Spiritual Pitfalls for the Muslim Blogger
This is an article I wrote recently for a series on Islam & the Internet at SuhaibWebb.com. May Allah help us to write and blog in a way that is spiritually elevating for us and for those who read our words.
Spiritual Pitfalls for the Muslim Blogger
by Shazia Ahmad
Blogs are gateways, that grant us access into the interior worlds of other people. They offer us glimpses into people’s experiences, thoughts and feelings, revealing their strongly held opinions and their innermost dreams. The relative ease of blogging, especially with free hosting and user-friendly services, has made it an extremely popular way for many of us to share pieces of our lives and personalities with others on a global scale. Blogs have given a voice to many whose realities would otherwise be unknown to the general public, and we now find an ocean of Muslim writers contributing to the online blogosphere.
While there are many beautiful, beneficial, and positive things we can share with others through our blogs, which can make blogging a spiritually uplifting experience, there are also certain types of writing that can actually be harmful to our spiritual state. Here are six blogging tendencies that may be spiritually detrimental for us, and that we should seek to avoid when we write and post.
We should be wary of using our blogs as outlets for venting negative feelings and frustrations in our lives. Instead of channeling such feelings into positive avenues, that would bring about benefit for ourselves and others, we may instead feel a false sense of relief or satisfaction in simply ‘letting it all out’. It would be far better for us to make constructive changes in our lives and seek out the proper support, guidance, and advice needed to help address the difficulties we may be experiencing.
Another harm of this type of blogging – especially when writing about situations in which we feels that we have been wronged – is the ease of falling into certain prohibited types of speech, such as speaking ill of others, making accusations, and exposing people’s faults to others’ scrutiny. One may feel that they are simply telling their side or letting the truth be known, however, when one is emotional and feels that they have been oppressed it is difficult to be cautious in one’s speech and it is easy to trample on others’ rights.
Lastly, in lamenting on the personal difficulties we may be going though via blog post, we may be missing out on the opportunity to show a beautiful level of etiquette with Allah, in not complaining about the Creator to others in creation. Instead of openly venting our negative feelings to others, we can instead turn to Allah and beseech Him for His help, showing a level of patience, composure and dignity in the face of tribulation, and withholding ourselves from emotional rants or complaints.
Blogs are a means by which we can openly share our opinions on an array of issues, and it is common to find Muslim bloggers discussing their communities, masjids, Islamic organizations and institutions, and other Islamic projects they come into contact with. While it is easy to complain about the wrongs and negatives that one may see in different settings, it is much harder to actually become involved and invested, and work to make things better. We should be cautious of letting our blogs make us into arm-chair critics, who, while other are rolling up their sleeves and doing actual work, sit back as spectators, concerned more with commenting than constructing. We should be wary of becoming isolated from the community, relegating ourselves to the role of observer and pundit rather than actual participant.
Using Words as Weapons
We should also be wary of attacking others, individually or as groups, and using words as a way to humiliate and punish. There is nothing wrong with feeling passionate about an issue, and respectfully disagreeing with others; however a passionate expression of ideas is very different from simple emotional ranting. We can find many examples of blog posts in which entire groups of people are targeted and charged with the actions of a few – “Muslim men these days are all irresponsible and immature” – or where complex ideas of Islamic law are emotionally debated and labels are tossed down on whoever disagrees – “That idea/scholar/group is Wahabi/Sufi/etc.” We should use our words to inspire, enlighten and educate, and not to insult or denigrate. In engaging in this type of rhetoric, we may feel a sense of satisfaction in one-upping the other party. However, the evident harms of such speech – in hurting and discouraging others, and engendering resentment and hatred between people’s hearts – makes it something extremely dangerous. Passion and strong feelings can exist, but must be reigned in by composure, level-headedness, and fear of Allah in the words we write and share.
Loving One’s Own Opinion
Another issue we should be cognizant of is a feeling of self-importance that may come from constantly sharing our opinions with others, and latent feelings of arrogance, over-confidence and condescension that may arise from this. One may begin to write desiring or expecting the admiration of others, seeking to gain their approval, or to be talked about and discussed. This is very harmful to the sincerity of one’s intention, and leads one to a disproportionate perception of the importance of one’s opinions and writings.
