Muslim influencers: Why do we follow them?
Seven months in, 2020 has proven a hard year for influencers. The coronavirus pandemic that swept across the world saw many millionaire YouTubers and Instagrammers struggling to make ends meet, as advertising contracts were cut and lockdown measures limited content production. The industry was also the target of criticism in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests across the world after many social media stars failed to voice their support for anti-racist demonstrations and were observed using the protests as a photo opportunity.
Finally, controversy erupted in the Muslim community last month after another prominent hijabi influencer announced that she had decided to remove her hijab.
Such events warrant a now well-worn series of responses: the news that a famous Muslim woman has removed her hijab is first met with anger and abuse from followers, and increasingly “reaction videos” from fellow YouTubers. Many Muslim women then take understandable offense to the way in which a fellow sister is being treated for what they claim is a private decision. A discussion then begins on whether the hijab constitutes a private or public action, whether it is fair to attribute “role model” status to fashion bloggers, and if public concern is understandable given the hijab businesses many influencers profit from.
Yet, in the never-ending cycle of unanswerable questions surrounding individual YouTubers and their decisions, there seems to be little engagement with the Islamic validity of the concept of “influencers” as a whole. A discourse often biased towards female influencers, the fact remains that men as well as women — including Islamic figures — are consuming and creating social media content, often generating vast incomes from such work. With 40% of millennials believing that their favourite creators understand them more than their friends, influencer culture warrants an interrogation in light of Islamic ethics.