The internet is a truly marvelous invention. In a matter of seconds, we can transmit ideas and content across the entire world. With social media, we’re able to see news and opinions from people and places otherwise unavailable. We’re able to share research and compile information at a rate that’s never been reached before. And of course we can watch countless videos of children falling over.
Of course, we’ve found the best (or arguably the worst) use for this amazing invention: memes. If you don’t already know what memes are, you’re a liar. They’ve permeated into every aspect of our society, and now into the area of religion.
Of course, not everyone likes these religious memes. There’s a certain reverence that comes with religion and associations with the divine, as well as a decorum that comes with the practice of any faith. Making jokes about the religion can be seen as trivialization or even outright disrespect.
And while it’s easy to believe that the newest generation is ruining literally everything (which is already a tired meme, in and of itself), what if this shift toward Ismaili Memes is actually beneficial not only to the community, but to the practice of the faith. In a time of rapid change in our secular communities, and less so in our religious communities, maybe memes can bridge the disconnect. As reiterated by the Imam for Diamond Jubilee: our faith should be providing us comfort. And memes are certainly a way to do that.
If you go to the facebook pages or the subreddits, you’ll notice that they foster a community. This community is of people sharing similar ideas in a shared language. More often than not they’re very constructive and encouraging to each other; even the occasional naysayer helps to unite the rest of the group. These pages provide a home (خانه “khana” in Persian) for a group (جماعتِ “jamaat” in Arabic) because if missionaries can use puns to get their point across, so can I. While many online groups are built around a shared interest, these religious groups are also inclusive of a shared experience. Thus, the content that is created and shared is relatable to those who engage with it.
Memes provide an easy way to share these kinds of experience in a way that’s accessible to a large audience. They use common tropes and simple language in order to convey their meaning. In fact, the vast majority of comments under any Ismaili meme I’ve seen are simply friends tagging other people, demonstrating the power of sharing experiences that memes provide. And in a time when a lot of the aspects of the faith seem to be just out of reach, either because of language or institutional barriers, a channel of communication is important for any community.
One of the main tenets of Ismailism is the duality of the sacred and the profane: one simply cannot exist without the other. I see these memes as a perfect merging of the two already inextricable fields. For one, embracing this form of communication allows religious concepts and language to penetrate into a space that wasn’t always considered for its religious attribution. Not only that, but it encourages the presence religious remembrance (ذِکْر “zikr/dhikr” in Arabic) outside of designated prayer spaces, something encouraged by any Muslim school of thought.
Muslim scholars throughout history have said that remembrance of God should be in every action we perform, in every word that we say, and in every breath that we take; I’ll add that remembrance of God should be in every dank meme that we create. If we’re creating things that make others smile and bring the community closer together, we should embrace it. After all, happiness is a gift from God. So, go forth and make memes, make parody music videos, express yourself in whatever way you feel. Unless you’re in Jamatkhana, in which case, turn off your dang phone.