The Fiqh of Social Media: SeekersGuidance Critical Issues Seminar
This article is based on the seminar by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and Shaykh Abdullah Misra, and transcribed by a SeekersGuidance student. It extracts the relevant points from the Fiqh of Social Media Seminar. The seminar provides guidelines on how we should engage with social media and outlines the realities of these platforms. You can watch the full seminar here: The Fiqh of Social Media – Critical Issues Seminar – Sh. Faraz Rabbani and Sh. Abdullah Misra.
Fiqh in its Linguistic Origin and the Wider Perspective
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all Worlds. May peace and blessings be sent upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his companions. The reward for engaging in actions of excellence is the pleasure of Allah Most High. A blessed abode, the highest level of paradise, causing complete contentment in the souls of those who have endeavoured to uphold the commandments of Allah Most High.
Allah Most High says in the Quran, “Indeed, those who believe and do good will have the Gardens of Paradise as an accommodation, where they will be forever, never desiring anywhere else.” [Quran, 18:108-109]. This verse pertains to the wider perspective concerning the objectives of the believer in applying the concept of Islamic Law (fiqh). As a traditional legacy, we understand the term ‘fiqh’ as derived guidelines for what one may or may not do. It stems from the linguistic trilateral root of fa-qa-ha, meaning to comprehend and put into action.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Whomsoever Allah wishes good for, he grants him an understanding of the religion.” [Bukhari and Muslim]. Arabic morphology shows us how implementing the fifth form onto any verb denotes the meaning of acquisition. The term ‘yufaqqi’’ means to acquire knowledge for the sake of benefit. It is one thing to understand phenomena, yet what benefit is there without that knowledge enabling good action? Fiqh is the tool that gives the believer purpose by appointing discipline and consequence as a means to reach Allah. Imam Ghazali said regarding the definition of fiqh, “Knowing the way of seeking Allah’s Pleasure and Closeness -and one’s eternal good.” [Ghazali].
The understanding of fiqh as we know it today is, in essence, a roadmap to knowledge that will secure one’s eternal good. Imam Abu Hanifa said, “Fiqh is knowing yourself, what is for you and against you.” Knowing the self requires a critique of one’s intentions and actions to fulfil the rights that Allah Most High has granted us. The Rights of Allah Most High is that we implement the Wisdom of the Book (Kitab) and Sunna, allowing the believers to worship Him in the way He wants. Knowing oneself is to know that the self yearns to be selfish; thus, implementing Islamic Law (fiqh) is to understand one’s reality; engaging in action upon the bedrock of knowledge may thus allow the individual to become selfless. Imam Ghazali said, “Whoever knows the mysteries of the spirit knows himself; if he knows himself, he knows his Lord.” [Ihya 3:382].
Defining Social Media in the Islamic Framework
Social networking comprises many forms and differs in objectives and intentions. The one aspect that affixes them is an idea of the public social space. The public social space engages in discussions and concerns and updates surrounding communities with new or continued phenomena. Underlying the public social space is a market that profits off the attention garnered from networking. Any social sphere naturally has a monetary aspect, as networking is the basis of financial transactions.
Although the public social space can be used for good as it is a necessary part of existence, one must understand the expected purposefulness of the believer. It is narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Do not dwell unnecessarily in the streets.” One can infer from this narration the character that is expected when engaging in the public sphere. The believer’s engagement in social circles is one of benefit and noble character. There is no time wasted; neither is one engulfed in unnecessary adornments.
The Prophet Muhammad, in the same narration, tells the Companions (May Allah be pleased with them), “Give the street its due right.” Giving the social sphere its due right is engaging with social media to the extent that oneself and those involved in the interaction become content and benefit from what occurs. The social sphere is for necessary interaction, not for idle distraction. Any attention one consumes will forever be taken away from the gift of time that is never replaced.
“By the Passage of Time! Surely Humanity is in Grave Loss.” [Quran, 103:1-2].
One of the manifest trials of humankind is the inclination to believe that the future may hold an amount of time that is equivalent to the present. Conversely, we do not know of tomorrow, let alone an understanding of how much time one has been granted. The passing of time is like rain that nourishes the plant, the root planted in the first place is due to the discipline of sowing the seed to receive a benefit. A healthy soil foundation gives time its due right by utilizing the rain appropriately. It is the onus of the believer to nourish one’s existence with the blessing of opportunity.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Take benefit of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.”-[Hakim]. All of the aforementioned are benefits from Allah Most High that we have within the realm of time. Forfeiting time on useless endeavours opens up a path to regret, as one may pass by five benefits, resulting in five lost opportunities.
