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How a Muslim Tech Fest plays a role in decolonising the tech industry

June 28, 2024 at 1:56 pm

Muslim Tech Fest [Twitter/@Arf_22]

The Muslim Tech Fest held recently in London was actively inspired by the desire to showcase Muslim talent within the tech industry. Given the emphasis on human rights and altruistic causes at the heart of the event, it is notable to understand how it plays a strong role in decolonising the tech industry.

First launched in 2023 as a conference celebrating Muslims in the tech industry as a natural extension of previous similar but smaller initiatives, namely the Muslamic Makers community, which started in 2016 as a small event that discussed issues in tech for Muslim audiences. The Muslamic Makers community soon grew to become a vibrant community with three different chapters in London, Manchester and West Yorkshire.

With the goal of bringing together around seven years of consistent community building and inspiring future generations of Muslims in the industry, the first MTF took place in London. It saw around 400 attendees which led to subsequent collaborations and growth of companies by the attendees of the event. Eventually, the second iteration of the event took place in June 2024 on a larger scale with around 1,000 people attending from across Europe and the US with several talks and exhibitions taking place as well. This event plays a role in reclaiming the sector from colonial powers.

Colonialism has long been understood to be in the physical domain alone. Now, however, with the rise of technological advancement, big tech companies have also joined the tag of colonisers given the extreme amount of data extraction taking place as well as the reliance on Global South networks for cheap labour while making large sums of profits simultaneously. This idea of tech colonialism was illustrated in the aftermath of 7 October 2023 and the resultant Israeli retaliation against Palestine, leading to discussions on the dominance of the Israeli tech industry within the sector.

As scholars have pointed out, Israel is one such perpetrator of digital colonialism in the current age. Its main modus operandi involves testing out defence, policing and surveillance technologies on Palestinian populations to ensure that it is battle ready and then marketing the results to secure buyers across the world. With over 9,200 Israeli startups employing around half a million people and accounting for 20 per cent of the Israeli GDP, tech remains one of the biggest exports of the nation, pervading much of the Western tech ecosystem as well. Against this backdrop, it is quite telling that many workers in tech who have expressed pro-Palestinian opinions have received blowback leading to dismissals in some cases too.

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MTF as an alternate space for expression

The MTF’s growth this year thus helped facilitate some discussions around Palestine although the agenda of the event was broader than just the conflict. Thus, many exhibitions and talks included Islamic FinTech, Islamic art and investments and even apps that worked to deal with poverty, hunger and accessing social services in the UK. Some others also focused on the Palestine issue including a session by the American founder of Boycat, the app helping consumers identify items that are directly profiting off illegal settlements, allowing consumers to choose alternatives instead.

On a broader scale, other sessions focused on changing power dynamics within the tech industry guiding Muslims to engage with new technology ethically, while others looked at understanding the severe biases that exist within Artificial Intelligence technologies. This discussion on AI was also continued by other speakers who discussed the use of AI in facilitating the ongoing atrocities in Palestine.


The MTF event brings to light several important aspects to consider when discussing the idea of decolonisation. In the West today, decolonisation has become a new buzzword in academia. Referring to the idea of taking back control (financially, emotionally and intellectually) from a colonial power, the term has become one among the many empty words that institutions and people use to virtue signal themselves as being on the right side of history and against the oppressors of the time.

This has been accompanied with a disproportionate focus on Diversity, Education and Inclusion also known as DEI, another buzzword that prioritises hiring people from marginalised backgrounds to ensure that they are represented in various fields. However, as the aftermath of 7 October has re-emphasised, people from diverse backgrounds are accepted only as long as they do not oppose the ideologies dictated by the powers that be. In this case, despite a large focus on hiring from different backgrounds, many pro-Palestine supporters were threatened into not speaking up against their companies on the threat of dismissal or other severe consequences.

Against this backdrop, the MTF’s potential to act as a tool of decolonisation is quite clear. With the event run by and for a Muslim audience of many different ethnic and racial backgrounds, the emphasis on human rights, ethics and faith from a non-white, non-liberal and non-conservative background held a powerful promise; to ensure that tech can be used for good.

In such a scenario then, the Muslim Tech Fest serves as a beginner level tool in further shifting the balance of power to an otherwise marginalised community (Muslims are often impoverished and at the receiving end of Islamophobia in Europe and the US from where most of its attendees came from). With other founders working on issues like Islamic FinTech, analysing news bias, creating Muslim marriage apps and several junior to mid-level engineers and software specialists attending the event, the resultant collaborations seemed immense.

In no way was the event a perfect tool that could be used to dismantle all the oppressive structures prevalent in the world – and especially much of the Muslim world – one of the chief focuses of the tech event. However, it is a solid starting point from where the actual act of decolonisation can begin. Certainly, it holds more weight to challenge the hegemonic systems in place within the tech industry than the distraction of DEI initiatives that often provide no space to members of marginalised communities to voice their opinion after they are hired. With the announcement of the San Francisco chapter of the Muslim Tech Fest in September 2024 and the sold out status of the early bird tickets, this event holds much relevance for a large section of the Muslim community in the West. Thus, it remains a potent tool to engage with more powerful actors in the tech industry, given that it doesn’t lose focus of its altruistic underpinnings.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.