Internet: Your Guru?
Some time ago, the following message attributed to an esteemed scholar went viral all around the world:
It is a wonderful, motivating and uplifting message… Except that a third of it was not even from that particular scholar.
I know this because the original source of the message is a close friend of mine. In a private online group, she had paraphrased what her friend in Tarim had relayed to her, and added on to it her personal du’a for members of the group.
Out of good intentions, several of the group’s members shared the message both online and offline in its entirety, without seeking permission or clarification, and with the mistaken assumption that the whole message was from the scholar. True to the click-happy nature of people today, that message was then forwarded, shared and liked to the extent that it was impossible to rectify the error (my friend did try).
In a matter of hours, hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Muslims from Morocco to Malaysia had become the audience of a message that was meant for a private group of ten. And it was not even the ‘right’ message.
Internet: Your Guru?
The above incident, coupled with several things I learnt from attending a forum titled “Internet, Your Guru?” organized by Muhammadiyah Association of Singapore, made me realize two things.
Firstly, as the source of a message, we have to take full responsibility of its contents. Unfortunately, messages that look good only on the surface are not as easily weeded out as messages that are explicitly bad, like aiding in the public shaming of a fellow Muslim or engaging in online fitnah.
In our zeal to share a ‘good’ message and accrue the rewards that come with it, many of us fall into the error of not checking the reliability of said message. Because clicking ‘share’ seems like a shortcut to doing good, many of us do not care to take the arduous task of verifying what we spread.
Reliability, according to brother Walid during the forum, can be discerned through four factors – the accuracy of the message, its coverage (partial or full), the objective as to why the message was created, and the authority by which the source of the message holds in sharing that message.
Some questions brother Walid proposed we ask ourselves before we go on a sharing frenzy are, “What is the basis, background and motivation of the author, publisher or paper?”, “What is the benefit of me sharing this information?” and lastly, if we are able to argue both for or against that message.
Secondly, as receivers of a message, we have to be wise in discerning what is wrong, what is right, and where we take our messages and information. This was the focus of the forum, and rightfully so in this day and age of Syeikh Google, Ustadh Facebook and Mawlana Twitter.
All three panelists of the forum agree that the Internet is not meant to be anybody’s “Guru”, but its function is merely as a tool. Learning the Deen has to be an offline endeavor; our resources should be real teachers and syeikhs we can meet and ask questions from in real life.
Ustaz Mohd Kamal likened the Internet to a jungle – in it are many resources, but without the right knowledge of navigation and survival, in it too are many dangers. As it is, even published works with editors and gatekeepers contain countless disinformation and misinformation, what more the Internet that gives the power of publishing to any layman with a 56k dial-up connection.
As such, Ustaz Abd al-Halim reminded the 70 attendees of the forum of verse 6 in surah Al-Hujurat, where Allah swt said, “O you who have attained to faith! If any iniquitous person comes to you with a [slanderous] tale, use your discernment,lest you hurt people unwittingly and afterwards be filled with remorse for what you have done.” Therein lies the importance of verification in accepting and in disseminating messages.
Additionally, Ustaz Halim too mentioned that reading or understanding a message does not necessarily means having knowledge. Al-‘Ilm is light, and light comes with having Taqwa of Allah swt.
Taqwa, on the other hand, does not come from ignorantly sharing, forwarding and liking any and every ‘good’ message. Taqwa comes with being mindful of Allah swt, and hence, with being mindful of every action we make and every message we spread. Taqwa shows in practicing adab, right from seeking permission to share private messages, to seeking knowledge of the Deen.
Just as the esteemed scholar in the cited example had mentioned that the Muslims won the battle of Badr even as they were severely outnumbered due to Divine Help, we too have to remember that in the tangles of messages that the World Wide Web hold, quality and blessings from Allah swt far surpass quantity.
And yes, my close friend, the organizers of the forum, Brother Walid, Ustaz Kamal and Ustaz Halim have all given their permission for this article to be published.
Please, feel free to share it ;)