Muslims are taking to the internet and various social media outlets in increasing numbers. Some burn with zeal to use these tools to elevate the Word of Allāh. May He reward them and guide them. Herewith some words as a reminder which may be of benefit, Allāh Willing.
عن حفص بن عاصم قال : قال رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – : كفى بالمرء كذبا أن يحدث بكل ما سمع
Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “It is sufficient lie for a man to narrate whatever he has heard.” [Muslim]
Perhaps one of the most negative effects social media has had on Muslim character is the elimination of the injunction to verify before passing on information. Our pious predecessors were extremely cautious in what they uttered, especially if it concerned religious matters.
Social media has made it possible to transmit information to many people in seconds. These people then transmit in turn, sometimes not even reading the statement in full. False information can compound and reach multitudes in seconds. Such rapid transmission without pausing for verification will inevitably include a deliberate lie from the dishonest and even errors from the sincere.
Each person who has transmitted false information, is responsible for the lie, a most heinous sin in Islām. Retractions are not as sensational as the original message and often fails to erase the false news. Any false news is a crime. It is even worse if the reputation of an innocent has been sullied. Consider the weight of transmitting a lie against Allāh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) which many do with a click of a button. Ask why we narrate all that we hear and see. Is our ego so fragile that it needs such an ethereal ego boost (“I sent this information out first! I know something that you do not!”) Is our carelessness in transmission without verification and our selfish egotism worth the reckoning we might face in the Divine Court?
عن سماك بن حرب، قال: “قلت لجابر بن سمرة: أكنت تجالس النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ قال: نعم كان طويل الصمت، قليل الضحك، وكان أصحابه ربما تناشدوا عنده الشعر والشيء من أمورهم، فيضحكون، وربما يتبسم
Jābir bin Samurah (رضي الله عنه) narrated, “He [the Prophet] (صلى الله عليه و سلم) would observe lengthy silence and not much laughter. Sometimes his companions would recite poetry amongst each other in his presence and talk about their [worldly] matters and laugh. He would merely smile at times.” [ʾAḥmad]
We are his followers. Learn to observe silence. Every one of the millions of tweets do not require a response. Engaging in every frivolous and/or false statement is a waste of time, a detriment to one’s spirituality, a disturbance to mental serenity and most importantly – it is not the way of Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم).
3. If we must act, think first!
“إِنَّ فِيكَ خَصْلَتَيْنِ يُحِبُّهُمَا اللَّهُ.. الْحِلْمُ وَالأَنَاةُ”
ʾIbn ʿAbbās (رضي الله عنه) narrated that Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said to ʾAshajj, “There are indeed two such qualities within you which Allāh loves – forbearance and pausing before acting.” [Muslim]
Not only are we not obligated to reply to every issue in nano seconds, be it in the real or cyber worlds. The unseemly haste we display in clicking off a response is contrary to the spirit of the Sunnah. Logically we can understand the greater probability of errors and inappropriate words which can stem from haste. Reflection before composing a statement can save one from much regret.
4. Balance between Activism & Spirituality
أنس بن مالك رضي الله عنه يقول جاء ثلاثة رهط إلى بيوت أزواج النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يسألون عن عبادة النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فلما أخبروا كأنهم تقالوها فقالوا وأين نحن من النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قد غفر له ما تقدم من ذنبه وما تأخر قال أحدهم أما أنا فإني أصلي الليل أبدا وقال آخر أنا أصوم الدهر ولا أفطر وقال آخر أنا أعتزل النساء فلا أتزوج أبدا فجاء رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إليهم فقال أنتم الذين قلتم كذا وكذا أما والله إني لأخشاكم لله وأتقاكم له لكني أصوم وأفطر وأصلي وأرقد وأتزوج النساء فمن رغب عن سنتي فليس مني
ʾAnas narrated that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “…By Allāh! I am the most fearful amongst you of Allāh, and the most regardful of Him. Yet I fast and do not fast. I pray and I sleep. I marry women. So he who is averse to my way is not of me.” [ʾal-Bukhārī]
Building on the previous point of silence is to balance one’s activities. The Sunnah is to be balanced. A break is needed to fulfil the rights of others, one’s own body and mind and very importantly, to refresh oneself spiritually. Non-stop cyber combat and surfing is a call for hardening of the heart however good your intention may be. Cyber missionary work is no substitute the food of the soul, such as recitation of the Qurʾān, remembrance of Allāh etc.
