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Peer Pressure On Social Media: Lessons From Surah Yusuf


How often have I been scrolling through social media and seen friends doing something shocking? Every once in a while, I feel a pang of horror when I see someone I thought I knew pretty well smoking hookah at a lounge, dressed immodestly, or doing something else I assumed they never did. It’s not that I’m judging anyone, because let’s be clear: it’s none of my business what my friends do. It’s more that I feel betrayed because I didn’t know that side of them. I also feel my self-assuredness in sticking to my faith waning, and I begin to feel as if I’m vulnerable to falling into the same pitfalls because those around me are. Is this peer pressure on social media I am grappling with?

Grown women like me, in our 30s, may think we are immune from problems we’ve survived in the past–like peer pressure. But the truth is that peer pressure for us still exists and looks different at our current stage in life, particularly with the advent of social media. Fortunately, Surat Yusuf provides some insight into the issue of peer pressure in women’s circles. 

Peer Pressure in Surah Yusuf

In Surah Yusuf, or the chapter of the Muslim Holy Book named after Prophet Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), we see a gathering of older, mature women who end up being influenced to make a bad decision. In verses 30 to 34, we see this event unfolding.

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“And women in the city said, “The wife of al-‘Azeez is seeking to seduce her slave boy; he has impassioned her with love. Indeed, we see her [to be] in clear error.”

“So when she heard of their scheming, she sent for them and prepared for them a banquet and gave each one of them a knife and said [to Joseph], “Come out before them.” And when they saw him, they greatly admired him and cut their hands and said, “Perfect is Allah! This is not a man; this is none but a noble angel.”

“She said, “That is the one about whom you blamed me. And I certainly sought to seduce him, but he firmly refused; and if he will not do what I order him, he will surely be imprisoned and will be of those debased.”

“He said, “My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and [thus] be of the ignorant.”

“So his Lord responded to him and averted from him their plan. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”

At first, the women in the city all know that the Aziz’s wife has tried to “[seduce] her youthful slave” [12;30]. In their gossiping, they talk about how she’s doing something wrong in harsh language, calling her infatuation with him a “[plague]” [12;30]. Ultimately, they say, “Surely, we see her in open error” [12;30]. The women’s vicious gossip is about to change, however.  

Within one verse – that’s how quickly their impression of the situation changes. The Aziz’s wife throws a nice party for them, and then literally in the next verse, they’ve completely lost sight of their moral ground. They fall into the Aziz’s wife’s trap and fawn over Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), being so overly excited by his handsomeness that they’re calling him an “angel” [12;31]!

Now, to be fair, the Aziz’s wife does put some effort into winning them over to her side. She hears the gossip and then purposefully makes a scheme to redeem herself. Somehow, Shatyan tricks her into turning her shame and embarrassment into something entirely different to defend herself. To not feel ashamed and protect her public image, she flipped the script and tried to win everyone else over by making them fall into the same trap as herself. 

The Aziz’s wife then goes in for the kill in verse 32, and no one stops her now that they’ve fallen prey to peer pressure. When the Aziz’s wife declares in the following ayah that Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will listen to her –no matter what– we don’t see any women sticking to their standards and causing an uproar. The women are completely quiet now. They’ve sold out. These grown women are acting like silly teenagers, as we may wrongly judge them, and they’ve forgotten what right and wrong are because of one important person’s influence. 

Takeaways on Peer Pressure from the Story of the Women 

The first warning this story gives us is that a friend might be sinfully enjoying a worldly pleasure but makes it look so tantalizing we forget it’s bad. But this happens all the time on social media –where people love to publicize their sins for some reason. 

The second takeaway from this incident is to be vigilant about letting others’ flattery, persona, or image influence our moral compass. At times, we may notice that someone is manipulating us, perhaps unwittingly, into feeling special or as if we’re friends or accepted into their clique. How many people have we encountered who minimize their disobedience of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) by trying to convince us to join them? And if we’re culprits of this ourselves, are we aware of our impact on others we know?  This story demonstrates how quickly our notions of right and wrong can be muddled in social settings.  

Yusuf: The Solution

Thankfully, Surah Yusuf gives us the solution of what to do when facing peer pressure –and that’s how Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) responds in ayah 34. Firstly, he recognizes that he might be feeling vulnerable to being influenced in a wrong way. The beauty is that the Quran shows us that even a prophet can get confused in a situation like this –so we are in good company if we have this problem. His first realization is something we can do in our lives: have enough self-awareness to identify when we might fall prey to peer pressure. 

The second thing Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) does is get out of that situation as fast as possible, and he puts a good distance between himself and those people beckoning him to do something terrible. That’s the second thing we can do: remove ourselves from any situation tempting us to do something wrong. If we’re in a situation and we’re unsure about what’s going on, a beautiful thing for us to do would be to pause and ask, “What would Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) do right now? How would the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) like seeing me do this action?” The answers to those questions should be enough to steer us in the right direction at the moment, and then afterward, if it is an important issue, we can get advice from a trusted scholar.  

