In the past, communication was primarily conducted through the mode of oral transmission. The alphabets would later be founded along with pictographical accounts engraved in stone tablets. To ensure the recording of information, bones were initially used, followed by leather parchments; scrolls were then used in later segments of history as a more formal alternative. The technique of homing pigeons would also be developed for delivering messages, which paved the way for the very first postal service. Human messengers would also be employed to travel by foot or horseback to convey a message. In other cases, fire messages were used from relay stations instead of humans. The newspaper would also eventually make its mark in Europe. However, the greatest shift emerged in the early 1990s, when commercial internet service providers would finally appear, making it possible for individuals to communicate their messages and ideas at the speed of light.
The internet would host platforms like e-mail, Myspace, LinkedIn, and their likes. Then in 2004, a student at Harvard University by the name of Mark Zuckerberg founded a networking website called Facebook. Use of the website was initially limited to students of the university, but over time the network expanded to include other universities situated in Boston. The site would in fact include users found in the entire world by the end of 2006. Since then, other networking services have also appeared, such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and so on. Interestingly, the Prophet ﷺ had prophesied over 1400 years ago that the modes of communication would change. He said:
وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَا تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ حَتَّى يُكَلِّمَ السِّبَاعُ الْإِنْسَ وَيُكَلِّمَ الرَّجُلَ عَذَبَةُ سَوْطِهِ وَشِرَاكُ نَعْلِهِ وَيُخْبِرَهُ فَخِذُهُ بِمَا أَحْدَثَ أَهْلُهُ بَعْدَهُ
“By Him in Whose Hand is my soul, the Hour will not come until wild creatures talk to men, and a man will be spoken to by the end of his whip and the straps of his sandals. And his thigh will tell him about what happened to his family after he left.”
Without a doubt, tremendous goodness has come about via these social networks. Countless individuals have found their way to Islam or returned back to righteousness via posts that reformed them forever. Aside from the Islamic scene, social media can help to boost employment prospects, enhance positive forms of political activism, allow one to find their family or tribe, and so on.
On the other hand, droves continue to ache at its hands; sleeping patterns are ruined because of blue light emissions that disrupt the body’s natural rhythms, brains are bombarded with more stimuli than they can bear, but most importantly, the ability of people to sit in solitude with Allah has been ruined, as every free moment evokes a craving to check one’s online accounts. Isolation and loneliness have reached epidemic levels. In fact, it seems that the UK is the first nation in human history to appoint a loneliness minister.
Furthermore, social media networks have given rise to a sense of inadequacy, as people compare their lives against the highlight reels of friends that are selectively portrayed and filtered from the blemishes of real life. They have also created a generation of socially incompetent people who struggle to communicate with real humans and fail to know how to deal with the challenges of life. In the real world, no problem or obstacle can be simply remedied with the block button. In addition, social media has created highly distracted, exceedingly irritable, and child-like adults who have lost the ability to focus on any given task and melt down when not instantaneously gratified. Such people need counselling when their viewership takes a dip, since they have been accustomed to live for their next fix of buzzing noises and flashing lights. Worse than all this, one can say without the least bit of exaggeration that with today’s technology, one may ascend into the highest levels in Paradise or nosedive into the lowest pits of the Fire by the mere clicking of a button; one comment, one upload, one like, or one share could cost you your eternity.
Therefore, the stakes are high. Thankfully, Islam has not left us without guidance in any aspect of life. Islam’s timeless nature is without any doubt one of its many miraculous elements. In light of this, the Muslim holds himself accountable before he is held accountable, and makes the necessary adjustments before the window of opportunity is slammed shut. I will share with you a home test kit, which will reveal whether or not you are testing positive to the harms of social media. In sum, there are seven symptoms to look out for.
