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3 Simple principles for Muslims on social media

We need to move beyond whether social media is good or bad and start having frank discussions about how these networks are impacting our lives and relationships

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Social media has since taken the world and Nigeria in particular by storm. Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, are now used by 1 in 4 people worldwide.  Such activity may seem harmless, but the question now is how do we use social media in light of the Quran and the Sunnah?

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The core of social networking is friendship. Whichever way you look at it, it boils down to how you interact with others. With that in mind, let's take a look at 3 simple principles that need to be incorporated into our utilization of social media and networking.

1. You Are What You Feed

It seems obvious, but sometimes we still need to connect the dots. The company we keep, is in reality who we follow. Our company is the updates we see on Facebook, the people we follow on Twitter, the photos we see on Instagram, and the people we text on WhatsApp.

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You may be a fan of a particular celebrity and follow him, but what's your reaction if he posts a photo of himself having a party and getting high on alcohol? What about that “friend” (who you probably only actually met once or twice) who posts daily about how much they hate their parents? It's easy to be dismissive of these things and say you don't approve of it, but the reality is that you're constantly letting that messaging into your heart.

Don't believe me? Think about how many times you take out your phone in a day. When you wake up, on the way to school or work, during breaks, in meetings, at lunch, in line at the store, during commercial breaks on TV, using the restroom, when going to bed… how many status updates do you consume on a daily basis? It's one thing to have a friend or acquaintance that you see a few times a year and maintain a relationship, it's something completely different to see 5-10 messages from that person throughout the course of the day.

Consider your feed your personal space. Be ruthless about who you let in. If someone is a bad or negative influence, remove them at all costs. The sanctity and health of your heart is too great to risk over a few likes or retweets.

2. You're Judged by Your Closest Friend

A man is upon the religion of his friend, so let one of you look at whom he befriends. [Tirmidhi, Hasan]

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There's an obvious meaning here we all understand, but there are also certain aspects that are somewhat overlooked. The first is that this hadith is a profound insight into the human mind. First it shows that who we associate with affects our subconscious much more than some of us might like to admit. Second, it shows that a good friendship means knowing one another on a deep level. It means that when you're actually friends with someone, you know them on a level that you're comfortable with their value system, beliefs, ethics, and character.

One pitfall of social networking is the idea of hyper-connectivity. The abundance of superfluous connections sometimes gives the false impression of actual meaningful interactions.

We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that's fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us.

Usually your closest friends are people you have known for a long time. Strong friendships go through their own tests. What happens now is that when a friendship is tested, there's no longer an incentive to make an investment in that relationship. People can simply go over to Facebook and say, no loss, I have 600 more friends to talk to.

It doesn't take a huge leap of logic to see then why Facebook is listed more commonly as a cause of divorce. People thrive on this feeling of connectivity. They start to connect with exes who they otherwise wouldn't have talked to.  If they get frustrated with their spouse they go and find someone else to talk to because they don't know how to deal with a real relationship.

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Change your focus from accumulating more friends and followers to cultivating the relationships with the close friends you do have. They're also a path to Jannah (paradise).

3. Be Moderate

Love the one whom you love to a certain degree (moderately), perhaps one day he will be someone for whom you have hatred, and hate the one for whom you have hatred to a certain degree (moderately), perhaps one day he will be one whom you love. [Tirmidhi]

Moderation is the name of the game. As overused as that term is, it's importance here cannot be overstated. There's the obvious meaning here, and that is to not over-share things with people you may later regret. This is something parents should focus on when teaching children how to use social media responsibly. Not everyone who is “your friend” is actually your friend or has your best interests at heart. On that note, high school and college-age youth should also lean heavily on their parents' life experience in this regard – they have dealt with lots of different types of people and will see the red flags with your acquaintances that you don't.

The real point to understand here is that social media is an envy amplifier. It's easy to look at someone's timeline and assume that everything is perfect for them. They have nice family photos, they post pictures from nice restaurants and vacations, and you're sitting there with all these problems and struggles. It's easy to develop hasad (envy) of people because of this. The same is true the other way around. Be careful of what you share because you may incite hasad in others.

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It's also pertinent to mention here not to publicize one's own sins. In an effort to get people to like them, many will post pictures of themselves engaged in some type of shameful behavior. Don't uncover a sin that Allah has covered for you. By the same token, don't be so keen to gain acceptance with someone on their social network, that you willingly go along with them posting shameful things. Whether you hit the like button or not, you can at least remove them from your feed.

When it comes to disliking someone we also need moderation. One of the most destructive practices online is trolling and bullying. This type of behavior becomes extra contagious online for some reason. When people see someone going at someone they don't like, it's very easy to hide behind your keyboard and join in. If you don't like someone, don't harass them or say anything negative. Simply block them or unfollow them and move on.

It's my hope that our ummah starts more openly understanding that social media is running our lives in ways we don't often think about. Checking our phone is not just something we do to pass time, but it's even replacing the desktop computer as our primary device.  We need to move beyond whether social media is good or bad and start having frank discussions about how these networks are impacting our lives and relationships. We haven't even touched on things like information overload, or the drain of cognitive energy that prevents us from being able to do simple things like supplicating to Allah

Friendships shape us in more ways than we realize. We can no longer differentiate online and offline personas. Both have very real impacts on us and we need to be cognizant of the Islamic principles and how to live by them no matter how much the systems and environment around us change.

For more on social media usage, watch the lecture below.

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