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Inspirational Posts on Instagram Are Ruining Your Life Without You Realizing It #FiqhOfSocialMedia


It's Sunday night after a great weekend. You got your halal meat shopping done, took the kids to the park, had dinner at a friend's house, watched some football, and even folded and put away the laundry. As you get ready for bed, you prepare yourself for the upcoming week. You have meetings for an annoying project at work. Things are awkward between two of your co-workers because of an argument they had a few days ago and you're caught in the middle. Your manager doesn't have time to look at something important that you keep emailing her about. And on a larger level, you're simply not happy about the prospect of going back to sit in your cubicle for another week and repeating the same charade over and over. So as you lie down to go to sleep, you take out your phone. And you start seeing stuff like this (and it's always on a sunset).


Then the thoughts start to drift. Am I as happy as I should be? What are my unfulfilled dreams? How do I achieve greatness?

This post will explore the impact of the constant influx of unabashed follow your dreams and unrealistic positivity. It is not simply about envy from seeing others' success and combating it with gratitude. It's a level deeper than that. It's how the current hybrid of success as displayed on social media, modern self-help literature, and a culture of entitlement affects us at a deep spiritual level without us realizing it.

The Secret is Visualizing Your Way to Success

The internet has filled our lives with unrealistic positive expectations. It says we can all be happier, healthier, smarter, faster, more popular, have more friends, live your dreams, and so on. To do this, you only need to follow the advice being dispensed everywhere on how to improve.

What starts with a noble intent of helping us achieve more by being positive actually creates a downward cycle. It really focuses on what we lack.The only alternative to being optimized and maximized and happy 24/7 is failure. This is why exercises like visualization and chanting mantras have become so popular. They say if you just keep imagining something positive to you, it will happen (Dave Chappelle mocked this in a brilliant bit you can watch here [warning: vulgar language]).

They make us hone in on what is wrong, and then try to offer a shortcut to fix it. To top it off, every time we get online, we are bombarded with images of people who are succeeding, having seemingly overcome all the shortcomings that hold us back (see: Jealousy, Attention, and the Social Media Highlight Reel).

This creates not only envy, but stress. In the following Ted Talk, Alain De Botton expounds on this concept in detail (I have put the text of a couple of important excerpts below the video).

Never before have expectations been so high about what human beings can achieve with their lifespan. We're told, from many sources, that anyone can achieve anything. ... we are now in a system where anyone can rise to any position they please. And it's a beautiful idea. ... There is one really big problem with this, and that problem is envy. Envy, it's a real taboo to mention envy, but if there's one dominant emotion in modern society, that is envy. And it's linked to the spirit of equality. ...

The closer two people are -- in age, in background, in the process of identification -- the more there's a danger of envy ... So there's a spirit of equality combined with deep inequality, which can make for a very stressful situation. It's probably as unlikely that you would nowadays become as rich and famous as Bill Gates, as it was unlikely in the 17th century that you would accede to the ranks of the French aristocracy. But the point is, it doesn't feel that way. It's made to feel, by magazines and other media outlets, that if you've got energy, a few bright ideas about technology, a garage -- you, too, could start a major thing.

The consequences of this problem make themselves felt in bookshops. When you go to a large bookshop and look at the self-help sections ... there are basically two kinds. The first kind tells you, "You can do it! You can make it! Anything's possible!" The other kind tells you how to cope with what we politely call "low self-esteem," or impolitely call, "feeling very bad about yourself."

...There is another reason why we might be feeling more anxious -- about our careers, about our status in the world today, than ever before. And it's, again, linked to something nice .... A meritocratic society is one in which, if you've got talent and energy and skill, you will get to the top, nothing should hold you back. It's a beautiful idea. The problem is, if you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top, get to the top, you'll also, by implication, and in a far more nasty way, believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there. In other words, your position in life comes to seem not accidental, but merited and deserved. And that makes failure seem much more crushing.

Mark Manson refers to this as 'The Feedback Loop from Hell" in his book (which is one of the best I've ever read on self-development). He says we feel sad or guilty about our situation, and then feel guilty about how we feel. Because everything is so perfect (or 'can be' perfect) on social media, we start to think it is not okay to feel any type of sadness, fear, or anxiety.

We get made fun of a lot for having first world problems. Alhamdulillah, we enjoy a large degree of material success relative to others. The problems we have now are more spiritual in nature - and they're exacerbated by what we consume online, often without us realizing it. We live in an age where we can have or know an infinite number of things. Paradoxically, we have an infinite number of ways we feel we don't measure up.

The relationship between material over-abundance and spiritual crisis should come as no surprise. At one end of the spectrum, more and more "successful" people are turning to mindfulness and meditation as a form of, essentially, spiritual heroin to escape savage capitalism. At the other end is entitlement and envy. The commonality on both ends is an obsession with the nafs (self). There is a deep unhappiness underpinning our success, or lack thereof, and it manifests itself as a spiritual crisis.

Alain De Botton explains this in the above Ted Talk:

The other thing about modern society and why it causes this anxiety, is that we have nothing at its center that is non-human. We are the first society to be living in a world where we don't worship anything other than ourselves. We think very highly of ourselves, and so we should; we've put people on the Moon, done all sorts of extraordinary things. And so we tend to worship ourselves. Our heroes are human heroes. That's a very new situation. Most other societies have had, right at their center, the worship of something transcendent.

Manson puts it more bluntly saying that most "life problems" are actually "side effects of not having anything more important to worry about."

We stop deriving our happiness from our values, and instead chase what is fed to us. It becomes almost formulaic. We consume all this material online and conclude that we need to fix certain shortcomings. And then once we fix them, we will be happy. So to fix them, we need a magic bullet - a LifeHacker article, another top 10 list from a blog, an expensive course, a book, a YouTube video, a podcast. We are looking for something, anything, that will 'fix' our problem so we can attain that level of greatness we are destined for. A life where everything is sunsets and rainbows and unicorns (in other words, Instagram).




American Idol Syndrome

The first episodes of American Idol would always be the best because you got to see Simon ripping on a terrible contestant. They would take a contestant, and before the audition, do a bio of them. You would see footage from their hometown and everyone there would talk about how this person was in the school choir and how talented they are. Then they'll talk to friends from the neighborhood also testifying to how amazing of a singer this person is. There's no doubt they were created for this contest and will win. This is their dream, and they've been working every day nonstop to attain it.

Then they get on stage and start singing. The judges cut them off with Simon saying something snarky like, 'do humanity a favor and never sing again.' The person is then emotionally devastated. They can't believe what they're hearing. They legitimately thought they were going to win the entire competition.  They start crying, yelling, screaming. They say the judges don't know what they're talking about, and vow to show everyone that they're the best.

Sitting on the outside, we know they're foolish.

On the other hand, they are following self-help advice to the T. They believe in themselves. They're following their passions. They are working on their dream. They will not accept rejection. They vow to be resilient and bounce back in the face of crisis.

They go back to their friends who will no doubt tell them that the stupid judges on American Idol simply "can't handle how amazing they are."

We can see they're delusional.

Yet, if you were to ask anyone who has achieved fame in that industry how they got there, they would no doubt repeat those same cliches. Never give up, believe in yourself, follow your dreams, live your passions, ignore the haters, and persevere.

The delusion and foolishness is actually a result of an entitlement mentality. The underlying theme here is that this person somehow deserves success, or deserves to feel good. So even when they're not actually doing anything, they keep feeling like they are accomplishing something and are on the pathway to their dreams (sound familiar?). They are confident they will become a multi-platinum star despite what the judges and millions of viewers think. Hence the rise of how-to gurus and, as Manson says, "life coaches [who] charge money to help others, even though they're only twenty-five years old and haven't actually accomplished anything substantial in their lives."

We usually think of entitlement in regards to attaining a certain position or some material gain. The entitlement about needing to feel good all the time is a step beyond that. And by needing to feel good all the time, a person ends up in a cycle of narcissism and selfishness (the consequences of which I wrote about in detail here). They're constantly thinking about themselves and how they feel. When something awesome happens, it is because of their awesomeness, and when something bad happens its because people can't handle their awesomeness.

[The nature of] man is that, when his Lord tries him through honour and blessings, he says, ‘My Lord has honoured me,’ but when He tries him through the restriction of his provision, he says, ‘My Lord has humiliated me’ (89:15-16).

This comes about not because people really truly believe they are that amazing (although some do). It is, as Manson says, "because they feel that they need to be great to be accepted in a world that broadcasts only the extraordinary."

We are only shown the extraordinary because Instagram and other social media outlets bombard us with only those stories. They appear immediately achievable. We only need to do what they did and we can have it too. This is also known as Survivorship Bias.

People who succeed tend to look at the past with blinders and ignore many important factors that got there (see: Why Bad Leaders Rise to the Top, and Why We Keep Following Them).

Then when we try and don't succeed in the same way we develop envy. We become insecure. When we combine that with entitlement, we believe it is ok to transgress certain boundaries to get what we deserve.

Manson lays out two types of entitlement that play out in a person:

  1. I'm awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special treatment.
  2. I suck and the rest of you all are awesome, so I deserve special treatment.

To constantly make yourself the victim requires the same level of selfishness. We want everyone to know about our problems, and how we are uniquely afflicted with these problems, how they make us feel bad, and how we need everyone around us to stop doing the things that are making us feel bad. Cue Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda saying 'Nobody Cares.'

It's strange that in an age when we are more connected than ever, entitlement seems to be at an all-time high. Something about recent technology seems to allow our insecurities to run amok like never before. The more freedom we're given to express ourselves, the more we want to be free of having to deal with anyone who may disagree with us or upset us. The more exposed we are to opposing viewpoints, the more we seem to get upset that those viewpoints exist. The easier and more problem-free our lives become, the more we seem to feel entitled for them to get even better. -Mark Manson

In short, we've lost the middle ground. We go to the extremes in our opinions and refuse to see the other side.We see only the success stories. We see only the top most upvoted posts on Reddit. We watch only the most viewed YouTube videos. Read only the most highly reviewed books on Amazon. Our Netflix queue is full of only 4 or 5 star shows. The craziest photos, memes, news. We start to believe that being extraordinary is being normal. This, by the way, is why the greatest casualty of YouTube is the local Imam.

We don't realize most of life is actually lived in the middle of the extremes, and so we feel bad and put ourselves through the feedback loop of hell (especially when all the gurus say being average is mediocre). You can either be super successful, or super miserable. We de-incentivize ourselves to live a life of moderation. We need to be super successful (not realizing that if everyone was extraordinary, it would by definition become the new 'ordinary'). And if we can't be successful at that level, then it's better to show how miserable we are, because at least then we can get attention for how terrible our life is.

Inspiration Junkies

The misery, insecurity, envy, and entitlement creates an addiction to motivation. I haven't gotten my life together like the guy driving a Lamborghini on Instagram, therefore, I must not be motivated enough. So in response, I am going to follow 10 more inspirational quote accounts on Instagram to make sure I keep up my positive energy and vibes.

The khutbah below by Hasib Noor lays out the issue in detail. We keep crying over the same problems over and over again, using spirituality as a way to feed the inspiration junkie addiction. We go from conference to conference without making any tangible change in our lives. We share articles without reading them to look woke even though we don't give that much attention to the actual issues.

Don't misconstrue this to throwing the baby out with the bath water. Pay attention to whose advice you follow via their social media, books, podcasts, videos, and so on. If you're still following the same people and discussing the same issues you were 2 years ago, then it's a sign you aren't progressing. You should be in a state of 'graduating' and inching forward.

We let our worries overcome us without taking any action to create meaningful change. Part of the problem is by seeing so much inspiration, we think inspiration is the answer. So you hear people saying things like, "I'm not spiritually ready to make hajj yet" or "I can't concentrate in my prayer, so I don't want to pray because then I will be a hypocrite." There is a faulty assumption that motivation → action. The reality is action creates its own motivation and inspiration. This is why consistently doing good deeds is so vital, as the khutbah here explains.



We learn that our focus really should be about the process. What are your daily habits and routines? What do you do each day to actually close the gap between where you are and where you want to be? Many of us are infatuated with the end outcome, but don't want to put in the daily work to get there.

Inspiration to follow your passions is about trying to eliminate pain. "Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is complete nonsense. When you do what you love, you trade in one set of problems for a different one (just one that you'd rather work on). The real test of what you love is not about the end result, it is about the daily process to get there. The goal is not to eliminate your problems, but rather to upgrade them to a different set of problems.

How many of us want to be Huffaz, but can't put in the work daily? One level of problems is not being able to read every day. Then not memorizing every day. Then it's not revising enough every day. The further you progress, the more you are exchanging one set of obstacles and issues for another. If you can't find satisfaction, happiness, and fulfillment in simply reading every day, you will never attain the end result of memorizing no matter how much you visualize it, put it on a vision board, chant mantras, or make a motivational sunset quote your desktop wallpaper.

How many people want to be known as students of knowledge or become famous Islamic speakers, but haven't dedicated the time to actually study for years and years? How many of us want to be entrepreneurs but are more obsessed with having a 4-hour-workweek than actually building a legitimate business? If you don't love the process, you will always fail at achieving that desired result. We want perfect marriages with the exotic vacation photos to prove it, but don't want the daily process of doing laundry, changing diapers, and buying dishwashing detergent in bulk from Costco. It is much easier to say things like, "well I could have done that if I wanted to" than it is to actually dedicate yourself to something.

Who you are is defined by what you're willing to struggle for: People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can benchpress a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. -Mark Manson

The inspiration trap is not a problem of positive thinking - it is substituting hard work for positive thinking. It is not about eliminating problems, but understanding for what purpose you are working through them.


Trust The Process

*Shout out to Sam Hinkie

The process begins with identifying why you want to do something. That should be no surprise, everything ultimately boils down to intention. Take whatever it is that you're seeking inspiration for and ask why. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to start a business?

The career aspect of life is an interesting one in this regard. Many people are made to feel bad for having a career because they don't have the same lifestyle as an entrepreneur. Conversations around this topic will be about being 'stuck' in a cubicle your whole life, building someone else's dream instead of your own, being a slave to 'the man', moving up the corporate ladder to buy a bigger house, and so on. And so we feel guilty for being stuck with a 9-5 job and try to become an entrepreneur. Then come the thousand dollar courses, hours spent building a business, time away from the family to sacrifice for the dream, and after a couple of years not succeeding and going back to the 9-5 gig. Cue the feedback loop from hell. You feel guilty for your job, you feel bad about not living your dreams, and then you feel bad because you feel like your life is over.

This is what happens when a person doesn't have a strong why. What is the ultimate goal? Which problems do you want to solve? Do you want to solve the problems that come with a cubicle life but include a steady paycheck, health insurance, and open weekends? Or do you prefer the problems of making payroll, dealing with vendors, and working on your business all the time?

See it's not that one is better than the other. It depends on what you value and then acting accordingly. One person might hate the idea of a desk job and want to be an entrepreneur, and for someone else it is the opposite. The problem arises only when you project your value system onto someone else's life and judge them based on it.

