, namely the “sheykhs”. Their task was and still is “to care for the religious or other needs of the people, including offering solutions through religious experience.93Sheykhs” have often established themselves as counterparts to the “ulama” as “sheykhs” had given advice in social and political matters.94

Although, there have been several law schools and interpretations being established, it should be pointed out that one interpretation of the Shari’a has only religious meaning for the people belonging to the same given group or persons. What should be noted here is the fact that within the various different groups of the Islamic “umma” the same thing may be “recognized as having religious meaning (as normative Islam describes it), but in practice different Muslim groups as well as individuals will give to these data different interpretations, often leading to different practices.95

The principle uniting all these different legal schools was the principle of consensus (“ijma”), which replaced the role of creative juridical thinking (“ijtihad”). With the establishment of the four law schools large measures of independent reasoning (“ijtihad”) disappeared. This drastic change in basic structure and methodology of Islamic Law discredited “ijtihad” until today.96 The law books of the four schools became the standard-text books and any departure from them was considered to be an innovation and was rather uncommon. For instance the scholar Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328 C.E.) rejected the ideas of innovations, as they were an outside influence over what he assumed to be true Islam. He methodologically argued that popular religion was incompatible with the Qur’an and the Sunna, therefore antithetical to Islam.97 According to Taymiyya the normative and official religion is true “tawhid” and even though, Islam does not have an official authoritative organization, true “tawhid” has been opposed to the forms of popular Islam. The 20th century scholar, Khadduri, generally referred to the early Muslim state as a universal nomocracy assuming that a supra-national community was led by one law and governed by one ruler, who was constituted by mankind.98 In his words, “Islam […] has the character of a rural order which regulates the life and thoughts of the believer according to an ideal set of revelations communicated to Muhammad”.99 The present-day jurist Ann Elizabeth Mayer more specifically assessed a divine nomocratic character only to the Sunni-sect’s government.100

Over the span of history, popular Islam has often established itself as an alternative religion, which had crucial impacts on the “cultural and social structural function within the total life pattern of the societies concerned.101 Waardenburg describes popular Islam as “responsive in various ways, mostly difficult to perceive, to external events and changes that occur in society.”102 Popular Islam adds to the shaping of the communal moral consciousness.The contemporary scholar Waardenburg correctly points out, that there had been many different variations of religious experience and spirituality, worldviews and ideologies, social modes of coexistence over the centuries of Muslim history. “In particular, the notion of a divine law, the idea of a just social order, and the longing for a true community of the faithful have had practical consequences up to the present time for Muslim social and political behavior.103 The term “Islamic Law” is often used synonymously with Islam itself, mistakenly juxtaposing the totality “of Muslim obligations in both the private, personal religious sense, and […] social, political, and legal norms and institutions.104 By its religious nature there is no person or institution authorized to decide Islamic Law on any issue representative for the whole community. “True representation” has always been problematic within Islam105 since every member of the community is responsible for their own reasoning in the matter.106Usually believers see their own understanding of the religion as the authentic and pure one […].107 Even though, the “ulama” constructed the content of the Shari’a, they did not impose it. “It was left to the believers individually — as well as to the Muslim community as a whole — to follow its injunctions.108

Unanimity, which the scholar Muhammad Asad argues is the basis of all happiness of the Islamic community, is only achievable if the community of Muslims agrees on a moral obligation arising from a permanent absolute moral law.109 In the case of a positive notion of the “umma” these moral obligations are the virtues shaping the community together. The concept of one “umma” becomes problematic when its political and religious aspects are simultaneously addressed. Academics110 point out that this is a quite recent phenomenon highlighting the “otherness” routes in traditional Islamic literature, since in historic literature only one was discussed. Waardenburg even goes so far to question whether regarding Islam one can even talk about an official religion and one official “umma”. Regarding the juridical character of an official religion specific authorities fulfill the actions which are then religiously binding and juridically valid. In this sense, Waardenburg points to the “ulama” as an authority, when establishing criteria for jihad. From a theological point of view, Waardenburg continues saying that “opinions on religious subjects […] are officially valid only under certain conditions. Such opinions need to go back to the Qur’anic text and ancient Sunna, thus being connected with revelation, and be supported by the ijma’ (consensus) of the faithful […].”115

