In this exclusive interview with Hiba Magazine, Br Omar Usman, founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims, talks about his project, Fiqh of Social Media (http://fiqhofsocial.media/). Brother Omar is a regular khateeb and has also served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations.
1. For people who haven’t yet heard of it, what exactly is Fiqh of Social Media? It’s a blog, it’s an e-book, it’s definitely a fantastic idea to address pressing issues related to social media… but how would you define it?
Social media has transformed our lives within the span of a couple of years. It’s like it crept up on us when we weren’t looking, and now we are trying to figure out how to deal with it. Fiqh of Social Media is a niche project under the guidance of Qalam Institute, and the goal really is to provide guidance on how to use our faith to navigate this new era. With that in mind we do have the ebook and blog, and we hope to develop more material in the future insha’Allah.
2. How did Fiqh of Social Media come into being, and what was the inspiration behind it?
The internet and social media has always fascinated me in general. I made my first website about 20 years ago when I was barely 13 years old, and was making Islamic websites in university. There is no singular inspiration point, but over the years I have been keenly aware of how these new technologies are affecting us – religiously and with our families.
It’s always bugged me that the Muslim community seems to be behind one step technology wise. When the world shifted to CD’s, we were still producing audio cassettes. When the world shifted to the mp3 age, we started producing Qur’an recitations on CD’s. Social networks now have impacted us in ways we can’t imagine.
When I was growing up, it was considered rude to take a phone call at dinnertime. If someone called, you would answer and tell them you would call them back after dinner was over. Now, many families can’t eat a single meal without everyone being attached to a device.
Our Islamic tradition is timeless and contains the solutions to these pains and problems we face – I feel it is at the point where there needs to be a dedicated resource for this.
3. Initially, what were your aims & objectives? And have they changed over time with social media’s evolution?
We are at the first time in human history where people have an abundance of relationships, but no friendships. We are able to connect with thousands of people we could not before. Before, people had to wait and clear a gate keeper to get on TV, publish a book, or even write an editorial to the paper. Now anyone can have a platform. This opens a lot of doors – but it’s an entirely new situation that raises a lot of questions. For example, how do we understand Islamic principles of friendship in an age where people have 5,000 friends on Facebook?
The aim for me has always been to connect these dots. What are the Islamic principles, and how do they apply to social media? What problems are we encountering online that we need answers to, and what are the solutions provided in our religious tradition? Those are the basic aims. What has evolved, though, is that connecting these dots is branching out into a number of subjects I never even imagined.
What problems are we encountering online that we need answers to, and what are the solutions provided in our religious tradition?
4. What is the current vision of Fiqh of Social Media?
To provide thought leadership in this area. It’s not just Muslims struggling with these issues. In fact, most of the materials I am finding are from secular sources. So there is definitely a huge problem here; I want to spread the message of how our faith addresses these issues.
5. Most of your work is online – how do you organize everything? Also, is this a one-man show or do you have a team working with you?
I wish I had a team. Right now it is a one-man show. The primary content mechanism is the email list, so I do my best to send out at least 2-3 newsletters a month.
6. You write on things people at times don’t even think of, like Food Instagramming. What kind of response do you receive on such blog articles? Are people receptive or they lash out?
Alhumdulillah the response is really positive. In the case of this article specifically I wasn’t expecting backlash – particularly because I was criticizing and analyzing my own photos (as opposed to someone else’s). A lot of items like this one are things that everyone notices, I just happened to take the observation one step further and write the article.
7. Your content and ebook is all free – how do you arrange funding?
Alhumdulillah most of the cost at this point is nominal (it’s just a couple of dollars a month) so it has not been an issue.
8. What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to get your book 40 Hadiths on Social Media formally published (in print)?
So right now there are 2 major projects being worked on. The first is an online course that is specifically for parents and how to manage social media with their kids. This will cover a number of things like kids being addicted to screens to how to reclaim family dinner time.
The second project is a formal book on the Fiqh of Social Media. This is a larger and more comprehensive undertaking so it will take some time. Please make dua Allah (swt) grants tawfiq to both projects.
9. How can other brothers and sisters help you out in your work?
The best thing is to subscribe to the email list at http://fiqhofsocial.media/40hadith – When they do this they will receive a copy of the 40 hadith as well as the new articles I am writing. The best way to help is to simply reply to those emails with your feedback. The hardest part about a project like this is understanding which material is useful or helpful, or how it resonates. So really if I had one wish, it would just be that people not just read the material, but let me know what they thought of it.
10. Any message for the Ummah
That is a really tough question. I’ll offer the advice here that I feel I need most for myself and that is simply to make more Dua to Allah (swt). It is so simple but cannot be emphasized enough.
18-24 is an incredibly formidable time, and also a time where people try out lots of different things. Embrace it, but just be cautious with what you post of yourself online.
11. Any message for Hiba’s readers in particular.
I would say just be careful. The internet is forever. Even things like Snapchat where your photos are supposed to get deleted are not that private. 18-24 is an incredibly formidable time, and also a time where people try out lots of different things. Embrace it, but just be cautious with what you post of yourself online.
12. Anything else you would like to share.
Jazakallahu khayr for doing this interview. May Allah (swt) bless your efforts with this magazine!