عن أمير المؤمنين أبي حفص عمر بن الخطاب رضي الله تعالى عنه قال: سمعت رسول الله صلى الله تعالى عليه وعلى آله وسلم يقول: «إنما الأعمال بالنيات
ʿUmar (رضي الله عنه) narrated that he heard Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) saying, “Verily actions are according to intentions…” [ʾal-Bukhārī & Muslim]
Traditionally rectification of intention is often addressed first when giving advice. However, I am not addressing those who already start off with incorrect intentions. Why should such folk heed me? Frankly I do not respect scholars whose profile pictures are carefully crafted poses of themselves. One does need to be able to read hearts to see a “tread with caution” sign highlighted over such faces.
My concern is for the sincere cyber Muslim who becomes so engrossed, he does not realise that his intention has become contaminated. Thus intention is not the primary issue to be addressed, for the change comes about subtly and after a period.
The other party has enraged me during cyber combat. Is it really because he insulted my religion, or is it that he insulted me? Do I use your religion or cause as an excuse to blast him back in what is really a personal issue between two cyber toddlers?
Do I feel elated at the amount of reposts and likes my cyber material receives? Do I anxiously wait for these likes and reposts? Am I devastated when nobody gives me a like? Do I monitor my number of followers and friends like an addict? Do I check my social media first thing upon awakening and last thing before closing my eyes? Do I actually moan in public that I have few followers and make a public appeal for people to become my cyber followers?
If any of these points hits a raw nerve then I need a serious period of disengagement from the internet. How sad it will be that all that time was spent on ostensible good, but one is not rewarded. For the reality is that all that effort was for self-glorification, not worship of Allāh.
6. Truth vs Sensationalism
من حديث كعب بن مالك الأنصاري رضي الله عنه: عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلـم قال: «مَا ذِئْبَانِ جَائِعَانِ أُرْسِلَا فِي غَنَمٍ، بِأَفْسَدَ لَهَا مِنْ حِرْصِ الْمَرْءِ عَلَى الْمَالِ وَالشَّرَفِ لِدِينِهِ
Kaʿb bin Māik (رضي الله عنه) narrated that Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) said, “Two hungry wolves let loose amongst goats are not as damaging as a man’s greed for wealth and status [damages] his religion.” [ʾAḥmad]
Presentation is important, but deliberate sensationalism is a conspicuous sign of insincerity and greed for name and fame. This should be obvious under the topic of intention, but the pervasive of sensationalism on social media warrants a separate mention. Ostentation is a disease which takes hold of the heart in subtle ways and destroys our rewards which we would have received in the next world. It infects both laymen and scholars.
An American scholar impressed me with the depths of his knowledge and level of service unto people. However, I started to notice him increasingly give in to promoting sensational unsubstantiated statements which he refused to retract. Ẓul Qarnayn went to Norway! Allāh have mercy. I felt it better to disengage from him.
7. Beware of Your Company
قال : سمعت رسول الله – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يقول : الوحدة خير من جليس السوء والجليس الصالح خير من الوحدة
ʾAbū Ẓarr (رضي الله عنه) narrated that he heard Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) saying, “Solitude is better than a companion of evil. A good companion is better than solitude.” [ʾal-Bayhaqī]
Those whom we interact with in the cyber world will affect us in outlook and spiritual development. It will also affect our other cyber companions who will get linked up to others through us. “Retweets are not an endorsement” is one of the emptiest statements ever coined. Why then did I transmit this statement? What mental condition is this that I broadcast without a stated reason? Why did I give it publicity? Has the Ḥadīth not warned me about narrating all that I hear? Why have I promoted this person amongst my companions? Have I considered that perhaps it is I who have become the companion of evil in this instance?
Then there is the issue of companions of the opposite sex. So many Muslim cyber warriors engage flirtatiously with the opposite sex on these public forums. What you do in your private space is between you and your Creator, but how shameless must you be to entice Muslims with religious content and then flirt on the same platform? If you are really going to engage in both cyber promotion of faith and less wholesome broadcasts, at least have the decency to have different platforms for them and not rub it in our faces.
The Cyber warrior must also assume responsibility for the profile pictures he retweets or replies to. I was so disappointed to be following a discussion on Ḥadīth, history and the like, when suddenly the same person replies to a female with a profile picture of herself in her bikini. How many brain cells does one need to understand the disrespect displayed to the sacred texts just quoted on the same page?
