As someone who also has a public page with some following, I have some important advice for Muslims doing da’wah online that I have picked up along the way and try to apply on myself. I thought I would share some of these for those willing to listen:
1) Beware the content creation trap – you know as well as I do that to maintain and grow a following, you need to be creating content regularly. It is the same trick most social media influencers use. You need to give your followers a constant, daily stream of content to maintain their interest and engagement with your page or brand.
But this is a problem when it comes to da’wah. A big part of tasawwuf/tazkiyyah, wisdom and knowledge in general is to engage in silence, contemplation and taking ourselves to account. We need to put in sufficient time and energy to step back from doing ‘da’wah’ online and reflect over our content and efforts. We also do not have to publicly comment on or pontificate about every single issue in the online da’wahverse or the Muslim community. Da’wah is not about giving your opinion about everything. It’s about calling people to Islam. This is especially the case if we simply don’t know enough about an issue to start a constructive public discussion about it.
The benefit for my page (I have almost daily posts), is that I am often recycling posts I have been writing since 2015 on my personal account. So, I spend more time refining and rewording posts rather than writing new ones. I will write the odd new post, but it is not that often. It is much easier to do this with written posts than videos.
2) Beware the follower/engagement trap – It is easy to think that to get more followers or likes, you need more sarcastic, edgy, or controversial content. Yes, overly academic, or ‘dry’ podcasts do not seem to get much traction. But this is another issue. Is giving da’wah in this way ‘Islamic’ or is it another influence of the social media/influencer mindset?
I made this mistake with the ‘#UsulFail’ posts. Those attracted a lot of attention and increased traffic to my page, but I realized that in doing so I had sacrificed the core objectives that I had aimed to fulfill with my page – calling people to the importance of Islamic education and intelligent Islamic discourse in a thoughtful and productive way. I really did not like the fact that my page began to be perceived as sarcastic ideological rants. I had only intended sarcastic humor – but that style ends up sacrificing respect, nuance and truth in the process. I decided to never run these kinds of posts again. And frankly I do not care if that doesn’t increase traffic to my page or my blog – because that’s not the goal. The goal is to fulfill the responsibility on me of dispensing the knowledge & understanding that I have attained.
What is the goal of da’wah? It is to call people to Islam. If controversial content is leading people to argue and fight with each other online, have you really called them to Islam? Or have you called them to a brawl or debate club? Have you enlightened them with understanding and knowledge? Or have you invited them to court drama and controversy?
3) Beware the monetization trap – If you are earning money through your online da’wah efforts e.g. Patreon, then you have already dug yourself quite deep. This is why I’ve avoid this so far. I really don’t want to answer to anyone with regards to what I post on the Usuli. The first two problematic practices listed here in this article will be extremely difficult to stop if you have made them a mainstay in your monetization plan. Just like being paid to do da’wah or being an Imam comes with its costs in the real world, it has that effect online too. You aren’t too far from the ‘compassionate Imams’ that are being accused of pandering to their audiences if you are pandering to your Patreon base.
If that money has become crucial to your finances and you are organizing your personal spending around it, then may Allah help you. You’re going to need a serious Taqwa crowbar to wedge yourself out of that one.
Da’wah is NOT a ‘gig’. It’s a religious duty with its own set of traditions, responsibilities and etiquettes. Let us treat it that way. I’m not against monetizing your da’wah efforts, But do it with the responsibility and gravity it deserves.
4) Don’t do da’wah until you are ready – Always remember Umar (rad)’s statement – learn before you attain positions of leadership. Positions of influence in social media are positions of leadership. Don’t try to deny it. You have influence over how a lot of people think, feel and act. That’s leadership.
I’m going to say this very bluntly. Most of the social media da’wah crew I have seen so far is grossly mediocre in Islamic knowledge. If I were to consider the ideal scenario, I would not let someone who has not studied intermediate to advanced study texts in Nahw, Sarf, Balaghah, Fiqh, Usul, Hadith and Tafsir do da’wah online. The issues we are discussing today are so grossly convoluted and deep in their philosophical implications. If you don’t have the necessary knowledge of the Islamic sciences then at best you are playing a dangerous game winging it, and at worst you are spreading falsehood and destroying Muslims’ understanding of Islam.
Example: Putting aside the concerns and problems associated with the issues & people involved, I noticed that for many people involved in discussing, debating and arguing about the ‘Tawatur of the Qur’an’ issue recently, many people didn’t even have the basic knowledge to understand the issue, let alone talk, argue and figuratively scream at each other about it online. To put it simply – if you had to look it up just to talk about it – you are not ready to talk about it. If you had already studied the Qur’anic recitations, Qur’anic manuscript history and Ulum-ul-Qur’an etc, then your words were worth sharing.
If you haven’t taken the time to learn properly yet, then focus your energy and effort on that first. Learn before you attain positions of leadership and influence.
5) Ensure your contribution is constructive, not destructive – gauge your da’wah critically. Set aside regular time to critique your own efforts. What are your intentions? What are your da’wah goals? What are you hoping to accomplish with your da’wah? Is what you are doing right now contributing positively to achieving your objectives? Is it bringing people to Islam? Is it correcting issues in the community? Is it preventing harm from occurring? What are the short-term effects? What are the long-term effects? What are my long-range goals for the community with what I am doing? Revisit these questions consistently!
If your efforts at doing da’wah are leading people into endless and circular arguments and debates, dividing people instead of bringing them together, fighting them instead of teaching them or helping them to understand, confusing them instead of bringing clarity, angering and saddening people instead of bringing about mercy and compassion between the hearts of the believers, then have you called them to Islam? Or have you called them to a warzone?
As I said before, da’wah is a religious duty. Taqwa, Muraqabah & Muhasabah apply here too. Da’wah has its own traditions, responsibility and etiquettes. If they are not being observed, and the objectives of da’wah not being fulfilled, then are you wasting time or worse, incurring sin because of your activities online?
6) This is not the real da’wah – I cannot emphasize this enough. I have done recordings in front of a camera in my own studio. I have written blog articles and posts. I have replied to enough comments online. But all of this was just me sitting with a screen. In all these instances, I always knew what I WANTED to say, but nothing in that experience told me what I SHOULD say.
Where I have learned the most about what people NEED, instead of what they just WANT to hear, is in my job teaching Islamic Studies to high school kids. Nowadays everyone is pontificating or arguing about the negative or positive effects that certain ideologies or personalities have on Muslim minds. HOW do you know that what you are saying is true?
Have you interacted with hundreds of Muslim minds in a comprehensive and systematic manner? Or are you just basing your opinions on people coming to speak to you who already agree with you and your views?
I don’t claim to have done some serious statistical analysis on the influence of personalities or popular ideas on Muslims. But every semester I am teaching a batch of ~75 students new content they haven’t studied before. They discuss, debate, and learn with me. I learn from them. I see their reactions to ideas and personalities. I talk to them and counsel them about their challenges in practicing Islam and what THEY find difficult (not what I think is wrong with them).
If you think you know enough about what they community needs just from the internet, you are living a lie. There is no other way to say it. I cannot emphasize enough how deep of a divide there is between online da’wah and the very human situation you experience teaching Islam and doing da’wah in person. Online you can get away with saying your bit and then walking away from it. In person – especially in a classroom – you cannot run away. You must face the questions, crises, concerns and problems head on.