Assurance is offered that as time goes by the world will become more united, that it will form itself into a brotherly communion by shortening distance and transmitting thought through the air. Alas, do not believe in such a unification of men. In construing freedom as the multiplication and speedy satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they engender within themselves many senseless and stupid desires, habits and most absurd inventions.  –Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov (1880)

Is the Internet a force for good in the world? The wonderfully courageous democratic activists in Iran are using Twitter and other social networking media to powerful effect. At the same time, in the U.S. at least, the boom in electronic communication over the last couple of years has meant that families are spending less time together.

Facebook is a curious phenomenon. Most of my Facebook friends I have never met in person. Is our friendship really friendship, or is it a synapse in the self-organizing neural network of cyberspace? A bit of both, I suspect.

What I like about Facebook is that it is an apt metaphor for tawajjuh. Tawajjuh is an Arabic verbal noun derived from wajh, “face.” In Sufism, it denotes the practice of turning one’s spiritual face toward the face of another within the sphere of the heart.

These words of my grandfather’s may help to explain the underlying concept: “Each one has his circle of influence, large or small; within his sphere so many souls and minds are involved... The size of a man’s sphere corresponds to the extent of his sympathy, or we may say, to the size of his heart. His sympathy holds his sphere together.”

The Sufi mystic makes a daily practice of extending sympathy to all who occupy her heart by means of tawajjuh. The basic form of the practice is not so different from Facebook.

The Facebook user enters the site with a password. The mystic enters the space of the heart with the invocation of a Divine Name. The Facebook user scans the latest news posted by his friends. The mystic intuitively senses the condition of the souls that reside within her heart-space. The Facebook user sends messages and comments. The mystic sends emanations of peace and blessing.

The Internet can be, and all too frequently is, a vehicle for "stupid desires" and "absurd inventions." But, in my experience, it can also be a conduit for genuine love and service. When the heart is awake, whether online or off, wheresoever you turn, there is God’s Face.



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Comments (7)
  • Dear Pir Zia,

    Thank you for so clearly articulating feelings that have emerged in my heart about Facebook. And, in fact, in my daily practice of tawajjuh I now also contemplate all of my new Facebook friends, known and unknown.
    In sincere friendship,

    — Junayad Moore on June 23, 2009

  • Dear Pir Zia,

    How refreshing to hear your thoughts about Facebook. As a person with limited resources for travel, I must say that I truly appreciate the doors that Facebook has opened to friends in other places. Thanks to Facebook, I have a new friend in Alexandria, Egypt and we “visit” every weekend by talking on Skype, sometimes for hours. Thanks to her, I have been introduced to the films of Youssef Chahine, and much more. For us, it has been a blessing.

    — Lisa on June 24, 2009

  • I have sometimes wondered why I have “friends” on Facebook whom I have never even met.  What does it mean, “friend”? Now I realize that, at the very least, I can send a faz’l blessing to each of these friends, known and unknown, as part of my daily practice.  And, if they want, my “friends” can do the same for me. Will this transform the world?  Maybe a little bit. I don’t know what those with tens of thousands of “friends” can do, but that’s not (yet) my problem.  As Murshid observed, there is a gain in every loss and a loss in every gain.

    — Sharif Munawwir on June 25, 2009

  • This is exquisite this weaving of heaven and earth. I so enjoyed reading it. I have a daughter Ellie ....one of her friends… that we met online!!! is from Argentina….when we first saw her by webcam - we were delighted..then in a year she came to our home in North Carolina to visit with other friends as well…such a dear connection and we got to learn of her culture and life and share ours…The face God .thank you for this remembering, reminder and call all at once.

    — sophia dilkusha on June 30, 2009

  • I’ve never been on facebook, nor do i have much interest in doing so.  Nevertheless, Pir Zia’s opening comment evokes for me the following lines. 

    ‘He said to me Who are the people of the fire?
    ‘I said to him They are the people of the exterior letter.

    ‘He said to me Who are the people of the garden?
    ‘I said to him They are the people of the hidden letter.

    ‘He said to me What is the exterior letter?
    ‘I said to him Knowledge that does not lead to reality.

    ‘He said to me What is the hidden letter?
    ‘I said nowledge through which you reveal yourself.

    ‘He said to me What is reality?
    ‘I said Sincerity.

    ‘He said to me What is Sincerity?
    ‘I said Turning toward your face.

    ‘He said to me What is self-revelation?
    ‘I said What you meet in the heart of your lovers.


    — Malik McCormick on July 7, 2009

  • Great piece!  There is an undeniable power to Facebook and other social media outlets. It breaks down barriers and allows us to connect with one another.  Our companions in the web-sphere reach beyond social barriers, age, and socio-economic boundaries.  The only negative is that you do need a computer and internet access.  Even though I do not know the voice of every one of my Facebook friends I do indeed benefit by sharing my life with them.

    PS. Pir ZIa we are FB buddies.

    — Nur Samad Bernhardt on July 8, 2009

  • Western Wall Twitter Service Lets Jews Tweet A Prayer To God

    — Lisa on July 26, 2009

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