What has the Metaverse got to do with Muslims, 7th Century Madinah and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ?
Back in the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on the day of Friday whilst he was delivering the Khutbah, Friday Sermon, a caravan equipped with music, festivities, entertainment and merchandise soon entered the city of Madinah. It was an enticing and alluring sight and as such many of the companions soon got up and left the Prophet ﷺ to continue the sermon alone on the pulpit.
It’s a striking incident that’s captured in the Quran.
وَإِذَا رَأَوْا۟ تِجَـٰرَةً أَوْ لَهْوًا ٱنفَضُّوٓا۟ إِلَيْهَا وَتَرَكُوكَ قَآئِمًا ۚ
When they saw the fanfare along with the caravan, they ˹almost all˺ flocked to it, leaving you ˹O Prophet˺ standing ˹on the pulpit˺.62:11
Now, where am I going with all this? Well, it’s because this caravan of distraction is pretty much still around today, just in a different form. You see with the advent of the television, the computer and soon after the internet, we pretty much saw this caravan make its way into our homes. And over the last 15 years, following the release of the smartphone and mobile internet, we literally have had this caravan following us everywhere we go. Add social media into the mix – and you get the picture – this caravan isn’t leaving us alone.
And what makes this caravan even more distracting, is the fact that it’s not just generic entertainment. Rather, thanks to algorithms and artificial intelligence, it is strategically engineered to present content that appeals to you. It knows your individual preferences, interests and wants. Whether it be sports, comedy or even cat videos, these algorithms have reached a point where they know you, better than you know yourself.
They’ve pretty much hacked our impulses and they know how to keep us addicted. It’s science. Every time they present you with a new notification, a new post, a new video that they know you will enjoy, dopamine is released through your brain. And your motivation to keep scrolling only intensifies. We are no longer interested in the natural real world because quite frankly, it can’t reward us with the same levels of dopamine we receive online artificially. They’ve hijacked our senses.
It’s a repetitive vicious cycle that keeps us addicted while making social media giants billions of dollars. It’s a proven formula that works and they aren’t planning on stopping at all. In fact, they are only planning on taking this further.
You see, this caravan that has been following us around from the outside will soon become our home, our walls and the roof above our heads.
Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and what he has dubbed ‘The Metaverse’. It’s said to be the next iteration of the internet, whereby the physical world and the digital screen will converge. A virtual world where you will socialise, work, play games and pretty much live your own virtual life. You’ll have your own virtual home, your own friends and even your own realistic avatar version of yourself. And thanks to headsets like these, we will be completely and totally immersed.
And I know a lot has been said about this and many criticisms have been raised. I mean we have already seen enough damage from social media as it exists today, whether that’s the rise of anxiety, depression, addiction, pornography, loneliness and the rapid decline of society, we can only imagine how worse it will become. Yet despite all that has been said, there’s something else I want to hone in on.
One of the greatest consequences these distractions have on our lives is their ability to make us forget Allah and forget the Quran. And it’s not because anyone is actively stopping us from remembering Allah or reading the Quran and connecting with its verses, but we are so distracted we are no longer receptive.
Hear me out.
In the 1930s there were two popular sci-fi dystopian novels that were written. They were fictional but nonetheless, they were giving an impression of what the future would look like.
One was George Orwell’s “1984” and the other was Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”. Both novels depicted a bleak future whereby people would no longer read or actively use their minds productively. Yet both societies achieved this through different strategies.
In 1984, the Government actively inhibited people from reading, by using censorship and strict laws prohibiting the people. While in Brave New World, the government stopped people from reading and thinking not through forced censorship, but rather by means of distraction. They fed their people whatever they wanted in terms of desires, pleasures and worldly enjoyments. So much so, people didn’t want to read, not because they were actively prohibited, but because they were no longer interested. They were distracted.
Now, more or less, this is where I see ourselves heading today and we need to find a way out of it. And for a start, we can do with a reminder.
Let’s go back to the Ayah.
As the companions were met with this caravan of distraction,and they left the Prophet ﷺ standing all alone, Allah instructed the Prophet ﷺ to tell them.
قُلْ مَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ خَيْرٌ مِّنَ ٱللَّهْوِ وَمِنَ ٱلتِّجَـٰرَةِ ۚ
Say, “What is with Allah is far better than amusement and merchandise.”
What is with Allah is far greater than the distractions, the entertainment, the pastimes.
It’s a blatant truth, yet for many of us, myself included, we can no longer see it. Why? Well, we need to get out of the caravan for a start.
You see in order for us to be receptive to Allah and His words, we need to be people of life, people of mind, people of hearing and people of sight.
لِّيُنذِرَ مَن كَانَ حَيًّا وَيَحِقَّ ٱلْقَوْلُ عَلَى ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ
As Allah states in the Quran “to warn those who are alive”.
And in another verse, “There is a reminder for people who have heart, hearing and are a witness”. A witness, by all means, is someone who is present and most definitely not distracted.
You see while social media giants are pushing us further away from real life, Allah is calling us to that which truly gives us life.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱسْتَجِيبُوا۟ لِلَّهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ ۖ
“O, believers! Respond to Allah and His Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life.”8:24
Connecting with Allah, connecting with the Prophet ﷺ, connecting with one another gives us life. Being Muslim, living life as a Muslim, it’s what gives us life. And our greatest pride as Muslims is in being people of life, not people who are distracted.
And I know have my shortcomings and I’m no one perfect, I do struggle and I might be a hypocrite considering I myself am heavily involved in social media, but I just want us to be aware, and mindful of what is taking place. And I pray that we may never forget that what is with Allah is far greater than the caravans of distraction.
You see, these distractions are having far deeper impacts on who we are as individuals, and in shaping our identity, and in a further video I do plan on breaking this down. So be sure to subscribe to stay up to date.