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LANALLAH __Islamic BlogZine__
Friday, November 12, 2004

Blogging: an Islamic perspective

Monday, November 08, 2004
Blogging: an Islamic perspective
Sikander Ziad Hashmi, sunniforum.com


Blogging is becoming increasingly popular. Thousands of new blogs pop up daily. Many Muslims have joined in on the blogging phenomenon.

Obviously, blogging is a fairly new online activity. The Merriam-Webster dictionary still does not recognize the word “blog”. The few dictionaries that do so define it in various ways:

Weblog (noun): a personal Web site that provides updated headlines and news articles of other sites that are of interest to the user, also may include journal entries, commentaries and recommendations compiled by the user; also written web log, Weblog; also called blog (Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English)

Blog (n): a shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies (WordNet ® 2.0)

Personal journals and diaries are nothing new. People have been keeping diaries for hundreds of years. What is new though is the added interactivity and the wide reach of these new online journals (blogs).

At the outset, it seems like blogging is a harmless activity for Muslims. After all, it’s simply a journal about one’s personal experiences, hobbies, and other ramblings, compiled publicly for others to read and often comment on. But after scratching the surface, we realize that it’s not as simple as it seems.

Many Muslims have begun to wonder about the religious ruling regarding blogs. Armed with personal experience from being an avid blogger in the past, this humble servant will try to wrestle with that question in this article.

Types of Blogs

Generally, blogs can be classified into one of the following three categories:

1. Personal journal: The author writes about whatever comes to mind. That can include feelings, events and happenings in their life, what they did on a particular day, etc.

2. Topic-specific journal: The author picks one area of interest (such as news, Islam, a certain sport, area of study, etc.) and posts his/her experiences, thoughts, and other relevant information regarding the specified topic.

3. Personal/topic-specific journal: The author combines both 1) and 2) in his/her blog.

The first category merits some discussion.

For starters, all bloggers know that since their blogs are public, their entries are accessible by anyone and everyone. As such, every blogger (but specifically a Muslim one) should be extremely cautious about what he/she is divulging in the blog entries. Many times, the contents of a single entry don’t seem to be of much concern, but when read collectively with past entries, they can provide an entire profile on the personality, character, and even physical traits of a person.

This presents some problems from an Islamic point of view. Islam, with its emphasis on modesty and its cautious approach to gender interaction, strongly discourages members of the opposite sex from openly divulging their personality, character, and physical traits (among other things) to each other.

Originally, when the concept of distant communication in real-time was non-existant, the prohibitions that were laid down were for physical, face-to-face contact. However, the advent of telephones, the Internet, SMS, digital cameras, and e-mail, has made it possible to have unhindered communication and interaction without any physical contact whatsoever. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between the two forms of communication (in terms of actual presence vs. distant) from a religious ruling point of view. Therefore, the entire concept of modesty, “lowering the gaze”, and “covering ones self properly” must be extended to all forms of contact. Thus, they must be applied in a holistic sense, to all our actions, and not only to physical interaction.

In essence, blogging about one’s personal life is similar to writing a journal entry and then posting it outside one’s house or at a street corner for all to read. There isn’t anything really wrong with doing that (if one wishes to be so public about one’s private life), as long as one doesn’t divulge any information that doesn’t lead members of the opposite gender to envision and imagine the author, and doesn’t let their hearts and minds become impressed and eventually lean towards the author.

Now, that may seem simple, but the fact is that nobody can really ascertain as to what may cause the above in the minds of the opposite gender. It may seem tempting to write-off this whole notion by saying that what goes through the minds of the readers is not the responsibility of the author. While that may hold true for truly objective pieces of work and in matters of true need, the onlookers would not be completely to blame for not “lowering their gaze” if a muscular, handsome man wearing boxers and a t-shirt were to unnecessarily walk through a group of women. The bulk of the blame would fall squarely on the shoulders of the one committing the unnecessary action, though the onlookers would be responsible for continuing to look even after they knew they weren’t supposed to.

Similarly, bloggers must be careful about what they write, lest they divulge traits about themselves that they should otherwise not be making known to the opposite gender, while at the same time, leading the readers into sin by hooking them on to reading on and learning more about the things they really don’t need to know, and shouldn’t know. Some devoted readers even end up forming an affectionate, emotional attachment with the author.

The fact that the above is in fact possible has proven itself time and time again, with bloggers receiving marriage proposals and other suggestive comments through various means such as e-mail, the comments box on their blogs, etc. It is highly unlikely that a stranger would send off a marriage proposal unless he/she was able to get to know the author well enough to feel comfortable in taking such a step.

It should be noted though that the above is regarding personal journal entries.

