Towards Protecting Children in Cyberspace

AUTHOR

Mohamed Begg
PhD. Researcher/Lecturer
De Montfort University
The Gateway
LEICESTER.

Prof. Simon Rogerson
Director, Centre for Computing & Social Responsibility,
De Montfort University
LEICESTER.

Dr. Ben Fairweather
De Montfort University
LEICESTER.

ABSTRACT

This research paper has been initiated as a result of discussions with several Muslim parents in the city of Leicester, United Kingdom as part of PhD. research undertaken at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Monfort University, Leicester. While some aspects of this paper refer to specific issues raised by Muslim parents, this research equally takes into account concerns raised by all parents regardless of their religious beliefs, country of origin and cultural diversity.

We are constantly and increasingly being made aware of the process of assimilation of communication technologies into mainstream society. Advertising billboards give details of web addresses: television programmes invite viewers to engage interactively with the actors via email or web sites on the internet. The huge push to integrate computers into the schools’ curriculum has been carefully planned within the National Grid for Learning and it is proceeding at a very rapid pace.

The onward march of increasing technical sophistication confronts parents and particularly Muslim parents, majority of whom are not ICT literate, with a situation where their children are utilising computer mediated communication in school – and in many cases in their own homes – often without parental supervision or guidance. Because parents (including Muslim Parents) have not been informed about exactly what it is that they are supposed to supervise, or how to respond to their children’s questions about on-line safety, parents instead appear to have been consigned to the peripheries of this onward rush. Many parents in effect find themselves disconnected or set adrift from the process. Others who do not have computer skills also feel ill-prepared to embark on the process of educating their children about on-line suitability and safety.

The dilemma is even worse for Muslim parents as mentioned earlier, as majority of them do not have computer skills themselves, and they also carry the additional obligation to ensure that all the main moral codes according to the Islamic faith are being upheld within the family and development of children. They have to ensure that education of children (which is a paramount requirement according to Islamic faith) is not being corrupted by some of the morally questionable applications of the new technologies like pornography, hate web sites or chat lines leading to deteriorating standard of language being exchanged or contact with paedophiles on the Internet and violent computer games some of which can be down loaded. Human images particularly uncovered, are strictly prohibited in Islam and there are very strict guidelines on man – woman relationships clearly outlined in Al- Qur’an and Hadith – Sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad (s.w.s). Naked displays and relationships outside marriage carry a heavy penalty according to Islamic laws and their punishment in the hereafter is mentioned in Al-Qur’an as much more severe.

Parents and especially Muslim parents concern about how parents can protect their children from such exposures has been an important reason behind the reluctance of the Saudi Arabian government to allow free access to the Internet to the general public in the Saudi Kingdom. Indeed a limited access since November, 1998 that is being provided, is filtered through a main filter program in the capital Riyadh. Most of the resistance against the Internet has been from the Imams and Islamic scholars whose influence spreads to Muslim communities across the world.

Muslims and Muslim parents have, however, not shown a totally negative response to the technological developments. Indeed some see it as a great opportunity that so much Islamic information is now available to children and adults through the internet to the extent that some people across the globe have actually embraced Islam as their faith purely through information they found on the Islamic web sites on the internet. In addition to this there are several computer programs now available through which children can teach themselves Arabic, Islamic studies and other relevant Islamic rituals.

The responsibilities of the parent in the Information Society have therefore been multiplied in the last ten years when guiding children and young people had already been an uphill task for many parents. While filtering information on the Internet may be one way to tackle the problem, this by itself is not enough. The concerns and demands of parents including Muslim parents go much further than simple filtering programs. Some sociologists and researchers are beginning to provide some guide lines to parents and children. This research is still in its early stages and is always likely to trail behind the actual speed with which technology is advancing.

This paper will highlight some of the main issues surrounding children and parents in the use of new technologies and provide solutions where possible to both Muslim and non-Muslim parents. The following main areas will be covered:

  • Recommended Islamic approach to safe use of ICT at home.
  • Recognising and avoiding the internet’s hidden dangers.
  • Supervising your child’s Internet access when you are not there.
  • Spot dangerous junk mail, scams, and inappropriate chat rooms
  • Use filters, bookmarks and other technologies to screen content.
  • Set up rules for Internet behaviour for both you and your child.
  • Handle any serious problems, particularly if your child is the culprit.

It is expected that this paper will go some way in easing the anxieties of both Muslim and Non-Muslim parents in the new Information Society.

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