Keeping the Internet’s “Halal Police” in Check

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Filtering our comments and practising kindness when commenting on social media can go a long way, writes Fatimah Jackson-Best.

Keeping the “Halal Police” in Check_Aquila Style
Image: SXC

In the past few months, I’ve developed a small fascination with comment boxes on various social media platforms. Not just any comment boxes, but those of Muslim women who use the Internet to show others how to style a hijab, apply make-up, or showcase their personal style. What keeps me coming back is the constant dialogue happening there between Muslim women.

For the most part, women are supportive of each other – I have seen people praise one another, buy the scarves or clothing that these women are displaying, or generally encourage each other. But I have also noticed that when the owners of these social media accounts post a picture or video wearing for example, a vibrant lipstick shade or a sleeve that is less than three-quarters to the wrist, another commenter will likely say that this is “un-Islamic”. I’ve also come across comments which state that these women are doing haram (unlawful) things by making the hijab fashionable.

When this happens, another commenter may argue that by judging, they are committing a haram act… and debate ensues. I’ve seen “halal police”, “hijab-shaming” and other similar terms thrown around more than once. Encounters like this repeat as often as an uploaded picture or YouTube clip is posted. It fascinates me that in online spaces where anonymity provides a good measure of gutsiness, some women use the opportunity to admonish one another in such a public way.

I do believe that sometimes these comments come from a sincere place. As Muslims, we are taught to want for our fellow believers what we would want for ourselves. In this case, it would be to live a lifestyle that is in accordance with Islam. However, common courtesy and respect are also things that we should want for each other.

In real life, it is doubtful that a person would approach a complete stranger to say they don’t approve of their behaviour, outfit or hijab. It would probably be considered rude and very embarrassing to both individuals. But it seems that in the virtual world, these social norms are lost and replaced by moral judgements.

We have reached a point where through the Internet we are able to see how Muslim women around the world negotiate and practise their Islamic faith differently. Never before have we been so connected to one another, and never before have we been able to witness how differently we live Islam. In these online spaces we may forget that class, race, ethnicity and upbringing make us all unique from one another. Judging from some of the comments I’ve seen, it seems that some are convinced that there is only one true way to be a Muslim woman.

The comments in these online spaces also make me a bit apprehensive for the future. What kind of Islamic community and sense of sisterhood will we build if we constantly judge each other in such harsh ways? How will we build understanding and encourage thought, change and spiritual growth? Surely there must be a better way to speak with one another that does not involve shaming each other in such public and humiliating ways.

Let us be kind to one another, for we do not know when we will need the same compassion extended our way

An old Sufi saying suggests that before speaking, we should let our words pass through three gates. At the first gate ask yourself, “Is it true?” At the second gate ask yourself, “Is it necessary?” And at the third gate ask, “Is it kind?” This introspective approach is especially applicable in the online world, and we could all stand to employ these questions the next time we see something that we may not personally agree with.

Self-filtering our comments three times can allow us the time to edit the message we seek to put across. Just think, it is unlikely that any of us would submit the first rough draft of a project for school or work until we made sure it was accurate. The same applies when dealing with people online, as well as in the real world.

If we remember that each one of us is on a spiritual journey that no one else knows about, we can remember that the words we put into the world create energy. This energy can hurt; but it can also transform lives if used properly, so let us choose wisely how we decide to contribute and what we wish to say. More than anything, let us be kind to one another, for we do not know when we will need the same compassion extended our way.

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