“Crisis of Social Media & Muslim Leadership” by Imam Ashraf

The online problem in brief: rise of the unknown and unqualified

In the realm of the online sphere today, we find the complete opposite to the process of followership and education preceding leadership. Unknown and unqualified individuals (another discussion to be had – what qualifies a person?) with no attachment to any sort of hierarchy, spiritual framework, or educational infrastructure have made platforms for themselves in various fields. They have achieved this through the use of controversy, refutations, clickbait, response videos, highlighting controversial opinions or intricacies, and other means of bringing attention to themselves. These individuals grow their platforms through social media and then establish a large base of followers and subscribers, which in turn “justifies” their work and presence.

Lack of guidance from those with experience

One of the clearest reasons for the crisis at hand is a lack of guidance from those with experience. Whether the case is that those with experience and seniority are not presenting themselves, or that those who rise to online prominence refuse to take the advice of elders and seniors when presented, is something I cannot understand completely. I assume the case is that it is the latter; the guidance provided by elders is rejected. However, it would be wrong to claim this definitively without substantial evidence. What I can say from my limited experience is that I definitely know of individuals with online prominence who have been advised numerous times and offered support from grassroots leaders with over 20 years of experience within our communities, but they have dismissed the guidance and support offered. I also know of young aspiring social media influencers who have taken other young people of a similar level of experience to themselves as their advisors and “murabbīs” (nurturers/teachers) solely due to the latter’s possession of more information or access to information via traditional texts and teachers.

This presents another issue that needs to be addressed: what is a leader/murabbi/teacher? The mere possession of information or access to information should not equate to an entitlement to any of these titles or positions.

Leadership is not for the immature

The program of self-development we have described above requires a very mature level of self-awareness. Leadership, therefore, is not for the immature. The aforementioned issues can be discussed at length, and in-depth studies have been developed on issues of the inner self and remedying the consequences of lived experiences. The point here, though, is to simply raise awareness to the impact that these issues are having on social media “influencers” and self-proclaimed leaders.

Vetting and conduct of practice: a principle of Islam

We have no system of vetting or accountability in place, so we leave those not fit for purpose free to do as they please. In the realms of Islamic jurisprudence, a judge is deemed unfit to work when they are in a state of heightened emotion such as anger, as this may lead to an imbalance in judgement. Should the same approach not be taken with those making public judgements “on behalf of Islam and the truth” daily? Systems of regulation not only provide safety for the masses, they also protect those under regulation from themselves. As humans, we are weak and we will ultimately stand in front of God and be held responsible for our actions and endeavours. Any system, framework, or hierarchy that may offer us protection from our own potential slip-ups and mistakes would be welcomed by the sincere.

Maturity in leadership: do we have it?

This leads us to another area that needs to be addressed. As we have discussed, leadership is not for the immature. The maturity to see the bigger picture and the ability to focus on the issues that really matter over those that are irrelevant are key components of good leadership. A leader is not a leader due to strength or intelligence alone. The real distinction of a leader is vision and direction. Are these two qualities present amongst social media personalities and within our leadership today? If we look at the current online trends, we see that social media personalities – save a few – are busy debating, refuting, discussing intricacies that are irrelevant today (but were relevant in past centuries), focusing on areas we cannot tackle, criticising, jumping from topic to topic, and more. We even find that individuals from grassroots or offline organisations may split due to online debacles and disagreements. Is this leadership?

On the ground, we find a similar situation. Organisations fall victim to the egos of those heading them, where it becomes about the name and status of the leadership position rather than the function and purpose of the organisation. I am not claiming that this is always the case, but it is quite common. How many well-intended organisations have been pulled down by the hands of the very community they seek to serve? Why? Groups are attacked, organisations are “exposed”, and institutions are shunned in the name of principles and piety. Is this the real reason? Or is it the lack of maturity to see the bigger picture? Perhaps there are underlying issues alluded to above: a desire to lead, an issue of ego, or being unable to live with others being in higher positions.

Source: the full article is available at Islam21c

Date: 06/07/2020