Published 28th November 2020.
App faith: how religions are embracing technology
From apps that remind you to confess or help Muslims find halal food, to cashless church donations, religious practice is being inextricably linked to tech (1) The research paper “Survey, Analysis and Issues of Islamic Android Apps” presents an extensive survey of about 300 Islamic apps that are available on Google Play Store.(2) There are even dating apps for modern Muslims that solve some romance problems, but not all. (3) However, Apps to help Muslims practice their faith can create new conundrums (Is My Smartphone Now a Quran?) (4). A Muslim prayer app with over 98 million downloads is one of the apps connected to a wide-ranging supply chain that sends ordinary people’s personal data to brokers, contractors, and the military. (5)
In “Ethical Aspects of The Internet of Things from Islamic Perspective”, (6) the authors point out examples that clearly show that IoT applications have inflated serious ethical problems:
“Smart meters, smart baby monitors, Smart TV models…. Whether it is a smart thermostat, smart refrigerator or any other smart house hold device, there are many reports that these internet connected devices escalated unwanted invasions.” (6)
China’s hi-tech war on its Muslim minority
Smartphones and the internet gave the Uighurs a sense of their own identity – but now the Chinese state is using technology to strip them of it. Article by Darren Byler.
Snippet: Alim learned that he had been placed on a blacklist maintained by the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (Ijop), a regional data system that uses AI to monitor the countless checkpoints in and around Xinjiang’s cities. Any attempt to enter public institutions such as hospitals, banks, parks or shopping centres, or to cross beyond the boundaries of his local police precinct, would trigger the Ijop to alert police. The system had profiled him and predicted that he was a potential terrorist. Alim’s biometrics and his digital history were being used to lock him in place. “I’m so angry and afraid at the same time,” he told me. He was haunted by his data. 60% of the world’s Muslim-majority nations are part of China’s premier international development project, the Belt and Road Initiative, so there is “unlimited market potential” for the type of population-control technology they are developing in Xinjiang. All Uighurs were required to install nanny apps , which monitored everything they said, read and wrote, and everyone they connected with, on their smartphones.
In thousands of cases, years of WeChat history was used as evidence of the need for Uighur suspects to be “transformed”. (7)
Different viewpoints on the Islamification of technology
Bart Barendregt of Leiden University, who has keenly studied South-East Asia’s ever expanding digital usage: “Muslim youngsters are adopting technology to distance themselves from older, traditional practices while also challenging Western models.” (8) In contrast, the author of the book “Problems of The Mobile Phone”, Muhammad Tufail Ahmed Misbah, belongs to the Barelvi school, which follows the 8th century Islamic jurist Imam Abu Hanifa. Reviewer Tufail Ahmad quotes the author:
“The biggest religious benefit of mobile phones is that today, due to mobile phones, religious work is being carried out on a large scale,” and adds: “The disadvantages of mobile phones are greater than its advantages.” In the author’s opinion, because of mobile phones, happiness has disappeared, women’s dignity has vanished, etiquette and civility have been buried; mosques are no longer venerated, the new generation becomes adults before its time
. Advising Muslim women to recite Qur’anic verses during pregnancy, the author notes: “A dangerous aspect of the mobile phone is that its very bad impact registers on a pregnant woman and the health and morality of the child growing in her belly.”
Regarding taking photos with phones, Misbahi observed that this is “totally illegitimate and haram [forbidden by Islam]… The [shari’a] order for making a statue and taking a photo of a living being is the same [haram].”
On the issue of taking photographs of animate objects/entities, there are differences of opinion amongst Islamic scholars regarding the appropriateness of such an act.
The author also prohibited Muslims from stealing electricity from mosques, and described a likely future situation in which the azan (call to prayer) is given by phone, not by a person, and concluded that such a step would not be legitimate according to shari’a. (9)
“Everything can be used in good work, and it can be used for evil purposes. The fault is not about things or technology. Rather, the user is basically responsible“ (10)
“Everything, when lost, can be regained, except time.”
How about we stop robbing ourselves?
If a year, a day, an hour, a minute or even a second goes by, there is absolutely no way one can regain it. That is why time is the most precious thing that a person can ever possess in this life.
Unfortunately, in this digital age people have absolutely no value for time . We see them wasting their free time as if it has no worth at all. (11)
The above is indeed a very powerful set of statements of the critical role of spending one’s time effectively, meaningfully and productively. There is a dedicated short chapter (Chapter 103) in The Qur’an entitled “Time” which is loosely translated as follows:
“By the token of Time! Verily humankind is in a state of loss. Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.”