What we value is determined by our faith tradition. Take the debate between career and entrepreneurship. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The more accurate guiding principle would be this hadith:

The Prophet (saw) said about a man, "If he is striving to provide for his young children then he has gone out for the sake of Allah. If he is striving to provide for his aged parents then he has gone out for the sake of Allah. And if he is striving to provide for himself to avoid being dependent on others then he has gone out for the sake of Allah" [Tabarani].

Once that value is established, then the actions follow in whatever way is best suited for you.

The underlying theme with happiness in this regard is the ability to choose our problems. Many people become entrepreneurs and feel shackled and want to go back to a corporate job - and vice versa. We get down most often when the problems we have are things we feel we can't control. When we choose our problems, we feel empowered. The internet, however, makes you think you can just escape the problems altogether. If we feel that we are stuck in a job against our will, then we feel victimized and miserable.

Strong iman (faith) helps significantly in this regard. There are certain things we know are the decree of Allah and we cannot control. For example, when we are born, who our parents are, when we are going to die, and even how much money we make. Our faith demands that we take responsibility for our actions and our response. That is fully within our control. Manson points out that people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because it would mean admitting that they are at fault for those problems.

You don't get to pick everything that happens to you, but you are responsible for it.

Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. -Mark Manson

One way to take responsibility is focusing on the actions you do every day. The reason we avoid doing that is because it seems insignificant. Or we have more important things to do.

The Prophet (saw) said, "If a Muslim man persists in two actions, he will enter the Garden. They are easy, but those who do them are few.' He was asked, 'What are they, may Allah bless him and grant him peace?' He said, 'That you say "Allahu akbar" ten times, "al-hamdu lillah" ten times, and "Subhana'llah" ten times after every prayer. That is 150 on the tongue and 1500 in the balance.' I saw the Prophet (saw) counting them with his hand. Then he said, 'When you go to bed, you should say, "Subhana'llah", "al-hamdu lillah", and "Allahu akbar". That is 100 on the tongue and 1000 in the balance. Who among you can do 2500 bad actions morning and night?' He was asked, 'Messenger of Allah, how is it that they are not counted?' He said, 'Shaytan comes to one of you while he is praying and reminds him of something he has to do such-and-such and such-and-such, so he does not remember to do it.'" (Tirmidhi)

We're focused on the end result, we ignore the incremental change that goes into each day. Social media makes this worse because it gives us more and more things to be busy with (see: Dua - The Greatest Casualty in a Socially Networked Life).


There are literally a million things we could be working on to improve ourselves. How do we decide what values will dictate our lives? Faith is an easy answer, but there are a million options even under that umbrella.

Once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death - the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life's frivolous ambitions - we can choose our values more freely...-Mark Manson

In a strange way, reflecting on death is liberating. The Prophet (s) commanded us to reflect on it. It allows us to focus our efforts on what truly matters - not what the internet says we need to care about.

The famous hadith of leaving a legacy, or sadaqah jariyah, talks about a Muslim's goal to live a life that attains good after their death.

When a man dies, his action discontinues from him except three things, namely, perpetual sadaqah (charity), or the knowledge by which benefit is acquired, or a pious child who prays for him (Abu Dawud).

If you look closely at those three examples, all of them are intrinsically linked to your daily process. A child who prays for you must grow up believing, having the consciousness to make dua to Allah, and having positive memories of you such that they remember you. That doesn't come by automatically having kids, it is a daily process to build toward something meaningful.

Why Your Phone is Keeping You From Praying Fajr and How to Fix It


The Hope.

I know I'm supposed to have a solid daily routine. No matter what I do, it doesn't work, and I'm stuck in a rut. Maybe I'm not meant to be a morning person. It seems like every single morning is an unbelievable exercise in willpower to try and wake up.

If I could wake up on time for fajr every day, read Qur'an, make dua, exercise, have a relaxed wholesome breakfast, and leave for work/school on time - it would transform my life.

It’s been said that the first hour is the rudder of the day. If I’m lazy or haphazard in my actions during the first hour after I wake up, I tend to have a fairly lazy and unfocused day. But if I strive to make that first hour optimally productive, the rest of the day tends to follow suit. -Steve Pavlina

The Reality.

9:00pm Time for a late snack, a cup of tea, and catching up on the DVR.

11:00pm Get ready for bed. Change, brush your teeth, turn off the lights.

11:30pm Snuggled into bed, reach over and plug your phone into the charger.

11:31pm Check email, Instagram, text messages, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter. Leave some comments, like some photos, reply to a few snaps. Read a few articles shared by friends on Facebook. Make bedtime official by sending out your Goodnight Snapchat.

11:45pm Still can't sleep. Watch random YouTube videos. Check email, Instagram, all over again. Check to see if anyone replied to your goodnight snapchat, and remind yourself not to post anything since you're "officially sleeping".

12:15am Still can't sleep. Put something dumb on Netflix and wait to pass out.


530am Alarm goes off. And it kicks off a morning that looks kind of like this.

Fajr Alarm

7:00am Finally cognizant. You've managed to actually turn off the alarm instead of hitting snooze. Now you lie awake in your bed upset that you overslept and now have to rush to get to work. So what do you do? Check your email. See who liked and commented on your late night status on Facebook. Check the rest of your social channels and roll out of bed.

Why is it so hard to wake up? We've tried everything. Turn up the adhan app really loud? Check. Multiple alarm clocks? Check.  Put your alarm away from your bed? Yeah.


To fix the problem of waking up, we have to get at the core of the problem - or at least nail down a couple of the biggest root causes.

“Hitting the snooze button in the morning doesn’t even make sense. It’s like saying, ‘I hate getting up in the morning so I do it over and over and over again.’” — Dimitri Martin

The greatest impediment to waking up, and hence establishing any kind of productive daily routine, is the phone. Check out this great breakdown of a late night routine by Buzzfeed.

The bottom line is we feel unrelaxed. There is no longer a preparation process for a good night's sleep - we just pass out.

When we wake up it's no different.

There is no morning routine. There is no attainment of blessings (barakah).

The Prophet (s) supplicated, "O Allah, bless my nation in their early mornings (i.e., what they do early in the morning)." Hasan said, "When he sent out a raiding party or an army, he would send them at the beginning of the day." He said, "Sakhr was a man engaged in trade, and he used to send his goods out at the beginning of the day, and his wealth grew and increased." [Ibn Maajah]

While we would all love to attain this, it seems as if we are at a roadblock. Particularly if you have been using your phone in this manner for years, the bad habit can be difficult to break.

Our default state is one of mindlessness.  There is a constant stream of overstimulation - we work our brains to check email even when we try to relax. There is no such thing as unwinding. Not when what we consider unwinding actually includes processing more information. This is multiplied by the rising complexity of technology. Requests are coming at us faster and more relentlessly than ever. We are not meant to operate like a computer or a robot that is at optimized performance for such long periods of time.

In short, we've made a trade-off. The benefit of connection and information has made us overlook how it affects our mental cognition. A consequence of which is our ability to sleep and wake up. It is a trade-off we haven't properly assessed.

The Solution

We previously covered how dua is the greatest casualty of a socially networked life. Here's how to recapture it.

Consider the example of khushoo' (concentration) during prayer. To properly accomplish it requires preparation. It means making wudu properly, clearing your head, relaxing, making dua, and then entering prayer.

Waking up for fajr on time is a lot of the same. The process starts way before the alarm clock goes off. The solution is to nail the going-to-bed-routine.