The First Symptom: Your Approach to Gender Interactions
In the past, lovers would exchange messages via carefully folded paper aeroplanes that were launched from window to window, in the hope that they would fall into the lap of the right person. Today, however, no such bother is needed. Instead, all what one requires is an 11 digit number or a profile name, and lo and behold: one has unfettered access. To claim that this is not a trial on the faith of people is terribly naïve, to say the least.
With that said, interactions certainly did occur between the male and female Companions of the Prophet ﷺ. This communication, however, was shaded with canopies of respect, guarding of the gaze, decency, avoidance of privacy, necessity, and brevity. An interesting article was published in Scientific American entitled as “Men and Women Can’t Be ‘Just Friends’”, in which “researchers asked male and female ‘friends’ what they really thought of one another and got very different answers”. The article confirmed that although women seem to be genuine in their belief that opposite-sex friendships are platonic, men were consistently unable to turn off their desire for something more. The difference is that Islam refuses to be naïve about this.
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Beware of entering upon women.” The Companions then asked: “O Messenger of Allah, what about the in-law?” He replied: “The in-law is death.”
Consider the Islamic arrangement of prayer; men pray at the front, whilst women are at the back; the best rows for men are the frontmost, whilst the best for women are the rearmost; if the Imam errs in prayer, men are taught to correct him audibly, whilst women clap; the Prophet ﷺ instructed the men to remain sitting upon the completion of the prayer and to not turn around in order to give women the opportunity to leave in an unhampered and dignified manner through the exclusive door that was dedicated for them. These are Islam’s instructions for prayer – the purest of all doings – for the Companions – the purest of all people – within the masjid, the purest of all places. Is this not then an indication of the spirit of how men and women should generally carry themselves in settings of lesser purity?
Also read: Social Media and the Cyber Youth Crisis
The Second Symptom: Your Approach to Allah’s Veil
Whilst it is true that everyone has skeletons in the closet, the gulf between person A – who confesses to Allah, makes an apology, and hides his ills from people – and person B – who boldly flaunts his sins to the world – is enormous. The Prophet ﷺ said:
كُلُّ أُمَّتِي مُعَافى إلاَّ المُجَاهِرِينَ ، وَإنّ مِنَ المُجَاهَرَةِ أنْ يَعْمَلَ الرَّجُلُ باللَّيلِ عَمَلاً ، ثُمَّ يُصْبحُ وَقَدْ سَتَرَهُ اللهُ عَلَيهِ ، فَيقُولُ : يَا فُلانُ ، عَمِلت البَارِحَةَ كَذَا وَكَذَا ، وَقَدْ بَاتَ يَسْتُرُهُ رَبُّهُ ، وَيُصبحُ يَكْشِفُ ستْرَ اللهِ عَنْه
“Every one of my followers will be safe, except those who expose their wrongdoings. An example of this is that of a man who commits a sin at night which Allah has covered for him, but in the morning comes and says: ‘O so-and-so, I committed such and such sin last night’, while Allah had kept it a secret. During the night, Allah covered it up, but in the morning he uncovers the cover provided by Allah.”
Whether your weakness lies in the department of clothing, nightlife, social sphere, or other terrains, beware of being that person who, instead of weeping over his weakness and begging Allah for aid, proclaims: “Yes, I’ve crossed Allah’s lines, and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.” It is not necessarily the sin; instead, the surrounding factors of boldness and carelessness cause such a sin to aggrandise in Allah’s Eyes to new levels of severity.
We all have enough demons to overcome in our daily lives, so care for the īmān of the people and their Islamic wellbeing by only sharing that which will help them grow, even if you do not care about your own state. Just as it would be unfair for people to draw you into their weaknesses, please stop drawing them into yours.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
اجتنبوا هذه القاذورات التي نهى الله عنها فمن ألَمَّ بشيء منها فليستتر بستر الله وليتب إلى الله
“Stay away from these impure sins which Allah has forbidden. However, whoever perpetuates anyone of them, then let him veil himself with the veiling of Allah and let him repent.”
