Archiving British Muslim Digital Spaces

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It is often said colloquially that when something is posted online, it becomes permanent – a fixed record that is always there to be referred back to. This can be seen especially in cases where people’s social media posts – often posted in the naivety of youth – are dredged up years later and used against that person.

What seems to be discussed less is the temporary nature of online content. Many of us will be familiar with the annoying feeling of having read an article or tweet some time ago, and then struggling to find it when we need it. There are also countless websites and platforms which were once popular that have since vanished into the ethereal digital realm. 

One of the key methods the team have been working on for the Digital British Islam project is developing an archive of websites that gives a snapshot of the online British Muslim spaces during the project period (2022-2025). The aim is to produce a library of webpages that communities, organisations, policy makers, researchers, and other interested parties can refer to many years from now – to capture what might fade from the online sphere in years to come – and to give a picture of British Muslim digital spaces during this time. 

What is the Digital British Islam Archive?

The online world is vast, ever-changing and impossible to document comprehensively. Our archive then, is inevitably partial and reflects a series of decisions we have made throughout the process. While we have captured over 300 websites, there are many more that could have been included. Here, I outline some of our decisions about the scope of our collection.

The ESRC-funded project has three key themes: gender, religious authority and politics. In our approach to archiving, we have prioritised civil society groups – such as mosques, umbrella organisations (like the Muslim Council of Britain) and campaign groups – over commercial organisations, as these fit better within the scope of the project. However, in surveying the digital Muslim landscape, I have observed a vast and growing Muslim commercial sphere online (Islamic fashion, gifts, books etc.) that other projects could explore further. There is also a plethora of humanitarian and charitable organisations which our archive only explores partially.

Additionally, we have focused our efforts on websites led by British Muslims or those aimed largely at a UK audience as well as those with a clearly ‘Islamic’ focus. This has been stated by the websites explicitly or implied by their content. Of course, the content British Muslims engage with is much broader than this – Muslims are not just contributing to and consuming Muslim-led platforms and the internet is geographically diffuse meaning people in the UK engage with content from across the world. However, we have focused on UK-based and ‘Islamic/Muslim’ sites as this is more aligned with our project focus and the exploration of ‘cyber Islamic environments’. 

Finally, it is important to note that our archive only captures websites and not the vast array of social media content produced and consumed by Muslims. While other archives do collect such data, we made the ethically cautious decision to avoid this. We were aware of the way in which historical social media posts can and have been used against Muslims jeopardising their reputation or standing[1]. As well as issues around individual privacy and restricted access to social media platforms and accounts, we wanted to reduce potential negative impacts of the archive on British Muslims so have not included social media content. We also avoided capturing Muslim match-making websites due to ethical concerns around the personal data of individuals using such services. The project has gone through rigorous ethical protocols. A discussion of the methodological processes of archiving will feature in further articles on this website.

The Value of Archiving

While inevitably partial, our archive gives a snapshot of British Muslim digital activity online from 2022-2025. It captures websites from British Muslim organisations and individuals rather than social media data (for the ethical reasons discussed) and displays the web-based output of these groups/people. It is a work in progress and may expand to include categories covering topical issues and online debates relevant to British Muslims during the course of the project.

The archive will be of value to researchers interested in British Muslims, religion online, and Muslims and the internet. It will be of use to historians and others wishing to understand the digital Islamic landscape during the project period. This includes Muslim organisations, media outlets, and teachers. It also provides insights into how organisations and individuals portray themselves and function online. I have already started to observe differences between the online appearance of Muslim groups and their day-to-day functioning in the ‘real’ world, for example, cases where websites do not give a full picture of the broad range of events and services such groups offer. Importantly, we hope the archive will be a valuable resource for Muslim groups and other observers in providing examples of best practice and demonstrating how websites can be used innovatively for improved promotion and communication of their work. The first segment of archived content will be placed online via the Digital British Islam website later this year.  

[1] For example, Shaima Dallali, former NUS president who was sacked in 2022 over tweets deemed antisemitic.