بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
It has been almost 3 years since I have been using the controversial website Facebook – a simultaneously popular and infamous online social networking tool that is (mis)used by millions all over the globe. I received a friend’s email invite for it, and joined when another friend told me to check out a mutual friend’s newborn son’s pictures on it. Soon, it became apparent that this was mostly what Facebook was about: looking at other people’s photographs, wisecracking under status updates, in addition to “poking” and throwing weird stuff at each other online. Not to mention vainglorious self-projection and egotistical showing off of acquisitions, ceremonies and what not. But wait….there’s more.
“I do not and will not use Facebook!” commented a friend of mine the following year, when she was visiting from abroad and I urged her to join the website to get back in touch with me and many of our mutual old friends, especially those from Al-Huda. By then, I had twenty-something close friends on my list and was thoroughly enjoying the Facebook experience. “Why?” I asked her a bit naively, a little taken aback. “It is haram!” she said empathetically. I did a mental double-take. This was my friend who had been a bit hurt when I declined to attend her son’s lavish birthday party because it was not segregated i.e. men ad women attended it in one common area in her garden/home lawn. This was the same friend who had severely chastised me for refusing marriage proposals from people who had problems with my covering my face (meaning, she thought I was downright mad to refuse proposals only because of my niqab); yes, this was the same friend of mine who thought I was a bit whacko for not keeping a television set in my house. And she was saying that Facebook was “haram”?
“I don’t like the way Facebook undermines women’s pardah/hijab. I mean, putting up your pictures for the world to see, and having your male ex-classmates from college tell you how good you look and how you haven’t changed a bit….that’s not for me!” I slowly began to understand why she thought this way about Facebook. It was her observation of how her husband was using it with his friends that made her come to this conclusion. I agreed with her point of view somewhat. Facebook is all about what kind of people you allow to occupy/populate your Friends’ list. Your homepage News Feed can be full of any kind of stuff, depending on who you allow yourself to associate with online. From what I knew of her extended social circle (especially her husband’s friends) I could understand what would happen to her if she joined Facebook. She’d have to “join ‘em” in their shenanigans, so to speak (remember, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?”). After all, one does get into a bit of a fix if one receives a Friend Request from someone one doesn’t want to add as a Friend! If that person knows you are on Facebook through mutual friends, but if you do not want to add him/her to your Friends list, it becomes a weird situation – now please, don’t you ask why! We’ve all got skeletons in our closets, so let’s do away with the naiveté, shall we? (By the way, one of my very old friends refuses to join Facebook for this very reason: one of her ex-friends is there, asking all her friends about her whereabouts, wanting to rekindle their friendship years after she determinedly burned the bridges forever!) Coming back to my friend in question, if she joined Facebook, she’d have to add all her social-circle friends to her list, and if one has religious hijabi’s from Al-Huda as well as frivolous, drinking-privy, dance-party-animals, both, on one’s list, it gets a bit tricky. So, basically, I knew very well what she’d have to “join ‘em” in doing by using Facebook,. Consequently, I decided to respect her opinion – one that was undoubtedly based on her unique circumstances, and kept silent, even though I didn’t agree with it one bit.
From then, till today, Facebook has turned out to be a far, far cry from what I intended to use it for initially. More than social networking, it has proved to be the greatest da’wah tool I could have asked for, especially in my chosen ‘professional’ occupation of Islamic-oriented, da’wah-based online writing, publishing, broadcasting and media.
Last month, some imbeciles decided to have a field day with Muslims’ reactionary tendency by coming up with a way to try and defile our Prophet Muhammad’s [صلى اللهُ عليه وسلم] spotless, honorable persona. Result? Pakistan swiftly put a ban on Facebook. I did not miss it for the first few days, since I was shocked at the audacity of the initiators of this ridiculous “Draw Muhammad Day”: what a disdainful attempt at discord between followers of different faiths in the name of “freedom of expression”?! Is a Prophet the only person left on this earth to illustrate via thus “unleashing artistic creativity”? Yes, Facebook owners did show their two-facedness with this fiasco, as a local Pakistani journalist’s famous, widely-circulated-by-email article titled "One Facebook, Two Faces” has proved to those who have read it. Subsequently, some local Pakistani Islamic scholars and jurists followed suit by sternly telling Muslims to delete their Facebook accounts in order to give an economic blow to its owners for having allowed such a blasphemy to flourish. I was thoroughly confused as to what to do. But in the first few days around 20th May, I did feel that Pakistan had done the right thing by banning Facebook. At least, we did not sit silently without showing protest at the blatant disregard shown for our revered and beloved Prophet [صلى اللهُ عليه وسلم] and also for global Muslim sentiment and goodwill in general.
