A Quick Guide to Social Media Etiquette

Islamic Adab and manners while interacting on the internet

Islam is a complete and comprehensive religion. All the guidance that we could possibly need can be found within the teachings of the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “And We have revealed to you the Book which clarifies everything, and it is a guidance, mercy and source of good tidings for the Muslims.” (16:89) Thus, in every issue, religious or worldly, classical or contemporary, our religion has some guidance concerning it.

A very good example of this is the teachings we find in the Qur’ān vis-à-vis the way we interact with others and the words we utter. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than his jugular vein. When the two receivers receive, seated on the right and on the left. Man does not utter any word except that with him is an observer prepared.” [50:16-18]

These verses inform us that every word we utter is being recorded, and will then be presented before us on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said in the narration of Bilāl ibn al-Ḥārith, “Indeed a man says a word from that which pleases Allah, and he never thinks anything of it, but Allah will record for him His pleasure due to it until the Day of Judgement. And indeed a man will utter a word from that which angers Allah, and he never thinks anything of it, but Allah will record for him His anger due to it until the Day of Judgement.”[1]

Applying the above verse and ḥadīth in a contemporary context, we must understand that these rulings and etiquettes do not only apply to the spoken word but also to the written word. We live now in a time where we communicate just as much by writing – text messages, emails, WhatsApp, Facebook posts, tweets, etc. – as we do verbally. In fact, visual communication is also popular know in the form of Instagram. The problem however, is that although we know that we should not lie when we speak, nor backbite, cheat, slander, swear and so on, we do not apply this knowledge into what we write, post or tweet. However, the same etiquettes we use in speech should be observed in the world of social and online media too.

The Good of Social Media

I want to begin by saying that social media is not evil in and of itself. It is a means, and like other means such as wealth or technology, it can be used for good or bad. Thus, it is the user who relegates it to harming and offending others. There is much good for which social media can be used. It can be used as a means of connecting with family and joining the ties of kinship, communicating with friends and increasing the bonds of love, reminding others of Allah and benefitting them in this life and the next.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The one who guides to good is [rewarded] like the doer.”[2] In another narration, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The most beloved of people to Allah are those most beneficial to others.”[3]

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The Reality of Social Media

Social media is an outlet to instantaneously connect with others on a mass level. However sometimes we misunderstand its purpose and role, or confuse it and substitute it for other things. Social media is not a place of Islamic study or where one can become a Muslim scholar. It is not the place for in-depth discussion and debate on complicated and detailed issues which require years of study and knowledge of the various branches and disciplines of Islamic studies.

People with the most ‘likes’ on Facebook or ‘followers’ on Twitter are not necessarily the most knowledgeable, wise and mature of scholars. Social media following is neither a qualification nor a measure of piety. YouTube views do not by themselves mean that a lecture is the most authentic or authoritative on a subject. These things may seem obvious when expressed like this, but sometimes many of us treat social media in this way, knowingly or unknowingly. We therefore need view social media for what it is and what it is not.

The Wildfire of Social Media

We live in the age of fake news, but we also live in the age of fake fatwas and peculiar opinions. We see social media being used to besmirch the honour of others, and especially our scholars, imams and preachers. It is bad enough that we have to contend with such issues. Yet what makes this phenomenon substantially worse is the culture of ‘forwarding’. In this manner, a single rumour initiated by one person spreads like wildfire across the world.

We are responsible not only for the things we say and write, but also what we are party to. If you help to spread something, be sure it is correct and authentic. Don’t fall for the line, ‘If you love Allah/Islam/the Prophet then forward this’. The falsehood you help to spread and facilitate is also in your record of deeds.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned us against such things in the narration of Samurah, “I saw in my dream last night that two men came to me, took me by my hands and transported me to the blessed land. There I saw a man sitting, and another standing with a metal hook in his hand. The standing man placed the hook inside the sitting man’s mouth, into his inner cheek and pulled with such force until he tore his mouth and reached the back of his head. He then did the same with the other cheek, by which time the first cheek was healed. He then returned to the first and did the same… The angels said, ‘As for the man whose cheeks were torn, it was the one who spread a lie until it reached the ends of the world, so this is his punishment until the Day of Judgement.’”[4]

General Etiquettes

Using social media whilst hidden behind a screen or using a pseudonym, does not give you carte blanche to write what you please. Rather, Allah sees, hears and knows what you do, and the angels still record it. Therefore:

  1. Maintain good character always – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “There is nothing heavier on the scales on the Day of Judgement than good character.”[5]
  2. Respect others – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The Muslim is the one who others are safeguarded from his hand and tongue.”[6]
  3. Do not attack the honour of others – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Indeed the worst type of usury is to attack the honour of another Muslim unjustly.”[7]

Writing is like Speaking

Although the person you write to or about may not be in front of you, you should act as if they are. Things which are prohibited when speaking are also prohibited when writing.

  1. Do not belittle others – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “It is sufficient evil for a Muslim to belittle his fellow brother.”[8]
  2. Do not lie – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “A person may leave their house and say a lie which then reaches the horizons.”[9]
  3. Do not swear or curse – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was not one who cursed, swore or spoke vainly.[10]
  4. Do not backbite – Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “Do not spy on one another nor backbite one another.” [49:12]
  5. Be gentle, polite and forbearing – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The strong is not the one who can out-wrestle another, but the one who controls his anger.”[11]

Online Modesty

One of the dangers of social media is that people view it as a platform to expose their sins, or to make things public which otherwise they would keep private. We have a false sense of security online as we believe things we do anonymously are only seen by individuals we wish to share them with. Yet the reality is often the opposite. Keep things private if they deserve to be kept so and respect the privacy of others. Be modest and shy online and do not showcase your sins.

  1. Respect the privacy of others – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “From the beauty of one’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern them.”[12] In another narration, the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever veils a believer will be veiled by Allah in this life and the next.”[13]
  2. Lower your gaze online – Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze… And tell the believing women to lower their gaze…” [24:30-31]
  3. Do not use social media to interact with the opposite gender in an unlawful way – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “A man should not be secluded with a woman unless her mahram is with her.”[14]
  4. Do not boast about your sins online – The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “All of my nation will be forgiven except for those who sin publicly. Indeed from this is a man who sins at night, and he awakes with Allah’s veil over that sin. He then goes and tells someone about what he did. He slept with Allah’s veil over him and awoke to shed that veil from himself.”[15]

 

The above are some of the etiquettes that we should observe in the world of social media. Most importantly, if we have the fear of Allah and are conscious of Him in our hearts, knowing that all our words, actions and writings are being recorded and then will be presented before us, we will surely think twice before disobeying Allah and harming others, whether in person or behind a screen.

May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, and safeguard us from evil, and protect our tongues and limbs from harming others. And Allah k

[1] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmi῾

[2] Jāmi῾ al-Tirmidhī

[3] Al-Silsilah al-Ṣaḥīḥah

[4] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

[5] Jāmi῾ al-Tirmidhī

[6] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmi῾

[7] Sunan Abū Dāwūd

[8] Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim

[9] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Jāmi῾ al-Tirmidhī

[13] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

[14] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

[15] Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

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