It is of no secret that the advancements in social media have grown at an exponential rate, in terms of utility as well as accessibility. Particularly, this readily available access to platforms such as Instagram and YouTube, has promoted a desire among young adults of varying backgrounds to pursue so-called ‘social media fame’ or to become an ‘influencer’.
It is natural within the human condition to want to be recognised or attain a certain status, however previously these aims were not something so tangible as literally being at our fingertips. Not to say that this accessibility is a negative – rather it increases diversity and inclusivity, however it is important when discussing the massive influx of accounts and personalities taking over the social media world.
Although an observably widespread occurrence across all social media communities, my focus will be on the Muslim social media community as that is predominantly the one I am a part of. I started my YouTube channel and Instagram account back in 2014 prior to converting to Islam, in order to have a safe space and engage with the community I otherwise didn’t know how to access. Although there were already a number of bloggers/personalities at the time, it was still an up and coming pursuit, with there being a small number of widely known Muslim women who had been working at it for years.
I truly admired (and still admire) these hijabi’s who came onto the scene back before ‘hijab tutorials’ even existed, and paved the way for women like me to feel comfortable in my Islamic identity, and feel that as a Muslim woman I am still capable of success and making a cross-cultural impact in people’s lives. I think it is important to note that I am all for women pursuing their passion because it is important to them, and as Muslim women these role models are valuable in the way that we embrace our identities. However, it is over the past few years that I’ve watched this community change, and not necessarily in a positive way.
Dignity should be our currency
I am of the opinion that this desire to be someone has made the Muslim social media community into something that I am hesitant to be a part of. The brave Muslim women who inspired me early on in my journey have been drowned out by carbon copies who care to discuss nothing but their ‘ootds’ and meet ups with their ‘blogger’ buddies (*note: to be a blogger, you must actually have a blog. You must actually create content). I do believe fashion is political, and I admire those that pursue it because it is their passion. But it is now being used as a means to gain followers and attention, simply by taking pretty photos and promoting different brands. I’m sure I am not the only one who yearns to connect with people – real people.
Ones that share their personalities, their goals and aspirations, and their talents that are more than just skin deep. I have watched as these women I once looked up to have continuously compromised their morals and deen, just for the sake of doing what was trendy or would attract attention. As a Muslim woman that knows how capable Muslim women are of doing incredible things, it is heartbreaking to see time and time again as my fellow sisters fall into these temptations just for the sake of living the high life. Naturally, having attention and feeling that you have status is something everyone desires. But at what cost?
So what exactly is being influenced? Generally, when you think of things that influence you, there are negative connotations. When something/someone influences you towards good, they would be called and inspiration or role model. In terms of social media, influencer is a marketing term. Meaning that their sole purpose is to influence their viewers or followers into purchasing certain goods or services. But when portraying yourself as a Muslim social media influencer, things get a bit more complicated.
There are things within our deen that we are advised to stay away from, so when someone who identifies as a modest fashion personality for the sake of their religion promotes products and companies that go against their religious morals, it can be viewed as hypocritical. For example: promoting hyperconsumerism and ‘fast fashion’ companies, brands that support the oppression of the Palestinian people (or any group of people in humanity), the excessive use of makeup, companies that exploit their workers, brands that engage in animal cruelty, non-halal food, plastic surgery, etc. There are a number of things that could be discussed here, but my main point is this: regardless of what sin you do, that is between you and Allah. But to promote things to young impressionable people that go against our deen, that is a whole other issue.
With big influence, comes big responsibility
The response many people have to this is ‘it’s not my responsibility, people don’t have to follow what I do’, but as an influencer, isn’t your main aim for people to follow what you do? And granted, many of these people may not even be aware of the negatives of the brands that they promote. But surely if you are encouraging the utility or consumption of a good or service, you should be educated on what it is you’re promoting and take the time to learn before you just jump on the opportunity to earn money and get a few more likes.
The fact of the matter is, people are so eager to make their way to the top of the celebrity status ladder, that they stop questioning right from wrong. Not only are their issues with the brands/lifestyle being promoted within this community, but Muslims who have created their own brands have also exploited their consumers. For example, buying products in bulk for cheap, and reselling them for 20x their worth with your name on it – simply because you can. These actions and dealings go against everything we as Muslims should be promoting or encouraging – especially within the generation that is responsible for the portrayal and passing on of our faith.
We don’t know people’s intentions – that is a fact. But we have to do better as a community, this cannot be a means of justifying anything and everything that we do. Predominantly when I discuss issues like these, I’m told to ‘stop being judgemental’, to ‘mind my own business’. But I ache for my community, I truly do. For the people so desperate to be someone in this dunya that they put their Akhira at stake. Allah will ask them how they used their platforms that He blessed them with, He will ask them what implications their actions had. Who did they guide and how? Were they a generation of influencers, or inspirers? I ache for the millions of young girls who blindly follow these personalities because there are limited other options for them. I try to only speak from experience and understand, I really do. I have had a time where I compromised my hijab because all of these online personalities made me feel it was okay. I have compromised my morals because I too, wanted a platform that I could utilise. But I had people to advise me away from that, and remind me that if I didn’t earn it properly and in a way that would please Allah, it would be worth nothing.
Capitalist culture, not Hijab Fashion, is the problem
As previously stated, this isn’t necessarily a ‘Muslim’ issue – this is the world we live in. We have a Capitalist culture in the West, that promotes hyperconsumerism and our primary utility being our relation to the market. This mentality too permeates the social media sphere, across all communities. We are surrounded by a constant influx of potential purchases, no longer just when we enter shops, but in our homes via computers and smartphones. If one is accustomed to this lifestyle and not raised into anything contrary, they will fall into the cycle just as everyone does because it is the norm and what is provided for them.
If we were to follow our Islamic principles that focus on the elevation of humanity and collaboration over competition – the results would be infinitely more fruitful, fostering innovation and advocacy. Albeit there are positives within the Muslim blogger community, the abandonment of our ethics is us giving up our power as an influential community in the betterment of our world. We are capable of so much more, and gaining recognition in so many other ways. Let the world see your talents, your passions, your art, whatever that may be.
We are not just here to ‘break stereotypes’ – we’ve already done that. Now we need to show the world who we are and what we’re about. We are women with conviction, drive, and capabilities beyond measure. We are survivors, public speakers, writers, doctors, architects, designers. We are not a minority to be bought by Capitalism. We could go so much farther and have such a greater impact if as a community we worked together and collaborated to not only empower women in their appearance or possessions – but in their identities as Muslim women.
None of this – the likes, follows, comments, are worth anything if we do not use our voices and our experiences to unite and inspire towards what is good.
Karsen Breanne studied Psychology at Swansea University, and currently studying a Masters degree in International Politics at SOAS. She has been involved with FOSIS and MEND during her studies, and ultimately aims to pursue work in Political Journalism. Her interests include Politics, Human Rights, Mental Health, and Religion.