Here's the action plan. Figure out what time you need to go to sleep, and how long you need to wind down. Let's assume you want to be asleep by 10:30pm and need 90 minutes to wind down.

Set your alarm for 9pm. This is the secret. Most of us don't need an alarm to wake us up, we need an alarm to remind us to go to bed. Once your alarm goes off, start winding down.

You've no doubt heard about not using screens an hour before bedtime - it is tough. But it works. Once your alarm goes off, let yourself do a final check of email and social outlets. Get changed, brush your teeth, and turn off any ceiling lights.

Put your phone across the room and have your alarm set for the morning. Place it as close to the bathroom as possible. This helps you wake up, and it also keeps you from checking your phone mindlessly again before bedtime.

Lie down in bed and read a physical book. Make sure that it is a fiction book. This is essential because non-fiction will make your brain go into motion and start thinking of things. Let the fiction be a way of relaxing and unwinding.

You should start feeling tired fairly quickly, turn off the lamp, and start making the dua and dhikr for going to sleep. Make sure to include this dhikr mentioned by Fatimah (ra),

The Prophet (s) said, "Shall I tell you a thing which is better than what you asked me for? When you go to your beds, say: 'Allahu Akbar (i.e. Allah is Greater)' for 34 times, and 'Alhamdu Lillah (i.e. all the praises are for Allah)' for 33 times, and Subhan Allah (i.e. Glorified be Allah) for 33 times. This is better for you than what you have requested [a servant to assist with chores]" [Bukhari].

When the alarm goes off in the morning, go straight to the bathroom and get yourself ready to pray. Plan out the night before what you are going to do in the morning. If, for example, you plan on going to the gym, then make sure you have your gym clothes already laid out. Your planning at night is much better than the morning, so have a gameplan ready.

Once you wake up and pray, have a set routine that you must do no matter what. It might be making some dua after you pray. It might be reading Qur'an. It might simply be going for a walk. Whatever it is, make it non-negotiable in the sense that you will not check your phone until that routine is done.

This creates the space and margin in your mind to start and each day on the right foot.

How does technology affect your ability to sleep and wake up on time? Leave a comment below! 

Social Media Activism: A Real Thing, Or A Trick We Play On Ourselves?

Here's a question I recently received from our email list:

How do you feel about social media activism? Is it a real thing, or is it just a trick we play on ourselves to make us think were actually doing something good for a cause? And how much good does it actually do?

Answering this question requires understanding the levels of social media activism - something I've termed The 7 Stages of Social Media Activism Purgatory for purposes of this post. We'll cover those, and then talk about where to target your efforts online to actually be effective.

As an introductory note, I've previously addressed other aspects of social media activism in these articles:

Let's dive in to the 7 stages of social media activism purgatory.

Stage 1: Peer Pressure.

fiqh of social media circular argument

Peer pressure is something I learned about while sitting through D.A.R.E. classes in elementary school. For those who don't know, DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education], was meant to educate kids on how to say no to drugs. Resisting peer pressure was a large part of this. We had a police officer come by our classroom every so often to talk to us and give us tips on how to say no to our friends who might try to push us to get stoned.

Now there is a pressure to partake in social media activism regardless of your personal stance. If everyone has the France flag on their Facebook profile photo and you don't, a number of questions arise. Why aren't you sympathetic about what happened? Why aren't you speaking up? Are you a heartless soul who is unaffected by tragedy?

The more that people do something - like the filtered profile photo - the more the pressure mounts to do the same. It's so easy, Facebook has it built in, what excuse do you have left? Now you have to either justify saying no, or go ahead and do it. Most choose the latter, although they don't see how this activism makes a difference. It's just an easier option than trying to justify not doing it.

So we fake a "social consciousness" to keep up with our friends.

Stage 2: Faking It.

Single brothers volunteering at masjid events be like...

Now that you've changed your profile photo to the appropriate filter, you can't just rest on your laurels. You have to show you're not one of those fake activists who just does what everyone else does. You're informed. You don't regurgitate soundbites from talking heads. So how do you do that?

You start sharing articles that make you look smart. It should be no surprise then, that most people share articles without actually reading them. The analytics data on this very website supports this hypothesis as well. There are articles on this website that had let's say 100 Facebook shares, but less than 10 clicks. It's frustrating, but I'm also honored that someone who hasn't even read them feels that sharing Fiqh of Social Media articles makes them look sophisticated.

And by the way, those articles with the smart sounding headlines you just shared? You're just a pawn in a game you don't even realize is happening around you.

A core prophetic hadith about social media is this-

If you have no shame do as you wish (7)

Putting on the face of an activist online while not taking any meaningful action is a great trick of Shaytan.

Most people would rather put effort into being known as the type of person who cares about causes than to put effort into the cause itself. 

When we realize this, we move to the next stage to try and compensate for it.

Stage 3: Clictivism.

Fiqh of Social Media Paper

On May 7, 2014, the First Lady of the United States posted this on her Twitter account. Notice the number of retweets.

On November 18, 2015 (yes, you read that date correctly) a Congressman submitted a bill to the House of Representatives to develop a strategy to get the girls back - as they still haven't been found.

There is a satisfaction in thinking that just because everyone's attention is on a cause, it will somehow solve it. So we continue to click, like, and share. We tag others and ask them to do the same. Seth Godin comments on 'slacktivism' saying,

  1. Good causes in need of support are going to focus on adding the sizzle and ego and zing that gets an idea to spread, instead of focusing on the work. One thing we know about online virality is that what worked yesterday rarely works tomorrow. A new arms race begins, and in this case, it's not one that benefits many. We end up developing, "an unprecedented website with a video walkthrough and internationally recognized infographics..." (actual email pitch I got while writing this post).
  2. We might, instead of normalizing the actual effective giving of grants and donations, normalize slacktivism. It could easily turn out that we start to emotionally associate a click or a like or a mention as an actual form of causing change, not merely a way of amplifying a message that might lead to that action happening.

Last year another cause went viral - the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

In fairness, according to Time magazine the challenge raised over $100 million for ALS research. Fair to say, that is a success. The difference here is the impact of the individual level of activism. A person could post a video doing the challenge while also donating $5. A few of their friends respond in kind and donate varying amounts from $5 to $100. In this manner, it can multiply and accumulate.

The problem with the success of this campaign is that we're constantly trying to replicate it. We ignore the vast majority of campaigns that didn't go viral - or did go viral but failed to do anything. We hang our hats on the one exception.

Measuring the impact of changing your profile picture is much harder to do than measuring dollars raised. This actually lends more credence to the argument that such acts are often more self-serving than anything else.

Stage 4: Shame

Fiqh of Social Media Internet Outrage

We want our cause to beat out the other causes. The human suffering attached to my cause outranks the human suffering attached to your cause. I have to make sure people's thoughts, prayers, and compassion are directed at my cause. If they go to your cause, none will be left for mine. My cause has to get all the clicks.

In this manner, we engage in 'moral point scoring' with our online activism. We win points by simultaneously promoting our cause, and tearing down the causes others support. Hence the rise of the online hot take.

Clicktivism and shame increase the pressure on a person to have an opinion on every issue. They're expected to chime in on every issue. Silence is taken as opposition to a cause. Whenever anyone speaks, we worry more about all the issues they neglect rather than paying attention to the human impact of what they're actually speaking on. This leads to Glenn Beck style witch hunts - as detailed by Southpark.

This entire cycle becomes mentally exhausting. The sheer magnitude of issues one could (or should) care about becomes overwhelming. So when the internet tries to make you care about everything, you end up caring about nothing.

