Beware the Perils of the Internet

Beware the Perils of the Internet

Shaykh Ḥasan al-Ṣumālī

21 February 2014

A legacy khuṭbah (2014) on the developing perils of unchecked internet participation. As the internet became increasingly social, with it came easier opportunities for people to feign knowledge.

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When you post something, to who are you posting it for and how are you doing it? Is it sincerely for Allāh?

Shaykh Ḥasan al-Ṣumālī

  

A discussion on some of the harms of internet technologies, specifically social media in its various forms. The misuse of these technologies for evil is commonplace today. Many Muslims let their guards down online and do not give thought to how they interact with the internet and what this is doing to their time. The issue of seeking knowledge versus click-happy sociability and the overall absorption of time into a vortex of techo time-wasting is explored also.

The speaker introduces his sermon reminding the listener to "be careful of following most of the people". This being a prelude of what is to follow as it relates to heedlessness in the online world.

وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ 

And if you obey most of those on earth, they will mislead you far away from Allāh's Path. They follow nothing but conjectures, and they do nothing but lie.
[al-Anʿām, 6:116] 

He continues, “If we were to analyse social media networks, we would see this (reality of following the people) like the clouds in the sky”. 

  • 50 million follow Katy Perry
  • 49 million follow Justin Bieber
  • 769 thousand follow Habib Ali Jifri (Ṣūfī) 

“The internet has avenues for good and avenues for evil, but the avenues for evil are many!”

“One who uses the internet should not feel safe from danger”

“Do not think you are immune from misguidance?” 

“From the harms of the internet is exposing one’s sins!”

 

Instagram/Twitter  

Is it Instagram or 'Instant exposure of disobedience (to Allāh)'?

The speaker refers to the shamelessness of “picturing oneself sinning on Instagram…women uncovered, boasting and sharing links”. 

He reminds the listener that “disobedience strips the heart of hatred and disgust for filthy acts…what happens then?”

Some may respond, “don’t advise me, I could be doing worse?!” If you do not fear Allāh, then do whatever you please!

"How many people have been tested (with fitnah), then after some time we don’t see them anymore (sins leads to misguidance)".

The speaker reminds the audience:

  • The one who openly displays his sins openly is not pardoned!
  • The dangers of free-mixing, forums, chat groups (whatsapp, wechat, viber etc.), Facebook, Instagram etc.
  • Beware of men preying (creeping) online, slowly and shrewdly enticing  the female towards sins and exposure.

The Importance of ikhlāṣ (sincerity), The Dangers of riyāʾ (showing off)

"What is done for Allāh, it will remain, what is done for other than Allāh will disappear"

The speaker reminds the listener to be sincere online, your speech, your actions, for Allāh, not for wordly gain or popularity. 

"When you tweet, tweet with sincerity, not for praise!"

It is important to know that social networks like Twitter or Facebook are egocentric networks built on the foundation of vanity and self-valorisation. To be relevant requires the accumulation of followers, it is inherently vain, so one's sincerity will be questioned by the very nature of the technology. He continues:

"When you post something, to who are you posting it for and how are you doing it? Is it sincerely for Allāh?"


Crowd-Following

“Don’t be a yes man, when you see a rapper wearing tight clothes you imitate them, a yes man, when you see someone behaving in an un-Islamic fashion, you begin to imitate them because you are a yes man, Ibn Masʿūd said: None of you should be a yes man.”

The speaker discusses the weak character of those who simply follow the crowd. Those who do not understand that Islām guides a person, in any generation, towards a moral code of behaviour. It is not for us to follow the latest trend, to simply assimilate to the latest hype (whether offline or online). The ubiquitous nature of modern technology tends to mesh fantasy and reality within unclear boundaries. Not guarding oneself from misinformation online is chronic today.

Relying on Information Emanating from Unknown Individuals

The speaker discusses a number of problems in this regard in the online world.

  • Catfishing: the practise in which a person impersonates another (i.e. a man pretends to be a woman) to engage other women and expose their personal affairs, or whereby a man may pretend to be someone he isn't in order to goad women into a relationship. This criminal practice is rampant online with fake accounts and underhanded tactics.
  • Exposing pictures/blackmailing: the danger of sisters sending pictures, covered or even uncovered to potential suitors. Stage-by-stage being deceived by a predator who then uses the revealing photos to blackmail his target into more lewd acts, trapping them in a cycle of sin.
  • Digital intermingling: Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Wechat, Viber - whatever the social forum, exchanging texts, voice, video, pictures in the modern technified world which is an extension or confusion of the public/private space.

All of the above are various forms of exposure and trusting people blindly online.

Then there is the issue of seeking beneficial knowledge online but from unknown or disconnected individuals or sites.

He mentions:

"Going on websites, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and spreading information from people yet they don’t know who is behind them!"

He quotes Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Fawzān:

“if only the Muslims would be attentive to the dangers of the internet…the evils that the internet has brought has ignited the flames of fitnah…look at the thawraat (revolutions)…the majority of the time, these uprisings are caused by usage of digital devices!"

Recklessness online in the "broadcast yourself" generation! Media itself has evolved from one-to-many technologies (raḍīo, phone telelink etc.) in which a scholar of student of knowledge may address a large audience to a new form of media (web 2.0+) in which everyone is a film maker, lecturer, orator, video editor, blogger, author, teacher on YouTube, WizIQ, Google Hangouts, Twitter, Facebook etc. The cultural shift to a generation in which it is normal to speak out, to be an educator instead of the student, is complicating the Muslim's understanding of what it means to seek knowledge, everyone is a source and a follower at the same time - how does this relate to the general Muslims being quiet and learning from the Scholars and their students?

He continues:

"How many tweets in a day, (but) how many āyāt read in a day? How many Instagram posts, (but) how many ayaat read in a day?

"The Internet is diverting people from beneficial knowledge (it is misused)"

"People (are) speaking about things over their head (everyone thinks they are entitled to an opinion on anything - the 'broadcast yourself' generation)" 

"Speaking about public affairs (without knowledge), complaining there is not enough classes, yet they don’t attend the regular lessons anyway!"

From the concluding issues discussed:

  • Posing on FB and Instagram (revelling in exposure and sin)
  • Wasting time and entering into that which doesn’t involve one (chronic ritualistic time wasting)
  • The non-muslims have began writing on the topic of internet-rooted psychological disorders (depression, addiction, suicide, fragmented sociality/networked individualism [the loneliness of fabricated sociality online with no real human interaction])

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