5 Ways to Maintain Spiritual Wellness in the Age of Social Media
Social media is a tool. It isn’t inherently bad, nor is it inherently good. Just like other resources and wealth, social media has the potential for great benefit, or great evil, depending on who’s wielding it.
One thing is for sure: social media in all its different forms is not going away anytime soon. Our unwillingness to deal with it in a proactive way can have devastating effects on our faith.
One of the great ironies of social media is that it gives us the impression that we are incredibly connected. Yet we’ve never been more alone and disconnected from our families, our communities, and even from our true selves. (If we never spend time with ourselves, alone and without a device in hand, then do we really know who we are?)
Below is a short list of points to help us use social media in a more mindful and fulfilling way. It’s important to continuously evaluate how we are using this tool, and how it’s affecting our hearts and our faith:
1. Have a physical community/group of people that you see regularly
Make it a point to connect with people in real life. I know that sounds like a truly Captain Obvious thing to say, but it’s incredibly easy to go for long stretches of time without actually connecting with your people. Texting isn’t enough. Tagging each other in memes isn’t enough. Being in a group chat isn’t enough.
The importance of good friends and strong community bonds is such a significant cornerstone of our faith. And yet we isolate ourselves from the Muslim community, believing that we can maintain our faith on our own.
Allah (swt) says, “Hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. Remember the favor of Allah upon you, when you were enemies and he brought your hearts together and you became brothers by his favour.” (3:103)
Brotherhood and togetherness is how we empower ourselves and our communities to hold on to our beliefs and work together towards common goals.
We live in an era that pushes us to be digitally connected at all times. But it has never been more important to ensure that our in-person connections are just as strong. Loneliness has become an epidemic according to The American Psychological Association. It’s shocking to read about the far-reaching and detrimental health effects of loneliness, both mental and physical. No matter how present you are on social media, it will never replace the immense benefits of human interaction.
2. Keep some things private
Allah (swt) says in the Quran, “Those who spend of their wealth in charity by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (2:274)
Throughout the Quran and Sunnah, we see this concept of doing good deeds both in secret and in public. It’s a beautiful balance where we neither shy away from doing good in the public sphere, nor do we neglect our private affairs and worship. Allah (swt) rewards both our public and our private deeds if the intentions behind them are pure.
Our social media accounts are essentially platforms on which we are performing. We choose and we curate what we post, oftentimes with great care and thought and strategy. There is nothing wrong with this if done mindfully, but it cannot be the focus of our existence.
If we are putting work into curating our public appearance and lives (as we all do), then it must follow that we put in just as much work or more into bolstering our private good deeds, relationships, and worship.
I remembering hearing a talk by Dr. Tawfique Chaudhry (founder of Mercy Mission) where he explained that he continuously questions his intentions behind his public work. He acknowledged that he feared some of his intentions were muddled, and so he always made it a point to work just as diligently on his private deeds—in the hopes that Allah (swt) would accept whatever is pure, and forgive whatever is questionable.
It can be incredibly tempting to post and publicize everything we do. That’s actually kind of the purpose of social media. But sharing everything can mean that we leave ourselves susceptible to being empty shells of human beings. We have to consciously decide that our relationship with Allah (swt) trumps this desire to fully showcase ourselves. There is nothing sweeter than private words and deeds between you and Allah. It bolsters your faith and fulfills the need of your soul to connect with your Creator on a personal and private level.
3. Don’t switch to autopilot
I recently went out to do an errand and a few minutes into my drive I realized I was going in the complete opposite direction. I was driving towards my daughter’s school, even though it was March Break and she was at home. When I finally realized what was happening, I had to make a huge U-turn to get back on track.
My body was so used to making this school trip every day, that when my brain was distracted, my muscle memory kicked in.
This is exactly what we do with social media. We scroll and scroll until it just becomes something we do for no reason. Our muscle memory makes it happen without a single thought going into it. The problem with social-media-autopilot-syndrome is that we don’t contemplate what we’re seeing, so we don’t understand how it affects us.
Battle that. Be checked in to your social media usage. Understand what you are doing and gage your reactions to what you’re seeing. Take the time to register your emotions:
How are you feeling about what you’ve seen on social media today? When you see a post that you really admire, do you find yourself reacting with despondence or envy? Do you find yourself becoming desensitized to violence and graphic images that make it onto your newsfeed?
Without taking stock of your emotional reactions to what you’re viewing, you are allowing all of these thoughts to enter your mind and body without a filter. How that can be incredibly damaging to your faith is self-explanatory.
This is an example I love when it comes to Prophet Zakariyyah’s gut reaction to seeing the provisions and fruits that Maryam (as) had. He took stock of his reaction and feelings, and he acted on them in a beautiful way!
4. “Intermittent fasting”
Intermittent fasting is a big trend now. You alternate between periods of eating and fasting, and some research indicates that it has numerous health benefits. If you employ the same theory with your social media usage, you’d use your apps for a period of time, then disconnect for a period of time.
Delete the Instagram app from your phone for a day so you’re not constantly seeing what people are doing. Delete Facebook from your phone so you’re not constantly scrolling for news articles. Delete Twitter from your phone so you’re not constantly engaged in political battles.
Give yourself the gift of being disconnected, even for just a few hours. This period of disconnectedness allows our hearts and minds to recalibrate, and to refocus on things outside of the digital world.
I’m not here to guilt trip anyone. I spend as much time on social media as anyone else. But social media can become extremely overwhelming on our senses. We are constantly looking at other people’s lives and listening to others’ opinions.
As a part of our faith, we are meant to control what we see, read, and listen to. There’s a hadith of the prophet (saw) that I like to remind myself of. He says, “Look at those who are beneath you and do not look at those who are above you, for it is more suitable that you should not consider as less the blessing of Allah.”
The truth is, when we’re on social media, we’re almost always looking at those who have “more” than us, or at least we perceive it that way because people are always posting their best poses, their best moments, their best accomplishments.
When we’re so engrossed in looking at what others are doing and what they have that we don’t, we become ungrateful and we lose track of the fact that there are people all around us who haven’t been given the same opportunities as we have, and who need our presence in their lives.
5. Take responsibility for what you publish online
Prophet Muhammad (saw) once said, “Whoever sets a good precedent in Islam will have the reward for that and the reward of those who do it after him, without that detracting from their reward in the slightest. And whoever sets a bad precedent in Islam will bear the burden of sin for that, and the burden of those who do it after him, without that detracting from their burden in the slightest.”
Social media can sometimes seem like a different sphere of existence. What we do online sometimes doesn’t feel real—which is why people are often emboldened to say outrageous things online that they would never dare utter in public.
But just as we are accountable for what we say and do in the physical world, so too are we responsible for what we put into the digital world. If we promote and encourage good, Allah (swt) will reward us for all who follow in our footsteps. If we promote evil, Allah (swt) will make us bear the sins of all those who follow our footsteps.
Allah (swt) says, “The piling up of worldly things diverts you, until you visit the graves.” (102:1)
The social media world is very competitive. People are competing to amass more followers and more partnerships and more income. Having these goals isn’t wrong in and of themselves, but we have to be acutely aware of whether it’s diverting and distracting us from our true purpose in this world: worshiping Allah swt with our whole hearts.