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Divine impoliteness: How Arabs negotiate Islamic moral order on Twitter

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Abstract

In this paper, I examine impoliteness-oriented discourse on Arabic Twitter as a resource for the negotiation of Islamic moral order. I do so by highlighting the responses Arabs post in reaction to a tweet which attacks Islamic cultural face. As the triggering act poses an indirect request to change an authoritative Islamic practice deemed immoral by the instigator of the tweet, sundry responses were generated to repair the damaged collective face through keeping intact or arguing against the questionable moral order. The main strategy I identify as a response to the professed face-attack is divine (im)politeness, intertextually referencing religious texts in favor of (or against) the existing (im)moral order. The rites of moral aggression also draw upon questions, provocation, personal attacks and projection of Islamic behavior onto unaddressed third parties (e.g., Christians and Hindus). The findings capture one moment of a historic shift in Islamic moral order and the role that impoliteness plays in digital Arabic contexts.
Russian Journal of Linguistics 2019 Vol. 23 No. 4 1039—1064
http://journals.rudn.ru/linguistics
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1039
DOI: 10.22363/2312-9182-2019-23-4-1039-1064
Research Article
Divine impoliteness:
How Arabs negotiate Islamic moral order
on Twitter
Najma Al Zidjaly
Department of English Language and Literature,
College of Arts & Social Sciences,
Sultan Qaboos University
P. O. Box. 42, Seeb, Oman
Abstract
In this paper, I examine impoliteness-oriented discourse on Arabic Twitter as a resource for the negotiation
of Islamic moral order. I do so by highlighting the responses Arabs post in reaction to a tweet which attacks
Islamic cultural face. As the triggering act poses an indirect request to change an authoritative Islamic
practice deemed immoral by the instigator of the tweet, sundry responses were generated to repair
the damaged collective face through keeping intact or arguing against the questionable moral order.
The main strategy I identify as a response to the professed face-attack is divine (im)politeness, intertextually
referencing religious texts in favor of (or against) the existing (im)moral order. The rites of moral aggression
also draw upon questions, provocation, personal attacks and projection of Islamic behavior onto unaddressed
third parties (e.g., Christians and Hindus). The findings capture one moment of a historic shift in Islamic
moral order and the role that impoliteness plays in digital Arabic contexts.
Keywords: Impoliteness, moral order, Twitter, Arab identity, intertextuality, authoritative texts, cultural
face, rites of moral aggression
For citation:
Al Zidjaly, Najma (2019). Divine impoliteness: How Arabs negotiate Islamic moral order on Twitter.
Russian Journal of Linguistics, 23 (4), 10391064. doi: 10.22363/2312-9182-2019-23-4-1039-1064.
Научная статья
«Божественная невежливость»:
как арабы обсуждают исламский
моральный порядок в Твиттере
Наджма Аль Зиджали
Университет имени султана Кабуса, Оман
P. O. Box. 42, Сиб, Оман
Аннотация
В статье проанализированы дискурсивные особенности дискуссий на тему исламского морального
порядка, которые ведутся в арабском Твиттере и часто носят невежливый характер. Особое внимание
уделяется отдельным высказываниям арабов, которые опубликованы в ответ на записи в Твиттере,
Наджма Аль Зиджали. Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2019. Т. 23. № 4. С. 1039—1064
1040 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
смысл которых сводится к критике традиционного исламского общества. Поскольку инициирующий
акт содержит косвенный запрос на изменение официальных исламских практик (традиций), которые
инициатор твита считает аморальными, они вызывает ответные реакции, нацеленные на восста-
новление морального урона, нанесенного исламскому обществу. Было выявлено, что оно ведется
не через прямую аргументацию, а при помощи косвенных приемов, основным из которых является
интертекстуальность, ссылки на религиозные тексты, поддерживающие или осуждающие сущест-
вующий порядок. Отмечено, что моральная агрессия осуществляется в виде провокационных
вопросов, личных нападок и проецирования исламского поведения на третьи стороны (например,
христиан и индусов). Результаты исследования свидетельствуют об историческом сдвиге в ислам-
ском моральном (нравственном) порядке и той роли, которую невежливость играет в цифровой
коммуникации.
Ключевые слова: невежливость, нравственный порядок, Твиттер, арабская идентичность,
интертекстуальность, авторитетные тексты, моральная агрессия
Для цитирования:
Al Zidjaly, Najma (2019). Divine impoliteness: How Arabs negotiate Islamic moral order on Twitter.
Russian Journal of Linguistics, 23 (4), 10391064. doi: 10.22363/2312-9182-2019-23-4-1039-1064.
1. Introduction
Within Arabic Islamic contexts, technology is found at the center of social and
religious activism. Examples include Omanis’ use of cassette tapes to disseminate
religious sermons to the masses in the 1980s (Eickelman 1989), young women’s use
of mobile technology in the Arabian Gulf to challenge Arab gender norms in the 1990s
(Al Zidjaly and Gordon 2012), Arabs’s Habermasian digital religious and political
debates in the 2000s (Eickleman and Anderson 2003), and their appropriation of Yahoo
chatrooms and the WhatsApp chatting messenger to revisit sociocultural concerns and
reconstruct Arab identity from the bottom up (Al Zidjaly 2010, 2014, 2017a). Across
these examples and platforms, Arabs have continually, creatively, and surreptitiously
used emerging technologies to circumvent their society’s limits on free expression
and enact political and social activism (KhosraviNik and Sarkhoh 2017; Nordenson 2018;
Sinatora 2019a, 2019b; Sumiala and Korpiola 2017; Zayani 2018). Therefore, as
demonstrated by my decade-long ethnographic examination of Arab identity on social
media, from the inception of new media technology (and, in particular, Yahoo chat-
rooms), Arabs have appropriated social media platforms as a tool to incite social and
political change by turning traditionally nonnegotiable discourses into ones which are
open for discussion (see Al Zidjaly 2010, 2012, 2019a, 2019b, 2020). Further examining
the extent of such activities would help fill a critical gap in digital discourse research,
given the centrality of Arab identity to international concerns (Nordenson 2018) and
the complexity of Arab identity based on religion (versus language or geography;
Lewis 2001).
