By Amarah Fahimuddin
With the enormous increase in social media usage over the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in young Muslim social media stars. With large, rapidly growing platforms and followers ranging from a few hundred to millions, it’s easy to get caught in the hype. To an extent, when you see a fellow Muslim on YouTube or Instagram, you feel as though you can relate to some of the things they are talking about. Here they are, entertaining thousands on a daily basis with views hitting millions – all while appearing overtly Muslim. Wrong or right, it makes us feel alike and, dare I say, accepted, because not all of these views are from Muslims; many non-Muslim social media users are equally entertained and enticed. Given the hostility many Muslims face on a day-to-day basis, the fact that these individuals are managing to break those boundaries through something as simple as a video can be encouraging.
YouTube is a great space for Muslims to connect with a wide range of people on a global scale, watch videos based on their own individual interests and gain knowledge on countless topics. Following a viral tag a couple of years ago, many Muslimah’s have also shared videos on their hijab stories, educating Muslims and non-Muslims on the women behind the hijab and their reasons for wearing it. For many young Muslims, YouTube has become a stage for them to showcase themselves and empower each other through their videos. Some have become so popular that they have become celebrities within the Muslim community and wider society.
With all this being said, are these Muslim social media celebrities a true representation of the majority of young Muslim men and women? This is where it gets complicated.
It seems that nowadays, many of these YouTubers are stepping away from their original social media purpose of representing young Muslims altogether. In fact, many Muslims viewers are feeling excluded because of the content being shared on these platforms from people they once saw as their representatives. Lately, it seems as though these YouTubers are no longer clarifying misconceptions about Islam, but instead are taking measures in order to gain the approval of a wider audience. For example, some Muslim YouTubers are now using derogatory and even sexual connotations as titles for their videos as a form of ‘click bait’, which of course means more money and fame for them. We now see that some of the more popular Muslim YouTubers are those who are known for putting out more scandalous content.
But why should we care? Are they actually causing considerable harm? Well, let’s consider the bigger picture.
The main problem with the actions of some of these “influencers” is the influence they have on young impressionable viewers. They have become role models whether they intended to or not. When you have a large following of any sort, you’re immediately responsible for the videos you share online and the messages people take from them, especially if you attract a young demographic. While this may be funny and entertaining to some people, is it really the standard that we want to set for our Muslim youth? Stepping over boundaries to the point where we’ve lost the meaning of modesty and hayaa is surely not something we should normalize more than society already has. Constantly normalising crude and derogatory language and over-sexualized content through platforms that reach out to thousands of people is not something that should be encouraged.
On the flip side, some of these YouTubers are aware of the influence they have over fans and have started to make advice channels. Followers of their channel send in personal dilemmas and the YouTubers answer them the best they can. Coincidently, many of these questions are taboo subjects and, frankly, issues that deserve answers from those who are qualified to give it, not just opinion-based answers like most of them end up receiving. To be honest, the fact that these questions and answers are publicised gives the impression that they are put up purely for entertainment purposes rather than for the benefit of the follower who sent in the question. Is this not a low level for our community to have descended to: trivialising important issues for the sake of a few views and likes? What happened to looking to Islam for the solutions to our dilemmas?
The growth of social media platforms has also resulted in the erosion of privacy, and YouTubers are not exempt from this. This is evident in the integration of their spouses into the YouTuber world as seen in #Husbandtag and “How We Met” videos, and even entire channels dedicated to couples making videos together. From sharing weddings photos to giving marriage advice (ironic to some, given many of these couples have only been married for a short time), this has exacerbated the idealisation of marriage that is rampant on Muslim social media.
This has trickled down to the community in numerous ways, the showcasing of Muslim couples being one of them. On Instagram there are more than 85,000 posts under the tag #MuslimCouple, more than 100,000 under #MuslimWedding, and nearly 20,000 under #HalalLove.
This is arguably another topic in itself, but in brief: a key problem identified with this trend is that it glamorizes the idea of marriage and feeds into the overly romanticized view of life as a couple, generating false expectations. Its also places undue pressure on young Muslims and can lead those who are single to feel a sense of inadequacy. “That’s their problem,” some might say; as Muslims, however, we should be wary of displaying what we have to others, so as to not make them feel unhappy with their own situation. This similarly applies on social media.
So given all of the trends started and endorsed by these Muslim social media celebrities, what kind of example is being set for our youth? Are we truly being represented online? And most importantly, are we pleasing Allah ﷻ and helping to unite the ummah or contributing to breaking it apart?
As Muslims, young or old, we should never compromise our hayaa, which is heavily emphasized in Islam, in order to feel accepted in society. We shouldn’t feel obligated to over share and publicize our lives in order to gain popularity. Whilst this may not apply to every single Muslim YouTuber, it has unfortunately become a growing trend and it seems the more popular the YouTuber, the more reckless they are with their content. After all, sensationalism sells.