In the wake of cyber bullying, online harassment and generally insensitive content online, many Muslims have been moving to the social media site Tutlub.com for a more welcoming place.
Tutlub is specifically designed for Muslim users, and offers several services that are designed to help users connect and grow with others in an environment centred on their shared faith. There is one section of the site that is specifically designed only for prayers, where users can post and view each other’s prayers. Users can also click an “Amin” button to say Amin to others’ prayers.
In addition to the prayer feature, there is also a “public slate,” which is a public forum where people can ask for and give advice on various issues. The slate offers an anonymous option, so users can ask for help with controversial or embarrassing topics without having to worry about people knowing that they asked for it.
Similar to other social networks such as Facebook, Tutlub allows for users to create personal profiles with pictures and information about themselves. The site allows for users to connect with each other, but it also has the added benefit of a religious focus and a Muslim user base.
Having a social media platform to connect and relate to others in the community is particularly important for youth who are looking for a sense of belonging.
“Social media is a way of reaching out to each other,” said Dr. Mustafa Khattab, Muslim Chaplain for Brock’s Faith and Life Centre. “It lets people know what’s going on in the community; youth are very involved and it allows them to stay connected.”
Some critics have expressed concern that the website may lead to segregation and may hurt Muslim groups by isolating them from mainstream culture. However, creator Yusuf Hassan has made an effort to emphasize that isolation is not the goal of the network, and that he actually encourages interaction and mingling between different faiths.
Hassan told Cnet that, quite contrary to concerns about segregation, he advocates for communication and connection. He said that non-Muslims are more than welcome to join Tutlub if they are curious and want to know more about Islam.
Furthermore, Hassan said that Tutlub is not intended to replace other, more secular, social media websites, but to be used in addition to them. Instead of leaving Facebook to join Tutlub, users are instead encouraged to stay on other social media websites in order to interact with a larger, multi-faith network of peers, and to then use Tutlub as an opportunity to connect in a more Islam-focused setting that provides a safer space to openly talk about their faith.
“People should be free to socialize with a diverse set of people as well as be free to socialize with the close circle of people that share the same faith with them,” Hassan told Cnet.
In looking at why certain religious groups, particularly Muslims, would want a space of their own online, it isn’t hard to find evidence of anti-Muslim discrimination both online and offline. In a relatively local context, in November of last year, Peterborough’s only mosque was set on fire in what many identified as a religiously-motivated hate crime.
Radio network KPCC reports that a survey tracking bullying in California found that half of Muslim children and teens have faced bullying that is specifically related to their religion. This bullying often takes in an extreme nature; 17 per cent of girls surveyed who wear hijab said that people had physically touched or pulled their hijab without consent, and ten per cent of the children surveyed reported physical bullying. However, the verbal or less physical bullying faced by the fifty per cent of the surveyed students is also a major problem.
In the survey cited by KPCC, 21 per cent of students said that they had faced cyber bullying that was specifically focused around religion. This study specifically looked at Muslim students in California; in a broader study, The Muslim Observer found that 18 per cent of Canadian parents knew that their child had been a target of cyberbullying, which does not include cases in which parents were not aware.
These statistics suggest that bullying via email and social media is a serious issue for youth, and a particular issue for Muslim youth. This context demonstrates why Muslim youth may not feel entirely safe or comfortable talking about their faith on Facebook, or may need a safe space outside of mainstream social media where they can feel more comfortable and don’t have to worry as much about cyber bullying.
The prevalence of anti-Muslim discrimination means that a dedicated social media space for Muslims to interact with each other in a faith-centred environment meets a current need for that specific group.
However, the idea of religion-specific social media has also been applied to other religious groups as well.
The Buddhist publication, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, has recently developed an online “community” website that functions as a social media platform where users can connect and socialize in a faith-centered environment. Jewish users have the option of Shabbat.com, which combines the functions of social network with an option to host or search for locally hosted Shabbat meals, as well as the website schtik.com, which is an alternative option for a Jewish-focused social media website. Two of the major Christian social media sites are the similarly titled Christian Faithbook and God’s Faithbook. Many other major religions are also slowly working to develop their own social media websites in which people can socialize and connect in a digital space that is centred around faith.
The relationship between religion and social media is still new and developing, as social media itself is relatively new in general, and so the future of social media sites for specific groups is uncertain. As current social media sites like Facebook allow for “groups” and “pages” that allow for people to create their own spaces, there is potential for various different groups to become consolidated within larger websites.
However, with increased cyberbullying and online instances of hatred, it is becoming evident that these mainstream social media spaces may not always be the safest places to talk about religion, and alternative spaces that are dedicated to specific religions may be an effective response to this issue of bullying on social media.