Da`wah in the Age of iPhone (Part 1)
By (the token of) Time (through the ages), Verily man is in loss, except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy. (Al-`Asr 103)
In the 103rd chapter of the Qur’an, Almighty Allah gives us a blueprint for our lives: Have faith, do righteous deeds, and join together to teach people truth, patience, and constancy. Our first priority then is to have this faith and to do good deeds as individuals, families, and a collective community. Secondly, we need to teach others.
Everyday, people interact and learn from the internet. The world is now so wired that people sleep with their iPhones so that they don’t miss anything. (Yes, admit it!) The statistics on how obsessed people are with things like Facebook are mind-boggling. The internet cloud is now the living space of the world. Everyday, there are new and more sophisticated anti-Islamic websites, rants on Youtube, and powerful bloggers that publish their latest Islamophobic tirades. Where are the Muslims?
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf once said, “Spend a little time on the Internet, and search for issues related to Islam, the way people who have little or no knowledge about Islam might do if they were curious about our religion. Try Google searches for terms like ‘jihad’ or ‘women in Islam’, and see the top websites and links that appear. Compare some of the websites run by Muslims with the ones run by people attacking the Muslims, and note the difference.” Indeed, what we will find is that we still have a lot of work to do. Not just for non-Muslims, but for Muslims as well. We need to do something to counter this disinformation about Islam.
Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance(An-Nahl 16:125)
My philosophy since the 1990’s has not been that we need to convert people. That is not our job. Faith is something that is between a person and Allah. Our job is to present the real, true, good Islam. It is up to people if they want to believe, understand, sympathize, or hate. There will always be people who won’t believe and we should accept that. However, we should not accept when the Palin-Geller monsters of the world create a “terrorism-honor-killing-jeehad-shariah-izlam” and present that to the world as our faith. That is not fair, and it’s about time that each of us participates in taking back our own narrative. The Qur’an asks us to join together in this mutual teaching. We need to step up, participate, represent, and bring true Islam to the people.
You might ask at this point if one person/website/blog/video/tweet can make a difference. The way I look at it is that, if one person is affected positively by what you’ve created, it is well worth the effort. It can even be beneficial to you.
So the typical image of an Islamic website you might have is of an elderly scholarly sheikh (with a big beard) posting long religious edicts! Or perhaps a programmer in big glasses typing feverishly away in complex programming languages. Yet, the websites of today are far more nuanced and don’t have to be in traditional website form. Easy software, helpful guides, and simple interfaces make everything accessible, even to those not technically inclined. You also do not have to be a scholar or perfect in religiosity to show different aspects and positive sides of Islam.
A few great examples of non-traditional Islamic websites that have popped up recently:
1. Muslim heroes/Muslims wearing things – blogs in response to Islamophobes showing the huge diversity of what Muslims are doing to serve the world and what Muslims actually look like and wear.
2. iPhone Islamic apps – now you can do everything from finding a halal restaurant in a new city to memorizing online with a tajweed master.
3. How-to-hijab videos – Youtube videos showing girls how to pin their hijabs.
4. Twitter’s hadith-a-day – tweets a reflective hadith a day to thousands of followers.
5. Muslim media & radio shows – broadcasting everything from Qur’an recitation to discussions on relevant topics for Muslims.
6. Halal food blog – all about creating great halal recipes, good substitute ingredients, and traditional foods from the Muslim world.
7. Muslim anime artists – creating anime and comics representing Muslims and their struggles.
8. Flickr collections – showing Muslim architecture, art, and life throughout the Muslim world through photos.
9. Facebook fan pages – fan pages on such diverse topics as Salahuddin Ayyubi, Muslims & Science Fiction and Steampunk Shari`ah.
10. Youtube Muslim skits & parodies – cartoons, skits, and entertainment for all, by funny people and MSAs.
11. Yahoo! comments – Muslims who comment on Islam related articles to counter all the hate. (Hey, we have to start somewhere!)
These are all just ordinary, individual Muslims using their talents to educate and spread Islam online. They’re not perfect and I’m sure their diverse opinions will differ, along with the way they went about things, but the point is they are regular, normal, struggling Muslims expressing their own faith, interests, and daily lives to others.
So what about the rest of us? There are so many Muslims that have such great talents and skills. Each of us can contribute to this mutual teaching. So, how do we get started in making something beneficial? And what are some steps in the process?
But oars alone can ne’er prevail to reach the distant coast;
The breath of Heaven must swell the sail, or all the toil is lost.
– William Cowper
Pre-Step 1: Purify your intention. Anything we do should be for Almighty Allah alone, so it’s important to keep in mind our goals and original intentions.
Step 1: Find your niche. Do you have any special abilities or talents? Do you know how to program Islamic widgets, themes, apps, software? What are you interested in? Do you like politics? Art? Software? Poetry? History? Fashion? What kind of website do you want to create? Do you want to start a blog? Create some funny videos? Gather articles on a specific topic? Live stream local lectures and study circles? Start a forum for a certain hobby? Open a Yahoogroup for people similar to you or for your local community? Every Muslim can contribute in their own way, so think of the way you can best contribute, using your interests and skills.
Step 2: Do some research. See what’s out there in the areas you’re interested in. Who is the audience you are targeting? Muslims, non-Muslims – both or a specific group? Do you think your website will be useful to them? Does it add value to what is already out there? How is it different or needed? Analyze what works and what doesn’t. Seeing other things might spark some new ideas or help you find where you are most needed. If the idea is out there already, you could do something similar or a little different. If someone is already doing what you’re interested in, then you should join and strengthen them. You might even want to contribute something or help an established site out there already instead of starting something new.
Step 3: Get started. Create some content! You don’t have to buy your own domain and host your own site at this point, which can be expensive and technically complicated. You can use free services like WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, Deviantart, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Find things you can use for your site, write to publishers and authors for permission. Write articles, create videos, and start tweeting. Be smart, innovative, creative, and fresh. There is so much potential for us out there with so many great ideas.
Step 4: Advertise and allow for feedback. Advertise in Google, post comments on other blogs, and list your site in Islam related search engines. Ask other website owners, friends, and those who might be interested to take a look and give you suggestions. Tweak and change where needed. Keep your goal in mind and don’t mind negative criticism. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the response you wanted. The internet is a big place, but know that you have contributed positively, insha’ Allah.
Step 5: Try to keep it up. This is actually the hardest step. There are so many outdated and orphaned Islamic sites out there; or worse, good things that were completely deleted! Don’t destroy good work. Pass it on, delegate, or encourage others to continue. Keep updating and posting; be current and in touch.
The World is three days: As for yesterday, it has vanished, along with all that was in it. As for tomorrow, you may never see it. As for today, it is yours, so work in it.
– Hasan al-Basri
Taken with kind permission from suhaibwebb.com