How appropriate is the use of memes and jokes for a Muslim?
The apology of seriousness — against irony. About humor in Islam and the rules of etiquette among the faithful
Irony occupies a large place in modern discussions. The Internet is full of ironic, post-ironic, meta-ironic memes of all sorts. The language of memes is also being mastered by a conservative audience. But are memes as harmless as they seem at first glance? Karim Gaynullin, an expert at the Centre for Islamic World Studies, discusses this in a new article for Realnoe Vremya.
Irony can be a weapon of a variety of forces
Even here, starting our discussion about memes, we risk falling into the trap of frivolity. We, who grew up in a generation that faced two great cultural catastrophes — the European “death of God”, which destroyed the Christian seriousness; and then — the death of faith in a man who turned out to be capable of the Holocaust and a nuclear bomb. Such we are rarely able to speculate without irony on serious topics — but it is even more stoic task to speculate seriously about the very frivolity.
However, the joke seems harmless at first glance. Irony can be a weapon of a variety of forces. Ten years ago, as I remember, only liberals were ironic — over their fathers, guardians and communists. At that time, it was structureless, and most of the Internet humor was created by anonymous people on the portals Leprozoriy and Dvach. Then memes began to be used more actively and structurally in political and ideological projects in the Russian-speaking space. The concept of a “picture” appeared — an editor responsible for creating memes for news.
Soon, both “statesmen”, communists, and conservatives, along with liberals, realised the need to master the language of humor. All together began to “churn out” memes against each other.
Sometimes this leads to a comical and stupid situation when, instead of arguments, a comparison of “chad\virgin” is thrown into battle, where “chad” is always our supporter, and the poor virgin is an ideological opponent.
However, over time, some memes become outdated, and they are replaced by memes, parading memes, which creates a continuous chain of parody. The oldest example is demotivators, who replaced the “motivators” (which, however, few people remember). In 2018, it suddenly became fashionable to parade the “demotivators” themselves, inserting awkward phrases there, and today it is popular to make videos with recursion of demotivators superimposed on each other.
Oh, I can talk about memes a lot! I am from the first generation, who grew up completely on the culture of memes. A child of the late 1990s, who found the beginning of the development of the Runet by humanities-minded people and not far away from what is popular with modern schoolchildren. But let's talk about how active the use of memes is appropriate for a person of traditional views, in particular for a Muslim.
Islam and jokes
In this sense, I am struck by this Ayah from the Holy Quran:
“If you ask them (about their taunts), they will definitely answer (justifying themselves): 'We just talked (about anything) and had fun (to pass the time, that is, we didn't say it all seriously).” If you tell them: “Did you mock Allah, His verses and His Messenger?"
He tells of a case during the prophetic campaign on Tabuk, when a group of hypocrites began to joke about the Prophet Muhammad. “We were just talking and having fun” — how similar it is to the way a modern person perceives humor. And often the whole life is spent in fun, in flipping through jokes on social networks.
However, there are people who are longing for a serious state of affairs. The sweetest conversation is a sincere conversation, where there is no place for empty irony. And the most sincere conversations then affect the rest of your life. It seems to me that the Prophet Muhammad had such conversations with his disciples.
By the way, in the same Ayah, the boundary of where the heart of the “serious state of affairs” is drawn: Allah, His Ayahs and His Messenger.
We'll come back to that later.
Let's finish with the image in which the prophet of Islam is presented in the context of jokes. This is the person with whom I would like to have a conversation. There are several rules that correspond to everyday etiquette and can be useful to a person who wants to look good in society:
- To tell only the truth in jokes. This is stated in one of the hadiths conveyed in the collection of Tirmizi: “I tell jokes, but I do not say anything but the truth.” And also: “Woe to the one who tells something and, at the same time, lies to make people laugh. Woe to him, woe to him!”
- Try not to offend anyone or offend with jokes. As it is reported in the Quran: “Let some of you not mock others, because it may be that they are better than them. And let some women not mock other women, because it may be that they are better than them. Do not offend yourself and do not call each other offensive nicknames. It is bad to be called a reprobate after having believed. And those who do not repent are the unjust ones.”
- Do not skimp on jokes, being with family and loved ones. But do not joke about sacred or harmful topics for the family: marriage and divorce.
- Limit jokes in men's conversation so that it does not turn into buffoonery. Strive for a serious conversation. As Imam Bukhari narrated in his collection “Adab ul-Mufrod”, Bakr ibn 'Abdullah said: “The companions of the Messenger of Allah used to throw watermelon rinds at each other, but when it came to serious things, they were men!”
- Do not allow yourself to joke about the sacred, while maintaining due respect and reverence for things that relate to the heart and meaning of human existence. As it is said in the surah “al-Bakara”: “Do not take the signs of Allah as a joke.”
