Faceless on Facebook

We’ve got yet another new contributor to introduce!  Welcome, Izzie!

Recently, I got a Facebook friend request from a two-year-old boy. This wasn’t created by one of those enthusiastic parents who create Facebook profiles for their children as soon as they are born. This was of a Muslim woman who didn’t have a profile of her own, but who was interacting with her friends and family under her son’s name. I was largely irked out by why she didn’t use her own name, and how this practice was glorified in my family circles. A few days later, I received another friend’s request, and apart from a familiar surname, I couldn’t understand who it belonged to. After a lot of brainstorming, I realized it was the profile of a close female relative of mine, who had reversed the letters of her name. Now, I am all for switching up names if it’s your fake profile. But if it’s a profile through which you hope to interact with people, send friend’s requests to cousins, uncles/aunts, and long lost friends, how is it going to help if you reverse the letters of your name?

What was causing these Muslim women and girls to hide behind their children’s names and pictures, or to wish for anonymity? I understand that how a person represents themselves in Facebook is a matter of personal choice. It is also a matter of how we are feeling (about ourselves, our spouses, our children) that particular week or month, or about a desire for privacy. However, this is not the reason why some Muslim women chose this path. I’ve seen a number who do it for the sole reason of being accepted within a society which equates having a photo uploaded as being a non-chaste Muslim. This is more evident in the innumerable Facebook pages that promote similar ideas about how visible Muslim women should (or shouldn’t) be on Facebook.

For example:

This Facebook page says women are daughters, wives or mothers, and hence should “hide” their beauty.

Another one:

And another:

This site goes into elaborate details about how the pictures will most commonly be used for call girls/prostitutes/adult websites, the list being endless. It even forbids uploading a photo WITH a hijab, because apparently that’s a way to – wait for it – a “Muslim Prostitute website.”

The assumptions made here are:

1. If a female has her photos uploaded online, they will eventually find their way to a pornographic site, after being morphed, hacked and what not.

2. Women should spent their time reading the Quran and being a daughter/wife opening doors and completing their Deens, instead of wasting their time on a social networking site.

3. If you do have a photo of yours in a site, your chastity needs to be questioned.

There have been a few cases reported of Facebook abuse. However, there have also been attacks on women who have done the singular crime of walking to school, getting on a bus, or worse, for getting married. So crime against women, doesn’t start and end with having a photo of ours uploaded online.

I agree that having or not having a Facebook profile or picture is not the end of the world. It is not something required in life, and it could even be argued that life might be better without one. However, it is the new normal.

Most of us Muslims are trying our best to tie our faith with our normal life. We still have social lives, go to school and have jobs. We interact with people of other religions. And we do have Facebook profiles, and immensely enjoy getting “likes” on our best picture, like anyone else. The attention and flattering comments could be a breath of fresh air when you are low on your confidence. It could be a pat on the back, when you were starting to feel like you were losing your looks. In theory, and with time, probably all reassurances should come from the All Mighty. But till we reach there, a little human reassurance won’t harm, will it?

So do you really need to hide behind a reversed name or behind the identity of your child? Is having a picture of your son or husband the way out? What about the risk of your child being kidnapped or your husband being blackmailed? If we are being so suspicious of websites, let’s not leave out those possibilities either.

I don’t necessarily see any of these barriers or rules existing for men. The husbands and brothers of the very same women often have pictures of theirs uploaded with and without their brand new Ray-Ban sunglasses. They are enjoying the attention, and aren’t worried about their chastity being questioned. Oh, but wait, they are men, they don’t have to worry about pictures being used in pornographic sites. So they get to have a normal life.

Islam is a religion that does away with the concept of sages, or priests, who are expected to sacrifice their life for being close to God. It is a religion where the religious leaders are permitted to get married, have children, and enjoy the pleasures of a family. But instead of trying to lead normal lives while being close to God, Muslims are largely expecting everyone from 15-year-olds to behave like sages.  How attracted will your teenage daughter be towards Islam, if all that the religion conveys to her is that being a Muslim means being deprived of simple pleasures?