Consensus (“ijma”) among Muslim jurists (or the wider Muslim community according to some jurists111 ) is deemed to be binding on subsequent generations of Muslims. The contemporary scholar, An-Na’Im, retrospectively attributes the founding jurists of Islamic Law a high level of awareness regarding the nature of Islamic Law. According to his interpretation, the statements and interpretations of classical jurists were neither absolute nor definite in comparison to current tendencies of Islamic Law demanding complete submission.112 An-Na’Im’s argues that early jurist-theologians did not impose any rules representing erroneous views through pointing out a diversity of opinions or a view representing a consensus among themselves, and among the community.

The abandonment of “ijtihad” in favor of “taqlid”, which roughly describes the acceptance of a rule based on the authority of the jurists, the authoritative status of jurists was further consolidated. “Shari’a law is the product of legislation (Shari), of which God is the ultimate subject (shari). Fiqh law consists of legal understanding, of which the human jurist is the subject (faqih)113. The academic An-Na’Im points out that, every judicial interpretation is in the end “a matter of human judgement and cannot constitute transcendental or divine authority.114 What An-Na’Im means is that jurists presented their own version of what God had decreed.

Religion, same as law, seeks to regulate human behavior, therefore the two systems normatively overlap. Islam, with its dual approach of giving religious guidance and regulating the communal life, shows how one influences the other and vice-versa. “Islamic Law is always the product of the ‘human agency’ of believers because it is a system of meaning that is constructed out of human experience and reflection that evolves over time into a more systematic development according to an established methodology”.115 In order to explain the making of the human agency of believers, An-Na’Im proposes a concept called the “intergenerational consensus116, arguing that all accepted Islamic principles today were successively regarded as valid as they bound generation after generation together, making it almost impossible for Muslims to have one “legislative authority that can enact a single principle of Islamic Law117. The “intergenerational consensus” argues that only “if the total Muslim population of the world were to meet in a single time and place and vote to adopt a principle as part of Islamic Law, it would remain binding neither for those who voted for it, because they are entitled to change their mind nor for subsequent generations unless they accept it for themselves.118

2.3 A Game of Revelations

Even though, religious and legal systems are seen as static, due to their slow change, but both are dynamic and transformative since law and religion are unquestionably social119, because they are all connected making them society a reality sui generis.120 As society is able to revivify itself by assembling anew, so is religion.121As clearly indicated by the historical evolution of legal systems and religious traditions, these institutions are always changing, though not always in predictable or predetermined ways.122 Both systems are carried out by the human agency, which is the premier cause and reason for this mobile character of law and religion, making it flexible and changeable. Religious representation is the expression of collective realities, collective sentiments can themselves become conscious of themselves and fixing themselves123. Being socially embedded into a social network has a crucial impact, as social embeddedness can pressurize members of the community124, but it can also influence the ways information is distributed and shared within the network. Force can be used to visibly or invisibly create hierarchies and classes, projected onto by the community,125 which are by themselves constructed by people.126

3 Chapter three

3.1 The Advent of a New Society

“We know that technology does not determine society: it is society. Society shapes technology according to the needs, values, and interests of people who use the technology.”127

In his series of books the Spanish sociologist and digital determinist Manuel Castells, argues that the nature of the post-industrial society is undergoing a fundamental change, entering the stage of so-called network-societies. Castells bases his concept on the increasing importance of information and knowledge, as both have become central within society. Castells defines the network-society as people being engaged in networks rather than vertical, hierarchical, systems or organizations. Thereby he suggests, that throughout history networks had been advantageous due to their flexibility and their ability to adapt, but they were not able to completely “master and coordinate” their full potential in the past, whereas in the present they are capable to fully accomplish their complexity of the required organization due to technological achievements.128For the first time in history, the basic unit of economic organisation is not a subject, be it individual […] or collective […] the unit is the network, made up of a variety of subjects and organizations, relentlessly modified as networks adapt to supportive environments and market structures.129 Therefore, Castells assumes that digital networking technologies help networks to overcome their historical obstacles as being part of the private sphere.

