Faceless on Facebook

Faceless on Facebook October 3, 2012

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:

Via Facebook.

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.

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