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Laila, a recent convert to Islam, is a single American woman in her fifties. The small town where she lives has few Muslims and the nearest mosque is several miles away. Laila wears full Islamic dress and also covers her face in public. The stares and comments she gets do not bother her (Laila considers these moments ideal for educating others about Islam), but it has been lonely at times living so far away from other Muslims.

This lonely feeling has lessened within the past few months since a visit to her daughter's home introduced Laila to the Internet and an on-line community of Muslims which she never knew existed. As part of the generation which did not grow up during the computer revolution, Laila had always been intimidated by computers and did not imagine that the Internet had any relevance to her life. One look at the Islamic Courtyard (an on-line index of Islamic resources on the Web), however, changed her mind forever as she realized what a powerful catalyst the Internet is in the exchange of information and ideas. With the recent purchase of her own computer, Laila has been able to communicate with Muslims from all over the world and expand her understanding of Islam - all from the comfort of her living room. Though she once considered moving to a larger city in order to find friends with common interests, Laila now thinks she will stay put for the time being. "It is not an easy thing to move at my age," she explains.

Laila has discovered what so many others are also discovering - that access to the Internet makes you an instant member of the global community regardless of your real-life situation. Muslims have benefitted nicely from the fruits of the Internet as it has become possible to provide and receive Islamic education with ease, reducing the need to search for and purchase books and magazines (which are often expensive) for Islamic advice and information.

Muslim women in particular are coming together on the Internet and creating a cyber-sisterhood unimaginable just five years ago. Some women, like Laila, live in isolated areas and do not often get the opportunity to socialize with their sisters in deen (religion). Many of them are new to Islam and need a neutral place to go for support and basic information. Sisters everywhere from the US to Japan are networking to provide one another with encouragement and resources in areas as diverse as infertility, wearing the niqab (face veil) with confidence and finding the best Islamic websites for children. They are studying together, discussing together, and generally using the Internet to make their voices heard in a society which has often been too quick to judge what it means to be a Muslim woman.

Indeed, one of the major benefits of the Internet for Muslim women is the opportunity to share their views of Islam and explain why they are proud to be Muslims! Many women have made their own websites and thus opened up a world of information to curious non-Muslims who may have not have previously had a glimpse into the Islamic lifestyle from the "inside." As Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion in the West and in the US in particular, the Internet is certain to play an ever-expanding role in peoples' decisions to convert. At the minimum, many wrong ideas about Islam have been refuted on the Internet, and people are beginning to realize that Islam does not reject the use of modern technology such as the computer.

Though Muslim women are not required to support themselves (their husbands or fathers must provide for their food, clothing and shelter), Muslim women who do work consider the Internet indispensable in that it allows them to work from home in a variety of fields, something which is also gaining popularity in the larger society. In addition, women who enjoy shopping from home are especially happy to see hard-to-find Islamic clothing and other products for sale on-line.

Clearly, the Internet is a very powerful tool with unlimited potential in so many vital areas. As the whole of society continues to explore this unique resource, Muslim women are sure to do the same in order to fortify their presence on the Web and create an even stronger voice for themselves in the process.

Originally published at Suite101.com