Nothing divides like religion!
That’s actually just another way of saying nothing connects like it but that’s beside the point. This write up is about the effect Facebook – which is the embodiment of an almost perfect social networking website- is having on the sectarian differences amongst Muslims. My thesis is that, whether by design or by accident, it’s causing the rift between different religious sects to aggravate. How can I say that? Well, part from personal experience and rest from empirical inference. I don’t have any statistical data to substantiate my claim as to how many barelvis were offended by a particular post by a deobandi friend, and with all honesty, facebook is the only likely party to have such data at their disposal. Nonetheless, how did I conclude that facebook is doing this? For that I’ll have to take you to our university days.
Back in the university, there were three broad categories of people when classified for religiosity. There were the ultra liberals who never took religion seriously. Then there were the ultra religious who maintained a very definitive view of life and the hereafter and you could tell them from the others just by looking at them. Then there were the neither-here-nor-there-seeking-best-of-both-worlds kind of people. For they did pray daily, sometimes more than once, but they also had fun, you know what I mean, the ones who offered prayers in cinemas. The liberals hardly had any friends in the ‘mullas’ and vice versa. The third group had good acquaintance in both the others but their friendships were really rooted in their own. Now this ‘moderate’ group- which incidentally this scribe was also part of- had people from all sorts of religious backgrounds. There were sunnis, shias, barelvis, deobandis, salafis, just about as much diverse as it could get. These were the people who didn’t wear their religion on their sleeves and were rather very accommodating to anyone. They weren’t aware, or rather couldn’t care less why barelvis and deobandis call each other what they call each other. Deobandis didn’t know why they were deobandis and barelvis didn’t know exactly why they celebrated Milad. The sunnis went to koonday and the shias attended iftaar parties even though they knew the sunnis will have eaten everything within the 5 minutes gap between the iftar time of the two sects.
Back then, if anyone had to tell someone what barelvis have written in their books, they had to convince them to read the book that had some shocking evidence about how astray barelvis are. Similaraly, a barelvi had to spend hours if not days to school a layman about how divisive the deobandis were. Same goes for shias and sunnis and salafis and so on and so forth.
Years passed by and those people were now mature enough to have formed their biases essential for grown-up human beings.
Then, facebook happened! Here was a unique way to not only find the long-lost friends but instantly share and enjoy with them. Sharing on facebook is unlike any other sharing experience many of us have had in our lifetimes. It’s unlike email, because it’s uncivilized to pepper everyone with everything you like. It’s unlike a delicious bookmark or a youtube like, cuz not everyone’s there. All you need to do to share something is to put it on your wall, on your ‘own’ wall, and your buddies will see if they like. It’s on the back of such amazing ease of use and robustness that facebook has exploded to be the most populous global website, more populous than most countries of the world!
Of all the things people share on facebook, religious matter is the most serious and often either delightful or acrimonious depending upon which side of the argument you are. Now it’s all the easier to share a speech from maulana tariq jameel or a qirat of mishary alafasy or sheikh sudais or shuraim. It’s also easier to share with others the views of dr israr ahmed, or dr tahir ul qadri, or mufti taqi usmani. This ease of use, while very beneficial for their followers and disciples and the neutrals, is also at the root of the problem I want identified.
With all due respect to all the religious scholars, let’s all accept the fact that they’re humans. They’re fallible, although less so than the rest of us but fallible all the same. That being said, most of the videos that are shared are clips from longer speeches and hence are mostly out of context. While their disciples and followers understand fully what a particular metaphor means, an ‘outsider’ is prone to totally misinterpret it. So the human error is magnified by it being out of context and a potential bickering is ready to be had. I don’t even have to give evidence of such instances as it may already be your experience.
To be honest, I don’t think the scholars are fully at fault here, although them being humans their error can’t be ruled out. However, to me it’s the people who publish this material who are the real ones responsible for this growing acrimony. Not everything is for everyone, religious matter more so. Every scholar says and shares things according to the social and psychological status of the audience. It’s not only ethical it’s necessary. So while one thing is said in a hushed tone to some group, the same would be said with vigor to a more accepting audience.
My personal experience is bad enough to share. All I can say is that I and my best mate are hardly on talking terms right now because he likes one scholar and I like another and they both are poles apart. In our university life and even after that, we were never the ones to wear religion on our sleeves so we hardly cared about the other’s background. Now somehow it’s not the case. I have to share part of the blame too but I believe if it wasn’t for facebook, we wouldn’t have known our respects for those scholars runs deeper than our friendship.
I could end this write up here but that would not only be abrupt but unfair as well. Unfair because merely pointing out a problem would only accentuate and potentially aggravate it. My goal is to help not only identify it but rectify it as well. So here are my two cents in that regard.
First, there are those who have been religious since they saw the light of day. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they’re the ones most comfortable in their skins. They’re usually more forthcoming in talking about religion and more accommodating.
There are then those who’re recent ‘reverts’, some of whom become ‘trolls’ as they’re often referred as. They’re the ones who’re coming to grips with their religious fervor and more often than not, their zeal results in an outburst that does more harm than good to the cause of Islam. You’ll find them in all types of schools of thoughts and depending which side they are, you’ll find them labeling everyone in their way as ‘bidati’ or ‘wahhabi’. They want to see their loved ones come their way sooner rather than later and that leads them to yank others’ heads towards religion.
Extremism however, is hardly a virtue when it comes to calling people to Allah. What one needs to identify is their ‘sphere of influence’ and exert pressure only on that. That would be the one we’ll be answerable for. Everything beyond that, is beyond question.
Secondly, it’s easier and more fruitful to give more leeway to other Muslims. To construe everything to infidelity or apostasy is not only counter-productive, it’s meaningless. I’m not denying there are people who say rubbish in the name of religion, what I’m saying is that it has to be seen whether it’s within our sphere of influence or not. Also, there are a lot of times when someone wants to express their love to Allah or prophets (a.s.) or other religious figures but due to lack of eloquence, they end up saying something unintentionally provocative. When judging other muslims’ actions, do keep this in mind. At the end of the day, all of us want to go to jannah. Everyone loves Allah and Rasoolullah (s.a.w.), some more than others, some in different ways than the rest.
The threat that facebook is offering by making every small difference public is also an opportunity. Let’s for once celebrate the amazing diversity Allah has put in our religion that despite having different methods of prayers and different versions of salvation in mind, we have one book, one prophet(s.a.w.) and one Rabb. We stand in the direction of Makkah for prayers and when in that holy place, all of us stand behind one imam. That’s worth thanking our Lord for. Let’s do it!