As a teenager I used to tell stories to get myself out of trouble, only sometimes I got me in deeper trouble. Storytelling is often overused, misused, and abused. Today storytelling is used as a tool to amplify brand awareness, stand out from the crowd, and just get more sales.
If you are Muslim and thinking about how to use storytelling to sell your ideas, products or services, or for your social media content, there are a few things you should know about. Storytelling in the past is used to teach noble ideas that could transcend generations. There some ethical considerations in storytelling that you should consider first before you finalize your story.
Storytelling has been around for centuries and it has been used for various purposes. It has been used for both noble goals and the indoctrination of false propaganda. It can make people feel justified for killing the innocents like the people in Iraq by creating a carefully crafted story about Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Storytelling also has been manipulated by capitalists to sell products. Santa Claus which we see in every country during Christmas, which no church in the world sanction is a result of an advertising campaign by Coca-Cola as early as the 1930s.
Storytelling done today where we find everybody telling their story on social media, building narrative is normally the opposite to their actual reality.
In the west the word ‘story’ itself implies the lack of truth. You probably hear people say “it is just a story”. One accomplished storyteller in his masterclass goes as far as saying.that the story does not have to be true but the lesson must be true.
If we look at history, the reason why Western historians refuse to accept hadith as a valid source of historical record is because to them it is just a story. Yet for Muslims it is not just a story, it is validated by a strict chain of narrators, the number of narrators and the character of narrators in which they are known as truthful people, not having known to lie. It is even stricter than most of the written historical documents accepted at face value by Western historians.
The Quran relied heavily on stories to convey a message. In fact, they manage to transform generations after generations. In another word, stories in the Quran convert people to be better.
The best stories are told in the Quran, so it would be ridiculous for Muslims to look elsewhere. But as always the Quran is the last place that we look for answers. Most often then not unvalidated ideas from Ted Talk is often used to make our decision.
Here are some ethical considerations if you want to use storytelling in whatever you’re trying to achieve:
The most important thing is that your story must be true. So the idea that the story doesn’t need to be true does not apply here. Stories in the Quran are all absolute truth and they focus on the important things. All hadith have a strict chain of narration that must not be broken in order to be accepted.
This is our tradition, truth is the central theme of our religion, so whatever story you are telling for whatever purpose, it has to be factually true. This does not mean, you can’t use good storytelling techniques, metaphors, the climax to make the story interesting. But whatever story you tell must be true.
By insisting on telling only true stories, it forces us to look towards reality. Oftentimes, the reality is more interesting than imagination. Every reality is a story, you just have to look in the right places.
We have this notion that other people’s lives are more interesting than ours. Their achievements are greater than ours. This indicates there is a lack of gratitude on our part. When you don’t have gratitude, you will repel success instead of attracting it.
Whatever story that you tell you must do it consistently, In the Quran there are stories that are repeated over and over again. the repetition of the same story attracts people’s attention and urges them to give it great consideration.
Now with social media, you can see everybody trying to tell their story. Some of them do have a good story to tell but not many have the consistency to tell it often enough. Consistency is the key to whatever message you are trying to convey.
We see all these people who are telling their stories on social media, some of them do have good stories to tell but after a few posts, they lose momentum and stop telling their stories. Anyone can come up with a good story, but only a few can tell it consistently with grit.
Recently, I came across somebody on LinkedIn who narrates about the time when he became Muslim. His story was about how his father kicked him out of the house because he embraced Islam. He told the same story first in Arabic and then in English. The only thing I learned was his father was a heartless bigot who kicked his son out of his house.
As Muslims, we don’t run down our families to build our own personal branding. Some stories are better left untold. Your story must not be at the expense of people you are supposed to treat with dignity and respect.
In Western storytelling, the story is a tool to achieve an objective. As a Muslim, I always think that a story is also a tool. But it is a tool for an altruistic motive and not ulterior motive.
You must now find the purpose of you telling the story, whether to unite the ummah, to serve, or to trigger a paradigm shift. Any increase in sales or strengthening of personal branding is merely a byproduct of telling your story.
Sometimes you feel compelled to share a story because of a sudden burst of inspiration. Inspiration rather than a carefully crafted message. You need to define what is the message that you want to convey, how often you want to do it, which audience will benefit from your story.
This will give you clarity about the story you want to tell. Once you gain clarity of purpose, you’ll notice your inspiration will serve your purpose.
You must remember as Muslims, efforts do not equal results. We do our best, to Allah we leave the rest. No matter how captivating your stories the result and impact is from Allah. I lost count how many times my stories which I thought nobody would read went viral. There are also times where I put all my heart and soul into writing a story.
You can put in the effort which you must but the result is out of your control. So we have to just do our part, that is to tell truthful and meaningful stories. If you tell your story often enough sooner or later, when you least expected, you’ll make a breakthrough.
Halalop Editor’s Note: Ethical marketing as a way to achieve barakah in business is discussed in this article:
Shahfizal Musa is the Founder and Managing Editor of Halalop. He graduated with a Law degree from Thames Valley University London. He is an award-winning journalist covering topics such as human trafficking, Muslim research discoveries, and exceptional Muslims.
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