Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
As the internet revolution and chat groups came around in the 1990s, I was ecstatic that now we will be living in a brand new world of truth and wisdom. My dreams were soon shattered.
We were advised that every one is living in their political and religious bubble. I still remained cautiously optimistic. Then in 2015 the Presidential candidate Donald Trump came on the scene and swept through the Republican party. I as a Democrat was now thoroughly convinced that 45% of the US population, called the Republicans, are definitely living in their political bubble.
To my dismay I discovered in my WhatsApp groups of my family, friends, classmates and community that bubbles come in several sizes, shapes and themes. Each group depending on their composition has their own bubble and sacred cows. Minority in the group are often not allowed to criticize the sacred cows of the majority.
I discovered that in my group of high school classmates the sacred cow for many was the Pakistan army, even though all of them were living in the West. Our group had to splinter as one person wanted to be critical of the Pakistan army and its role in the Pakistan politics and some will not simply have it.
What can I do, how can I maintain my relations and friendships and yet be not completely silent or diplomatic and ineffective?
Part of me continues to believe in the power of free speech guided by a verse of the holy Quran:
فَذَکِّرۡ اِنۡ نَّفَعَتِ الذِّکۡرٰی
“So keep on reminding: surely, reminding is profitable.” (Al Quran 87:9/10)
Lying and deceiving is not an option, for the Quran says: “O ye who believe! why do you say what you do not? Most hateful is it in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not.” (Al Quran, Surah Saff, chapter 61)
In fact, the Quran says in Surah Ahzab, chapter 33, in a verse often recited at the time of ceremonizing the Muslim marriages that if we speak the perfect truth and solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence we shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, God guarantees that He will put our affairs on the right and peaceful course: “O ye who believe! be God conscious, and say the best straightforward word. He will set right your affairs for you and forgive you your sins. And whoso obeys Allah and His Messenger, shall surely attain a dramatic success.”
What shall I do and say, if I am to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
I need to be guided by a few more verses of the Quran, to find the balance, with which I need to operate in my family and friends groups, with different ideologies, personalities and often different sacred cows.
Actually just yesterday, in one of my favorite groups, a friend subtly advised and possibly he had me in mind, by quoting a verse of Surah Nahl, chapter 16: “Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and effective exhortation, and argue with them in a way that is best. Surely, your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way; and He knows those who are rightly guided.”
The catch is that a slight twist can allow this verse to be used to silence the minority view. The argument goes like this, ‘You are not being reasonable and wise and so simply be quiet and do not ruffle our feathers.’ So how do we get out of this catch and let free speech and dialogue flow so the message can be transmitted and not censored, even when not popular in a certain group?
Is there a way out? The wisdom in communication mentioned in this verse is not prescribed only for the minority opinion but also for the majority opinion.
Is there a way to burst the bubble of the Republicans in USA and keep our own cool and sanity?
If you are a Democrat thinking that the Republicans are stupid and many may be racist or Islamophobes, is not going to make you very effective with them. For this we need to fully understand their psyche and their piety. With that in mind, let me introduce you to Jonathan Haight:
So once one understands this polarization fully one can figure out tools to overcome this polarization and dogmatization.
When any debate gets heated in WhatsApp group the opponents choose to vilify each other and otherize the opposite group. Sometimes the greatest zeal is shown by the religious people and they reserve the worst sentiments for those who may to the external eye be closest to their identity.
The Quran has demystified this vilification psychology for all times by suggesting in Surah Mumtahinah that only those are undeserving of our kindness that are trying to kill us or make us homeless, “Allah does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. But God forbids you to take as allies those who have fought against you for your faith, driven you out of your homes, and helped others to drive you out: any of you who take them as allies will truly be wrongdoers.” (Al Quran, Surah Mumtihanah)
So, if I can avoid vilification and otherization then as indicated by the very first verse that I quoted, I can keep on reaping the benefit of free speech and be effective in my WhatsApp groups.
But, the reader may ask, I was being guided by the reading of the Quran, how did I suddenly jump to political psychology?
To me the sacred and the secular are not completely separate. My understanding of the scripture is not only guided by itself and the tradition but also the secular knowledge. They are commentary for each other and feed on and develop each other.
These psychological principles remind me of a Quranic verse of Surah Anaam, chapter 6, “And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus unto every people have We caused their doing to seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return; and He will inform them of what they used to do.”
Each WhatsApp group has some sacred ideas if not some personalities that are the sacred cows. These are like ‘idols,’ if you will, for the particular group and cannot be reviled.
So extra caution and consideration is required when touching these taboo subjects, if these really need to be addressed.
Sometimes, an insightful moderator who is aware of these sensitivities and also of the minority opinions can help the group navigate difficult waters.
Categories: The Muslim Times