The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Allah Most High: The son of Adam wrongs Me, he curses Time; though I am Time, In my hand are all things; I cause the day and night to revolve.”-[Tabarani, Bukhari]. The subject of our continued existence is purposeful in itself, as every creation of Allah begins and ends, and so shall time. Allah Most High declares His ownership over the phases of life and the benefit therein. These phases and constructions of cosmic phenomena are executed perfectly to enable life through Allah’s Will, without a second being spoiled. To exist itself as a creation of Allah is to use time appropriately.
Benefits in the Digital Space: Individual and Social Purpose
With every tool of disposal in life, good and bad are sowed with the right intention and action. Free will exists as a means to decide between that which is right and wrong; without this, the embodiment of yufaqqi’ or to gain an understanding for beneficial action becomes null and void. Correct action can only result from having the ability to choose. Our actions, based on intentions, will result in effects that may be for or against us. Allah Most High said, “Corruption has spread on land and sea as a result of what people’s hands have done, so that Allah may cause them to taste the consequence of some of their deeds and perhaps they might return to the Right Path.” -[Quran, 30:41].
In every trial and punishment, mercy descends on the believer as a benefit, insight and reminder. Undergoing a test is a means to reaching Allah, even if one has previously moved from Allah. The reminder is that one has come from Allah and that there is no refuge save Him. The Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The servant will continue to be tested until he is left walking upon the Earth without any sin.” [Tirmidhi].
The intention with any action is to seek the pleasure of Allah Most High; likewise, our intention with social media should encourage the worldly and eternal good. The attributes of good as seen in the Quran range from axioms of justice, love, a consciousness of Allah and exemplary character. Be an informed social media user, as these platforms are notorious for delivering false information to the masses. The worldly good is connected with our family’s rights over us by remaining in connection with them.
Be aware of what benefits and that which does not. Ask whether the content viewed or created causes worldly or eternal good. Remember, in its design, social media is a pitfall that lulls the user into the depths of distraction. The over-stimulation overwhelms the mind inducing a state of repetitive consumption, pushing oneself to yearn for more engagement with media. Use social media to gain beneficial knowledge, whether one is producing or consuming. Beneficial knowledge is that, when learnt and acted upon, earns the pleasure of Allah Most High. The Prophets (Upon them all be peace) were sent and conveyed messages to various groups and promoted the correct social purpose; may we follow their path and use our social means with the same intention.
Social media has a significant tendency to promote vanity as a necessary staple. They negate the individual purpose of the believer, enabling narcissism if not careful. Presence on social media is not to promote oneself unless we are the means for many to be called to Allah. Social media has allowed many individuals to have a presence that reaches the masses, yet many are not capable of warding off the trials that come with this phenomenon. The fog of vanity moves one away from being critical of the self. Not every individual is ready to receive the direct attention of a community, let alone deliver beneficial knowledge. There is Wisdom in breaking base desires whilst embarking on the path of learning. The one engaging the masses with beneficial knowledge should rid oneself of the diseases of the heart; in the same manner that one should be in a state of ablution whilst praying. The revealed Wisdom comes as a challenge to purify the inner and outer. Furthermore, Allah knows best.
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.
Ustadh Abdullah Misra was born in Toronto, Canada in 1983. His family hails from India and he was raised in the Hindu tradition. He embraced Islam in 2001 while at the University of Toronto, from where he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration. He then traveled overseas in 2005 to study the Arabic language and Islamic sciences in Tarim, Yemen for some time, as well as Darul Uloom in Trinidad, West Indies. He spent 12 years in Amman, Jordan where he focused on Islamic Law, Theology, Hadith Sciences, Prophetic Biography and Islamic Spirituality while also working at the Qasid Arabic Institute as Director of Programs. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (Alimiyya, Darul Uloom) and authorization in the six authentic books of Hadith, and is currently pursuing specialized training in issuing Islamic legal verdicts (ifta’). He holds a certificate in Counselling and often works with new Muslims and those struggling with religious OCD. He is an instructor and researcher in Sacred Law and Theology with the Seekers Guidance The Global Islamic Seminary, and currently resides in the West Indies with his wife and children. His personal interests include Indian history, comparative religion, English singing and poetry.