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YouTube Lectures and Sources of Authority
Along with technologies like smartphone apps, new forms of media are also in use at the mosque. The Internet makes Muslim authorities from around the world more accessible. People at the masjid value religious authority gained through education, so when asked about questions on the topic of Islam, they sometimes referred me to online resources in English so that I could learn the answer from a more learned authority. Once this happened with no prompting at all—a woman I’d never met came up to me, introduced herself, and said, “If you want to know more about Islam, you should go online. There are several sheikhs [scholars/leaders] who speak English and give very good explanations.” She recommended Sheikh Khalid Yasin and Sheikh Nouman Ali Khan.
People’s opinions differed on whether online Muslim resources should be used as the first way to answer questions, or to enrich and complement education that took place primarily at the masjid. One teenage girl said that if she had a question about Islam, she would start by doing background research online and then go to the masjid:
I would first go get information about it…I don’t think you should just go straight to the masjid, because you might not know the rules, or information—then go to the masjid, and get more info from the sheikhs.
Another young woman disagreed:
Sometimes Google is not a hundred percent accurate, you know, so [I would talk to] the imam… or you ask a person with knowledge, that already knows everything, who has done at least half of the hadith [sayings of the Prophet] and the Qur’an…and if they don’t know, you can never answer, you can never try to answer. You go to an imam, or somebody that already knows.
Regardless of their opinions on online authority, most young people at the masjid enjoyed religious resources that they found online, especially YouTube videos, and images that they shared on Facebook and Instagram. When talking about Muslim ways to dress, several girls mentioned a hijab-themed picture they’d found on a “Somali Facebook page” and liked. The picture showed two lollipops, one unwrapped with flies around it, representing a woman who does not wear hijab, and is harassed by men, the other wrapped and safe from flies.
When talking about Muslim ways to dress, several girls mentioned a hijab-themed picture they’d found on a “Somali Facebook page” and liked. The picture showed two lollipops, one unwrapped with flies around it, representing a woman who does not wear hijab, and is harassed by men, the other wrapped and safe from flies.
Teenage girls also spoke enthusiastically about religious videos on YouTube. Several recommended an “inspiring” spoken-word piece called “The Meaning of Life,” by a Muslim artist, Momen Suliman. Another girl explained:
Especially in the Ramadan time, when you’re fasting, there’s a lot of videos, you watch Islamic lectures, and stuff like that…In school, when the teacher is talking, the white kids are like, “This is a lecture,” and I’m like, “No, this is fine, I listen to this all the time!”
The teachers at the masjid sometimes integrate Muslim YouTube videos into their lessons. One Friday, at the evening youth class, the lesson was on a saying of the Prophet known as la tahzan, “don’t be sad.” The lesson began with a 5-minute YouTube lecture about la tahzan, projected on the wall of the women’s prayer space, followed by an hour-long lesson prepared by the sheikhs. The video is linked here.
Some resources found online became part of the masjid’s oral tradition. One evening, Bashir recited a poem, set to music, as part of a class. He explained:
I was reciting a poem…a beautiful recitation. It was not from the Qur’an. It was just, like, what will I do when my Lord asks me when I hid my sins from other creation…what will you do when you hide your sins from the creation. We hide our sins from other people…I got it from online.