Stage 5: Lack of Sustained Empathy

Fiqh of Social Media Activism

So we sit at our computers waiting to be told what to care about next. We become outrage junkies. Outraged and offended at some injustice, posting away to convince everyone we are correct, and then quickly jumping onto the next thing we find to be outraged at.

Big problems need big solutions. Reality eventually sets in. This online activism isn't going to fix the situation. When we realize that, we can no longer sustain empathy for the cause and look for a new and more intriguing story to get behind.

Have you ever wondered who gets to decide which causes we're supposed to get behind?

Why did France and Gay Rights get profile photo filters but not any other cause? Are we content to let a multi-billion dollar corporation (whose number 1 goal is making money) dictate to us which causes are important and which ones aren't?

“Mark Zuckerberg, a journalist was asking him a question about the news feed. And the journalist was asking him, “Why is this so important?” And Zuckerberg said, “A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” And I want to talk about what a Web based on that idea of relevance might look like.” -Eli Pariser

Stage 6: Marginalization of Voices

Fiqh of Social Media Confession Bear

So if this is the reality of social media activism, then what's the point in taking part? Because the momentum of the clicktivism and shame is so strong, it becomes nearly impossible to share anything contrarian or even nuanced without becoming ostracized. We fear making a political argument due to the potential fall-out. So we shift our discourse to safer topics. We shift to speaking in platitudes or only appealing to common ground items.

This forces debates to operate from a premise of moral agnosticism, and deeper dives which may uncover more points of view are co-opted.


Stage 7: Extremism


Social pressure has galvanized everyone to take part in the cause. The links, retweets, shares, and filtered Instagram photos are flying all over the internet. Opposing voices have been shamed into silence.

This leaves a huge echo chamber. Everyone is shouting - and all are shouting the same point of view. Of course part of this is due to the fact that people tend to follow those who agree with their worldview to begin with. In other words, when I process the latest in my Twitter feed I won't see posts by people I vehemently disagree with unless someone in my feed is quoting them facetiously.

In their minds, this gives their worldview that much more strength and credibility. Everyone is saying the same thing, therefore it must be correct. That means doubling down on belligerently promoting that view while caustically taking out everyone who opposes it.


Effective Social Media Activism

Fiqh of Social Media Activist

The real problem with social media activism is unrealistic expectations. People think that by tweeting to 20 people, or even getting a post in front of 100 Facebook friends is going to somehow completely counteract the effects of the politico-media complex. When it doesn't, it's a failure. Then we move on to the next thing and try again.

To understand effective social media activism it is important to distinguish between big social and small social. Most people are shooting for big social. They want their tweet to be seen by 10 million people and magically change their minds. They want their cool comment with the appropriate hashtag to somehow get picked up by the news ticker on Fox News and make their viewers see the light.

That's not going to happen.

What people can do, is affect their more personal networks. In this context, I would define small social as your immediate network. That's your close friends on Facebook - or at least your friends that are open to hearing what you have to say due to their personal relationship with you. It's the buddies you Snapchat with. It's the friends who follow your Finstagram [not a typo]. It's those few people you have group text messages with. It might even be the smaller, more intimate email groups.

These are safer settings to discuss issues. These are the people you can be vulnerable with - you don't need to put on a facade of activism. You can honestly speak about what you care about and ask regarding what you don't know about.

The ultimate irony here is that social media activism is focused on those people you already have a strong relationship with built over time - not the thousands of extended connections you're trying to reach at the speed of light.

Think grassroots instead of top-down.

These smaller social networks have deeper conversations and more attention. This makes them more conducive to a more open exchange of ideas. The exchanges are more meaningful because you cannot fake compassion when speaking to people you have a relationship with. And by the same token - your relationship with them makes your true compassion that much more impactful in their eyes because they see the true care behind it.

These more meaningful interactions can also multiply and start to affect larger change. You just have to care enough about it to stick with it before the next new shiny cause to advocate comes along.


What I Learned About My Online Persona from An Indian Movie Tweet

This week marked 20 years since the release of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (#20YearsOfDDLJ). If that doesn't make any sense, think of it like this - it's the desi equivalent of celebrating the 20th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. I posted the following on both Twitter and Facebook.

One reply to the tweet said - "lol. The one person I didn't expect this tweet from 😛"

On Facebook - "im very humored that you shared this haha." I also received a few other comments that degenerated into a video titled 'Punjabi Song by White Guy' being shared but that's a different story.

Ironically, had I posted the trailer to the new Star Wars movie, I don't think I would have gotten these replies. So it got me to thinking - what is it about a person's online persona that makes people expect certain types of posts instead of others?

It is of course no surprise that we carefully craft our online personas to convey a certain image. But where do we draw the limits? In this case, it prompted an internal debate about whether the way I represent myself online is authentic or not. Has it been crafted in such a way that even a tongue in cheek post about DDLJ confuses people?

The funny thing is my wife was confused about the post as well. This is a movie we have watched together so she shouldn't have been that surprised - but she said it just wasn't the kind of thing I normally post online.


What is the Gap Between Our Online and Offline Personas? 

When social media first started becoming prevalent some years back, there was a huge dichotomy between the two. This was due more to the fact that the two lives had not yet merged. People had their "real life" friends and their "online" friends. People rarely represented their real identities online. Everything was posted with screen names. No one ever had their real photo as an avatar.

Our online activities were disconnected with our real life activities. There was no overlap. In fact, it would sometimes be embarrassing if someone in real life uncovered your online identity. It was treated as two completely different spaces and we never wanted the two worlds to collide.

Slowly, over time, the two began to merge. We opened Facebook accounts under our real names. We shifted to email addresses that contained our real names instead of pseudonyms like In short, there was more harmonization between our "real life" and "online" activities.

That harmonization grew to such an extent that everything about our lives was documented and put up online. Consequentially, we learned that this started creating felings of envy in people because everyone's online persona now looked like a highlight reel.

But now it's not just about the highlight reel. Women's magazines have long been criticized for presenting photoshopped models as a false ideal of beauty everyone should aim to achieve. Carefully crafted online personas do the same.

There are 80 million photos posted in Instagram a day. Facebook has 1.49 billion active users per month. Twitter has 316 million active accounts; Tumblr 230 million. Pinterest has 47.66 million unique visitors from the US alone and is the fastest-growing independent site in history.

Increasingly, most of us are living two lives: one online, one off. ...

In 2013, scientists at two German universities monitored 584 Facebook users and found one out of three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to — especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos.

Even smaller details had the same effect.

“Overall,” wrote the study’s authors, “shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup.”

A 2014 survey conducted by the Manhattan-based marketing agency Current found 61 percent of millennial moms were rattled by the pressures of social media.

“There is an anti-social media movement on the horizon,” Current executive Amy Colton told Adweek. “Moms, especially young moms, are feeling pressured to present a perfect life . . . and starting to feel overwhelmed and annoyed.”

“The idea came to me when my little sister, who was 16, wasn’t invited to a school dance,” Steers, 38, tells The Post. “She told me about logging on to Facebook the very next day and seeing all these pictures of her friends at the dance, and that actually made her feel worse than not being invited” (New York Post).

Now the pressure is on to craft your online persona to convey what you want it to convey. You can pick any persona and make your online postings fit it.

The article goes on to mention a new fad of having a rinstagram and a finstagram. The 'r'eal instagram is actually the manufactured one the public sees, while the 'f'ake instagram is the real and unfiltered one shown only to close friends.

The Prophet (s) said,

"One of the most evil of people is the two-faced person who shows one face to these people and another face to those people (Mālik)."

This story of a woman who admitted to running up credit card debt to maintain her online image sums it perfectly.

