By Zainub Razvi, Sumaira Dada and Hafsa Ahsan
Cyberspace, like this world at large, is a delicate testing ground for the practicing Muslim. On the one hand, there are enormous benefits that can be gained from the wealth of knowledge at one’s disposal via the information superhighway, but on the other hand, one is exposed to a murky world of temptations and addictions, which has few parallels in the real world.
When Muslims go on the Internet, they either tend to ignore certain aspects of the Deen, or they feel that Islamic teachings do not apply to cyberspace at all. This mindset then leads them to do things which they would never do in real life – after all, it is all virtual isn’t it?
Following are some of the common uses of the Internet, along with how the Islamic teachings apply to each of them.
Chatting today is not just text-based – there is voice chat, video conferencing, etc. which takes chatting to a whole new level. Fahad Iqbal has coined a new term for chatting with non-Mahrams – cyber-Khalwa. “When two people chat, they’re in Khalwa” (i.e., there’s no third person between them that knows what is going on). “As Muslims we’re required to not be in Khalwa with non-Mahrams, and if we have to be, for some reason, then there are strict guidelines that ought to be followed.”
Online, the hesitation of chatting with the opposite sex is overcome to a large extent. What is the Islamic guidance in this regard? Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states that Internet chatting is very similar to writing letters or talking to someone on the phone. Hence, Muslims have to observe the same rules whilst chatting. Intimate conversations are not allowed. In fact, it is forbidden for a non-Mahram Muslim male and female to indulge in long conversations with each other, unless it is necessary for education or for business.
Chatting is also very addictive. Time simply whiles away, especially when discussing any unsuitable topic or wasting too much time in casual chit-chat. Time for a Muslim, like everything else, is a blessing from Allah (swt) that he/she will be questioned about on the Day of Judgement, so it ought to be used wisely.
Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Muslim lecturer, says that in chat rooms a Muslim must be on guard, as he is dealing with a large number of unknown people. He should boycott the sites of Biddats and not engage in any discussions on these websites. He also says that the enthusiastic youth must not engage in matters of which they have little knowledge. In this regard, Allah’s (swt) words need to be remembered: “And on the Day of Resurrection, you will see those who lied against Allah (i.e., attributed to Him sons, partners), their faces will be black.” (Az-Zumar 39:60)
A blog is an online diary. In chat rooms, you have a considerable degree of control over who can interact with you and how. It is much more complicated if you maintain a blog, which may be regularly read and commented on by virtually anyone in the world, which includes non-Mahrams. Hence, writing very personal entries on those blogs must be avoided, and if possible, blogs must be made private, accessible only to the blogger’s chosen audience.
Muslim bloggers also ought to make sure that they do not post unverified Islamic information, and they should especially think twice before making any remarks about anyone’s personal attributes or character traits in their posts.
Those who leave comments on the blog must be wary of committing grave sins, such as slander, backbiting and fighting. Muslims should be careful, because every word they utter will be recorded, even if typed in cyberspace. As a general rule, we ought to tell ourselves that if we wouldn’t say something to someone in real life, we ought not to on the Internet as well.
Social and Professional Networking
Social networking websites work by asking you to register and set up a profile page, then allowing you to add people you know, join groups, play games, take quizzes, put up photos, share links and do a host of other activities.
Because these websites ask you to put sensitive information online, it is very important to know how to use their privacy settings. Failure to use the right settings can seriously compromise your online privacy, disclosing your private information to complete strangers and third party companies without your knowledge. Avoid altogether putting up any private data that is prone to exploitation, such as your work history, your phone numbers or residential address. Once again, determine early on where to draw the line, because social networking is very prone to addiction.
Also, while there’s certainly no harm in keeping up with friends, it’s important to define not only who are our ‘friends,’ but also just how much time we ought to devote to ‘keeping up’ with them, and what actually constitutes the exercise of this ‘keeping up.’ Indulging too much into the private lives of others, even if they have put it up for everyone to see, violates Islamic teachings, which require us to refrain from spying and being over-curious.
Online Islamic Guidance
While there is no denying that the Internet is an extremely easy way to access Islamic literature, it is not the best place to go for ‘Fatwah hunting’. There are a lot of bogus ‘Islamic’ websites out there, which do not have authentic scholars and rely on casual Internet users to compile information they have heard, read or gathered from other online sources. We must be especially careful not to mistake genuine Islamic websites run by Dawah organisations with casual Internet message boards set up by ordinary Muslims, where one may find numerous contentious Fatwahs and Wazaif, which are often completely without proper references. Even when using websites claimed to be run by scholars or genuine organizations, we should do a background check on the particular school of thought the scholars and/or organization ascribe to and make sure that they come from a reliable background.
