Our Culture Of Arrogance, Anger And Online Arguments
Dawud Wharnsby once wrote in one of his songs:
We use so many words but have so little to relay
as angels scribble down every letter that we say.
All the viral attachments sent and passionate insults we vent
It’s easy to be arrogant behind user passwords we invent.
But on the day the scrolls are laid, with every word and deed displayed,
when we read our accounts, I know, for one, I’ll be afraid.
That day I’ll be so afraid to read. (Album: The Prophet’s Hands, 2003)
One of the tragedies of the Internet is that it strips away much of the social contract we have put into place in order to make our interactions more pleasing and less confrontational. If someone upsets us online or gives an opinion we disagree with, there is no physical danger in refuting them, in calling them an idiot, a kaafir or any other host of names. If someone quotes a scholar we happen to believe is a “sellout,”or gives us a sport statistic about a player we don’t particularly like – many of us have no problem publically labeling the elderly knowledgeable scholar as a sellout and making sure the world knows through vile vocabulary that we think the player sucks. Of course when we insult them, we do not acknowledge that we are neither knowledgeable scholars nor professional sports players.
We would not say these things in front of the people we’re talking about; if these were our parents, we would adamantly make excuses and prevent gossip. So why do our fingers move fluidly to vent insults, accusations and even high-level political analysis about events that we have merely done a few Google searches on?
A few months ago, a young brother from my community was killed in a train accident while walking. Readers on the local newspaper’s website casually commented that it may have been his fault if he wasn’t watching the train coming. This was on the day of his death. Would they have said this to the face of his crying mother? Would they have spread this thought outside the funeral, so everyone within listening distance could hear? We would hope none of them would have the cruelty to do this. But by typing their comments on the Internet, this is exactly what they have done.
Similarly, many young Muslims youth throw accusations against Muslim scholars, spend hours online insulting Sunnis, Shi`ites, Ikhwanis, Sufis, Salafis, Tableeghis, Deobandis, and every other flavor of the Muslim spectrum one can imagine. Many actually dedicate a portion of their day updating their Facebook status, insulting so-and-so through a clever blog post, warning others, listing out their faults – all this with the conviction they have “enjoined the good and forbidden the evil!” And don’t deny it, many of us cannot resist commenting on websites, or Facebook statuses, where our Islamic political, social, economic, creedal, and legal opinions – usually set in stone – are MORE sacred than the other because “we learned it from a teacher.” Yet the majority of us did not have any formal, conclusive training in the Islamic sciences – which even if we had, would not justify the bitter tone and behavior. As Imam Suhaib Webb says, “We are like firemen arguing about what hose to use, while the house burns down.”
What we must realize is that when we take part in this culture of debate, arguing, than arguing again, day after day after day, we are slowly devastating our own hearts. On social networks we feel a rush of adrenaline waiting for the counter-argument or foreign person to respond. We create intellectual forums then wait like vultures to check another person’s clearly messed up thinking to respond back with a counter-proof: “That’ll show them!” That AWESOME feeling after a lengthy response is not enjoining good or even productive: we are simply letting OUR nufoos (our souls and desires) tear apart the heart and run wild to see if they can prove ascendancy over someone else.
In order to truly understand the psychology behind this, we will approach this from two angles. First, let us see what the Qur’an tells us about this behavior. Secondly, we will explore a few points that can remind us why and how we need to stay away from this culture.
Let us examine Surah Luqman:
“O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs.
And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster.
And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the donkey.” (Qur’an, 31:17-19)
Benefits of the Passage:
- We see that Luqman orders his son to enjoin good, forbid evil, and be patient. Why does he tell him to be patient? Because anyone who TRULY takes on the job of enjoining good and forbidding evil in a society will be faced with calamities, trials, and tribulations. I assure you, being overweight, being sleepy, or having hurting fingers in the morning as a result of excessive typing and online arguing is NOT the calamity Luqman is discussing. Rather, he is telling his son to remember that people will end up physically oppressing you if you stand up for what is right, and to be ready to bear that trial patiently.
- Luqman tells his son not to “swell one’s cheek” in pride or be insolent. Yet, when we tell people that Shaykh X is a sellout, and that “I don’t take from him,” or that “He is not a traditional scholar so I would ignore what he says,”we have done just that. We have attempted to establish our superiority over a learned person with our words and have demonstrated our own intellectual bankruptcy. We could not counter the proof, so we fell to countering the man. As Muhammad al-Shareef once stated: “When one proof fails, a person often falls back to anger. Anger is not a proof.”
- Finally Luqman tells his son to be “moderate in his speech, and lower his voice.”
What is the purpose of lowering one’s voice? So that one is not displaying one’s words to everyone in the vicinity, and bothering them with our displays of arrogance. Yet, every single time we write something publicly (including on this blog), we are displaying words for all to see. We are yelling at the entire world, asking the world to witness our words. Are we going to ask the world to witness us calling to good things? Or will we ask the world to witness us defaming scholars, insulting this group of Muslims or that group of people who we’ve decided are not Muslims? Will we spend our time showing the world how the Prophet ﷺ lived? Or show the world how we have our own personal problems, inadequacy issues, and a need to demonstrate how we are on the “right path” and all others need to fall in line?
