Digital and Islamic Divides: Competing Strategies among Muslim Groups in Attracting Young Followers Through (Social) Media

M. Adlin Sila (Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs)


The topic of social issues relating to the internet has become an interesting study in recent years in Indonesia. Previous study has shown that use of the social networking sites (SNS) can facilitate the formation of new relationships (Parks and Roberts, 1998). However, there has actually been little study on the different behaviour of different age groups in online communication. Today, young people have used to interact each other which are not available to older generations (Carmody, 2012). As commonly found in Indonesia and elsewhere, young people have more access to the Internet than older people. They have become more comfortable receiving information online from SNS, or commonly known as social media, so that they are more likely to have been influenced by the information they receive through the internet than older people. Social media provides a critical lens through which we can understand that the place of religious symbols and practices among young Indonesian Muslims in public life becomes more diverse. I argue that the expressions of Islamic symbols and practices among Muslims are not only socially constructed, but linked to the new relationship available in social media. This new phenomenon has given more chance to a number of Muslim clerics (e.g., ustads, kyai and habib) to approach young Muslims to get involved in their social media groups available through Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. I found several cases that young Muslims from traditionalist background have turned out to be more Islamist as they adopt ‘new’ interpretations of Islam from certain SNS to which they are registered as members. While their parents, who mostly stay offline, are traditionalist in the sense that they tend to preserve traditional values as found in Islamic scriptures, the children have become reformist in the way that they aim to purify local Islamic practices of their parents according to the original source of Islam. This digital divides lead to the creation of Islamic divides between the young and the older people within the Muslim community in Indonesia.  Driven by this concern, I will raise several questions as follows: How do providers of social networking sites try to attract young Muslims to register online? Which strategy do they explore to spread their interpretation of Islam among Indonesian Muslims, and who do not use social media or who have limited access to them? Overall, this paper will trace the problems of Islamic and digital divides among Indonesian Muslims between internet users and non-users with less personal experience online.