Islam Bergerak: An Exploration

Text version of the presentation "Islam Bergerak: An Exploration"

This is the text version of my presentation "Islam Bergerak: An Exploration", held on the 17th of January, 2017, in the course "Media in Southeast Asia: Engaged and Engaging". In the presentation, I outlined my approach in trying to find an apt categorization and description for the website Islam Bergerak. It just dealt with the website Islam Bergerak just as much as it did with methodological considerations pertaining to analyzing and especially categorizing media on the Internet.

To approach a website, the first step is surely to look at its name: Islam Bergerak means Islam in Motion, while bergerak (in motion) carries a connotation of activism. A general impression about the topics (interpretations of Islam or Islamic perspectives on given issues) discussed on the website and the political leanings of the authors can already been made from this. Upon opening the website, one first sees the website's header and logo, which combines the Islamic cresent moon with the raised fist often used to symbolize the workers' movement. The header is colored in bright red, which might either be interpreted as another hint at the workers' movement or as a sign of relatedness to Indonesian nationalism since it, combined with the white background of the page's contents, forms the red-white color combination of the Indonesian flag (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Islam Bergerak's home page

Islam Bergerak's website runs on Wordpress, which was originally developed for blogging, but is by now used by a large number of websites unrelated to blogging. While the contents are clearly text-based, a categorization as a blog is problematic (see below).

A second step might then be to search for an "About" page, which however does not exist in the case of Islam Bergerak. Aside from their main website, a Facebook page has been created for Islam Bergerak on which the following, rather vague, self-description can be found: "Media pembangunan gerakan sosial Islam yang membebaskan" (Media of awakening of/for a social movement for a liberating Islam).

Given that information about the page can thus be described as rare and that coming to a categorization and description is more relevant to this presentation than an in-depth qualitative analysis, a quantitative analysis of the website's contents was conducted. To start with, a Python script was written to scrap the page for every single article's link and download the article in full text. The downloaded web pages were then parsed to JSON format, to remove unnecessary code and store the relevant data in an easily maschine readable format.^[1] Using the data thus retrieved, basic statistical analysis was conducted.

Since February 2014, when the first available article was posted, until mid-January 2017, 147 articles have been posted. Out of these, 37 were marked as having been published in 2014, 64 in 2015, and 47 in 2016 (Fig. 2), which means that there is a relatively steady number of publications per year. Compared to (online) newspapers, this number is certainly low, so that a categorization as that can be ruled out. Furthermore, articles on Islam Bergerak only rarely discuss news - and if they do, they usually employ current events for introducing larger theoretical debates.

Fig. 2: Articles per year

Sorting the articles by month (regardless of the year) reveals that there are lows in the rate of articles published in the months between June and September and in January, in each of less than 10 articles have been published. While the low in January might partly be explained by the earliest article on the website having been published in February 2014 (say, that the sample only includes the January twice while all other months are included in the sample thrice), the low between June and September is harder to explain. It might be linked to Ramadan and the surrounding festivities, but this could only be confirmed for sure using further qualitative analyses and interviews with the team of the site (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Articles by month

Much speaks for categorizing Islam Bergerak as an online magazine. First, while there are some regular authors with up to 12 articles published under their name, 27 articles have been published using an editorial team account and only 9 out of 66 identified authors have published more than two aricles.

Additionally, the articles' length supports such categorization. The average word count of articles published on the website is 2029 (Fig. 4). A comparative analysis of the online articles section of Dissent magazine, a left-leaning intellectual magazine published in the US since the 1950s, reveals that this is indeed comparable to the websites of established magazines: the average word count at Dissent magazine's online articles section is 1769.81 at 855 articles (Fig. 5).

Fig. 4: Articles on Islam Bergerak by length (rounded to steps of 500)
Fig. 5: Articles from the online articles section of Dissent magazine by length (rounded to steps of 500)

To get a more general impression of the contents, a word cloud was finally generated using the program word_cloud (Fig. 6). Again, the topics of Islam and social justice feature most prominently. Special keywords are those related to the Soekarno era (which often relate to articles on the events of 1965/66) and NU, Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization of Indonesia and world wide.

Fig. 6: Word cloud generated from the articles on Islam Bergerak


  1. [The scripts used for this can be found on GitHub.]