In addition, we may begin to feel that we should have a fixed and strong opinion on everything, even those matters about which we are ill informed or unqualified to discuss. The grave seriousness of discussing religious issues may be disregarded in our constant desire to philosophize, debate, and have our opinions be heard. This is in complete contradiction to the tradition of our scholars, who were extremely hesitant to state their opinions on religious issues unless they were confident about their understanding of them. The great 14th century scholar Ibn Rajab al Hanbali describes them in the following way:
“The early imams were cautious about speaking about [the lawful and unlawful] because one who speaks about such matters is relating information from Allah, enunciating His commandments and prohibitions, and passing on His sacred law.
It was said about Ibn Sirin, ‘If he was asked about something regarding the lawful or the unlawful, his color would change. He would be transformed until he no longer seemed the same person.’
Ata’ ibn al-Saib said, ‘I met people who, when asked for a religious verdict, would tremble as they spoke.’
It is related that when Imam Malik was asked about a legal matter, it was as if he were suspended between Heaven and Hell.
Imam Ahmad was extremely hesitant to speak on the lawful and unlawful, to claim that something was abrogated, or related matters which others would too readily expound. He frequently prefaced his answers with phrases such as, ‘I hope that…’ ‘I fear…’, or ‘It is more beloved to me…’
Imam Malik and others would frequently say, ‘I do not know.’ Imam Ahmad would often say on an issue with which righteous forbears had various opinions, ‘The most likely answer is, ‘I do not know.’’”1
Excessiveness in Speech
A wise person once said that the more one speaks, the more one is likely to fall into mistakes. Bloggers are often prolific writers, sharing their thoughts on a daily or weekly basis and producing volumes worth of material for others to read. We should make sure that we are not writing simply to fill the page, but with the intention of bringing about some type of benefit. This is a very practical manifestation of the Prophetic tradition which says, “Speak khayr – that which is good and beneficial, or remain silent.”2 In the same vein, we should blog well, or instead keep our thoughts and writings to ourselves.
Another point to consider is that in constantly sharing and writing about religious experiences and knowledge, we may not be giving ourselves enough time to sufficiently absorb and digest what we have learned. While it is commendable to share beneficial knowledge with others, our first consideration when learning should be to understand and implement that knowledge in ourselves and our own lives. We may need time to reflect deeply, ruminate and ‘feel’ what we have learned, moving it from intellectual data to something felt and understood with the heart, and acted upon with our limbs. This is not something that can be easily done if we are constantly in the mode of ‘transferring’ knowledge to others.
Sharing that which has No Benefit
The Prophet (peace be upon him) would pray for Allah’s refuge from “knowledge that does not benefit.” There are many types of knowledge that exist, the most noble being knowledge of God Most High. There are also types of knowledge or information that bring about harm, or are meaningless and actually do nothing but waste one’s time. Becoming immersed in discussions about these types of knowledge is spiritually harmful, distracting one from more important matters and taking up important spiritual and psychological ‘space’ that should be filled with other, better things. We should avoid trivial or meaningless discussions and debates. We should also be wary of sharing personal matters, that should be kept within the sanctity of one’s family and loved ones, or in some cases, solely between a person and their Lord.
An Arabic expression states that there are three things that cannot return; a spent arrow, a missed opportunity, and a spoken word. May Allah Most High make us conscious of every word we speak, write, or blog. May He make our words something that we are rewarded for, that draw us closer to Paradise and to His pleasure, and that once expressed, do not become a source of regret. I ask Allah Most High to make our writing and blogging a means of elevating our spiritual state, and to protect us from falling into the prohibited, disliked and detrimental. Ameen.
Conclusion to the Islam & the Internet Series
This series was not intended to be comprehensive, but to explore and highlight some of the major trends and issues related to Muslims and their use of the internet. We pray that it has been a means of encouraging deep-thinking and discussion on these issues, and the start of a higher level discourse about ways we can use the internet in positive ways. May Allah bless you for reading and contributing, and our authors and editors for their contributions. We would like to give special thanks to our guest writers in the series, Sr. Jannah (Da’wah in the Age of iPhones) and Ustadh Sohaib Saeed (The Fiqh of Facebook).
- The Heirs of the Prophet by Ibn Rajab al Hanbali, translated by Imam Zaid Shakir
- In Riyad as Saliheen and Agreed upon