The second category, topic-specific journals, isn’t much of an issue. Since the journal is centered on a specific subject or theme, there usually isn’t room for personal details. This is similar to writing a column on a topic of choice for a magazine or a newspaper. Even if the journal contains commentary by the author, it will still be centered on the topic, so there isn’t much of an issue here, provided the subject or theme itself is not an immodest and shameful one.

The third category can pass, as long as some conditions are met. Some people like to discuss issues or make certain points through giving examples of events or situations they face in their personal life. This is fine, as long as it doesn’t reach the point described earlier in the discussion about the first category of blogs (e.g. personal journals).

Proponents of personal journals may argue that there are many benefits in having such a blog. For instance, the blogs help bloggers relieve stress by writing about their problems; they are chronicles for future reading; they inform, entertain, and educate others; they help build bonds of friendship; they allow an exchange of ideas; they give insight and help the bloggers improve their writing skills; and perhaps even allow the readers to “see how I apply Islam in my life”.

While some of the benefits of personal blogs cannot be denied, it becomes a matter of harms outweighing the benefits. Something that can lead to immodesty should be avoided, especially if it doesn’t offer any concrete benefits. Moreover, many of the benefits mentioned can be achieved without having a public personal journal. The entire problem lies in the public part. If the personal journal is limited to same-gender viewing only, there is no problem whatsoever.

Communication and Interaction

As long as the readers of the personal journal can’t communicate with the author, it is a one-way communication. However, the negative aspects of personal journals are multiplied when a mechanism is made available for readers to leave comments for and interact with the author and with others, without any restrictions. As witnessed on some blogs, the ability to leave comments on the blog (either in the form of a ‘comments’ link after each post or a ‘shout’ box) can lead to unhindered communication between members of the opposite gender.

With the Islamic principles of modesty as a backdrop, it must be made clear that cross-gender interaction is permissible when needed, for as much as it is needed. Anything beyond that is impermissible.

When a ‘comments’ page and a ‘shout’ box are made available on a personal journal blog, it becomes almost impossible for at least some members of the opposite gender to not interact with the author and perhaps even other readers about matters pertaining to the author’s personal life. Such needless discussions and ‘light talk’ between members of the opposite gender cannot be deemed as being permissible in Islam.

It is somewhat similar to, though not as extreme as, standing at a street corner and chit-chatting, cracking jokes, and conducting superfluous discussions with the other gender about their personal life and other unimportant matters that neither educate nor help in anything whatsoever – total idle talk.

Such discussions often very clearly lead to immodest behaviour. Some may see the fact that these discussions are held in public as a measure of security. In fact, the opposite is true. The fact that such discussions are held in full view of strangers is even more shameful.

The same rules would apply to such discussions as described by Shaykh Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf Mangera at http://www.sunnipath.com/resources/Questions/qa00001336.aspx .

If the above elements are not found in ‘comments’ pages and ‘shout’ boxes on topic-specific and personal/topic-specific blogs, then they may be used, as long as they are not used as a conduit for unnecessary and immodest discussions between members of the opposite gender, and the discussions are kept on subject.

Anonymous Blogging

Some bloggers resort to blogging anonymously, since it seems like hiding one’s identity can be a remedy for many of the potential problems that personal journals may lead to.

Unfortunately, this notion is incorrect.

The Islamic principles of modesty and cross-gender interaction apply to all Muslims, whether they let others know who they are or not.

Nobody would condone committing shameless and immodest acts in the midst of a group of strangers, simply because nobody recognizes him/her. Similarly, holding indecent discussions is impermissible, regardless of whether or not one divulges his/her gender and identity.

Therefore, rules of modesty and cross-gender interaction apply to all Muslims, regardless of how much others know about them. Holding a needless conversation with a member of the opposite gender doesn’t become OK simply because the other party doesn’t know if he/she is communicating with a male/female.

The onus is one each Muslim to follow the rules and guidelines prescribed by Allah and His Messenger (SAW). It isn’t based on how much others know or don’t know about the person.

In addition, hiding one’s gender is extremely difficult in a personal journal. Sooner or later, something will be said that will enable the readers to discover the gender of the author.

In conclusion, before embarking on a blogging journey, all Muslims are humbly requested to take the above points into consideration. Just think: is a personal journal blog truly needed? Do you really want to share your personal details with the world? Is it really worth it? Do you really want strangers (guys and girls) reading about your life? Do you really want to step into an area you probably shouldn’t be getting into, Islamically? Do you want your life to be indexed by Google?

As an alternative, one can have a private blog on one’s own computer. As well, a gender-specific Yahoo! group can be created for members of the same gender to post their entries. Some blogging sites allow for password-protected entries, through which one can restrict and limit who can read the entries. Soon, some Islamic sites may begin brother- and sister-only blogging services, Insha-Allah.

This humble servant blogged for almost 9 months, writing over 170 000 words. In the end, though he had never thought it possible, he pulled his personal journal blog off the Internet.

It was just not worth it.

Allah knows best.

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