It took me a very long time to realize this, but as soon as I did, I found myself shuttled into a new realm of liberation.
I am fine with being mediocre. Let me explain.
In this tech-savvy day and age, religiosity has found a new medium for expression: the internet. It is through this medium that so many Muslims have become the staple of everyone’s newsfeeds or YouTube playlists.
Social media’s ability to construct ideal self-representations has given birth to a new generation of Muslims: local and international super-stars whose quotes are “re-tweeted” and photos “liked” by the hundreds.
Even us laypeople have found a niche in this digital dunya (life): our bios, statuses, posts, and pictures are manifestations of our religious self-perception. Soon enough, the way others perceive us may ultimately be changed as well. With every piece of religiosity we share online, our piety and rank may increase in their eyes.
Now, I’m not saying online da`wah (spreading the message of Islam) and the like are bad things at all. Indeed, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t benefit greatly from the pages/blogs/videos of certain people. And I truly ask that Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), blesses each and every one of these individuals. But what I want to discuss is the greater social implication of what it means to be a Muslim in this internet age.
I feel as though there is pressure on those of us who engage with social media to up the notch to which we express our religiosity. It could be through that display picture highlighting our meticulously placed hijab or perfectly groomed beard. Or how about mentioning in our bios that we’re a “Muslimah/Muslim,” and our religious belief is “The Deen of Allah”, we are “proud memorizers of the Qur’an” and our location is the “Dunya” – catch my drift? It also seems that things like uploading hjiab fashion videos online, engaging in what are called “Muslim Vines” (seriously), or posting/sharing a multitude of Qur’anic verses are the thing to do as a Muslim engaging online.
In hipster fashion, I feel as though everywhere I look, I come across a new speaker, sheikh, student of knowledge, or video extraordinaire. I also feel as though a dichotomy has been created amongst the younger Muslim generation. That is to say, you’re either strictly deen (religion) – everything you share is Islam related – or…you’re not.
I don’t know what it is, but something feels weird about being bombarded with all of this. What does it really mean to be a Muslim online?
The liberation that I spoke of earlier came once I realized that it is totally fine to just be mediocre – a regular Muslim, doing regular things. My Islamic endeavors may not be highlighted in a tweet or photo, but that does not negate its existence. I may not be a speaker, video-blogger, or anyone “known”, but my obscurity from the world does not translate to obscurity in the sight of Allah (swt). It’s okay to be mediocre…average. I don’t mean mediocre in the deen – we should ALWAYS seek to better ourselves as Muslims daily, but what I mean is that in order to fulfill our duties as Muslims, we don’t need to be seen as online super duper stars. We don’t need the world to know every little minute detail of our religious lives. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a BIG advocate for online da`wah, but in my opinion, creating these digital hyper-religious caricatures of ourselves can do more harm than good.
It’s frightening to realize just how much of our religious spheres have permeated into the online sphere. Is nothing sacred anymore? I mean, in our supreme displays of religiosity, our initial intentions may have become lost. For instance, the disparity between our online-selves and real-life selves may be alarming. We’ll either realize this and seek to change ourselves, or devastatingly – and more often than not – we may convince ourselves of our own greatness. We may overlook the fact that although the Qur’anic verse we shared may have gotten hundreds of “likes” or “shares,” our real Qur’an sits unread. Or despite the fact that although we share everything like pics from the Islamic study-circles/events/conferences we’ve attended or carefully choreographed engagement/wedding photos, much of our real-life personal relationships lie in shambles.
I’ve realized that so many of us – speakers, shuyookh and laypeople alike spend way too much time online. Lord have mercy. Where on Earth do some people find the time to post lengthy, complicated fatawah (Islamic rulings)? Or engage in such useless drivel or petty arguments? How much of our time is sacrificed honing, editing, and perfecting our online pseudo-religious selves? And how much of this time is spent perfecting our characters and relationship with Allah (swt) in real life?
To those who may feel like they’re doing something wrong by not being a prominent face in the hipster-like digital dunya scene – don’t sweat it. You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just being bombarded by folks who seem convinced that everything they’re doing is right.
Here’s a quote I came across recently that reflects the point I’ve tried to get across with this piece:
“Just because someone doesn’t use Facebook as a platform to expound about Islam/religion, or plaster Islamic symbols all over it, does not mean they are not religious people. You don’t know whose worship is better or whose heart is purer based on something as trivial as Facebook–it is a poor vehicle to judge people. Also, people contribute to Islam in different ways or even give dawah in ways other than social media. Some religious people use Facebook as a source of entertainment/downtime, thus their Facebook isn’t religiosity-focused while others still fear riyaa and thus deliberately do not mention their Islamic practices on Facebook. Think twice before you judge a Facebooker by their cover”—Olivia K
Just a little food for thought.
And Allah (swt) knows best.