x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Online is the place to be for Ramadan

Connecting with other Muslims online during the holy month reflects the religious concept of the ummah

Digital detox is becoming increasingly fashionable. Now that our smartphones govern our lives with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to name just a few, we are tied into ever more complicated online networks.

You can find out where your boss went for iftar (and what he ate). You can get the latest office gossip via Twitter. You can share Beyonce's racy pop videos and laugh at the lolcats.

With such intellectual delights just a click away, it's no surprise that there is a great push in Ramadan to give up social media. The arguments are familiar: it distracts from deep contemplation as we constantly check in for the latest updates. It's also easy on social media to click through pages and sites, and find yourself involved in all sorts of conversations, and it wastes precious time. So, disconnecting and detoxing from cyberspace for Ramadan is an idea that is gaining traction.

This Ramadan, I'll be doing the opposite. I'm deliberately not giving up social media, because for me it enhances both my spirituality and my sense of community. If anything, I'll be more engaged, and I think it can have a positive effect for many - if used properly.

The ummah is one of the most powerful religious concepts for Muslims: a global nation connected through shared faith values. Once it was maps, photos and stories that made up our knowledge of Muslims from Beijing to Barcelona, a physically disparate far-flung family connected through hearts and spirits. Today we have the e-ummah: just a single click away from us, with whom we share ideas, aspirations and troubles.

Ramadan is the month of community, and the online space allows for more of that. I see shared online discussions with people exchanging knowledge. Websites post articles of encouragement and insight as readers become more open to religious knowledge. And if you just need to yell "I'm hungry!", a quick tweet can get the frustration out of your system.

We certainly can't forget the terrible troubles affecting Muslims around the world, from the Rohingya in Myanmar to Syria and Egypt. The online space is the perfect place to keep up to date on what is happening, and for those of us far away, the closest we can probably get to register protest and offer support.

I find that social media is a wonderful place to gain support in achieving my goals, as I commit to my aims publicly and then have to pursue them. It is also encouraging to learn what others are doing and be inspired by them, and to do so there are many useful and timely resources. Quran apps, prayer timetables, Ramadan e-cards and online Ramadan radio stations are all part of the modern Ramadan experience.

Of course, just as we shut down normal life for the night of Laylat Al Qadr, I think a day or night of disconnection is helpful. However, I personally will not be disengaging for the whole month. For me, social media will bring me support for my Ramadan dream and make my spiritual quest into a communal enterprise. In fact, I've already set up a Facebook page with a day-by-day plan for the whole month to create a journey with effects that remain long after Ramadan has passed.

For today's Muslim digital natives, I'm fairly certain that they can live without social media if absolutely necessary. But why should they? Giving up is not a must for an uplifting Ramadan. If anything, handled right, social media can make Ramadan a more fulfilling experience.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk