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Unplugging for Ramadan.

Early last July, when Tariq al Barwani, founder of Knowledge Oman, suddenly cut off from all social networking sites on the web, he left most of his followers and friends surprised. For a compulsive social media user like him, who tweeted an average of five to six tweets a day and made it a point to reply to his emails and Facebook messages almost immediately, Barwani's elusiveness did not seem very normal. When Barwani re-surfaced on the web a month later, he would justify his disappearance as a 'social media detox' undertaken for the holy month of Ramadan. "I really enjoyed the experience as it helped me focus on Ramadan's blessings," he says.

Compulsive web tracking has become a bane of our age. And stealing a few trivial minutes of amusement on social media, just about a norm. Being addicted then, would be an understatement. Little wonder why a new age self-imposed fast is slowly catching up among social media addicts and users alike, especially during Ramadan, when laying off the web or restricting time spent social networking isn't uncommon.

After successfully staying off the web last year, Barwani is continuing his detox programme this time around too. "Though instead of giving it up completely, I will use it moderately and only disconnect during the last 10 days of the holy month," he says. "Social media is definitely addictive. If one is simply wasting time there, it only makes sense to give up on it for a while."

But while some feel that incorporating a social media fast fits into the paradigm of abstinence during Ramadan, the argument is whether it is a valid give-up.

Omer Khan, an avid social media user and head of operations at Al-Qurum Universal, doesn't see a problem with people choosing to fast from networking sites. "Ramadan is a month where we are asked to abstain from certain things. If people want to add social media to this list, there's nothing wrong," he says.

Shilpa Lefeer-Viraj, a homemaker and mother of four, however, finds the idea of a social media fast "facetious". Nonetheless, she is not surprised that it's happening. "Technology has become so intrusive that an hour doesn't go by when you haven't checked Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp or Instagram. Ramadan provides an opportunity for a physical and spiritual reboot - social media is the biggest barrier for many people to achieve that," she says.

Both Khan and Shilpa will be keeping a low profile on social media through this month, but Khan says, "it is only a voluntary act and has no direct religious connotations". "Personally, I find social media more obtrusive than constructive during Ramadan and that's why I lay off it for a while," he says.

"I just feel that I can have less of people tweeting about 'I am so hungry,' 'I am so thirsty' or the famous 'Oh so sleepy zzzzz' coupled with a sprinkling of rants here and there. It's Ramadan! We all know you will be hungry, thirsty and sleepy," Khan says, adding that one should instead try and spend this time engaging in activities more suited for this period, like reading the Quran or praying.

This is also the reason why social networking takes a backseat for some, argues Lamya al Kiyumi, co-founder of Mommy & Me and Pop!. "Ramadan is a month to reflect and contemplate. A month of spirituality. Some people feel that instead of spending time online, they could utilise it to engage in spiritual activities."

That's how Shilpa sees it too. "Ramadan is when I look into myself and try to list my shortcomings, so I can work on them the rest of the year. When off social media, I am mentally present in what I am doing and conscious of my actions," she says.

And while it may seem like people prefer restricting web use during this month, research agency The Online Project painted a very different picture on the issue in its 2013 survey titled 'Social Media in Ramadan'. Contrary to popular belief, the survey revealed that Facebook and Twitter engagement in the MENA region actually rose by 30 and 33 per cent respectively during Ramadan.

Saba al Busaidi, digital communications specialist at Omran says that it is probably because people tend to share and post a lot of information related to Ramadan on the web.

"I actually become more active during this time, specifically after Maghreb. Social media contains a lot of positive and useful information that could be interesting to my followers," she says. Saba's job involves monitoring a lot of the trends, hashtags and posts on the Internet, making it impossible for her to disconnect.

But no matter how much one tries to keep off social media, one can't deny how indispensable it has become to our lives today.

"If Maslow (Abraham Harold Maslow, the psychologist) were alive he would probably have put out a 'Hierarchy of needs 1.2' and featured 'Internet connectivity' somewhere between food and water in the physiological needs. Web connectivity is important irrespective of the time of year. It has become an integral part of our everyday lives," argues Khan.

Disconnecting comes at its own risk. "The virtual world is talking, and it needs to be heard. There's a lot of work that gets done there, than in the real world. If you are offline, it's impossible to not feel the pinch," says Mohsin al Shuaili, digital communications manager, Oman Sail.

Instead of incorporating new things into one's fast, Khan suggests looking inward.

"We need to revamp our behaviour. We need to give up on lying, backbiting, fighting, complaining, ranting, the list can go on," he says, because, "Ramadan is more about detoxing the soul rather than the body."

Tariq al Barwani

Ramadan is a month to reflect and contemplate:

A month of spirituality. Some people feel that instead of spending time online, they could utilise it to engage in spiritual activities.

Lamya al Kiyumi

Personally, I find social media more obtrusive than constructive during Ramadan and that's why I lay off it for a while. I just feel that I can have less of people tweeting about 'I am so hungry,' 'I am so thirsty' or the famous 'Oh so sleepy zzzzz' coupled with a sprinkling of rants here and there

Omer Khan

I actually become more active during this time, specifically after Maghreb. Social media contains a lot of positive and useful information that could be interesting to my followers

Saba al Busaidi

Ramadan is when I look into myself and try to list my shortcomings, so I can work on them the rest of the year. When off social media, I am mentally present in what I am doing and conscious of my actions

Shilpa Lefeer-Viraj

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Publication:The Week (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Jun 25, 2015
Words:1135
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