It’s good to be cautious about the photos one posts, and to be careful about the privacy settings on our posts.  But that being said, how many of us are as good looking as Cindy Crawford, to be transported to a pornographic site with all the pain of morphing and hacking?  And why aren’t we spending more energy blaming the people who are actually doing this hacking, rather than the people posting their own personal photos? And if we do have Muslim pornographic sites, in place, where aren’t there more Facebook pages that say BAN THE MUSLIM PORNOGRAPHIC SITES?

Are we as Muslims just busy overburdening ourselves by putting way too many restrictions on everyone around us? If the worry is about protecting women who are “pearls”, more importance should be given to how men treat the women in their very own homes. And to how we raise our sons to respect all women, be it hijabi, dijabi, non-Muslims, and the ones with or without a Facebook profile.

The Facebook profile is just one example of the different media in which women are asked to not express themselves. What about women who’s calling in life is to preach Allah’s message or in general speak in front of a crowd? In today’s world it’s natural to use Facebook/Youtube/Twitter to spread the message of Allah, or any message, for that matter. So how will women, ever express themselves, if all of us have to live with the fear of being turned into porn stars? How will anyone have a hijab tutorial for instance? How will anything be conveyed?

Having a photo uploaded online is far less dangerous for a woman, than walking on the road, getting married or getting into a bus. For once, maybe we should believe that enjoying a little attention from our friends, will not take us away from Allah. For once we should trust that a woman is glorious, and deserves respect, even if they do have their own photo beside their actual name in Facebook.

  • Iqraq

    I beg to differ. I avoid putting my photos online voluntarily, my husband did not force me, because once it is out there in cyberspace, there is no way you can get it back. Every creepy Tom, Dick and Harry can save, store and stare at your photos and keep them in their ‘spank bank’. It is naive to underestimate how dangerous it can be. I do not consider uploading my photos on the internet as a ‘simple pleasure’. We do such things at our own risk and need to ask ourselves sincerely in our heart of hearts if it pleases Allah. I say thanks, but no thanks. I have lots of other simple pleasures I enjoy. Peace.

  • anneke

    I have to disagree as well… I have been living temporarily in a community where pictures on facebook on profiles for women were often reason for bullying, blackmailing and even worse.. And while it is completely “safe” to use the picture of some model/actress/singer, or your babygirl, your own picture is seen as an invitation to question your intentions and morals. Or it is used, in case of a single woman/girl, to attract men on the marriage market, perhaps without your consent. And even though, I do not agree with this per definition, I do understand why women would not post their own pictures on facebook. I don’t either, and I “hide” behind my husband’s account too, although I rather have a family account, but facebook would not let us. People ask me why, and I do not have a real answer, other than that I’m rather safe than sorry and that I do not feel that I have too…

    • Fortuna Veritas

      So you disagree that there’s bullying and harassment that is being used to control women and then point out that bullying, harassment, and blackmail is being used to control women?

      wat

      • anneke

        Okay, was a bit unclear, but: I do not agree with the fact that Muslim women should not post pictures on the internet of themselves, in contrary to the facebook groups. I understand though, that many have to, because of their communities etc.etc. BUT, like myself and many others, there are many (Muslim) women, who just do not feel like putting any pictures of themselves out, or have their own facebook account. I do not think that this is unique to the Muslim community though, and I think that men in general are more willing to expose themselves, and their pictures, compared to women. As well, I am convinced that society (in general) judges women more severely than it does men, especially when it comes to the “virtual world”. So that is why I am rather safe than sorry!

    • Makabit

      It strikes me as far more dangerous to put pictures of your children out on the Internet than a shot of yourself, to be honest.

  • godiva de maus

    A little myopic in your assumptions aren’t you? You don’t have to be muslim or be a mother or even be female to prefer to use a screen name. Very narrow article.

  • pagansister

    I don’t have a Facebook page just because I see no need for one, even though my children and my younger sisters want me to have an account. When I have things I wish to talk about to friends and family,I just use my email. I don’t need a Facebook account for that. If I had a Facebook account, I’d not put my picture on it, simply because I don’t care to, not out of any fear of being hacked for a porn site! I’m hoping that Muslim women who wish to use their own names and perhaps their own pictures wouldn’t be “punished” by those in their surrounds. One person commented above that they thought it would be more dangerous to use their children’s pictures on the internet—I agree.


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