The Youth Trap
Today, children as young as 4-5 years old can be seen using the Internet on their own. Quite a few children have their own email accounts, an instant messenger ID and social networking account by the time they are in school. Peer pressure can drive children to all sorts of dangerous activities online, from the relatively innocuous Internet overuse to such more serious tendencies as viewing pornographic and other sexually explicit content.
“Sending your children on the Internet alone is like sending your kid on the highway alone,” warns Tasneem Ahmed, a mom of four. Her husband Anwer Ahmed, a university professor, nicely sums up the needs of online supervision. “Parents should do their best to be aware of what sites their kids are visiting and whom they are communicating with. It is very important for them to have open and frank communication with their children, without threat of retribution.”
Completely prohibiting the Internet can backfire, as children can then be more tempted to taste the forbidden fruit. Sheikh Abdul-Majeed Subh states that one must teach children the sense of differentiating right from wrong, instead of enforcing exclusive prohibition. He quotes a Hadeeth regarding the principle of Ihsan (Perfection) in worship: “To worship Allah (swt) as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion, then you must consider that He (swt) is looking at you.” (Bukhari) Parents also need to educate their children about the fact that Allah (swt) is looking at them, while they are surfing the net.
Chat rooms should be strictly off-limits, and parents ought to supervise or monitor other chatting routines, even if they are sure their kids do not have any non-Mahrams on their contact lists.
Finding a spouse online
The use of match-making websites has increased. Are these services permissible? Dr. Salah Al-Sawy, the Secretary General for the Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America (AMJA), says that if correspondence takes place with a faithful and honest mediator running the service and Shariah regulations are observed, then he hopes that it will be permissible (after all, Allah (swt) knows best).
Direct correspondence, however, requires a lot of precautions. Nevertheless, if it is necessary, interaction should be normal, and a trustworthy third party should be present. Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi states that while looking for a spouse online, elders or responsible friends should be involved in investigating or negotiating on one’s behalf.
The Final Word
Ultimately, whatever the medium, be it blogs, social networking websites, instant messengers, email, Muslim merchandise websites or Islamic information portals, whether their harms outweigh their benefits depends on how we use them. So like in all our other daily activities, the reward or sin for our actions online too will be judged based on our intentions for engaging in those activities.
Quick Reminder # 1 – Every click is recorded!
While one is sitting on the Internet, it is very easy to get lost in the numerous activities. There are simply too many websites to visit, too many emails to read and too many friends to keep up with on social networking websites. At times like these, it is imperative for Muslims to remember that every click of the mouse is being recorded and will have to be accounted for on the Day of Judgement. Hence, wastage of time in useless activities must be avoided, and each click must serve some constructive purpose.
Quick Reminder # 2 – The Constructive Clicks
What can one do to serve their Deen in cyberspace? Here are some quick suggestions:
1) Make your status messages on social networking websites meaningful – you can write a short Ayah or Hadeeth, or simply something informative.
2) Provide links to Islamic websites, which have authentic information.
3) Pledge to send a daily or weekly email to all your contacts – again, with some meaningful information pertaining to how Deen can be practiced in daily life.
4) Stay away from all controversial arguments on non-issues – they waste your time as well as that of others.
5) If you maintain your own blog, use it to propagate the true face of Islam. Write meaningful posts.
6) Educate yourself – visit authentic Islamic websites and learn more about Islam.
7) Join websites as a link manager, and add quality Islamic website to search engine directories.
Quick Reminder # 3 – The Useless Clicks
What activities do NOT serve the Deen in cyberspace, though they seem to do so? Here are a few:
1) Useless arguments on controversial issues, which do not have any purpose.
2) Hacking anti-Islamic websites – it is always best to promote Islamic websites than to hack the opposing ones.
3) Chatting with the opposite sex on the pretext of preaching Deen to them.
4) Being careless while posting Islamic information – even the slightest slip can cause a widespread Fitnah.
Quick Fact # 1 – What is Cyberspace?
The Internet has aptly defined “cyberspace” as “a computer network consisting of a worldwide network of computer networks” and “a world of information through the Internet.” In layman terms, when you are on the Internet, connected to the world through your computer, laptop, cell phone or any other gadget, you are in cyberspace.