, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 283-309

Islam offline—living ‘The message’ behind the screens

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Abstract

This article is an ethnographic account of the Social Section of Arabic language Islam Online. It focuses on what Krüger has called the ‘hidden knowledge’ of religious websites. Drawing on longitudinal fieldwork in the Islam Online offices in Cairo, Egypt, this article brings forth and analyzes rich data about Islam Online employees’ work practices and meaning-making activities. Drawing on an organizational ethnographic approach, this article highlights new aspects of this influential Islamic website. More specifically, the author employs Linde’s concept of an ‘institutional narrative’ to conceptualize and analyze the strong institutional identity and corporate values that are in play in everyday work practices. Focusing on key tropes such as ‘the message’, ‘professional’, ‘pluralistic’, and ‘pioneers’, the article demonstrates how Islam Online’s Islamist institutional narrative includes a creation story and set of organizational values that play out in the execution of work tasks. Moreover, the author argues that the objective of the emic concept of “the message” is to contribute to both self- and societal-reform in the Arab world, and that Islam Online’s own work environment represents a micro-cosmos of this ideal.