The Third Symptom: Displaying Your Joys
The next time you are having a genuinely great time with family or friends and you find that urge to snap it, just ask yourself: why am I feeling this? Why am I constantly on a mission to prove to others that I do fun things and that my life is exciting? Why is it that I will not believe that I am having a good time until I am validated by others?
The Prophet ﷺ said: استعينوا على قضاء حوائجكم بالكتمان فإن كل ذي نعمة محسود
“When fulfilling your endeavours, keep it on the low, because every blessed individual is envied.”
Furthermore, what about the heartbreak of those who are not as privileged: those who cannot find the means for marriage, struggle with a broken one, or those who cannot afford to eat out on most days of the week? If you must, share your joys with those who you love. Making it publicly accessible, however, is a recipe for all forms of harm, whether on others or on yourself.
The Fourth Symptom: Your Gaze
95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram per day. Over 350 million photos are uploaded onto Facebook daily. Through that type of intensive feed, a 13 year old today will see in one day more than our grandparents did in their entire lifetimes! Furthermore, one filter on social media can beat a full-coverage foundation, concealer, bronzer, setting powder, two types of contour, highlighter, and six shades of eye shadow. Never has deception, along with the duty of lowering the gaze, peaked like it has today.
The Prophet ﷺ said to the Companions: إيَّاكُمْ وَالجُلُوسَ في الطُّرُقَاتِ
“Beware of sitting alone in the pathways.”
They replied: يَا رَسُول الله ، مَا لنا مِنْ مجالِسِنا بُدٌّ ، نتحدث فِيهَا
“O Messenger of Allah! We have nowhere else to sit and talk.”
He ﷺ said: فَإذَا أبَيْتُمْ إلاَّ المَجْلِسَ ، فَأَعْطُوا الطَّريقَ حَقَّهُ
“If you insist, then make sure that you give the path its right.”
They replied: وما حَقُّ الطَّريقِ يَا رسولَ الله ؟
“What is the right of the path, O Messenger of Allah?”
He ﷺ said: غَضُّ البَصَرِ ، وَكَفُّ الأَذَى وَرَدُّ السَّلامِ وَالأمْرُ بِالمَعْرُوفِ والنَّهيُ عن المُنْكَرِ
“Lowering the gaze, restraining from harming others, returning the greeting of salām, and the enjoining of good and forbidding of evil.”
One must carefully observe the context of this hadith. Despite being the blessed pathways of the city of Madinah that were traversed by the righteous Companions, nevertheless the Prophet ﷺ started with the right of lowering the gaze. What, then, of the millions of digital pathways which the global network of social media users traverse? Those pathways also have rights, with the lowering of the gaze being the first of them.
The Fifth Symptom: The Encouragement of Sin
During the time of ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s reign, a group of people were arrested in Madinah for having consumed alcohol. Before they were punished, ʿUmar was informed that one of them was not in fact drinking, but only fasting. ʿUmar, however, insisted to include him in the punishment, for his silent presence was deemed as an indication of his approval of the group’s wrongful conduct. To justify his stance, ʿUmar cited the following verse as evidence:
وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ يُكْفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلَا تَقْعُدُوا مَعَهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُوا فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا مِثْلُهُمْ
“And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah being denied and ridiculed, then do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation, for certainly in that case, you would be like them.”
As we all know, when seeing a sin the prophetic obligation is to change it with one’s hand. If that is not possible, then it must be corrected with one’s words. And if that is not feasible, then at the very least it must be addressed through the heart (by detesting it), which is the weakest of faith. Amazingly, however, some opt for the fourth ‘option’: to “like” it or comment encouragingly. Whether it is a compromising image which someone shares, a post of obvious or subtle backstabbing, or their likes, realise that the approver of sin and its doer are, in Allah’s Eyes, equal in blame. The Prophet ﷺ said:
إِذَا عُمِلَتْ الْخَطِيئَةُ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَانَ مَنْ شَهِدَهَا فَكَرِهَهَا كَانَ كَمَنْ غَابَ عَنْهَا وَمَنْ غَابَ عَنْهَا فَرَضِيَهَا كَانَ كَمَنْ شَهِدَهَا
“Whenever a sin on Earth takes place, those who witness it and detest it are considered like those who did not witness it, whilst those who did not witness it but approved of it will be considered like those who witnessed it.”
