My Facebook Fast – Times Online


Na’ima B. Robert explains why she is taking a break from Facebook this Ramadhan.

It’s Ramadhan. Time to put worldly distractions to the side and focus on worship: fasting, prayer, charity, kind words, reciting Qur’an, and remembering Allah.

Sounds like a great Facebook update, one that would get quite a lot of comments and ‘like’s from my wide circle of Facebook friends – except that I won’t be updating my Facebook profile for the next 28 days. I am fasting from Facebook. And I am not alone. For the past two weeks, many Muslim Facebook users have been encouraging each other to give up Facebook and other online distractions in order to be able to make the most of the month of Ramadhan.

Ramadhan is a blessing from Allah, the sacred month in which Muslims refrain from food, drink or sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset. But it doesn’t end there – the fast of Ramadhan operates on a far deeper level than that. It is a time for purification: of the mind, the body and the soul. Now is the best time to get rid of bad habits, once and for all, or to start a beneficial new routine, with the intention of making it permanent. Now is the best time to get into the habit of humility, to seek forgiveness, to make amends, to admit when we are wrong, to reach out.
Now is also the best time to focus our attention inward, to ourselves, to purify our characters, to examine our motivations, to evaluate where we are in life, both spiritually and mentally.
Ramadhan is like ‘me time’ with your Lord.

Which is why I’m fasting from Facebook.
It makes sense, really. For many of us, the social media site has become almost as essential as food and drink. It has become one of the fastest and easiest ways to communicate with a wide range of people, in different places and in different time zones. We use it to vent, to share, to discuss, to catch up, to network, to play games and, generally, spend as many hours as possible with friends – both real and virtual – in cyberspace.

I was quite an early Facebook user, well before every man and his dog had a Facebook account. Or two if they had reached their 5,000 friend limit (which begs the question: can anyone really have over 5,000 friends?)
For me, Facebook was a great way to keep in touch with friends, family, fellow writers and colleagues and my readers. My profile grew: I updated by status regularly, sometimes spawning whole pages of comment or debate. I shared links to stuff I liked, articles I had found beneficial or stimulating, and was pleased to see that people actually clicked through. I posted works in progress as Notes and was gratified by the support and ‘Likes’ of my readers.
Facebook was like having my own broadcast station: a cheap way to reach hundreds of users and involve them in whatever I was doing.
So far, so controlled. So far, so positive.

But Facebook has a way of getting under your skin. It is just so accessible, so immediate, so addictive. You post a provocative or hilarious status update, a photo or an event and can hardly wait to log on again to see if anyone has commented on or ‘Like’d it. Instant gratification, instant validation. And everyone, apart from the die-hard technophobes or extremely private individuals, is there, sharing, tagging, discussing, stirring up controversy, preaching, advertising, selling, you name it. This is the online version of the global village – and I was a part of it, a vocal, active part.

Then came the Facebook crisis.
A dear friend of mine left the country and my husband’s long hours at the office meant that I felt isolated, lonely and starved of adult company. And the only adult company that I had access to after the kids’ bedtime was online. And that meant Facebook. Many hours were spent combing people’s pages, looking at albums, following online discussions, hours that I could have spent reading Qur’an or Islamic books, working on new writing projects – or simply clearing the dinner dishes. When my husband finally did come home, he invariably found me sitting in the same place at the table, my laptop open in front of me, my Facebook account buzzing. When I finally tore myself away, did I regale him with stories about how the kids wrecked the garden or how my eldest lost another tooth? No, it was Facebook anecdotes I assailed him with, much to his bemusement.
Even I had to admit it: I had become a Facebook junkie.

Of course, this Facebook high had to come down. It was inevitable, really. One minute, I was approaching 5,000 ‘friends’, furiously chatting with five FB friends at once, the next, I was thinking about how long it had been since I had invited anyone round for dinner. Was I living the proverbial ‘virtual life’? I had to admit that I had gone off the deep end. So I started to swim back.

So, in the spirit of giving up diversions, distractions and all manner of childish things, I am giving up Facebook for the month of Ramadhan. I have already experienced withdrawal symptoms. On the first night, I went to bed without checking my account and ended up going to sleep in a foul mood. How will I manage without the buzz of the ‘Facebook playground’, where I read all the latest news, views and follow the arguments and debates between my diverse group of friends. Who will look after my Wall while I am away or am I resigned to find it clogged with lost animals from virtual farms and floral e-gifts? Who will tell my potential friends that I can’t accept any more friend requests and could they please go to what used to be known as my Fan page? Who will keep up my profile???

I like to think that I don’t care, that I am happy to do a Jack Bauer for a month, resurfacing just before Eid, refreshed and raring to go. After all, I have an entire Qur’an to read – in Arabic! – and Facebook is just too time-consuming to allow me to do that. It’s time to prioritise the spiritual over the worldly, methinks.

So, it’s good-bye Facebook and ‘salaam’ reading, recitation, introspection and prayer… Wait, that’s another great status update, isn’t it? Sigh…

Na’ima B. Robert is a convert to Islam. She is an author and Editor of SISTERS, a magazine for Muslim women. Her latest teen novel, ‘Boy vs. Girl’ (Frances Lincoln) is set in Ramadan.

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