In Islam, we believe that every human is born with fitra, this state of purity and innocence that is innate and acts as the moral compass that guides us to the straight path. As we live life and get tested with different challenges, our fitrah can become tainted through external influences. However, this natural instinct to maintain our purity, dignity, and modesty echoes as the voice of reason in the hearts of those Allah (SWT) wants to guide.

Humans are fascinating in that we’re the only creatures who possess the ability to have an internal dialogue. Through careful self-reflection, we can develop new perspectives that can completely transform the way we think about the world. The realisation of just how easy it has become to neglect modesty on social media was an eye-opener and a clear sign that I needed to reflect deeply on myself. I believe as Muslims, whenever we find ourselves treading the territories of immodest behaviour, we need to do the due diligence of reflecting on our thoughts and behaviour. Through this whole process, I also developed an insatiable curiosity to understand how Muslims (special regards to women) interpret modesty in the age of social media and whether the Islamic concept of modesty is under threat.  

Where the Struggle Stems from:

The concept of Haya (modesty) is an incredibly vital principle of Islam that both men and women must adhere to. Haya manifests in many ways including in our speech, behavior, attitude, dress, etc. However, when it comes to dressing codes, following modest guidelines can become a greater struggle for Muslim women. Over the years, we’ve all witnessed as the modest fashion industry rose in popularity and slowly became hijacked by major co-operations with an agenda to desacralize Muslim women’s clothing and strip them of their modesty. Many mainstream businesses view modest fashion only as a commodity that’s an easy mark for exploitation. In fact, the term ‘Modern Muslimah’ emerged from the modest fashion movement and was further popularized bysocial media influencers who present to western audiences/stakeholders a palatable version of Islam. Slowly on social media, an image is being constructed of the ideal Muslim woman whose standards are closer to western values and this contributes to the struggle Muslim women face regarding modesty. Behind the guise of Muslim representation and inclusivity hides a more sinister agenda, one that attempts to deteriorate the directives of Allah (SWT).

Many Muslim women (including myself at times) have fallen into the trap of watering down the significance of the hijab and prioritizing fashion over true modesty. Through social media, we become inclined to prioritize fashion that doesn’t set us apart from mainstream trends. In an attempt to keep an active online presence, women are encouraged to flaunt their beauty as this leads to greater engagement in the form of followers, likes, and comments. As women, we develop this internal struggle between following modesty guidelines as they should be or following our desire to present an attractive, youthful version of ourselves that will undoubtedly attract the male gaze. No doubt, social media is therefore a complex platform for hijabis to navigate due to its contradictory nature to Islamic values. Overall, it’s very important for us to be mindful of our posting behaviors which should be in alignment with Islamic values as this will ensure we don’t just blindly follow our desires.

Safe Guarding Our Modesty:

A lot of the things we see promoted on social media are a by-product of the degradation of society. For instance, we rarely give much thought to how fitnah spreads on social media platforms and how people have become less concerned about their loss of privacy. Generally speaking, women are more concerned about their privacy, particularly how their images could be viewed by a public audience and potentially be used in undesired ways. As Muslims, we’re urged to be conscious about what we post by distinguishing between what’s permissible for our female and male followers to view. Social media platforms encourage and facilitate none restricted interactions with people that are non-mahram which can cause fitnah to spread rapidly. We’re constantly put in situations where we interact with the opposite gender which means even in the online world, we have to make a great effort not to overstep Islamic boundaries. 

Social media gives us a false impression that the images we post are entirely for our own gratification and we are indifferent to the opinions of others. I’ve found that once you’ve set your profile and you’re convinced that you’re posting for yourself, it becomes easier to disregard modesty. This can lead to us posting less constrained images or videos of our playful, flirty side including Instagram stories with suggestive lyrics. Unfortunately, the pressure doesn’t stop with just the desire to look attractive even when veiled. It’s intensified when we realize that for Muslim women who wear the hijab, we are first and foremost seen in terms of our religious identity. This comes with a greater responsibility to present Islam in a positive manner because to non-Muslims, we represent Islam which means we have to be very mindful of how we conduct ourselves. Although it’s natural for us to want to feel desirable, recognize that momentary desires should never take precedence over the true meaning behind modesty. Practicing modesty is not only a sign of our devotion to the will of Allah (SWT) but it also serves as a protective barrier that ensures our dignity and reputation, especially in the public arena are safely guarded.

Through examining my own posting behaviors, I had to reflect on whether or not I’m presenting myself online through self-objectifying lenses. Allah (SWT) says in the Quran, “do not flaunt yourselves as was the flaunting of finery in the earlier times of ignorance.” Ironically, now we have social media platforms like Instagram where the simple nature of sharing photos of ourselves can place us within the gaze of a public audience. It’s sad that the very thing Allah (SWT) is protecting us from is what modern society encourages women to desire. To become merely an object of attraction for men and possibly the envy of women. Ultimately, presenting ourselves online in ways that can manifest into self-objectification is something we should be wary of.

Final Thoughts:

In a world that is constantly demonizing Muslim people’s devotion to their religious obligations, it’s important we don’t get side-tracked and remain firm in our faith by maintaining modesty. We’re often told to just accept that people are a product of their environment but we’re free to disregard the parts of modern-day society that lead to the deteriorating interpretations of Islamic values. Our Muslim identity is something we should be incredibly proud of but at the same time humbled by. One of the biggest blessings we’ve been bestowed upon includes our ability to be conscious of Allah (SWT), to be guided by him in times of hardship, and to count ourselves amongst the Muslims.

In my quest to practice a higher level of modesty, I came to a decision to delete all pictures and videos from my social media accounts that I felt were immodest in one-way shape or form. I became honest with myself and realized that in order to achieve the level of modesty I aspire to, I need to eliminate anything that could make me falter again. I’m aware that on social media it’s almost impossible to avoid fitnah altogether, but thankfully Allah (SWT) promises to reward our efforts and commitment.

Take a moment to gather your thoughts and honestly reflect on whether or not social media has impacted your modesty in any way. Are your posting behaviors consistent with your values and sense of self?

Let me know in the comments below and thank you for taking the time to read this post.

The Conscious Nomad

6 thoughts on “Maintaining Modesty on Social Media

  1. Well written piece Ilhan. It is an article that raises an important issue that is faced by not only women but also men and the Muslim umah as a whole. This is one of the challenges Allah (SwT) is testing us with and we must be always aware and careful in this life .

  2. I don’t remember the last time i read something as good as your article, it made me think deep about everything.
    I know my words wont be enough but it was superbly written, thanks for sharing

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