We live in a virtual world, where much of our communication is online, and face-to-face conversation is minimal. While there are certainly benefits to communicating with family members and friends in different time zones and across the world, there are also a variety of social challenges. People, regardless of age, need to socialize with others in a meaningful way, and as we have siloed to the confines of our homes during the current pandemic, our interaction with others has taken a new shape. For some people, sitting behind computers, phones, or other electronic devices gives the opportunity to take on a new identity and engage with others with rude, aggressive, or even inappropriate behavior. In addition, many often take to the Internet to publicly vent about challenges they encounter during the day, as social media has created an over-reliance on this type of engagement. It is vital that we remember to be kind and compassionate no matter what we encounter online. Imam Jafar al- Sadiq (p) states, “Keep your wings soft, [behaving with compassion and care], talking sweetly and virtuously and meet your fellow brother with a happy and smiling face.”1

Healthy Online Communication

As noted in our previous blog, Eloquent Silence, it is important to keep healthy social interaction in our lives, for it is vital to our growth. Spending time with family and friends has so many mental and spiritual benefits, and with social media and the Internet, there are so many ways to connect with others. For all the obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic, some families and communities are more closely connected than ever. The ability to video conference with others overseas and check in on one another’s well-being has never been as important as it is at the current moment, and many have utilized technology in an advantageous way.

A challenge with online conversation is a reliance on email and text, as opposed to speaking with others, which can often have severe consequences and impact relationships. When we see a message that may seem confusing or cause anger or tension, it is important to not jump to any conclusions and give others the benefit of the doubt. The Quran emphasizes this when it states, “Believers, stay away from conjecture; acting upon some conjecture may lead to sin.”2 Naturally, we may lose the intended meaning in written communication when we do not hear someone’s tone of voice or see their facial expressions, and thus it is crucial to discuss important matters by phone or via video conferencing. At times like this, it is imperative to step away from our screen and have a conversation to resolve the misunderstandings.

Maintaining Online Etiquette

The Internet, for all its advantages and benefits, can cause us to be negligent of the etiquette and positive engagement that our religion teaches us. The Prophet (pbuh&hp) famously states, “I have been sent to perfect good character,”3 and it becomes our responsibility to strive to act in accordance with his sacred teachings. This extends to the way we engage with others online. On social media platforms, it has become quite common to make fun of others and act in a way that we likely would not if we were physically present. The Quranic instruction is comprehensive in terms of addressing such behavior, as God states, “Believers, let not a group of you mock another. Perhaps they are better than you. Let not women mock each other; perhaps one is better than the other. Let not one of you find faults in another nor let anyone of you defame another.”4 When we find ourselves performing such actions, we need to step away from our screens and hold ourselves accountable.

Bits of Advice

1. Use kind greetings: It is clear that the way we initiate any conversation is important to the ultimate outcome. Thus, Islamic tradition stresses beginning and concluding any communication with greetings of peace and blessings. Whether or not we see others face-to-face, we should send text messages and emails by starting with assalamu alaykum. Narrations report that Imam Ali (p) said, “[Reward of] salam is seventy deeds, sixty-nine are for the initiator and one for the one who responds.”5

2. Learn to disengage: Many times, when we come across individuals online who have an innate proclivity to spew vitriol against everyone, we feel a strong urge to engage with them, hoping to change their problematic mindset. Most of the time, engaging with those individuals only exacerbates the situation and can have a negative effect on our own mental health. It is very unlikely that we will be able to change someone’s mind online, especially those who are set in their ways and are not receptive to different points of view. Therefore, it is important to know when it is time to disengage from a discussion that is only causing stress and affecting our inner peace.

3. Be empathetic and compassionate toward trolls: Anonymity plays an important role in how people interact with others online. Many people use it to reveal facets of their personalities that they would otherwise hide in real-life interactions, mostly because of a fear of real-life consequences. This added sense of security allows them to say things that they would never say to anyone face-to-face. People behave this way online for various reasons, but we must remember to conduct ourselves in the best manner possible. Some people may be going through personal struggles and find that being anonymous online gives them an outlet to vent their own frustrations that they perhaps cannot voice in real life. So, we should do our best to be compassionate and show kindness to everyone we encounter, because we never know what someone might be going through that is causing them to act the way they do.

1. Bihar al-anwar, vol.71, p. 171.
2. The Holy Quran 49:12. Quranic quotes in this blog are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
3. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 68, p. 382.
4. The Holy Quran 49:11.
5. Bihar al-anwar, vol.73, p. 11.

1.  سُئل أبو عبد الله ]الإمام الصادق[ (ع) ما حدّ حُسن الخلق؟ قال: “تلين جناحك وتُطيبُ كلامك وتلقى أخاك بِبشرٍ حسنٍ.”
2. قال الله تعالى: ((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ))
3. روي عن النبي (ص): “إنما بعثت لأتمم مكارم الأخلاق”
4. قال الله تعالى: ((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِّن نِّسَاءٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ ۖ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَلَا تَنَابَزُوا بِالْأَلْقَابِ ۖ))
5. روي عن الإمام علي (ع): “السلام سبعون حسنة تسعة وستون للمبتدئ وواحدة للراد”

Leave a Comment: