Salaam Dear Reader,
Over a year ago, in the mists of pre-pandemic 2020, I was in a conversation with Muhammad Faris of Productive Muslim and he asked me what is the one book we all need right now. I said that someone should write a cautionary book about social media from an Islamic paradigm. A beaming Muhammad Faris replied that his good friend Omar Usman was writing such a book. Fast forward to 2021, and the book is on our shelves. Alhamdulillah.
“When we are entrapped by the currency of social media (attention), we evaluate our actions based upon that metric. The impact of online activism then is not measured in lives changed, but by numbers of views... A person may say ‘pray for Palestine’ and someone replies ‘but what about praying for Syria?’ This sentiment is born when we are competing for attention, and feel we need attention to win.”
The above paragraph, taken from Omar Usman’s Fiqh of Social Media: Timeless Islamic Principles for Navigating the Digital Age, lays bare the key pedagogy of social media: that something only has value when it commands attention: likes, shares, views, follows, upvotes.
This pedagogy looms large over both our online and offline lives to such an extent that even if we are somehow not on any social media, we nonetheless live in a society dominated by the attention economy. People share articles they don’t read, they enjoin ‘praying for’ something even as they continue to scroll their social media feed, they comment without understanding or context; because there is no time for reading, no time for ‘prayer’, no time for context in the all-consuming attention economy.
In this maelstrom, it can be easy to give in to pessimism, but this is where I have to give credit to Omar Usman. He is an optimist – and our deen calls for optimism. His book is replete with action plans and steps to help us reconfigure, reframe and recover our agency, our intentionality, our time, and yes, our lives.
May we be among those who give attention to things that matter.