Posted by: Dawud Israel | February 3, 2010

Is the Internet Screwing with our Heads?

Some brief thoughts and links.

PBS aired a documentary on this you can watch to get an idea of the shocking nature of concern related to technology. You can watch it here.

They talked about how young children can’t distinguish between virtual and real world…so if they see themselves swimming with dolphins in virtual reality- they think one week later that was real. They showed how people die from video games, how video games are used by the US Army to recruit teens, and unmanned airplanes are used like video games in Iraq, and how Second Life is used for business meetings so people rarely ever talk to each other in person. It’s sickening.

My concern is our sisters who are stuck at home overuse the Internet and I’m wondering what implication that will have. One brother mentioned they need to get their “kicks” somehow…so they sisters live through the Internet. I know how heavily sisters use the web, via forums and twitter and Facebook (even without their pics) and how easily they can pose as someone else. Of course, sisters may not misbehave at all, but even then the danger is there of how easily photos get moved around. I don’t know what sisters think, so if they want to comment, I’d love to hear it. My 2 cents is technology exacerbates modesty into desperation, digging that desperation deeper because they lack a real world experience, and instead take the online or media view on relationships as the ideal, whereas in the past, before so much technology, this electronically fleshed out ideal didn’t exist, and that this “relative virtual ideal” robs us because reality can’t compete with the virtual ideal- whether its on TV or the web.

Personally, I find a correlate for our community among the males and females- the more religious someone is, the more wired they are. And personally, I think minorities, especially black people use the web much, much more as an escape from their alienated realities. And that means, the less capable they are in face to face interactions, the less empathic they are, its harder to have compassion, be sincere, the more their Islamic experience is stripped of the real life world…the application of Islam to the minute aspects. The result is the Internet is not allowing us to experience our own religion and therefore, an increasing number of Muslims today haven’t truly experienced Islam- but are under the illusion that they have experienced it. We feel we have experienced Islam because it’s visible (in the form of Youtube, Islamic junk mails, etc.) and we believe this superficial experience is real Islam, and associate that with authenticity. What is missing is the magical ingredient of sincerity- ikhlas or sidq– and you cannot experience that online, because the Internet makes it irrelevant. All experience is flattened out, everything is convenient and easy, so nothing really is as special as putting in a unique effort, and so we are robbing ourselves of the real stuff of humanity that religious sincerity brings out- sacrifice, emotion, adversity and development of patience and struggle. I’ll give an example: most dawah is done online now, with advertising and emails. Now, that is seen as Islamic work, but it sadly has become the major component of dawah- so now if you are doing dawah outside the web, you won’t use more effort than you did in sending that email- so you will hand out a flier, as ineffectual as that is, and are unable, and don’t see the necessity in making dawah to someone face to face. Very often, a sister will do something wrong, another sister will pick up on and then she will note it in her head, go home, write up a big long email to that sister, but will not have the guts to say it to her face or talk to her in person. Where is the barakah in that? If you are giving advice in ease, at your own convenience and comfort, then how do you expect that advice, which by comparison, is more difficult to apply than just sending an email, to be taken seriously?

Consider how the Quran talks about people preferring the immediate pleasures (ajila) over what is more enduring (the akhira), their love and chase after illusory worldly pleasures and frivolities, and ultimately how people oppress themselves. “They forgot Allah, so He caused them to forget their own selves.”

My argument in short about technology: We think we are becoming more religious, the reality is we aren’t. We just have made Islam more visible, just as we have made social life more visible and have used the Internet to multiply the experience of the dunya exponentially, distracted from Allah, and therefore divide the experience of the akhira into ever-smaller bits. You will not only deal with one person face to face, but also deal with them on the cellphone, Facebook, Twitter, texting, and email. So we live our days behaving with an awareness that seems to say, “the dunya is more All-Seeing and All-Encompassing than Allah is or ever was to us,” (astaghfirullah). That means, we have to deal with more arguments (and I would say arguments happen much more often in digital text than in real life), more distractions, more ideas, aimless curiosities, more pseudo-events in our day, and therefore more worrying, indecisiveness, dissatisfaction than ever before because digital technology has begun to suffocate us. Technology’s metallic coldness is constantly scratching at our psyche, wiring our desires ever-closer to us, constantly and forcefully making us confront and oblige to our desires, whims and what ever else entertains our minds, than ever before.


Wa ma hayatud-dunya il-la mata’ al-gharoor

And this life is but the enjoyment of a deception (Surah ale-Imran)

Nabi Sallalhu alayhi wasalam said that one of the signs of the End of Time is “takhtariful ahwa”- desires will be diversified or multiplied. (This means, they don’t just want a coffee, they want a mocha-latte, with 3 creams, 2 sugars, with artificial sugar…and in terms of Internet and virtual self, we want more and more new experiences, the next big thing, or try out the new Google Wave or new Ipod and choose if we want to talk, chat, text or email each other. So we create new choices and thereby create new desires, text now or call or shout across the street, and use advertising to inculcate those desires and stress their importance, even though in reality they are empty and void of meaning.)

