‘Influencers are reminding me to be thankful to Allah’
Online personalities, apps and video-sharing platforms have increasingly become a source of religious and spiritual advice for Gen Z Muslims
This Ramadan, 21-year-old Salmaan Abdullah will try to attend his local mosque in east London every night for taraweeh prayers. He made this resolution when he realised that he rarely attended, despite having done so frequently as a child and the building being a mere 20-minute walk away.
“I stopped going regularly during the Covid lockdowns, when most of the mosques had to close,” he explained. “When they started opening again, I didn’t really have the incentive. None of my friends were going either.”
It wasn’t that Abdullah’s faith had wavered. On the contrary, he believes he became more religiously engaged over the course of the pandemic. He says a combination of digital platforms, including apps, YouTube comment sections and chatrooms on Discord servers, helped.
According to a new poll by Hyphen and Savanta of more than 2,000 respondents in the UK aged 16-24, 71% of Gen Z Muslims said they use social media platforms to seek spiritual advice, while fewer than half go to a mosque, or seek out a local religious leader. While Gen Z Muslims are statistically still far more likely to attend a place of worship than their non-Muslim counterparts, only 68% say they sometimes go to mosques to pray.
During the lockdowns, with more free time than he’d had before, Abdullah decided to take his faith more seriously. He began studying the Qur’an using Quranic, an app recommended by a popular YouTube channel, hosted by the Dubai-based Muslim influencer Emkwan.
Abdullah and his friends also held “listening parties” online, inspired by Netflix “watch parties”, during which they listened to and discussed sermons by Mufti Menk, Nouman Ali Khan and Shaykh Shady Alsuleiman — Islamic speakers who live not only in different cities, but in different countries, including the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, and Australia.
For Abdullah, the lectures, which covered subjects ranging from Islamic history to looking for a spouse, made him feel more connected to Islam than ever before. “It’s weird to admit this, but I think I actually became more confident in my emaan by not going to the local masjid,” he said.
Like Abdullah, 22-year-old Hafsa, from Walsall, believes that social media platforms have helped her to understand her faith in ways that a mosque setting did not. “The local mosque that my dad and brothers go to for jummah prayers is quite small, and there weren’t many opportunities for women to pray or listen to khutbahs,” she said.
Most of Hafsa’s religious education took place at home, where she was taught how to pray by her mother and her grandmother. But, attending a secondary school with few Muslims, she felt “disconnected from other Muslims”. For her, platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are particularly important tools.
“I follow a lot of Islamic reminders pages,” she said, citing Instagram influencers including Ethereal Bliss, Sadia Siddiki and Safiya’s Designs. These accounts, which command followings in the tens of thousands, host stylish visuals that blend Islamic images with verses from the Qur’an and the hadiths.
“I’m not the most practising Muslim, but these are a good way to remind me to be thankful to Allah. They’re really nice to see when I wake up in the mornings and head straight to my phone. I used to just watch random stuff for hours,” she said. “It reminds me how short life is and how I should make the most of it.”
The majority of Gen Z Muslims interviewed for this article said they would seek “religious advice” only from qualified imams and well-known Islamic scholars. However, some said they sought a looser kind of “spiritual advice” from Muslim social media influencers.
Hafsa cited the TikTok account of Muslim public figures, including Mariah Idrissi, who made headlines as the first hijabi model for the clothing brand H&M, and the make-up influencer Sheikh Beauty, as sources of guidance on how to experiment with her personal style while keeping within Islamic ideals of modesty.
A number of Gen Z Muslim men spoke of taking a similar approach to separating religious and more general spiritual advice. Mustafa, 24, from Leeds, works in project management. He said that while he didn’t “seek religious knowledge” from them, he enjoyed watching videos by dawah influencers — religious proselytisers who aim to convince people to convert to Islam — such as Ali Dawah and Mohammed Hijab.
Both men have amassed hundreds of thousands of views with provocative posts on subjects ranging from the “incoherence of Christianity” to whether men want to marry women who have careers. In recent years, their profiles have grown significantly, in part owing to amplification from right-wing public figures such as Jordan Peterson. Mustafa emphasised that he did not, by any means, consider influencers to be religious authorities.
“I have to remind people that these people aren’t scholars. They are spreading Islam, which is good, alhamdulillah, but nobody should be seeking knowledge on YouTube,” he said.
Mustafa added that he believes some influencers “care more about attention than spreading positive messages about Islam”. One such figure is Andrew Tate, a British former kickboxer now under arrest in Romania on suspicion of human trafficking. In recent months, Tate has gained a large social media following, including of a significant number of Muslims, attracted by his messages promoting so-called “traditional” masculinity.
“A lot of my friends still share his videos on Instagram, TikTok and in our group chats,” Mustafa said. “I am worried sometimes that they take what he says too seriously because he is a celebrity who says good things about Islam. Some people I know treat him like he’s a shaykh.”
While many of the young Muslims who spoke to Hyphen for this article believe that social media is a positive part of their lives that helps them in their journeys with faith, some are more hesitant.
Mishti Ali, 21, a student at the University of Cambridge, believes that marginalised groups, including LGBTQ+ Muslims, now face a more hostile environment online than ever before and that few public or digital spaces exist in which they can openly express their gender identities, and the ways they intersect with their Islamic beliefs.
“If you’re part of any marginalised group, it’s really easy to lose faith in the Ummah if all you see is the online version,” Ali said, adding that some Muslim influencers have taken advantage of social media to spread hateful messages regarding gender and sexual expression.
Though some young Muslims believe that the increasing use of social media as a source of religious and spiritual advice is inevitable, many make efforts to limit how much they rely on it.
Ali-Reza Manji, a 24-year-old Shi’a Muslim who lives in north London, watches religious lectures on social issues from speakers around the world and visits online forums such as Shiachat when he finds himself unsure of a particular religious decree. However, he explained that on personal matters he still would prefer to seek advice from an alim — an Islamic scholar — at his local mosque.
“While there are a lot of resources on the internet, there is also a lot more misinformation that can be harmful for people in desperate situations,” he said. “At the end of the day, whether it’s online or offline, if you’re going to take religious advice, it should be from someone who is learned in that religion.”
• Read more on Hyphen’s exclusive Gen Z Poll
‘There are many hidden Muslim gems in London’s history’
AbdulMaalik Tailor, the founder of Muslim History Tours, is on a mission to show everyone an often-ignored side of the UK capital
Why politicians should heed the King’s words by encouraging a common civic identity
Britain’s political parties should take lessons from King Charles and encourage good relations between people of all faiths and creeds
‘You get art but then you also get something edible’
Young Muslim bakers have turned their lockdown hobby into decorative cake making start-ups with the help of Instagram