Bunt, a lecturer in Islamic studies at University of Wales, has spent long hours in front of the computer screen (not much leg-work needed here!) and creatively analyzed the phenomenon of Islam online. The really new feature he finds is that anyone with access to the necessary technical equipment can set himself up as an authority on Islam, something radically at odds with the experience of centuries of Muslim history, when only those with credentials could do this. This helps explain why the Belfast Islamic Center1 has such a major presence online and the Muslim World League2 does not. Alarm bells have gone off in some quarters, dismayed that "basically anyone" can hand out advice or issues fatwas that are "dangerously" lacking in scholarly wisdom.

Bunt is alert to the subtleties of the Internet: listening to the Qur'an from a remote site is all well and good, but what happens when the inevitable break in transmission occurs? This can mean a "broken" prayer and therefore an invalid one. Muslim chat rooms he sees as the possible beginnings of a "global umma[community of the faithful]." Most Islamic sites are open to competing points of view, but not to all: Muslims Online, for example, specifically excludes those whose Islamic credentials it rejects, such as Submitters, Ahmadis, and the Nation of Islam.

But perhaps Bunt's most important conclusion is a not wholly surprising one: the "pervasive influence" that Islamists (or what he calls neo-Wahhabis) have established in this medium. Extremely radical and aggressive sites abound, pushing themes that would otherwise find it difficult to get out. (Al-Muhajiroun in Great Britain, for example, advocate bonding Muslims living in Western countries with Islamic governments to "create an unbeatable bond" that will lead to "world-wide Islamic revolution.") In contrast, he finds that "few sources" can be found dealing with Islamic philosophy. This reflects the fervor and dominance of Islamists over the Internet, as well as the concomitant weakness of moderate Islam.

1 http://www.muslimsonline.com/bicnews
2 http://www.mwl.org.sa