Evolution of Discourse and Communication Technology
Translation from Farsi by Ali Asghar
to the end that some water may reach a generation after us.
Although (in) every generation there is one who brings the
word (of God), yet the sayings of them that have gone before are helpful.(1)
The stream of discourse that had been flowing inside books, when it reached the modern era, took over the space and with radio and television waves turned the expanse of discourse into audio-visual! And pictures showed another dimension of transmitting beauty and ugliness.
In recent decades, the communication technology that has been named information explosion or Informatic revolution, saves information in iCloud and transmits it with the help of internet, iPhone, iPad, android into social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Telegram, ... and satellites preserve every statement and writing permanently.
The last presidential elections in the United States and in Iran provided an arena for utilizing the [post] modern tools of communication, as well as a trial and testing field for their volunteers and supporters, regarding true and false promises, self-control or degrading and insulting the opponent, in true and/or fake audio, pictorial and print propaganda, or whatever [medium] used for this matter.
Now, another Ramadan has arrived and believers are preparing for self-revitalization in such [devious] atmosphere and culture. The most essential goal of fasting [during the month of] Ramadhaan, originated from introduction of its related edicts in the Qur'an(2), is to strengthen the brake of "taqwaa [virtue]" and self-control on the slope of self-desire toward anger, lust, greed and various moral deviations. This precept begins with the practice of abstinence from eating and drinking, which is for everyone [except in the case of traveling, sickness, advanced pregnancy, nursing a baby, and so forth], every day, everywhere, and unlike the common understanding, is the easiest part, in order to develop and elevate the ability of the fasting person when encountering more difficult obstacles.
Taqwaa [virtue, mindfulness towards one's thought, word and action], in relation to God, self and people, spreads out to other subject matters. Actualization of virtue in relation to God and oneself is not visible. Yet, its strength and weakness can be seen and judged mainly in relation to "people." In the meantime, our most important and continuous tool of communication with people is "tongue [language, discourse, speech]." Tongue is the speaker of the government of the body, in which both sting and sweetness are instilled. Thus, self-revitalization and faith depend [at least partly] on tongue. According to the Prophet of Islam's explicit statement, "The belief of no servant of God is right unless his heart is right; also, his heart is not right unless his tongue is right." Also, this word of wisdom from the Leader of Believers that, "By God, I saw no servant of God with beneficial virtue, unless guarding his tongue."(3)
But what is meant by tongue (language)? Is it this multi-functional faculty in the mouth, or is it itself a tool and instrument for something else!? Where the Qur'an declares that, "We did not send any apostle [Messenger] except with the language of its people, so that he might make [Our message] clear to them"(4), is it other than the speech and culture of communication with people? And also, where it says, "..., while this is a clear Arabic language"(5), is that anything other than explaining a clear message.
The contemporary people around the Prophet of Islam were illiterate, and rarely was anyone able to read and write; their culture was oral (shafha, tongue), and they expressed what was in their heart [and mind] through their mouth. Much emphatic advice of the Prophet of Islam and religious authorities about virtue [piety/ mindfulness and control] of language [or effat-e kalaam/modesty in word/speech], as well as taming discourse, was relevant to the oral culture of tribal society in14th century Arabia. However, it did not take long that in accordance with the teachings of the Qur'an and the Prophet's recommendation, for Muslims to gradually became literate; hence, pen and book began assisting tongue, and its range from those present reached to those absent, and from the present addressees to the future ones, the written culture moved beyond the oral culture, ...; thus, the field of taqwaa [virtue and piety] has greatly expanded in today's world of internet communications.
In the past, when people saw those whom they knew, there was, more or less, a certain shame and modesty against [using] repulsive speech and insult; so was the case in writing when the writer was known, and such borders were often observed. But today, some of the comments posted on the internet against political opponents, movie actors, sports figures, ... are astonishingly abusive.
If in religious edicts, gossip, slander, spreading rumors, and so forth, are forbidden, such matters at the initiation of the relevant edict had limited borders. But today, in the global village, this [such socially destructive behavior] is rapidly spreading all over the world, and its microbe is contagiously communicated to all.
If until yesterday, testimonies of four people were required to prove that adultery had taken place, today the post-modern technology has penetrated into the privacy of homes; and in a city like London, cameras installed at every corner of every place are continuously taking thousands of pictures of citizens and foreigners! If in religious laws, spying and spreading indecency are forbidden, today a failed lover takes revenge on her/his disloyal paramour by shamelessly taking hidden such and such pictures of her/him and exhibiting them in the virtual world for millions of people.
At this time and age, for haltering self by controlling tongue, Ramadan has a much wider meaning than what has been given in books of religious praxis about things that void fasting. How can we harmonize the religious edicts of oral culture, which has been distanced so far from the cultures that are beyond national boundaries, considering the individual and social circumstances of today's world when "techno-politic and communication technology" write the destiny of nations. Could the books of religious jurisprudence be updated so the language-related acts that void fasting are not [only] those of telling lies against God and the Messenger? [But rather, any abusive discourse, gossip, lies, slander and foul language against people and their integrity be also added to other acts that nullify fasting?]
Qur'an questions: "O you who believe! Why do you say what you do not do? It is greatly outrageous [anger-generating, odious] to Allah that you should say what you do not do."(6) The expression, "khashm-e kabeer [great anger]" in Qur'an is used only and only in this matter! Should this admonition be applied only to individual relations?
Should avoidance of mocking one another, of excoriating [faultfinding], of calling bad names, of suspicion, and spying on people's affairs, ... that have been explicitly detailed in the most ethical [and moral] oriented chapter of the Qur'an, Al-Hujurat , continue to be relevant [and applied] only to individual relations?
Qur'an warns: "When you were propagating it with your tongues, and uttering with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you counted it a little thing, while with Allah it was very great."(7) Do our real and virtual domestic and external mass media, especially the extensive Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting system, that reaches out to the remotest villages and advocates itself to be defender of values and principals, actively observe such warning?
According to the wise words of Imam-e 'Aarefaan [Leader of the Cognizant, Imam Ali (as)]: "There is many a person who fasts, whose fast is nothing but just hunger and thirst, and many an offerer of prayers whose prayer is no better than wakefulness and hardship. The sleep as well as the eating and drinking of the intelligent (good-knowing) person is far better."(8) "When the disabled fall short in performing act of obedience to Allah, the Glorified, it is a good opportunity given by Allah for the intelligent to perform such acts."(9)
1- Masnavi Molavi, Book 3, Couplets 2537 & 2538, A. R. Nicholson's Translation of Masnavi