Today’s post is something that I have been wanting to write about, but have been putting off for a ridiculously long time. The reason is, it is something that I really don’t want to sound preachy about, but I feel like it will end up coming across that way.
I have been wanting to write about this topic though, because I think it is one of those things that is under-discussed in our communities. Either the internet and all social media is “haraam,” or it is a free, do-whatever-you-want zone, where you can say and post anything that you like. Naturally, I fall somewhere more in the middle of the spectrum.
I think social media can indeed be a useful tool for sharing knowledge, sisterhood, resources and creating meaningful friendships. I also think there needs to be a bit more of a discussion on what the actual etiquettes of social media are, that a Muslim should be keeping in mind when logging on.
I am definitely coming at this from a place of experience—when I first converted it took me around a year and a half to decide that I needed to make some shifts in the way I was using social media.
The biggest thing that I want to emphasise is privacy. I have always kept a tight friends list on Facebook (never gone above 50 or so at any given time, hooray!), but it was actually only a couple of months ago that I began to really phase out anyone that isn’t beneficial to me on my list.
This definitely included getting rid of many of my male friends. I had lost contact with most of my pre-Islam male friends ages ago, but for some reason I had just kept them all lingering around my Facebook friends list. So I began slowly cutting people out: non-Muslim friends that I did not feel were very beneficial, even some Muslim sisters that I knew were just there to check out what’s going on in my life, and any non-mahram men.
Since I began blogging, my friends list has grown again, but I have made sure to keep it sisters-only, and if I find that someone is posting things that I don’t find beneficial or that make me unhappy in some way, I make sure to unfollow their posts.
That is another point that really needs to be made where social media is concerned: it should be positive. If you have people that you follow that make you feel blehhh, you don’t need to follow those people! Unfollow, unfriend, block, whatever you have to do to make sure you are not feeling negativity every time you open your computer.
I also keep my profiles very private. My blog, of course, is public. But my personal Facebook profile has all of the highest privacy settings, and my Google+ profile is only for the blog. Just like I don’t like it when random people stare at me outside, and I cover my body to the extent that is necessary to avoid that, why would I then let millions of people access me, my photos, and my information online? Not that I even have much information on my profile except that I am a Muslim and I am married…but you get the point!
This brings me to something that I think is one of the most important issues in social media, Islamically speaking: interactions with other people.
I have had to train myself very, very hard to not be one of those “keyboard warriors.” Just the other day I saw the perfect example of this: a friend of mine shared some post by a Muslim man that began with the statement, “Muslim men are perverts.” It went on to talk about many of the inappropriate things Muslim men do, many of which I have never personally experienced so I can’t speak to. I, in general, didn’t really jive with the post all that much, but, being stupid-ol’ me I headed down to the comments after reading it. When, oh when, will I learn my lesson about the comments section?!
One guy comes on quoting the ayah about not calling one another with disrespectful or rude names (he was taking issue with the whole “Muslim men are perverts” statement, which I think he was right to do). In a second comment, however, he went on to rail at the guy who posted it as a “munafiq.” Bro, you literally made the best point ever, don’t call your brothers by distasteful names, and then went and did the exact same thing and then some!
Anyhow, instead of literally smacking my head, I took this as my example for why I no longer argue on the internet. I will discuss facts, I will talk about different feelings and perspectives, but the second I see that someone is just there to argue and shove their belief in my face, I’m out.
Because, as he said in his first, well made point, believers should not call each other disrespectful names. Whether we are on the internet or in person, we need to learn to think before we speak.
Would you tell that sister to her face that she would do better to just take her hijab off? No? So then why are you commenting that on her picture?
Would you shout your so-called “advice” to someone about their music choices over a loudspeaker at the masjid? No? Well then why are you posting it all over their Facebook wall?
The same manners, kindness, and respect that we as Muslims are commanded to show one another and the world at large desperately need to be applied to the online sphere. Especially online, anyone can see the way you are treating people; it is both good manners and good dawah to speak kindly and be pleasant towards others.
And I think that the hayaa (modesty) that is key in our faith needs to extend that far as well.
I think many of us forget that the online world, or even the world of Whatsapp and text messaging, can be a dangerous pit to fall into where gender relations are concerned. If you are sending messages back and forth to a non-mahram in a private chat, that is exactly the same as the “closed” room that the Prophet (saws) warned us about. Public comments on Facebook walls or blogs are one thing: those kinds of conversations are available for all the world to see, and will naturally be kept within the boundaries. But when you are on a one-to-one chat, you have effectively closed yourself in the room with that person, and the silent third is indeed shaytan.
I want to finish off with my thoughts on posting and sharing in general. I’m a blogger, and you can see that I share quite a bit of my life. What you will also notice, though, is how there are not very many pictures of me around, and very few intimately personal details.
I have my back turned in my profile photo that I use across the blogosphere and social media, and the only other photos that you can find out there are ones that my friends have tagged me in on Facebook, usually without my knowing, or the couple of photos that I have up of my husband and I on this blog, which were posted at his request (he is all about showing people how awesome an intercultural relationship can be, and how Muslim men are actually great husbands, so I gave in on that one!).
I don’t think posting photos in and of itself is wrong, and I know everyone has to follow their own comfort levels with this one. But one thing that I think it is very, very important for us all to think about whenever we post anything, an article, a status, a photo, is the why behind it. Am I trying to benefit the community with this? Will it make someone happy or brighten a day? Or am I posting this for the likes and the comments,
I used to be that person. In my first year at university, I lost around 100 pounds, and got really into posting photos to show off my lovely new self. It took me a long time to shift this mindset when I converted: that the “likes” and comments should be coming from my husband, and that my looks are no one else’s business. I still sometimes see other girls and their beautiful photos and think, ooh, maybe I should put on that pink jilbab that looks so nice with my skin tone and take a really artsy pic in the old city….
But I don’t. Because I know that I would not be posting that photo for anyone’s benefit but my own ego, and I don’t need to show everyone and their dog snapshots of my life.
I always try to think of that before I write anything for this blog as well: Will someone learn something or take away some benefit? Is it a topic that needs discussing? Will my personal story enhance the or illustrate the point I am making, or is it just for show?
It is still a struggle for me, as a convert, to navigate the online sphere in the best possible way, but in shaa Allah will keep improving every day! Is this something other converts out there are struggling with? Or maybe somebody has some of their own tips for how they navigate their online presence without compromising their Islamic values?