Navigating Peer Pressure on Social Media

social media peer pressureIf we specifically consider the world of social media, using this two-step approach may require a significant shift in lifestyle. The trouble with implementing a heightened awareness and removing ourselves from a social gathering is simpler, yet more complicated, when we consume social media often. Most often, we generally inundate ourselves with social media on our phones when we are tired or bored and cannot pay much attention to what we are doing. We also engage with social media alone and in private through what seems like a periscope. Watching people we know acting out of character is much more palatable through the distance of a screen. If we’re typically meeting up with a friend at the masjid playground while our children play, imagine how difficult it’d be to follow that person to a hookah lounge and then watch them smoke from within that specific environment. Sometimes being with others within a particular environment can have a lot of sway over us. Still, at least our bodies experience those physical feelings and phenomena, and we also pick up on social cues, both positive and negative. 

Our social media universes are more than just populated with those we interact with in our present lives. This issue worsens when our contacts include people we don’t have much of a connection with, such as casual acquaintances and childhood friends we’ve lost touch with. This may overwhelm us with too much information about people we don’t know or trust that much. The problem is that we continue to engage with all of this content and desensitize ourselves to it as we scroll through our social media feeds with glazed eyes. 

For these reasons, we should evaluate our own social media usage on many fronts. How often and when do we use social media? Who is in our social media universes? What guidelines do we keep when deciding to keep a person in our contacts or limit/censor their content in some way? What good does social media bring us, and in what productive ways do we use it? Is there a way to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks? Tweaking our social media usage probably looks different for every person, but I think the place to start is where Prophet Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) did. We should all begin with an increased sense of awareness followed up by being able to judge when to cut and run. 

The Blueprint for Redemption and Recourse-Mistakes on Social Media

Let’s be honest–maybe there’s been an incident when we’ve been a ringleader of something bad, like the Aziz’s wife. The final piece we may consider from the story of Surah Yusuf is how the Aziz’s wife’s story comes to a close for us to grapple with our own mistakes or experiences in the past. In verses 51-53 of Surat Yusuf, we find the wife’s model for rectifying a mistake from the past.

“Said [the king to the women], “What was your condition when you sought to seduce Joseph?” They said, “Perfect is Allah ! We know about him no evil.” The wife of al-‘Azeez said, “Now the truth has become evident. It was I who sought to seduce him, and indeed, he is of the truthful.”

“That is so al-‘Azeez will know that I did not betray him in [his] absence and that Allah does not guide the plan of betrayers.”

“And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.”

The first step is admitting the truth and seeing things from a clear perspective, just as the Aziz’s wife explains during the king’s inquiry. She takes responsibility for her actions, acknowledging that it’s finally “‘time for the truth to come to light’’ [12;51.]. A huge disclaimer needs to be made here, though. The Aziz’s wife is literally being put on trial in front of a king, so this realization has been forced to some extent and may be more of a confession. But can we not think of facing the Ultimate King and use that to force ourselves to grapple with our own mistakes? Although the king’s official inquiry is intense, I can only imagine the incredible amount of introspection and effort that coming out with the truth took on her behalf. That work is far from easy. It’s also invisible but a necessary part of the process. 

The second part of the plan is to stop the negative blowout after a mistake has been made. Although the confession is forced,  we do have a hint that the Aziz’s wife had not been fabricating stories about the incident and made sure she didn’t “‘speak dishonestly in [Yusuf’s] absence’” about what had happened and his very suspicious imprisonment [12:52.]. That’s the second part of the action plan: stopping that mistake in its tracks from causing further harm. We can imagine how curiosity about Yusuf’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) imprisonment or the old wives’ tale about a crazy day a few years ago are still around. Just think of the gossip! But the Aziz’s wife is making a good effort to stifle its spread. When we look at our lives on social media, perhaps it’s time for us to take down posts that may have been calling people towards a negative path. 

The third phase of action is to publicly acknowledge that mistake and, if necessary, ask for forgiveness. The Aziz’s wife says she doesn’t want to “‘free [herself] from blame’” and demonstrates a firm belief in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) ability to be “All-Forgiving” and “Most Merciful” to her for her mistake [12;53.] We see a repentant person in the Aziz’s wife who is taking accountability publicly for her public actions, or at least in front of the king and Yusuf 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). This is the last action we should consider taking as well: admit the wrongdoing as publicly as necessary.


Related reading:

Lessons From Surah Yusuf – Part 2: Trials and Temptation

Podcast: Damage Control With Digital Dinosaurs – On The Fiqh of Social Media | Omar Usman

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Meena is a writer, podcaster, high school English teacher, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US and is also studying the Asharah Qira'aat/10 Recitations. Check out her podcast and website Brown Teacher Reads: the brown literature circle you always wanted to be in. (

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ghazi

    February 27, 2023 at 5:43 AM

    I found the tips in this article to be practical and easy to implement. Thanks for the helpful advice!

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