The Sixth Symptom: Your Time
Dr. Calvin Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, has said that many of these social media platforms hire entertainment engineers. These specialists have directly borrowed the methods of LA casino gambling houses – among other places – to make their products extremely addictive; they will exploit your human flaws and vulnerabilities to keep you signed in for as long as possible. This is a worrying reality for humanity, but far more for the Muslim, who sees time as his greatest asset, and the most fleeting as well.
Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said: يا ابنَ آدم إِنَّمَا أَنْتَ أَيَّامٌ، فَإِذا ذَهَبَ يَومٌ ذَهَبَ بَعْضُكَ
“O son of Adam, you are made out of days. So when a day leaves you, that means a part of you has left you.”
Even if you feel stationary, you are in fact rapidly advancing, where the passage of each second draws you further away from your current life and nearer to your eternal one. It is also interesting how we turn to social media to vent of thieves who have stolen from us in the hope that our item will be spotted. Yet we fail to realise how that very same platform has – in most cases – acted as the worst of all thieves in our lives, by robbing us of an irreplaceable asset: time.
The Seventh Symptom: Your Approach to Fame
People would follow Ibn Masʿūd so that they could earn the honour of walking with him. However, he would turn them away by saying:
ارجعوا – لا تمشوا ورائي-، فإنها فتنة للمتبوع، وذل للتابع
“Go back. Do not follow me, for it is a fitnah for the one who is being followed and humiliation for the follower.”
Towards the end of his life, Imam Aḥmad said:
أريد أن أكون بشِعب بمكة حتى لا أُعرف قد بُليت بالشهرة إني أتمنى الموت صباحاً ومساءً
“I want to live in a remote valley of Makkah where no one will recognise me. I have been afflicted with fame. I desire death every morning and evening.”
So detestable was fame to them that when Khālid b. Maʿdān’s study circle would grow in number, he would leave, fearing fame. In fact, whenever Abū al-ʿĀliyah’s ḥalaqah would grow beyond three, he would get up and leave. Abū Bakr b. ʿAyyāsh asked al-Aʿmash:
كم رأيت أكثر ما رأيت عند إبراهيم النخعي؟ قال: أربعة، خمسة
“What was the biggest crowd you saw in Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī’s study circle?” He said, “Four or five.”
Ibrāhīm b. Adham said: ما صدق الله عبد أحب الشهرة
“Any person who loves fame has not been true to Allah.”
This sentiment is almost non-existent today. We are most creative in excusing our obsessive hounding of people to subscribe to our channels under the guise of wanting to share the khayr, behaving as if we are somehow immune to what our predecessors feared so much. Yet, the examples above are from Muslims like you who also had goodness to share, but they were so averse to public appearances, having recognised that the hidden desire for fame is such a near neighbour to shirk. They also realised that the greater the number of followers they have, the greater the accountability shall be on the Day of Judgement, and the harsher questions they will have to face.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
بحسب امرئ من الشر أن يشار إليه بالأصابع في دين أو دنيا، إلا من عصمه الله
“It is sufficient of an evil for a person to be pointed towards with respect to religious or worldly matters, with the exception to those whom Allah saves.”
What to do if you test positive
After running the above test on yourself, how did you fare? Do any of the symptoms mentioned in the previous sections resonate? If you suspect that you are testing positive, then I will share with you one final parting message.
Arguing that social media is harmless is, in my estimation, no longer sufficient. Instead, one needs to actively identify the positives that they are reaping from it in order to outweigh the heaps of evidence for its many harms. In the majority of cases, we have exaggerated the benefits of social media in our lives; in reality, it is nothing but a form of escapism from the real responsibilities towards life and the afterlife, and almost entirely a source of entertainment. It is a slot machine found on our phones, with the constant demand for stimulus and dopamine picking us apart.
