When I was a young boy growing up, making friends was a fairly straightforward process. I would come home after school, have my lunch, watch some cartoons, do my homework, then run downstairs for a game of football. Befriending someone was simply a question of asking the next kid if he wanted to play. Back then, the only time technology was used to galvanise the act of friendship was when my friends and I exchanged home phone numbers.
That was 2 decades ago. Today, via Facebook, Singaporean toddlers, kids, tweens and teens no longer have to leave the comforts of home to make new friends or connect with old ones. The burgeoning social network service has attracted many – from politicians to entrepreneurs to religious leaders – all eager to capitalize on its uncanny ability to reach out to the masses. At the time of writing, Facebook has a staggering total of 600 million active users. Even parents are getting in on the act, finding it an easy, painless way to narrow the generation gap between them and their children.
I cannot agree that Facebook is intrinsically evil, and that we should discard it in an effort to be better Muslims. I don’t suppose there are any fatwas which ban the use of Facebook, and rightly so. A Facebook account is ultimately a tool, and how one uses the tool ultimately leads one to vice or virtue. In plain and simple terms, you can use your Facebook account to backbite and slander, but you can also use it to spread the message of peace, brighten a person’s day or inform someone about an upcoming talk at the mosque.
To the undergraduate studying overseas, the mother concerned with her child’s social life or the Muslimah wanting to find better friends who’ll help steer her onto the path of righteousness, no amount of superlatives can adequately describe the phenomenon that is Facebook. It is without doubt, a force to be reckoned with.
Nevertheless, its usage, like anything else, must be done in moderation. It cannot be seen as a complete substitute for the traditional practices of the social aspect of Islam, such as the visiting of pious elders, or the face-to-face greeting of fellow Muslims, or the prevention of mungkar through actions and words. I also feel it should not be used as a platform for serious debate, because admittedly, some points get lost in translation, given its typographic nature. This would require a certain level of restrain on the part of the user. Perhaps Imam Nawawi’s advice is necessary here where he says:
“It is obligatory for every sane adult to guard his tongue against talking, except when it contains a clear benefit. If talking and remaining silent are of equal benefit, it is sunnah to abstain, for permissible talking might lead to something undesirable or forbidden, as in fact is very often the case, and nothing matches safety.”
If there is one clear benefit to using Facebook, it’s the ease with which we can now greet one another. In this regard, Islam has professed the use of the Islamic greeting when encountering another Muslim because it unifies the hearts and strengthens bonds between Muslims. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Shall I not tell you something which, if you do it, you will love one another? Spread the greeting of salam amongst yourselves.”
Equipped with the proper Islamic worldview, surely one can latch onto the benefits of Facebook, without succumbing to its accompanying pitfalls. After all, deleting our account just seems downright impossible, doesn’t it?
Written by: Shahnawaz Abdul Hamid