More readings:

What sociologist Erving Goffman could tell us about social networking and Internet identity

Being online: identity, anonymity, and all things in between

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.


Responses

  1. JazakAllahu khayrun.

    Keep on sharing more reflections…

  2. JazakAllah Khair for sharing. This is a thought-provoking issue and it’s very real. As for the comment about sisters needing to get their “kicks,” I think it’s subjective and varies from sister to sister. It really depends on what she uses the internet for. I know many sisters who are obsessed (i mean obsessed) with Al Maghrib forums and the likes, and for the most part, that’s fine. They’re gaining and sharing ‘ilm but I completely agree with your second point about how the net is giving people the ‘illusion’ that they are truly living Islamically. So, although they have the knowledge, application of that knowledge may be on the back burner because the majority of their time is spent online. I don’t mean to point them out, I’m fond of AM forums myself, but it’s a relevant example.

    Another thing that came to mind was TJs. They’re really good about getting away from these types of dunya distractions to really focus on Allah, Rasulullah (S), da’wah, and all else. I’m sure other groups are too, but i’m mostly familiar with Tjs.

    Overall, I think the internet can be dangerous OR a helpful tool. But it should be just that–a tool. So many people have abandoned books because they’re under the notion that they can learn and apply Islam online, and I agree that it’s a sad reality that will ultimately hurt the Ummah.

  3. Yup, I agree on AM and I know the muscle those sisters have in terms of commitment but I know they’d be surprised to realize, there really is not a lot of ‘ilm on the AM forums, but there is more hype and community which is the big allure. I think the sisters expect to see lots of ilm on there, but the instructors don’t view it in that way.

    I agree, TJs are great- simple guys, easy-going and community oriented. I think they are a fertile ground for something even bigger and greater to happen in the Ummah.

  4. I agree with the above, I think it really depends on the sister…yeah there are some who are obsessed with forums like Maniac Muslim or w/e and are under the impression that they’re ‘living Islam’..but on the other hand there are some sisters who are active in the ‘Islamic cyberworld’ but are just as active in the real world.

    To what you said about technology embittering the feeling of modesty into desperation..are you still only refering to sisters..cuz this would relate to both sexes. It’s just that it’s more evident with sisters cuz of the outward aspect of modesty, whereas with the brothers you can see it more in their speech and what they’re actually doing online. For a guy to see this problem more evidently with sisters, and vice versa, it makes sense.

    I agree, technology can, and does, distract us from getting closer to Allah. I think it’s the Muslim communities that we try to create online that really end up screwing us over. There’s no doubt they can be beneficial, but it’s way too easy to get your heart caught up in having the most profile hits/blog hits/twitter followers/forum friends etc..all while thinking you’re really doing all this to get your heart closer to Allah.

    • I agree. I go and visit Maniac Muslim from time to time, since I was big into it back in the day, and I just realize and am amazed at how severely it held back my Islamic development. As soon as I left, I really began to go somewhere. But its good to get into the deen, it is nothing more than a hook, but it cannot be enough to sustain real development or a substantive, nuanced discussion. Often xyz wants to get in the way or toot their horn and feel included in some discussion they know nothing about. Its just empty debates, ego-bloating and political banter, with absolutely zero intellectual discussion. The genuine promise of it is basically, a feeling of Muslim community, but it can’t go much beyond that.

      Now, when I poke around forums, I find my mind totally distracted and wandering to “debates” when I should be focusing in salaah, and so I just end up leaving those online communities as quickly as possible.

  5. Thank you for sharing.

    As Muslims we can decide what is good and bad, if not explicitly mentioned in our scriptures, by contrasting the negativity and positivity of the activity or pass time. In simpler terms if you are receiving more benefit from the internet and your spirituality is increasing through valid sources from the internet -then hooray to the internet.

    Having said that I really hope females in Islam who have extensive blogs dedicated to hijab styles, or the Emirati clothing are balancing their lives by practising Islam, learning basic Islamic sciences that we have forgotten as ‘modern Muslims’. I am not saying these blogs are bad or wrong with pictures or not but I am saying if you are an owner of a hijab style blog, I hope your life is balanced with academia. When I came to the Sunni path I realized how important academia is to the Muslim way of living. Not only does one need to educate oneself in the Islamic sciences but also in the modern sciences so one can live a balanced life. Simply knowing hijab styles or what bling is available where, will not increase our popularity amongst non-Muslims and bring them to Islam. I assure you.

    Thanks for the article its a great introduction to the good and bad of the internet. Although playing the race card and assuming visible minorities spend more time on the internet is questionable.

    Lastly I do urge Muslims, especially women to pick up a hobby, horseback riding, badminton, poetry whatever pleases oneself…and of course couple this with Islamic sciences.

    Happy Days


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