“I’m one of those girls with a pretty Instagram. It’s not technically my job ... but I pride myself on having an Instagram that is pretty to look at and shows the best parts of my life. I’ve managed to get almost 5,000 followers from beautiful pictures of my city (Miami)...

My “real” life is actually pretty boring. I work as an administrator in the performing arts, which sounds cool (and puts you near a lot of cool things), but in practice is just as boring as most administrative jobs. ... My Instagram is where I have followers I mostly don’t know, who think I live this beautiful, perfect life. And I share all the posts to Facebook where I have almost all people I actually know, and I admit that it gives me a little rush to see that they are seeing this life. My collections of beautiful patterned maxi dresses and bright flowers on my brunch tables make me feel successful, especially when I think about people from high school or whatever looking at them. This is absolutely insane, I know!

... I have come to love Miami, but it’s not my dream city. But I base my internet persona in many ways on being the quintessential Miami girl. I never had a tan really before I came here, now I have deep(ish) olive skin and my formerly-dirty blonde hair is now dark, long, and straight. I admit that I like this version of myself, with little gold bangles around my wrists and ankles, and slightly glowy moisturizer on my chest and shoulders.

This isn’t me, though. My real life is just like anyone else’s, doing the laundry and paying the bills and going grocery shopping. But I get caught up in it sometimes. ... I don’t know if I’m “that girl,” but I am addicted to trying to be her. I stop my friends before they can touch their brunch plates, and I take a million hotdog-leg pictures to make sure I have the perfectly right one. I have a side of my apartment that I photograph, and it’s perfect. The other side is always a mess.

And I buy a lot of things to maintain my image. I pay for meals out, new bikinis (I’ve never photographed the same one twice), beautiful printed dresses nearly once a week, fresh flowers religiously once a week, etc etc etc. I even consider it important to always have a fridge full of La Croix and coconut water for my pictures. Writing this makes me realize just how insane it all is, but the truth is that I already knew. I spend money to make my life look a certain way, and I get a rush from looking that way, but my credit cards do not share my enthusiasm.

Over the past year, I’ve started accumulating a little bit of credit card debt each month, and it gets worse bit bit bit. I reassure myself by saying that this is an investment in something that will come together from the following I’m gathering and the “very small” amount of free stuff/attention I’m getting. Right now I have about 3,400 that I cannot pay on my cards, and I’ve slipped into paying the minimum. And as I’m writing this, I’m eating the sushi I bought on my way home, photographed fifty times, posted, and got 231 likes on so far. I plan on telling my parents about this when I go home next weekend so they can yell at me and force me to stop, because I know they’ll absolutely freak out. I know exactly how stupid what I’m doing is, but I just need someone to tell me, I guess.

That’s my life.

This viral video shows the depths some people go to to project a certain image.

The ultimate question here - as always - boils down to intention. Why do you want to be portrayed a certain way? Who are you hoping to show this version of yourself to? What do you get from doing this?

There are no easy answers to these questions. Oftentimes it also boils down to good ole peer pressure. The same way we were taught in elementary school to say no to the peer pressure of drugs, we have to be aware of the peer pressure put on us about the lives we live.

What Should Be Done? 

The gut reaction is to say we should stop posting all together, but that's not going to happen. Try deactivating all your social accounts and see how long before you reactivate them.

Be authentic. The difficulty here lies in posting something imperfect in a world where everyone else portrays perfection. To be authentic means to create your own safe space online. This might mean increasing the privacy levels on your accounts, or simply blocking people with reckless abandon. It also means that we need to stop taking ourselves and our opinions so seriously all the time.

Stop posting to attract a following. I've heard people say that it was easier to post on Twitter and Facebook when they only had a few followers. Once the numbers increased, so did the entitlement of their followers. Don't let the people following you dictate what you post (especially when they're anonymous strangers). Block them.

Incidentally, I believe this is one reason apps like Snapchat are gaining in popularity. Compared to other networks it is more closed off, and the content is not readily archived. It makes for a safer space to share moments - and without the expectation of perfection.

Lastly, when going through your social feeds, view everything with a personal filter. Realize that no one has a perfect life, and no one has a life as good as what they portray online. When you see it, all you can do is make dua for them.



What People Don't Realize About Publicizing Their Sins Online


"The internet is a reflection of our society and that mirror is going to be reflecting what we see. If we do not like what we see in that mirror the problem is not to fix the mirror, we have to fix society." Vint Cerf, one of the 'fathers of the internet'

It's happened to pretty much everyone. You come across the online profile of an old friend or acquaintance and start clicking through the photos. And that's when you see it. Until now, you had no idea, but there's your old Sunday School buddy chugging a beer.

Father i have sinned facebook confession


But what's the big deal really? Everyone "does stuff", everyone knows about it, now there is a photo. Big deal. Actually, it is a big deal. This is another one of those things where the demarcation of being born before or after 1985 becomes significant. Before social networking became mainstream, this type of behavior was rare. Yes, people committed all the same sins, but there was a level of shame. Those sins were not publicized. Even if they weren't hidden from friends, they were at the least hidden from parents and community members. This has changed completely. Now people post whatever they want and happily get 'likes' from their friends (and even family).


Islamically, there are two hadith of the Prophet (s) that govern the publicizing of sins.

Principle 1: Don't Publicize Your Own Sins


Principle 2: Don't Publicize the Sins of Others


So beyond the obvious "don't post pictures of yourself doing stupid things online," how do we really implement these advices?

Privacy Settings Are Not a Veil

A big misconception about things posted online is that they are somehow hidden if you manage your privacy properly. Maybe you have a secret Facebook profile accessible only to a few friends. Perhaps you feel safe using Snapchat because the image or video will self-destruct once viewed.

The Internet is Forever.

The problem here is that the underlying action still includes the broadcasting of sinful behavior. This in and of itself, regardless of the sin, is in direct contradiction to our faith. The reason that publicizing the sin is so much more grave than the sin itself is because it implicitly carries with it a level of arrogance and promotion of illicit behavior. Instead of remorse over committing the sin, we are often more caught up in trying to figure out how to show off what we did to our network.

The real solution is to avoid these things to begin with. Remember, social media is a magnifying lens. It will multiply whatever is there. Even if you do not post something online, others will post about it - and tag you.

This makes it even more important to avoid sins in general because the magnifying effect of social media actually increases the propensity of your sins being exposed. Click here to Tweet that.



There is a profound story narrated by Anas ibn Malik (ra) about a thief at the time of Umar (ra). The thief said, "By Allah, I have never stolen before this." Umar said, "You have lied, by the Lord of Umar. Allah does not take a slave at the first sin.” Then ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib said, "O Leader of the Believers, Allah is more forbearing than to take a slave for his first sin." Umar then gave the order and the man’s hand was cut off. Then ‘Ali asked him to speak the truth - how many times before had he stolen? He said, "21 times."

The extra step required here is making sure you never put yourself in a situation where your sins can be exposed.

Who Do You Follow?

It's really awkward when you meet a brother at the masjid who is married with kids, follow him on Instagram, and then see that while he posts normal pictures, he is following 200 swimsuit models on Instagram.

It's just weird.


We also may have a tendency to try and overlook things people post. For example, what about following your favorite sports star online even though he regularly posts pictures of himself making it rain at the club? Or someone famous who posts pictures promoting drug use? It is easy to say you are following them for one purpose, but constantly seeing the stream of other things affects the heart as well.

This isn't limited to famous accounts, but our friends as well. There will come times where you need to mute, unfollow, unfriend, or even block people you know.

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 8.51.08 AM

Your true friends should not be a vehicle of committing more sins. Take the basics. Maintaining family ties is one of those foundational principles in our faith. What about a friend who is constantly publicizing conflicts with their family? Or posting #FML updates about their parents? What about hitting 'like' on one of those updates?

Unseen Consequences

In the book It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, the author makes a point about how teens consider their public spaces private. In other words, if they're posting goofy photos with their friends and leaving comments, they can't fathom why a random adult who has nothing to do with them would view it. While logically that may be true, it's just not the case. The internet is forever.

People are denied college admissions and fired from work all the time because of what is found on their profiles.

A few months back, I was helping a female relative get married. When potential proposals came through, the first thing I did was search their social profiles. It's surprising how many people leave "shady" photos and check-ins at hookah bars public. In many cases, marriage proposals were rejected without the person ever knowing why.



Your profile is not limited to just a Facebook page. Your profile encompasses the sum of what you post, people you follow, and pages you've liked. Two questions that are great points of introspection:

  1. Would I be ok with how my social profiles look if I were to suddenly pass away?
  2. Would I be comfortable with my profile if I was "friends" with the Prophet (saw) online? Or if he was to see my Snapchat story history?

Because social media is such a magnifier, we actually have to go one step beyond simply avoiding the publicizing of the prohibited. We have to take that extra level of caution and avoid the questionable as well.

Safiyya bint Huyyay reported that while Allah's Messenger (saw) had been observing I'tikaf, I came to visit him one night and talked with him for some time. Then I stood up to go back and he also stood up with me in order to bid me good-bye. She was at that time residing in the house of Usama b. Zaid. The two persons from the Ansar happened to pass by him. When they saw Allah's Apostle, they began to walk swiftly, thereupon Allah's Messenger (saw) said to them:

Walk calmy, she is Safiyya daughter of Huyyay [my wife]... Both of them said: Messenger, subhanAllah, (we cannot conceive of anything doubtful even in the remotest corners of our minds), whereupon he said, 'Satan circulates in the body of man like the circulation of blood and I was afraid lest it should instill any evil in your heart or anything.' [Muslim]

The example being set here is to go out of your way to cut off even the smallest of doubts about your behavior.

Societal Pressure

The above 2 points help understand one of the larger societal and environmental factors at play. Society rewards (and therefore encourages) illicit behavior. Never forget, we are the generation that made the Kardashians famous.


The currency of social media is attention. This is tangibly measured in likes, views, retweets, comments, repins, reblogs, and shares. Take the Kardashians for example. They've been rewarded with an empire - reality TV show, clothing line, fragrance line, A-list status, and all the fame and riches anyone could hope to achieve. How did they "achieve" this success? What contribution did they make to society that makes them so successful? Google doesn't even make you click any links to find out, it answers the question for you very clearly.

kardashian famous tape

Paris Hilton, by the way, became famous the exact same way. Implicitly, society is telling millions of teenagers - if you want fame and success, this is how to get it. To gain currency online, you have to be shameless. You have to publicize your sins and break your moral compass.

Tweet: Never forget, we are the generation that made Kim Kardashian famous. #FiqhOfSocialMedia

Lest you think this is an exaggeration, Reply All did an entire podcast episode telling the story of a man who was tasked with creating a server set up to make sure their site didn't go down when they were getting ready to publish never seen before NSFW pictures of Kim Kardashian. Meaning, not only is this kind of stuff that spreads and gets rewarded - but it does so at unprecedented levels.

Embarrassing Others

The next trap after publicizing your own sins is spreading those of others. The attention economy is at play here as well. Posting something painting another person in a negative light is an easy way to get lots of likes and comments and lulz.

Click this picture to learn the story behind it.

It doesn't just stop at sharing the sins of others. It is more important not to seek out the sins of others online. In other words, don't click around on someone's profile waiting to find a smoking gun picture of them doing something wrong.

Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows and you do not know (24:19).

We have a natural curiosity to find out what others are up to, but it is part our faith to leave this alone.

There is a story about the Prophet Musa (as). During a drought, he went out to the desert with 70,000 people and supplicated for rain. Nothing happened. Musa was expecting the supplication to be answered, and then Allah (swt) revealed to him that among them is a person who has been challenging Allah with sins for the past 40 years, and to call out on that person to repent because the rain is withheld due to him. So Musa called out to the people for this sinner to repent.

The sinner looked around and saw no one coming forward, and he realized this was about him. He did not want to go forward and expose himself. So he put his head down and said, "My Lord I have disobeyed You for 40 years and You have always given me respite. I come to you in obedience so accept it from me."

He had barely finished this supplication when a cloud appeared overhead and rain started pouring down.

Musa then called out to Allah confused - no one came forward, yet the rain was sent down. Allah (swt) told him, "O Musa, I did not expose him when he was disobeying Me, then do you expect Me to expose him while he is obedient to Me?"

Ultimately this boils down to one of the fundamental concepts of social media - treat others the way you want to be treated.

A Muslim is a Muslim’s brother: he does not wrong him or abandon him. If anyone cares for his brother’s need, Allah will care for his need; if anyone removes a Muslim’s anxiety, Allah will remove from him, on account of it, one of the anxieties of the Day of resurrection; and if anyone conceals a Muslim’s fault, Allah will conceal his fault on the Day of resurrection (Abu Dawud).

There is a fascinating hadith that brings this full circle.

“Oh you who have believed with their tongues yet faith has not entered their hearts! Do not back-bite the Muslims, and do not seek to discover their faults, for whoever seeks after their faults, Allah will seek his faults. And if Allah seeks after someone’s faults, He will expose him even (what he committed) in his home.”

If you seek out the mistakes of others, Allah will expose your mistakes to everyone else. Click here to Tweet that.

Deeper Spiritual Ramifications

There is some added context to the publicizing of sins given by the Prophet (saw).

Every one of my followers will be forgiven except those who expose (openly) their wrongdoings. An example of this is that of a man who commits a sin at night which Allah has covered for him, and in the morning, he would say (to people): "I committed such and such sin last night,' while Allah had kept it a secret. During the night Allah has covered it up but in the morning he tears up the cover (sitr) provided by Allah Himself (Bukhari and Muslim).

The word sitr here is important. One of Allah's beautiful names is Al-Sitteer.


The meaning of this Name is that Allah (swt) is aware of our sins, and yet He covers them up. He does not allow our embarrassing actions to become known to others. He protects us by keeping our faults from becoming public. He keeps even our largest sins hidden from those closest to us.

This brings practicality to coming closer to Allah. Remember that He is Al-Sitteer, and He covers your sins, asks you to repent, and He loves that you cover the sins of others.

We close with the supplication of the Prophet (saw) himself,


O Allah, I ask You for pardon and well being in this life and the next. O Allah, I ask You for pardon and well-being in my religious and worldly affairs, and my family and my wealth. O Allah, veil [sitr] my weaknesses and set at ease my dismay. O Allah, preserve me from the front and from behind and on my right and on my left and from above, and I take refuge with You lest I be swallowed up by the earth.

Be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts. 

#BringBackOurSanity Guide to Recent Internet Debates


White House Iftar. Tariq Ramadan. Dr. Jackson. Zionist sponsored trips to Israel. RIS. ISNA. Abu Eesa. The list goes on. Everyone has seen the debates, and everyone is posting about them all over social media. In this post I want to unpack what I find to be good about these debates, along with some personal observations about the barrage of arguments.

1. Apathy

People in the smallest of local masjids are frustrated about why their board acts without regards to their interest. For many places, the root cause of this is apathy. People may complain and raise issue, but few care enough to keep up any kind of sustained efforts. In the end, general apathy from the community at large is what kills any hope of change. People may continue to advise those in leadership, but they're still left to their own devices.