Castells further argues that the network society is global as it is based on global communication networks, thereby transcending boundaries.Even though, the network society does not embrace all territories of the globe, it affects all people. Power is not manifested in a particular class, but rather in the flows of information. The transformation of sociability is according to Castells one of the manifestations of the network society, meaning that Internet users are becoming increasingly engaged with various technological forms of communication.130 Webster, who refers to the term “information society” as being too vague distinguishes altogether five definitions of the “information society”: a technological one emphasizing the breakthroughs in information processing, storage, and transmission in all corners of society, thus making it integrally social; an economic definition assessing the size and growth of the information industries; an occupational one describing a society which predominantly works in information work; a spatial conception of the information society, which Castells uses; and a cultural testifying that “there has been an extraordinary increase in the information in social circulation”.131

3.2 Entering the Network Society

“A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden — beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community […]”132

Castells argues that every age is defined by its fundamental element “fostering productivity in the production process.133 Today, we live in the informational mode of development, therefore the fundamental issue is information processing: “informationalism is oriented towards technological development, that is toward the accumulation of knowledge and higher levels of complexity in information processing.134

For Castells the “informational society” gets its power and productivity from the generation, procession and transmission of information. He explains the connection between network society and informational society by drawing a comparison with the “industrial society”: “an industrial society is not just a society where there is industry, but a society where the social and technological forms of industrial organizations permeate all spheres of activity [. . . ]”.135 The key feature of the “i nformational society” is its network structure.

In a network-society social change is only possible through the network and what Castells calls “communes” and “alternative networks”.136 External mechanisms can enforce change. Some recurring elements of this network are: the uneven distribution of nodes included in the network; the unequal power and size of nodes; and the fact that not a singular node can gain absolute control of the network.

Even though, Castells claims that our economy, politics and culture are organized around networks, he still takes an “an avowedly secular approach137, because he does not include any religious concepts. Castells excludes any kind of controversial ideas such as religious, national, ethnic and territorial groups from his concept138. Although, he argues that “the network has become the basic structural characteristic of our society139 he has been reserved asserting religious communities a “secularized” position in the network society. However, I argue in favor of including religious groups as alternative networks, that is particularly due to the continuous technologization of all spheres, which calls for a re-definition.

If religious communities are considered as alternative networks they subsume a large network of links gathered around size varying nodes.140 Another indicator for religious communities being part of the networked society is the religious agency, which acts and lives within society, which is described by Castells as again: the networked society. The religious agency as it is defined as “a personal and collective claiming and enacting of dynamic religious identity141 should be seen as “a shifting collection of persons, engaged in a complex set of actions and rhetorics, actions that are supported by and indeed de ne the collectivity they inhabit.”142 The religious agency is a group of people influenced by their environment - as communities and cultures modify technologies endowing them with a communal context, communities, which are themselves networks, assert technology a set of cultural contexts. “Human agents” work within existing structures of society, but are also the ones initiating action and change within those structures143, ergo they have power derived from their access to information. As these structures have been changing, so has its community.


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20 Gerloff: Access to Knowledge in a Network Society, 2006, page 14.

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22 An-Na’Im: Complementary, Not Competing, Claims of Law and Religion, 2013, page 1232. 23 An-Na’Im: The Compatibility Dialectic: Mediating the Legitimate Coexistence of Islamic Law and State Law, 2010, page 8.

