By Amarah Fahimuddin
With the huge growth in social media usage over the past few years, we have seen a rise in young Muslim social media stars, both male and female. With large, rapidly growing platforms and followers ranging from a few hundred to millions, it is very easy to find yourself caught up in the hype. And to an extent, when you see a fellow Muslim on Youtube or Instagram, you feel as if you can relate to some of the things they are talking about. Here they are, entertaining thousands on a daily basis, with views hitting millions, yet still appearing overtly Muslim. Wrong or right, it makes us feel alike and dare I say, accepted, because not all of these views are from just Muslims; many non-Muslim social media users are equally entertained and enticed. Given the hostility and even hatred many Muslims face on a day-to-day basis, the fact that these individuals are managing to break those boundaries through something so simple as a video can be encouraging.
Youtube is a great space for Muslims to really connect with a wide range of people on a global scale, watch videos based on their own individual interests and gain knowledge, on whatever the topic may be. Following a viral tag a couple of years ago, many Muslimah’s have also shared videos on their Hijab stories; enlightening Muslims and non-Muslims as to the women behind the hijab and their reasons for wearing it. For many young Muslims, Youtube has become a stage for them to showcase themselves and really empower each other through their videos. We have now reached the level where some have become so popular that they have become celebrities within the Muslim community and wider society.
But, with all this being said, are these Muslim social media celebrities a true representation of the majority of young Muslim men and women? This is where it gets complicated.
It seems that nowadays, many of these Youtubers are stepping away from their original social media purpose of representing young Muslims altogether. In fact, many of the Muslims viewers are feeling excluded because of the content being shared on these platforms from people they once saw as their representatives. Lately, it seems as if these Youtubers are no longer clarifying misconceptions about Islam, but instead are taking measures in order to gain the approval of a wider audience. For example, some Muslim Youtubers are now using derogatory and even sexual connotations as titles for their videos as a form of ‘click bait’, which of course means more money and fame for them. We now see that the more popular Muslim Youtubers are those who are known for putting out more scandalous content.
But why should we care? They’re not causing any harm, right? Well, lets consider the bigger picture.
The major problem with the actions that some, not all, of these social media stars is the influence they have over young impressionable viewers. They have become role models whether they intended to or not. When you have a large following of any sort, you’re immediately responsible for the videos you share online and the message people take from them, especially if you have a young demographic. While this may be funny and entertaining to some people, is it really the standard that we want to set for our Muslim youth? Stepping over the boundaries to the point where we’ve lost the meaning of modesty and hayaa is surely not something we should normalize, more than society already has.
Constantly normalising crude and derogatory language and over sexualizing content through platforms that reach out to thousands of people is not something that should be encouraged.
On the flip side, some of these Youtubers are aware of the influence they have over fans and have started to make advice channels. Followers of their channel send in problems that they have found themselves in and the Youtubers answer them the best they can. Coincidently, many of these questions are taboo subjects and frankly, issues that probably need advice from those who are qualified to give it, not just opinion based like most of the advice ends up being. And to be honest, the fact that these questions and answers are publisiced seems that they are put up purely for entertainment purposes, not for the benefit of the follower who had sent in the question. Is this not a low level for our community to have descended to; trivialising important issues for the sake of a few views and likes? What happened to looking at Islam for the solution to our dilemmas?
The growth of social media mediums has also resulted in the erosion of privacy, and Youtubers are not exempt from this. This is evident in the integration of their spouses into the youtuber world as seen in #Husbandtag and “How we met” videos, or even entire channels dedicated to the couple making videos together. From sharing weddings photos, to giving marriage advice (ironic to some, given most of these couples have only been married for a few years), this has led the new trend of idealisation of marriage that is rampant on Muslim social media.
This has trickled down to the community in numerous ways; the showcasing of Muslim couples being one of them. On Instagram there are more than 85,000 posts under the tag #MuslimCouple, more than 100,000 for #MuslimWedding, and nearly 20,000 under #HalalLove.
This is arguably a whole topic in itself, but to be brief, a key problem identified with this trend is that it glamorizes the idea of marriage, and feeds into the overly romanticized view of life as a couple, generating wrong expectations. Its also very pressurizing, and can lead those who are single to feel a sense of inadequacy. “That’s their own problem” I hear you say; but in Islam we should be wary of boasting of what we have to others, so as to not make them feel unhappy at their own situation. This equally applies on social media.
So given all of these trends started and endorsed by these Muslim social media celebrities, what kind of an example is being set for our youth? Are we truly being represented online? And most importantly, are we pleasing Allah (swt) and helping to unite the Ummah or contributing to breaking it apart?
As Muslims, young or old, we should never compromise our Hayaa (shame/modesty), which is heavily emphasized in Islam, in order to feel accepted in society. We shouldn’t feel obligated to over share and publicize our lives in order to gain popularity. Whilst this may not apply to every single Muslim Youtuber, unfortunately it has become a growing trend and it seems the more popular the Youtuber, the more reckless they are with their content. After all, sensationalism sells.