It is narrated that a group of dancing youth were passing by with alcohol in their hands and a spiritual master and his followers were present. The followers suggested to their spiritual master that he raise his hands to pray against them. So the spiritual master raised his hands and replied, “O Allah, the way these youth are happy in dunya, make them happy in the hereafter.”
Over the past few years, a huge market has emerged for Muslim Youtubers and entertainers. Fuelled by a new generation of young Muslims who are desperately seeking halal content in a world that seems to offer nothing of the sort, coupled with the dearth of Muslim role models in the public eye, young Muslims are flocking towards anyone online who possesses some creativity, humour, has a decent camera and looks well polished. It’s an exciting and interesting time, but also a time that is deeply worrying.
Whether they’re twerking in front of camera (yes, Muslim Youtubers literally twerking – and before you question whether it’s a men or women doing it, does that even matter?), posting inappropriate pictures, swearing, talking about their sins, posting videos about how much they love women’s breasts, or posting videos like ‘Let’s have sex prank backfires’, a dangerous trend is taking place. Intermingling Islam with the haram, many of these Youtubers are at best confused and at worst exploiting their faith to bolster their popularity.
Last week, popular Youtuber and Nasheed artist Khaled Siddique released a video about Muslim Youtubers. His key point was that Muslims should stop investing so much time focusing and criticising these Youtubers, arguing that Muslims have bigger issues to worry about. The way we treat them, he said, should be with adab [good manners], highlighting the need for unity. It was a positive message from a positive Youtuber.
I agree with Khaled’s sentiments but the harm that these Youtubers are causing cannot be underestimated. Millions are watching their videos, entertaining their ideas and being influenced by their actions. Their fans believe that, because they are watching a Muslim on camera, they are, in some way, doing something religious and useful. The truth is, many of these young followers are young, naive and vulnerable, they’re searching for role models and sadly, they’re being exploited. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying some of these Youtubers are among the biggest issues affecting Muslim youth in our day.
Many young Muslims are, in a sense, seeking refuge in these Muslim Youtubers, hoping to escape the endless barrage of haram content and messages they’re surrounded by. But what they’re trying to escape is actually being packaged in a different, more subtle, more milder way, with the appearance of it being halal. This, in fact, is more dangerous. Muslims, by and large, know what to avoid when watching TV, when they’re browsing the internet and when reading magazines – the haram is explicit. But the haram these Youtubers are putting out isn’t black and white, so young Muslims face becoming corrupted without even knowing, whilst thinking they’ve found a good alternative.
There’s a usual pattern with many of these Youtubers: They start off quite innocent, their videos fairly innocuous, and their intentions (God knows best) probably just to have some fun and express their thoughts and lifestyles. But as the ‘likes’ increase, the views shoot up and the fame takes over, they all, one by one, lose sense of who they were, their values become secondary and maintaining their fame seems to be more important than anything else. They are then validated, supported and spurred on by immature young [mostly] girls, who will support them no matter what they do or what they say.
For the fans, their heroes can do no wrong. “Don’t judge them, sort yourself out first,” is often their silly, immature retort – which, in fact, would be a reasonable response if their heroes weren’t clearly crossing Islamic boundaries and encouraging this behaviour amongst their audience.
Look at this comment by a Muslim sister after watching a video in which her Muslim icon was twerking.
Indeed, what many of these Muslim Youtubers are doing is deeply dangerous. Not only are they personally embarking on a slippery slope which could end in disaster (one megastar Muslim Youtuber has developed a bipolar disorder since becoming famous, for example) but they’re dragging along others, too. The reality is that they have fans who admire them and want to emulate them. So whenever they’re doing something wrong in front of camera, they are opening the gates of haram, shamelessness and lewdness into millions of homes.
Take for example a popular American Muslim Youtuber who, last year, was showing off his girlfriend in front of camera. Imagine, if young, impressionable fans copy his behaviour. Imagine if just one fan – let alone hundreds or thousands – as a result of seeing his videos, takes a boyfriend or girlfriend and then commits zina [fornication]. That, without doubt, is a catastrophe. If a popular Youtuber has a boyfriend or girlfriend in their private life, I certainly won’t comment – it’s none of my business – even if I found about about it. But to make this proudly public is a sign of a worrying trend.
On the other hand, things are also hopeful because, all it takes is a handful of these Muslim Youtubers to use their creative talent, intelligently and wisely, to change the perceptions of millions of people across the world who think negatively about Islam, as well as guide millions of Muslims back to Islam. Thankfully, there are a fair few of them who are doing a great job, without compromising majorly on their faith.
As for the Muslim Youtubers who’ve risen to stardom, but now say they don’t want to make anymore Islamic content because of all the hate and judgemental Muslims who criticise everything they do – while we condemn the foul-mouthed, overly judgemental Muslims who use their vicious tongues towards you – there’s something you should probably remember. It was because you first came out as a Muslim and a Youtuber (not *just* a Youtuber), who spoke about Islam and Muslim-related issues that you’re in the position you’re in today. So to completely shun putting out Islamic content, and replace it with click-bait, sensationalist, popular culture, is to disregard what got you here in the first place.
And as for the Muslims wanting to start a career on Youtube, I’d recommend taking some time out to think why you want to do it. You may come to some terrifying conclusions. Is it for fame, praise and to feel good about yourself? Or is it for your faith, to earn money to support your family or have a platform to express your thoughts and ideas, all of which are positive? What is it within you that’s the driving you to be a Youtuber? Really ask yourself. Because if it’s your naffs, then you’re playing with fire.
Finally, as for the Muslims leaving vile messages to Youtubers, accusing them of kufr [disbelief], telling them they are “dajjal [the antichrist]”, using swear words and the like, you, too, need to take a step back. If a Youtuber you don’t like was planning to make a positive video about Islam for the sake of Allah, but is now planning to make it because he wants to shut up his fellow Muslims leaving terrible comments, he or she is no longer doing it for Allah, but is doing it for people. We know in our faith that religious acts done for people and not for God is a type of minor shirk. In other words, if you think it’s your job to bash these Youtubers over the head because you don’t like what they’re doing, you may be held responsible for their change in mindset, for splitting their Qiblah, for causing them to compromise on their Tawhid.
Ultimately, like the spiritual master who saw those young people doing wrong and prayed for their eternal happiness, I, too, want what’s best for these Youtubers. This was never about exposing anyone, hence why I didn’t mention any names. It’s certainly not about judging people’s souls. I acknowledge a lot of the good they’ve done. But the damage they’re now causing may soon become irreversible.