By Dr Mohannad Hakeem
The nonstop development in technology and social media is moving at a much faster rate than any of us can predict or even imagine. Similar to any form of communication, Islam provides guidelines in terms of the WHY (intentions), the WHAT (the content of our messages), and the HOW (to set some limits and boundaries). Part 1 of this series sets the stage for this article and the next, in order to suggest the guidelines that should “tune” the interaction between Muslim students and activists using social media and group chats. I prefer to defer the gender interactions portion of this discussion, since I believe that the first problematic element is related to the huge miscommunication associated with this “advanced and innovative” way of communication.
1. Miscommunication and Misinterpretation
While this can happen in male-only or female-only interactions, my humble experience within Muslim groups tells me that miscommunication increases exponentially when both genders are involved, probably due to the difference in nature between males and females.
In Surat Al-Hujurat, Allah says:
Some Muslims are conspiracy theorists by nature, and they would love to compare Whatsapp or Facebook to a fasiq; I wouldn’t go that far, but the word fasiq in Arabic is used when someone exits a prescribed way or methodology, and the biggest example of that is challenging the rules of Allah and disobeying him. In that sense, Whatsapp offers an environment that is conducive for misunderstanding, which may be as effective in destroying relations as a fasiq.
Apps for social media and group chats were designed to be used for fun and casual interaction, but in this context our dear activists are expected to use them in a purposeful manner; this is a main reason behind the confusion. Imagine a group trying to organize an event in a café with very loud music while everyone is having fun and enjoying their time. This will definitely not work, since the venue of that meeting does not fit the serious discussions that are being held.
We think that group messages save us time, but the reality is that the time spent to attend an actual physical meeting is an essential and irreplaceable investment. You need everyone’s attention, participation, and involvement in the discussion and decision-making. A practical suggestion is to dedicate the group chat for announcements and action items only, while being firm at deferring all discussions and comments to face-to-face meetings.
“Believers, if a fasiq (disobedient or troublemaker) brings you news, check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done” [49:6]
2. Wasting Time
Al-Hassan Al-Basri said:
“I met a generation of people (referring to the companions of the Messenger ) who cared about how they spend their time, more than you care about spending your money”.
The amazing (and dangerous) thing about time management is that it is contagious. Every time I meet a scholar or a high achiever, I get motivated and my productivity increases exponentially; similarly, those who are in constant search to kill more time influence people around them and drag them their way.
Group chats enter into everybody’s classroom, office, prayer, and even bedrooms, to pull them out of the primary task at hand and increase their distraction. If we add the time spent before or after reading a message, and the time and effort spent to refocus on whatever you’re doing, we are talking about huge portions of our time and attention, all spent, supposedly, for the “sake of Allah” and to “help our masjid or our MSA” and “to save ourselves the hassle of an actual meeting”.
Imam Hassan Banna said in one of his ten principles a statement that always struck me:
“Responsibilities are much more than time allotted for them, so make wise use of your time, and help others to use their time wisely”.
The action item for this part, in regards to group chats, is to simply apply the following hadith before starting any new discussion, especially in group chats:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment, let him say something of benefit or remain silent”.
3. Dilution of Important Announcements
Once again this article is directed towards Muslim activists who are trying to communicate effectively and increase their productivity. Allah encourages them, and all of the believers, in Surat Al-Mu’minun by saying:
“And those who turn away from laghw (idle or useless talk)” [23:3]
I feel that the biggest issue with group chats is magnifying this laghw aspect of conversations and spreading it among others. One cannot deny that all forms of social media are big examples of laghw, where a user can post anything about everything and share it with everyone who may read, like or comment on nonsense; group chats take it to the next level by imposing this nonsense on people. Group chats drag us out of our busy schedule and poke us: Hey this person from your Muslim group wants to tell you nothing!
4. Increase the Likelihood of Mistakes
Omar Bin Khattab offers this deep advice to Al-Ahnaf Bin Qays, which should be “shared” with all of your friends and activists:
When one’s speech increases, his mistakes will also increase,
And when one’s mistakes increase, his modesty will decrease,
And when one’s modesty decreases, his piety will decrease,
And when one’s piety is lessened, his heart will die…
Our venues for communication are getting easier and easier with time; with that comes a responsibility to pay close attention to how we use them, and how they affect our mistakes, modesty, piety, and the spiritual life of our hearts. Stay tuned to learn about the controversial aspect of gender issues and social media, inshaAllah.
Br. Mohannad Hakeem holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering; he is a full time research engineer at Ford Motor Company. He authored more than 10 technical papers and 25 patents. In addition, he is a youth mentor, public speaker, and an activist based in Dearborn, Michigan.