As time wore on, I started to wonder how such-and-such sister was doing, who had just had a baby.; how sister so-and-so was getting along in her pregnancy; whether sister so-and-so had returned home from her vacation. These are sisters I have never met in real life – they are people I only know online, through my blogging stints and mostly via Facebook. I never realized their presence mattered to this extent in my life, but eventually realized that it did. I do not even know the email addresses of a couple of them. They just added me on Facebook after reading my articles here and there, and since then, our mutual bond of “virtual” love was formed and strengthened solely for the sake of Allah. We pray for each other through our comments and status updates. We are happy for each other during happy times (e.g. after the birth of a baby) and console each other through tears and despair e.g. when the baby is born with complications, or when a sister is pregnant and unwell. The dua’s and prayers run into scores upon scores of comments. Even a smiley face under a link made a difference. Even a “Like” under a dua in my status update showed that a sister cared. It slowly started to sink in that that “virtual” joy was no longer a part of my life. I tried sharing a few good, worthy articles that I had read through my accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn, but it just wasn’t the same. My sisters were “gone”. 😦
But the benefits of Facebook have not just been through those friends whom I have never met in real life; whom I got to know through the virtual world – whom I now love only for Allah’s sake. I cannot even begin to emphasize how Facebook helped me reconnect with, get closer to, and propagate the Deen towards some “real”, flesh-and-blood people whom I have known for a very long time (even years!). It is ironic, yes, but true – Facebook helped me get closer to people I had known for years before. I got to know them better, and they me, just through the things we shared online; the advice we sought from each other, the online comments which they could read under my updates, and the photos we uploaded, if only just for sharing and a bit of jest. It was quite rejuvenating to experience how Facebook actually brought some real people closer to each other after connecting online through it.
What it really boils down to, is how you use Facebook – not whether you actually use it or not. Whether using Facebook is permissible or not, is not a straightforward answer that would apply to one and all; it would be relative. It depends on what kind of people surround you when you are online; what conversations you have in comments under status updates and photographs; what kind of articles/news links you share, and with whom; what kind of videos you upload and share; what groups you join; what causes you support; what things/products/organizations and which people you become a fan of; what kind of jokes and jests you laugh at and “Like”. And, last but not least, whether you have non-mahrums on your list or not. You cannot believe what a big difference this last factor makes to the entire Facebook experience. For me, Facebook offers an online, interactive, sisters-only forum for discussion, counseling, entertainment and education; a forum that keeps me so up-to-date with what is going on globally, especially matters related to Muslims, that my relatives are sometimes confounded by how with-it I am regarding world news, despite having no television (with its endless reels of “breaking news”) in my home, a decision they were sure I would eventually regret. Not only does it make the online Facebook experience more worthwhile when your friends are of the same gender, but also, it keeps at bay the risky, gray area of online interaction with non-mahrums. To preserve that sanctity, level of comfort and privacy for my own friends, I have not added any mahrum men to my list either – so that my friends can feel at ease and share their personal stories without fear of my brother or husband reading them (as an aside, my husband is on my friends’ list, but only as a “dead” lurker – he never checks Facebook; he joined just because someone suggested it to him, but lost interest totally). I urge my female readers to avoid adding any men to their Facebook lists who are not their mahrums. Allow yourself online comfort and privacy, not to mention more freedom of expression, sans the fitnah of online, inter-gender interaction, unless the purpose behind your Facebook presence is general, impersonal d’a’wah/business promotion (marketing) only, not personal social networking. And Allah knows best.
As for the abhorrent “Draw Muhammad Day” [صلى اللهُ عليه وسلم], I have heard that the blasphemous page has been removed from Facebook. Muslims around the world have hardly batted an eyelid over this controversy as compared to the emotional, ready-to-be-provoked-into-fiery-reaction, trigger-happy Pakistani Muslims. Muslims in other countries, particularly the active da’ee’s (callers to Islam) on my Facebook list, continue to use Facebook for the betterment of the ummah and the propagation of Islam (da’wah). Which makes me wonder, as I have often found myself musing since 20th May, whether the application of the Prophet’s [صلى اللهُ عليه وسلم] own stance towards his blasphemous enemies, slanderers and antagonists during his lifetime was actually the recommended approach as a response to this fitnah? Should we have just ignored the useless, ill-concocted “Draw Day” as an effort of a few idle, thumb-twiddling fools direly in need of getting a life for themselves? What do we do when we otherwise come across impurity, dirt or icky trash? We rush past it quickly, without so much as a second glance; or the more brave of us cover it up or try to get rid of it – quickly and ruthlessly. We do not draw others’ attention to it, nor do we keep buzzing around it incessantly like a swarm of flies.
So, for those of us who have gone ahead and deleted their Facebook accounts: I respect your loyalty to our Prophet [صلى اللهُ عليه وسلم] and your submission to the advice of our local scholars. However, please be reminded that our Prophet himself never showed any retaliation to his personal antagonists, nor did he urge his companions to respond to his enemies or slanderers, and the companions were the best generation of Muslims. Also, note that it is this tendency for reactionary behavior, which often turns violent, that has gotten Muslims to commit major crimes in defense of their religion that are in open violation of its very edicts and laws (no examples need to be given here; we all know). Thirdly, we should voice our opposition and protest to any attempt at defaming or maligning our Prophet’s honor, but it should not permanently prevent us from doing the “greater good” so to speak – viz. propagating the authentic knowledge and beauty of Islam through the very means that these silly artists tried to use to defame it.
For all those brothers and sisters in faith out there, who have never used Facebook because they believe it in itself is “haram”, or a time-wasting fitnah, I ask, shouldn’t some of us be strong enough in faith and wise enough to look past its petty distractions to use for the greater good; for the propagation of our Deen? How can you be so sure about the evil of something you haven’t even given a chance to explore enough for its far-reaching, long-term potential and ripple effect of doing good?
One thing I know for sure: most of the people who are at the fore of denouncing Facebook have either not used it at all, because of the controversy that surrounds it; or are those who joined it, used it sparingly, and then left it abruptly because of what they saw in their first few days of exploration.
Isn’t it about time we Muslims stopped playing the victim and became confident, proactive callers to the beautiful reality of Islam, instead of resorting, at the mildest of ill-intentioned provocations of disbelievers, to emotional, reactive defense of a Truth that Allah has Himself vowed to protect till the end of time?