23 Mayer: Law and Religion in Middle East, 1988, page 131.

24 Durden: ISIS Head Calls For Global Jihad; Here Are Some Muslim Responses, 2015.

25 Castells: The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy, 2005.




29 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 8.

30 The study of Social shaping of technology is a research area connected to science and technology studies, sociology of technology, and media studies- examining technological change and user innovation as a social process.

31 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 2.

32 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 3.

33 Silverstone/Hirsch/Morley: Information and communication technologies and the moral economy of the household, 1992.

34 Zimmerman-Umble: The Amish and the Telephone: Resistance and Reconstruction, 1992.

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38 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 9.

39 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 12.

40 Wilson: The Internet Church, 2000.

41 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 13.

42 Brasher: Give Me That Online Religion, 2001.

43 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, pages 11 – 13.

44 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 14.

45 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 17.

46 Campbell: The Internet as Social-Spiritual Space, 2004.

47 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 18.

48 Campbell: Spiritualizing the Internet - Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage, 2005, page 18.

49 Linderman/Lövheim: Internet and Religion, 2003.

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52 Conover et al.: Political polarization on twitter, 2011.

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55 Guzek: Discovering the Digital Authority - Twitter as Reporting Tool for Papal Activities, 2015, page 76.

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59 Dang-Xuan/Stieglitz: Emotions and Information Diffusion in Social Media—Sentiment of Microblogs and Sharing Behavior, 2013, page 220.

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61 Bruns: How long is a Tweet?, 2011, page 1324.

62 For a non-exhaustive list of motivations consult Boyd/Golder/Lotan (2010) who used responses to the user @zephoria.

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105 Shams: Ummah, 2015, page 55.

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116 An-Na’Im: The Compatibility Dialectic: Mediating the Legitimate Coexistence of Islamic Law and State Law, 2010, page 8.

117 This is a term coined by An-Na’Im.

118 An-Na’Im: The Compatibility Dialectic: Mediating the Legitimate Coexistence of Islamic Law and State Law, 2010, page 20.

119 An-Na’Im: The Compatibility Dialectic: Mediating the Legitimate Coexistence of Islamic Law and State Law, 2010, page 8.

120 Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915.

121 Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915.

122 Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915.

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124 Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915.

125 Stroope: Social Networks and Religion, 2011, page 275.

126 Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915.

127 Castells: The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy, 2005, page 3.

128 Castells: The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy, 2005, page 4.

129 Castells: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: The Rise of the Network Society, 2000, page 214.

130 Castells: The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy, 2005, page 11.

131 Webster: Information Society, 2003, page 1347.

132 Durkheim: The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, 1915, location 1190.

133 Castells: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: The Rise of the Network Society, 2000, page 17.

134 Castells: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: The Rise of the Network Society, 2000, page 17.

135 Castells: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: The Rise of the Network Society, 2000, page 31.

136 Castells: The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture: The Rise of the Network Society, 2000, page 31.

137 Castells: Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society, 2000, page 22.

138 Chitwood: Islam in a Networked Society, 2015, page 2.

139 Chitwood: Islam in a Networked Society, 2015, page 3.

140 Gerloff: Access to Knowledge in a Network Society, 2006, page 17.

141 Chitwood: Islam in a Networked Society, 2015.

142 Leming: What is Religious Agency, 2007, page 74.

143 Ammerman: Organized Religion in a Voluntaristic Society, 1997, page 208. 149 Sewell (1992) refers to this as the duality of structure.

Excerpt out of 120 pages


Islam Tweets. Changing Power Structures due to Social Media
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ISBN (Book)
Islam, Social Media, Twitter, ISIS, Jihad, terrorist attacks, Cultural Studies, History, Salafism, Network Society, New Media, web 2.0
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Mathias Hörlesberger (Author), 2019, Islam Tweets. Changing Power Structures due to Social Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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