Also read: Crisis of Social Media & Muslim Leadership
Realise that if you feel restless and anxious when your phone is not within sight, you may be suffering from an addiction. It is also equally concerning if your phone is the first thing you look at in the morning before saying your remembrances, or the last thing you glare into in the night; you might even have the habit of falling asleep with your phone on your face. Furthermore, if you experience ‘ringxiety’ or phantom notifications – thinking that you have heard a notification but when you check, you have not, then you may be an addict. So, what is to be done?
Silence those electronic hallucinations
If you have decided to keep your social media platforms, then learn how to control these electronic hallucinations. Silence all your notifications and bells, move the icons away from your home screen, and courageously uninstall as many apps as you can. You owe it to yourself. Make sure that the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do in the night is not check your phone. Limit your visits to social media accounts to just once a day. Despite these restrictive measures, be rest assured that you will be fine: you will still have friends, you will not disappear from the economy, and you will still be up to date with the daily events of the world. The only difference is that you may end up observing improvements in happiness levels, contentment with what Allah has bestowed upon you, productivity in work and other obligations, and cognisance of the chief of all realities: the imminence of death and the true life that begins after it.
Rediscover intimate solitude with Allah
In classical times, solitude was a means of spiritual refinement. In the modern world of distractions, solitude has become a torture technique. Try to cultivate the ability of being alone, finding contentment without the need for images and videos, and developing the habit of being alone in private communication with the Divine.
Rediscover your worth as a Muslim
When all is said and done, most of the above boils down to how you see yourself and in what light. What do you see in the mirror? Do you see a pitiful being, bored to death and void of all noble ambition? If that is the case, then I may understand why some choose to reduce their God-given lives to carefully curated selfies, the counting of likes, aimless browsing, and the copying of TikTok dances. However, if your mirror reflects the image of a dignified being, honoured over all of creation with Islam, endowed with the finest of human faculties, and blessed with a mighty Lord worthy of glorification above you, then the behaviour above cannot be understood, let alone justified.
Subsequently, after addressing this, ask yourself a more important question: Who am I in the Eyes of Allah? There are indications and clues available for one to answer this question.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
من أراد أن يعلم ماله عند الله فلينظر ما لله عنده
“Whoever wishes to know who he is with Allah, let him examine Who Allah is with him.”
Just as an employee will recognise his status by observing the tasks given to him by his employer, similarly you can recognise your station with Allah on the basis of where He has stationed you. What are the practices and routines you do on a daily basis? Are they noble tasks of high ambitions that occupy your hours? Or petty pursuits of validation and self-gratification, such that you divert attention to yourself? An honest answer will reveal who you are to Allah and, as a result, the necessary course of action thereafter.
My claim is that the majority of us would be better off if we did not use this technology at all. Should you insist otherwise, however, keep the test kit above near at hand, measuring yourself against it time and time again.
 Aḥmad, on the authority of Abū Saʿīd.
 al-Bukhārī and Muslim, on the authority of ʿUqbah ibn ʿĀmir.
 al-Bukhārī and Muslim, on the authority of Abū Hurayrah.
 al-Ḥākim, on the authority of Ibn ʿUmar.
 al-Ṭabarānī, on the authority of Muʿādh.
 al-Bukhārī and Muslim, on the authority of Abū Saʿīd.
 al-Qur’an, 4:140.
 Abū Dāwūd, on the authority of al-ʿUrs b. ʿAmīrah al-Kindī.
 Ḥilyah al-Awliyā’.
 Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalā’.
 al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kabīr.
 Siyar Aʿlām al-Nubalā’.
 al-Tirmidhī, on the authority of Anas.
 al-Dāraquṭnī, on the authority of Anas.
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.