Smart phones, social media, and Muslim kids:
Children have developed a strong obsession with modern technological gadgets. They are literally being psyched to use every type of gadget available – computer, tablet, smartphone, – the list is endless- and we parents seem to have lost control over them. The flip side to this situation is that some of us actually encourage our children to use these gadgets. We give these devices to them as their birthday gifts or as inducements to pass their exams.(12)
Disconnect: How Is Your Phone Changing You? | The Problem With Our Phones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3daYbsIF-Hw
Is A.I. the Antichrist? and other questions religions like Islam pose about emerging technology.
From an article by Aneesa Bodiat: ‘…In Islamic belief, the Antichrist — known to Muslims as Dajjaal — will appear before the world ends. The prophecy says he will bring tyranny and misguidance to the world, use trickery to proclaim himself a prophet, and ultimately be defeated by the Prophet Eesa — the Muslim name for Christ. It is believed that some of Dajjaal’s identifying characteristics were passed down from the Prophet Muhammad so we can recognize him when he comes. One translation of these descriptions reads: “He will be a young man” who is “blind or defective” in his right eye. This eye will be “neither prominent nor sunken, and will look like a floating grape.” He will also be “sterile, with no children born to him,” and will deceive people, using special abilities, to bring rain. Islamic scholars in eschatology, the branch of theology relating to the end of the world, use examples of current technology to link A.I. to Dajjaal. One example is Sheikh Imran Hosein, who has used scripture to theorize that Dajjaal will have a human form but will lack a soul and a self. He could be a robot — human-looking but soulless. The “eye like a floating grape” could be a computer or camera lens. Cloud seeding by A.I. could be the means through which he brings rain. The author asks: “As a society, are we walking a dangerous line toward worshipping A.I.?” (13)
Pope Francis has asked believers around the world to pray that robots and artificial intelligence “always serve mankind.” Although the message sounds similar to warnings issued by tech notables like Elon Musk (the Tesla CEO famously compared work on artificial intelligence to “summoning the demon”), the Pope’s focus is more prosaic. He doesn’t seem to be worrying about the sort of exotic doomsday scenario where a superintelligent AI turns the world into paperclips, but more about how the tech could exacerbate existing inequalities here and now. (14)
“When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.”
“Technology makes life more convenient and, like religion, seems to hold the answers for how to deal with old age and death. Again paradoxically it is our striving for immortality that will expand the suffering for others. Our attempts at perfection, may eventually doom all species on earth.”
This post was compiled by Wilma Miles on behalf of EMFSA (www.emfsa.co.za.). We thank B.Omar for his guidance.
1. App faith: how religions are embracing technology https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2018/apr/18/religion-technology-apps-muslims-halal-cashless-church-donation
2. Anum Hameed, Hafiza Anisa Ahmed & Narmeen Zakaria Bawany: Survey, Analysis andIssues of Islamic Android Apps https://jurnal.ar-raniry.ac.id/index.php/elkawnie/article/view/4541/pdf
3. Dating apps for modern Muslims solve some romance problems, but not all https://www.thestar.com/opinion/2020/01/29/online-dating-and-devout-modern-muslims-looking-for-love.h
4. My Smartphone Now a Quran? https://slate.com/technology/2017/08/is-my-smartphone-now-a-quran.html
5. How Muslim Pro App Sold Users Location Data To The U.S. Military https://hydroponify.co.uk/2020/11/16/how-muslim-pro-app-sold-users-location-data-to-the-u-s-military/
6. Ethical Aspects of Internet of Things from Islamic Perspective Wazir Zada Khan, Mohammed Zahid, Mohammed Y Aalsalem, Hussein Mohammed Zangoti, Quratulain Arshad https://arxiv.org/abs/1806.11386v1 Submitted on 29 Jun 2018
7. China’s high war on its Muslim minority https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/apr/11/china-hi-tech-war-on-muslim-minority-xinjiang-uighurs-surveillance-face-recognition
8. The Impact of Technology on Islam https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/islam/articles/the-impact-of-technology-on-islam.aspx
9. Review of Indian Islam cleric’s book on “Essential Problems of the Mobile Phone” https://www.memri.org/reports/review-indian-islamic-clerics-book-essential-problems-mobile-phone-criticizing-muslim-girls
10. Islam T.Md. (2019). The Impact of Social Media on Muslim Society: From Islamic Perspective. International Journal of Social and Humanities Sciences (IJSHS), 3(3), 95- 114 https://dergipark.org.tr/en/download/article-file/891734
11. How about we stop robbing ourselves? https://muslimvillage.com/2018/09/15/130693/how-about-we-stop-robbing-ourselves/
12. Smart phones, social media, and Muslim kids https://jamiat.org.za/smart-phones-social-media-and-muslim-kids/
13. Is A.I. the Antichrist? and other questions religions like Islam pose about emerging technology https://onezero.medium.com/is-a-i-the-antichrist-a2fd6d853610
14. Pope Francis urges followers to pray that AI and robots ‘always serve mankind’ https://tinyurl.com/y2jbrt6q