As for the sisters, why do they have to splash their faces for every stranger to ogle at? Do they not aspire to be like ʾUmm Khallād? She came running to Allāh’s Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) when her son was killed. The men were surprised that she was covering her face despite her clear distressed state. She replied, “I may have lost my son. I shall never lose my modesty.” [ʾAbū Dāwūd]
8. Address Issues not Personalities
عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: كان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا بلغه عن الرجل شيء لم يقل: ما بالُ فلانٍ يقول؟ ولكن يقول: ما بالُ أقوامٍ يقولون كذا وكذا رواه أبو داود
Our Mother ʿĀʾishah (رضي الله عنها) narrated, that when the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) heard something [untoward] about a person he would not say, “What is the state of that [specific] person that he says that?” Instead he would say, “What is wrong with people that they say such things?” [ʾAbū Dāwūd]
Personalising issues detracts from the central issue and degenerates the discussion into a mud slinging match. Is there a need to even mention the name of the opponent? Are we promoting truth versus falsehood, or is it an ego contest under the cover of promoting Islām? We all have our deficiencies. It is highly immature to target the personal defects of the other party, rather than the topic of discussion. In so doing, we invite personal attacks on our own reputation which we have intentionally or not tied to the reputation of Islām. Thus Islām becomes sullied due to our childish behaviour.
وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ
Do not revile those whom they call upon besides Allāh, for then they will revile Allāh in enmity without knowledge. [ʾal-ʾAnʿām:108]
That being said, I have diverted from this principle when I felt that there was a need. This has been the exception, not the rule in my case. For example, I mentioned Yasir Qadhi when he saw fit to tour my country to preach his heretical doctrine that the incorrect beliefs of the Shīʿah are no greater wrong than the sin of a Muslim, they remain our brothers. The heresy which he preached is not the belief of a general body of people, but an idiocy of a specific public figure. Hence, I felt that the Sunnah of not naming people does not apply in this case. Previously I had shown the deviant, Imraan Hosein, the courtesy of this Sunnah, but I now believe that that was an error on my side. He too is a specific public figure who campaigns against the sanctity of Muslim blood and the orthodoxy of our sacred beliefs. His crimes are not personal sins which should be concealed.
9. Choose your Role Model
لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِي رَسُولِ اللَّهِ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ
There is indeed for you in Allāh’s Messenger an excellent paragon [ʾal-ʾAḥzāb:21]
We do not live in bubbles of isolation. One way or another we consciously or subconsciously accept the influence of others. If we do not consciously model ourselves on Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم), others will fill the void and lead the way in the way in which we behave, and more importantly, the way we think.
The wise and beautiful ways of Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم), does not seem to have the status it deserves amongst the cyber ʾUmmah. Currently it seems as if the more course, derogatory and narrow minded a cyber Muslim is, the greater his following will be in certain quarters. This group seems to find ecstasy in childish abuse of others and influence others to behave the same. Not only can I not imagine Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) behaving the way they do, but some are shamelessly deceptive and conniving. A certain hard-line Salafī will happily portray himself as a champion of the Ahlus Sunnah and bask in the attention he receives from all schools, yet his writing shows possible greater venom against Sunnīs who adhere to Taqlīd, than against the Shīʿah whom he supposedly combats. They only respond to likes and praises. When one questions their shallow arguments against fellow Sunnīs they react with the only response a person without knowledge is capable of…. Blocking, which leads me to my next point.
10. Consult the Learned
وَفَوْقَ كُلِّ ذِي عِلْمٍ عَلِيمٌ
Above every person of knowledge is one [greater] in knowledge. [Yūsuf: 76]
As accomplished as one may be, a certain field may not be yours to comment on. Even if one has a certain grasp of a subject, it is dangerous to comment with limited knowledge and insufficient overview of the religious sciences and facts. Instead of offering an unsubstantiated opinion on every matter, rather consult the learned and continuously tread the path of learning.
Some cyber Muslims had a good laugh at a Salafī fatwā on camel urine. While the perspective of the Cyber warriors is certainly backed by strong juristic views, there are also contrary views from great classical giants of Islām, who are not part of the Salafī tradition. By going on a mocking rampage, such enthusiasts with limited knowledge, actually mock ʾAʾimmah of Islām, and indirectly mock the Ḥadīth from which these scholars drew their rulings.
Our ʾAʾimmah were noted for saying, “I do not know.” In particular, ʾImam Mālik, was noted for such humility. How fortunate we would be to have but one percent of his humility.
11. The ʾUmmah is Global, Circumstances are Local
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا بِلِسَانِ قَوْمِهِ لِيُبَيِّنَ لَهُمْ
And We have not sent a messenger except with the tongue of his own people to clarify for them. [ʾIbrāhīm: 4]
As universal as Islām is in its message, and as much as the world has become a global village, Islām has never imposed a single megalithic system over all adherents in regards secondary non-categorical rulings. It is most unseemly that we sit at our technological interface of choice and judge Muslims from far off lands based on our culture, mores, school, circumstances and understanding. Pause before judging. If you feel it is any of your business, then find out their rationale. Their actions may in fact be within the ambit of Islām, while our judgemental dogmatism may be at fault.