We all need to seriously evaluate our souls in this culture of online argumentation and identify why we spend our time the way we do. A few realizations we must begin to change include:
Continuously leaving controversial and provoking messages in our online personalities, whether through networks, forum posts or blog comments. This is NOT “forbidding the evil”; this is opening a gate for evil. Any trained mental-health professional will point out that this is attention-seeking behavior from a person who wants to feel like they are making a difference and are important. Ask yourself do I need to respond? What would Prophet Muhammad ﷺ do?
While the refined soul wants to do dhikr (remembrance) of Allah (swt), the diseased soul wants others to do dhikr of itself. It feels proud that it has stood against evil by posting YouTube links, by invoking walaa wal baraa (loving and hating for the sake of God) and by invoking creedal differences we barely understand to excommunicate entire groups from being Ahl-As-Sunnah (people of the Prophetic way). In all our interactions, we must make Allah our focal point, not ourselves.
The soul thinks it is making the world a better place, but it is simply trying to make itself feel useful through the use of the Internet and is involving itself further and further in argumentation. Al-Awza’i said: “When Allah desires ill for a people, He opens the door of argumentation for them and prevents them from doing good deeds.”
An online action is no different than one which is written down with a pen and signed, and sent to the receiver. The act is witnessed by the Honored Scribes, the angels who write our deeds, and is recorded in the scrolls of our actions, and will be present for us to read on the Day of Judgment. An online insult against a person, a scholar, or simply an acquaintance has the same weight as a letter would. To think otherwise is a deception from Shaytan.
We are not God’s police on the Earth. We are His worshippers and the representatives of the Prophet ﷺ. Would the Prophet ﷺ spend his time telling everyone that Group X is not doing a good job for the Ummah and Group Y is better? Would he spend his time insulting scholars? Did he even curse the people of Ta’if who threw stones at him? Rather, he ﷺ would reflect on the revelation and build Muslim men and women through constructive, productive coaching in real life, rather than gain retribution for every wrong against him. And this is a man ﷺ whose words were heavier than ours, yet even he did not stoop to argumentation.
If we are not ready to stand before historic imams: Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn ul Qayyim, or contemporary shuyukh Albani, Qaradawi, Yasir Qadhi, Hamza Yusuf, Taqi Uthmaani, Suhaib Webb – or any of the ‘ulama, jama`ahs or senior students of knowledge (that we like to discredit) – on the Day of Judgment, with the Angels of Allah and Allah’s Might before us and say: “Ya Allah – My word against his, this imam/sheikh/person is an innovator and led people astray, and I was your servant and I called to Your way with sound understanding that exceeds his” – then we should keep our mouths SHUT. I am not referring to scholarly differences of opinion that are dealt with through the referencing of proofs and legal methodology. I am referring to the bickering of people that many often resort to in judging the sacrifices, efforts, and studies others have made to serve Allah and further his deen.
Our own identity crises can make us feel we need to belong to a stronger group that is “correct” which in turn may encourage our online behavior in seeking conflict, being difficult and wasting everyone’s time. Many people feel alone, especially online, and to seek strength they resort to joining those who mock other groups. Their nafs feels it is better than other misguided people and revel in the pride that it is on a better path. This is dangerous thinking and needs to be checked.
We may have anger or emotional issues that we need to vent online to feel better. We may leave comments in the hopes of people thinking better of us, or for some other inadequacy that we seek to fulfill. It would behoove us to quickly do an examination of ourselves and our online personalities. Our various online anonymities allow our true selves to come out and act in ways that our common sense prevent us from doing in real life. So now you need to ask yourselves, why am I typing that? Who is it really for? Me, or them?
Lastly, we may just need to “get a life!” It is possible that you want to serve the deen, be involved in daw`ah, helping our communities and societies through Islamic values, but do not know how. The solution is relatively simple: get involved in local masaajid, your communities, engage with real people, serve your people and get away from the internet.
Additionally, seek knowledge for the sake of God, not for the sake of argumentation. I recommend searching this website’s Islamic Studies section for more on seeking knowledge, as well as reading a broad range of Islamic books. Study Islam in depth, pick a field and specialize in that area. Finally, read the Qur’an more often – after wudhu, Book in hand, computer switched off.
The threat of the nafs glorifying itself is an ever-present threat to every writer, speaker, and presenter who shares information about Islam. All of us must consistently take caution, advice, and spend time with people who discourage argumentative behavior and know us well enough to remind us of our own weaknesses, so that we do not let such behaviors manifest themselves in our lives. Many of us are surprised that the internet remembers everything. But to a Muslim, we should already know that nothing we do, type or utter ever escapes the pen of the angels who write, or the sight of Allah (swt). As Dawud Wharnsby says, when we are handed our accounts, will we be afraid to read?