Elevating the Discourse – Responding to Internet Outrage as a Believer
The cycle is familiar enough to most, if not all of us. Something vaguely controversial happens. Muslims organise an event to educate other Muslims on the etiquette of touching dogs. A deceased non-Muslim politician is lauded in the Friday khutbah. Muslim celebrities are featured as ambassadors for a gay pride event.
The controversy goes viral on the internet. Shared on Facebook, retweeted on Twitter, and screen-captured to be posted on Instagram and circulated through Whatsapp group chats. Clickbait websites jump on the issue and spread it even further, fanning the flames of controversy. Everybody looks for somebody to blame.
And yet, for all the outrage generated, nothing changes. People get angry, get into heated debates online with strangers, then the outrage dies down and nothing gets resolved. In a few days time, another controversy arises, people jump on the issue and the whole cycle starts itself once again. Could it be, perhaps, that internet outrage resolves very little, if anything at all?
This isn’t unique to the Muslim community, of course. It seems like access to a computer and a keyboard (or more likely a smartphone these days) is enough to drive people of all races, religions and political affiliations frothing at the mouth over the smallest matters. My concern is that Muslims need to follow the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and in doing so hold themselves to a higher standard of good character.
Enjoining the good?
Among Muslims at least, a lot of outrage is justified as falling under the principle of amar ma’ruf nahi mungkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil). Yet it’s strange that enjoining the good somehow often involves being harsh to others, cursing others with vulgarities, and displaying the complete opposite of the admirable character that we are supposed to be calling others to.
I personally know someone whose comment on every single ‘controversial’ story is an expletive. Words such as ‘lapdog’, ‘apologist’, and ‘liberal’ get hurled at politicians, community leaders, and even scholars. Worse still, on occasion those who do not agree are questioned on the sincerity of their beliefs, and labeled as munafiq or even worse, kafir. For Muslims, do you want to stand before God on Yawmul Qiyamah and attest that you called another Muslim a kafir?
I am not suggesting that we abandon our principles or sit idly by while wrongdoing occurs. We need to be concerned about sin and crimes, whether within or outside of the Muslim ummah, and this concern should translate into action where possible. Rather, I am hoping that our responses are measured, carefully considered and for the greater good rather than for the sake of scoring likes and reposts. Hurling insults is not sophisticated political critique.
Becoming the Ummah of Mercy
As Muslims, we are taught to begin everything with the basmala, the invocation that states that our actions are performed in the name of Allah, the Beneficent and the Merciful. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is described by Allah in the Qur’an as a mercy to the worlds. And if our Lord is the All Merciful, and our Prophet is the prophet of mercy, then surely as believers we need to be the ummah of mercy.
We need to look upon others through the lens of mercy and assume the best of others, even if they seem to be doing wrong. And if they need to be corrected, advised or stopped from doing an action, we need to first understand that we are ourselves are sinners and no better than anybody else. From that, we should then accept that any advice we dish out should first be directed to ourselves.
If we feel the need to shame others for whatever sins they’ve committed, what happens when the tables turn and our own sins and shortcomings are exposed?
The Prophet himself said that he was sent to perfect character, and his own character was described by his wife Ai’sha as the Qur’an. Imagine that, his character is compared to the eternal Word of God, and we as his community are called upon to emulate him. I think that alone should make all of us evaluate ourselves and our conduct and see how far we have to go to live up to this ideal of mercy and good character.
The Solution: Going Offline?
Perhaps the answer is in taking things offline and conversing face to face with those whom we have disagreements with. The medium of social networks, blogs and online forums are useful, inasmuch as they provide an easy avenue for us to communicate with others who are far away or whom we may not necessarily encounter in everyday life.
Yet, a profile photo cannot display the emotions one has when speaking from the heart. A status update does not convey the nuance of one’s speech, or the warmth present in a heart to heart conversation. We might be able to send someone an angry tweet thanks to the relative anonymity of the internet, but modesty might require that we present our views in a far more agreeable manner when meeting someone in person. Shaykh AbdulKarim Yahya put it best in a recent Facebook post.
Let us all step back and evaluate all of our interactions with our fellow human beings, online or otherwise, according to the Prophetic Model. I’m sure most of us would find some room for improvement.
Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported,
“I asked the Messenger of Allah, “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?”
He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.””
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local research institute and a part-time writer.