This is a guest post by Dilshad D. Ali.
It’s been more than a week since the Cairo editors of IslamOnline.net, the popular Muslim news website and Islam portal, were effectively locked out of the site’s servers and had their passwords suddenly changed by the Qatar Board of Directors funding the site. In what became a widely reported clash of the Qatari board wanting the content and tone of the site to become more conservative versus the moderate voice of Islam Online and its reputation for covering diverse and often avoided topics, Muslim journalists worldwide sounded the alarm, crying that an important, well-established voice on Muslim news and gateway for thoughtful, balanced, and sourced Islamic guidance on all aspects of life was being silenced.
More than 200 of the 330 Cairo editors immediately tendered their resignation in protest of the lockdown last Monday and went on strike in the Cairo offices. They pleaded with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian-born cleric living in Qatar who founded Islam Online in 1997, to intervene. More than 48 hours into the strike, Sheikh Qaradawi, who was in Saudi Arabia when the site was locked down, succeeded in having two of the Qatari directors (who many Islam Online editors felt were behind the push to turn the site into a conservative religious voice) sacked. My colleagues in Cairo said there was a flicker of hope at that point.
But tonight I received an email from an Islam Online editor (friend, and colleague), that has more or less stomped out that flicker. I’ve been told that Sheikh Qaradawi has been removed from his post on the NGO that funds Islam Online by the Qatar government. Without the support of Sheikh Qaradawi, the future of Islam Online is bleak, if not done. My colleague said that the Islam Online editors are still fighting to defend IOL content and direction, but we have to wonder how IslamOnline can recover from this blow.
It’s hard to come up with the words to describe this news, and I’ve been writing, reporting, and editing for nearly 15 years. I can’t imagine what the editors who have been with the site for years, if not since the beginning, who have worked fulltime, overtime, and who have dedicated their professional lives to shaping and developing this site, must be feeling.
If there’s anything positive to report at this point, it’s the outpouring of support that Islam Online has received the past week and a half from numerous other media outlets. As a contracted correspondent for Islam Online here in the U.S. I received emails of support for the site and offers of help from altmuslim.com, altmuslimah.com, Islamicity.com, Illumemag.com and others. The Muslimah Writers Alliance and International Federation of Journalists both issued statements in support of Islam Online and the Cairo editors and their employees around the world.
I only hope these sites and associations can help the talented editors and journalists of Islam Online find a way to preserve and produce the work of the site or a new outlet for their content.
In addition to her work at Islam Online, Dilshad D. Ali is a writer and former editor for Beliefnet.com. This is the second post in a series of posts about the coup at Islam Online; see here and here for the previous entries.