Public accountability is the only form of checks and balances that is viable for community work. This is for your local masjid as well as the largest of Islamic organizations. If people don't care enough to exercise their right to accountability, then they can't expect their needs to be served.

This is why all these recent debates actually make me optimistic. It means we finally care. It reminds me of this from Sh. Hamza Yusuf:

To move forward, more people have to care. They have to feel a vested interest in community affairs. That's finally happening - and despite some bumps in the road, I strongly feel like we're on the right track. It wasn't too long ago we were criticizing everyone for being too caught up in entertainment and 'dunya' to care about the religion. Now that people care, let's cultivate it.

2. Sustained Empathy

Caring is good, but we have to keep ourselves from letting it get too erratic. There's a great article in Foreign Policy - Turn on, Retweet, Tune out - explains this concept in light of recent events like #BringBackOurGirls.


Simply put, people don't have the patience to sustain activism over a particular cause. The internet enables a rapid fire approach. Click here, click there, feel accomplished, then move on to the next task. To get more real about the issue, think of it this way. Remember the whole #FireAbuEesa controversy? How many of the people who so vociferously blasted him in public in the name of fair treatment, equality, marginalization of women, and so on, are still fighting for those causes? How many of the people who piped in with their "me too" support against him to show they stood on the side of women are still advocating for that cause?

There are two kinds of opportunism. There is opportunism in using an event to raise awareness and start a discussion. Then there is opportunism to convince people you care by jumping on a bandwagon, and then moving on and waiting for the next issue. The problem with this is that people care less about the cause, and more about making themselves look like people who care about causes.

This is not to say that everyone is insincere or posting just to get likes. What it does mean, as an intelligent consumer of information, you must be able to sift through the flood of status updates and try to figure out the context of why people are posting, or why they are advocating a certain cause. There is a world of difference between someone who unnecessarily manifests outrage at every opportunity, and someone genuinely affected by and posting about something like #FreePalestine.

On a personal level, we have to become okay with not speaking out about every cause. Just because everyone else is speaking about something doesn't necessarily mean I have to as well. Pick the causes that you care about, and be active about them within your sphere of influence. Your sincere care and concern will give you the sustained empathy needed for success.

[blockquote cite="Urban Dictionary" type="left, center, right"]Manufactured Outrage: A falsified righteous outrage at things that are basically unimportant and meaningless, frequently employed by politicians, political activists, or the media. Politicians and talking heads use it to garner support for their causes, to claim the moral high ground and to tar their opponents; the media often just uses it in a cynical bid to increase ratings.[/blockquote]

3. Breadcrumbs, Manners, and Double Standards

Everything you have ever posted is accessible for someone to find. Positions you previously held and statements you made years ago can and will be dug up.

It is easier now, more than ever, for people to hold you accountable for that which you advocate. This is of particular importance given the nature of Islamic debates on the internet. There are always two discussions going on-

  1. The actual debate over the issue
  2. The parallel debate over adab, personalities, and intentions

It's not enough to refute a position, we feel compelled to also refute the manner in which the position was presented. The more we do this, the more we create the expectation that we ourselves will be held to this same standard.

Be conscious of your own etiquette first and foremost. When things calm down, we never regret making a point. We don't usually regret speaking our mind. But we do often regret the manner in which we did. To see an example of raising an issue, and then writing a response with good adab see Tariq Ramadan's post, and Dr. Sherman Jackson's response.

There are obvious forms of bad adab (manners) such as foul language and ad hominem attacks. There is another one that's a little more under the radar that must be highlighted - double standards.

Take a look at this example of someone identifying what they perceive to be a double standard based on previous internet debates:

The problem with calls to adab (and this is something nearly everyone is guilty of) is that we want the scholars we respect, and the positions we take, to be treated with respect. When we hold an opinion, we want others to be tolerant of it. When someone criticizes a scholar we love, we want it to be done in a respectful manner. The problem is, many people apply these standards of respect *only* to their own scholars and positions without extending the same courtesy to people of different backgrounds or ideologies. Don't expect the benefit of the doubt if you can't extend it to others. Don't expect tolerance for your opinion by labeling the opposing positions as automatically intolerant.

Another extension of this issue is the debate over whether or not things should be criticized in public. We cannot assume that someone posts something in public without having privately discussed it first. We feel okay making that assumption about others, but get offended when given the same treatment. This is not fair. We also need to progress past this point of naive notions of naseehah. Yes, personal advice is meant to be given in private. Public issues, issues of concern to the community, are by definition - public. The discourse about them will be public, and it is necessary that they be made public as a means of accountability for leadership.

If my friend leads prayer, and mispronounces surah Fatihah, I will advise him privately. It is a private issue. If I post a note on Facebook about it and tag him, that is inappropriate behavior on my part. If someone posts a picture of themselves at the White House Iftar, then they should expect to be criticized. It is a public action, and it will warrant public discussion.

People will post a photo like that, and then hide behind statements like "I'm not making a political statement LOL, just got invited bro, had some good food" when criticized. This is disingenuous because by claiming to steer clear of the political issues, they actually are making a political statement.  It is a weak display of  trying to straddle the fence while hiding behind your own passive-aggressive behavior to avoid critique. One of the ironic things about passive-aggressive updates is that they often call into question a person's intentions. We know that it's terrible character to call to account someone's intentions, but we do it anyway to try and prove a point. This is ironic because questioning someone's motives actually weakens your own arguments.

Passive aggressive updates (or sub-tweeting) is quite possibly the worst offender in the category of bad adab. I've been told that young teenagers often post song lyric excerpts as a way to comment on a fight, their parents, or something like a recent break up to express their emotion without having to actually discuss the issue. We are becoming the same way. If we aren't ready to speak clearly on something, let's leave it aside.

The issues outlined here are the contextual issues surrounding the actual debate of issues - these are the issues that cause us to lose our sanity. Avoiding this (and avoiding shame grenades) go a long way in making the internet a happier place for all of us.

4. What's In It For Me?

Everything boils back to the basics of our religion. Foremost is intention. What is my intent in choosing to consume the debate in the first place? No one forced you to read everything about RIS. You chose to for a reason. I remember back in the early 2000's, Islamic message boards were en vogue. People spent their time arguing and refuting scholars. I personally know of a brother who within weeks of starting to pray 5 times a day immersed himself in these forums. A few months later, he no longer had any connection to the religion. These debates take a spiritual toll. Make sure you have a productive reason to follow it or partake in it. What value do you receive, and what value do you provide? If someone comes back and sees your feed 8 weeks later, what would their impression be?

Leave alone what doesn't concern you. This is a fundamental principle in the 40 Hadith on Social Media. It is difficult to leave alone issues everyone is talking about. Be as discerning as possible. Some of the issues are big, and they do require attention. Others, not so much. Some issues are worth the investment of time to educate yourself, and they are worth the time to use your personal platform to educate and share with others. Some issues will blow over, and you would have been better off doing something else.

Debate issues. Personalities will always change. Just because someone has a different ideology does not make it acceptable to transgress their rights as a human or your Muslim brother or sister.

Be active. Social media has empowered everyone. The fact that someone like me can reach someone like you is proof enough. Utilize the tool to its best benefit.

Make dua. I'm including this at the risk of sounding cliche. Whenever these issues flare up, sincerely ask Allah (swt) to guide you, guide our community, to help show the truth, and to enable us to be a means of benefit to those around us. Make dua that you and those who you disagree with are guided to the truth, and that despite disagreement He puts love in your hearts for one another.