- Do not mock representatives of other religions, so that the conversation does not sink to mutual insults of sacred things. There is even an Ayat about this in the Quran: “Do not offend those (idols) to whom they invoke besides Allah, otherwise they will offend Allah out of enmity and ignorance.”
The philosophy of modern irony
There is no problem in irony itself, there is a problem in its use. In any case, the ironic person is not always actively aware of the ideological and philosophical basis of irony.
Realism in the context of our conversation should be understood as the belief that culture and the dogmas that we profess describe reality as it is. In this sense, our dogma and culture surpasses any other, because it is true. This picture of the world does not suit postmodern thinking, which questions the very possibility, justice and adequacy of striving for truth and therefore wants tolerance, as well as perennialist (esoteric) thinking, which recognises the equality of different roads on the path of truth knowledge.
We have said that Western humanity has experienced two great crises of realism, and at the same time — a crisis of seriousness. Firstly, it is the crisis of Christian realism and Christian traditionalism, which marked the beginning of the modern era. Secondly, it is a crisis of faith in man, which was the end of the modern era — and the beginning of postmodernity.
At the same time, the Islamic world is witnessing one big crisis related to colonial resentment. At first, the reaction to the successes of the Western colonial powers was a complete cultural and theological retreat. Islamic theology began to try to master a number of ideological dogmas of Western humanity. Then, with coming of the Iranian Revolution and the discovery of the anti-colonial and decolonisation potential of the Islamic religion, there was a reaction of Islamic traditionalists and fundamentalists. At the same time, the picture of the world of Islam remains very realistic.
The crisis of realism and the invasion of irony affected different spheres of Western society. For example, one of such spheres is art. An important description of this process was the concept of the “conspiracy of art” by Jean Baudrillard. In his essay of the same name, the French philosopher traced how irony acts as a tool of modern art in the crisis of realism. Instead of filling the work with meaning that is no longer believed in, the author “sells” to the viewer information that art is dead. Paradoxically, it was self-exposure through irony that helped, according to the Frenchman, to preserve art as a public institution in the West.
At the same time, traditional art, including Islamic art, is distinguished by two great intentions: first, extreme instrumentalism. Every detail of good art — in the traditional sense — has its own purpose, and without it the work loses its quality. Secondly, it is the desire for the most complete reflection of the truth. An example is Arabic calligraphy (ilm ul-khatt) — an art in which Islamic civilisation has reached its heights. The mission of ilm ul-khatt is higher than it may seem at first glance. This is an approximation to the most perfect and complete reflection of the Divine speech, which is the Holy Quran. In this sense, calligraphy is extremely realistic, because its purpose is to reflect what is most theologically close to the Truth itself (this is one of the names of God in Islam).
What we observe in art is also reflected in everyday culture. Moreover, the “conspiracy of art”, which we talked about, tends to interfere with art in everyday life (an example here is the work of Andy Warhol, which occupies a large place in Baudrillard's research).
The “ironic man” of our time is completely occupied with constant self-flagellation and refutation. It costs him nothing to hurt his own honour and sink to the bottom. Therefore, we see the inscription "666" on Morgenstern's tattoos, which is not part of some sacred black cult, but a banal self-irony, through which, as well as “high” modern art, the artist wants to sell himself even more expensive. But the subject of bargaining is no longer the presence of the Spirit, but the maximum level of self-denial and self-humiliation, the level of which directly determines how much higher value a person carries in the irony market. Therefore, the secret is to reveal as much as possible the mystery of the absurdity of a person's honour and spirit — even at the moment when he himself no longer claims honour and spirit, but through the exposure itself, a false sense is created, oddly enough, of their presence.
At the same time, the task of a traditional Muslim, on the contrary, is to accurately express perfection in his behaviour and appearance in the most instrumental way. Perfection is by its nature objective, as the Lord himself is objective, and it is expressed in the way he describes and calls himself in the Holy Book, and in the human example is realised in the prophets. This presupposes perfect observance of etiquette and behaviour consistent with the mission of the “khalifa of lil-ard”, the vicegerent of God on Earth, as the Koran defines a person.
A Muslim should give an account of his own actions and be objective in his view of the world, which imposes the ideas of “language fields”, bias and a relativistic view of the world. Some may say that this is the result of progress and modernity, but Islamic Alim Said Fuda believes that all ideological currents of modernity have roots in the thought of the ancients, and specifically relativism — in the thought of the ancient sophists. Therefore, it is necessary consciously approach the behaviour, understanding what it refers to.
However, everyone is free to decide for one self what kind of behaviour strategy to implement in their own life.
The author's opinion may not coincide with the position of the editorial board of Realnoe Vremya.