In this paper, I explore the linguistic strategies used by a group of Arabs on Twitter
in responding to an aggravating tweet that questions a ubiquitous cultural practice. To do
so, I build on research that has identified the role that intertextual references play in face-
work and identity negotiation in digital Arabic contexts (Al Zidjaly 2010, 2012, 2017b,
2019a; Badarneh 2019; Badarneh and Migdadi 2018; Labben 2018)1. Specifically, I draw
1 Intertextuality has been identified as key to Arabic digital activism (Al Zidjaly 2010, 2017b,
2019a, 2020).
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1041
upon a relational approach toward impoliteness (Locher and Watts 2005) and the con-
cept of moral order (Kádár 2017a), defined as situated cultural norms (Graham 2018)
or a set of ideas and beliefs arranged into an ordered whole or ritualistic practice. I
additionally examine the following research questions: How does a group of Arabs
respond to public cultural face-attacks, especially at a time when the Muslim identity
is undergoing local and global debate? How do they digitally negotiate Islamic moral
order? What role does impoliteness and facework play in shifting Islamic intersubjectivity
on Twitter?
2. Background
2.1. Impoliteness, relational work and the moral order
Impoliteness as a linguistic lens to examine aggravation-oriented pragmatic varia-
tion has undergone two major shifts2. The first shift was a natural consequence of the
relational, discursive turn the general field of Politeness Studies underwent, as led
by Watts (2003), Locher (2006) and Locher and Watts (2005). Accordingly, binary
face-enhancing and face-threatening data were replaced with discourses that include
disagreeable to acrimonic behavior, which, according to Locher and Bolander (2017),
established the importance of face (Goffman 1967) to impoliteness research, although
facework was conceptualized broadly. The interrelation between face and impoliteness
research proved especially beneficial in interpersonal pragmatics, an approach developed
by Locher and Graham (2010) that foregrounds the creation of relationships through
interaction. Graham and Hardaker (2017: 786) posited that interpersonal pragmatics is
particularly important for digital interaction because of its focus on “the ways that
interactants interpret and use their understandings of (im)politeness in given digital
contexts to regulate their identities and interactional choices within emergent dis-
course”. In this view, impoliteness is not only an interactive phenomenon, but also
an interpersonally and culturally embedded social practice. Locher (2015) further noted
that the first shift opened the academic field of impoliteness to multidisciplinary
approaches and methodologies, especially identity construction research (for more
on impoliteness and identity construction, see Garcés-Conejos Blitvich 2018).
The second shift was adopted by a slightly smaller group and concerned the moral
order. As moral order consists of a “cluster of social and personal values that underlie
people’s production and interpretation of (im)polite action”, Kádár (2017a; xii) argued
that investigating impoliteness requires peering into the perception of morality and
interpersonal relationships within the broader context and rituals in which they are based.
A ritual, in particular, can trigger polite or impolite evaluations, as rituals maintain
the order of things and tend to imply a moral stance (Kádár 2017a). Consequently, some
scholars have retheorized impoliteness as a matter of morality (Haugh 2015, 2018;
Kádár 2017a; Kádár and Haugh 2013; Xie 2011, 2018; Xie et al 2005).
The relational, identity, and moral aspects of impoliteness highlight the complexity
involved in impoliteness research, as argued by Xie (2018) in his introduction to a special
2 Although Bou-Franch and Garcés-Conejos Blitvich (2018) argued the existence of a third
multimodal shift, studies of impoliteness have always included various modes.
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1042 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
issue dedicated to examining the multifaceted interrelation between moral order, digital
discourse and different types of impolite-oriented interactions. Three key studies from
the special issue merit mention, as they depict the many ways identity is explored through
impoliteness. First, Reiter and Orthaber’s (2018) study of Slovenian commuters’ impolite
expression of moral indignation on Facebook against bus drivers highlights a historic
moment of socioeconomic change that legitimates moral relativity in times of unrest.
Second, Georgakopoulou and Vasilaki’s (2018) demonstration of impoliteness as
a resource for restoring the moral order of a specific group constructs impoliteness as
a tool to accentuate group identity3. Third, Sinkeviciute’s (2018) take on the relationship
between impoliteness and othering demonstrates how moral transgressions concerning
national identity justify aggressive verbal behavior against the offending party (e.g.,
accusations of drug use and mental ability insults). Collectively, the studies in Xie’s
(2018) special issue on impoliteness and moral order signal the multifunctionality of
impoliteness-oriented utterances and the role that impoliteness as an analytical tool can
play in examining and challenging individual and group identities. Questions regarding
the exact nature of the link between impoliteness, morality and group identity remain,
however.
2.2. Impoliteness and intertextuality in Arabic discourse
Research on impoliteness in Arabic contexts remains sparse and mostly disconnected
from the retheorizations of impoliteness summarized in the previous section. For
instance, a 2017 study by Hammod and Abdul-Rassul on impoliteness strategies
in English and Arabic Facebook comments simply applies Culpeper’s (1996) taxonomy
of impoliteness to the selected examples (see also Mohammed and Abbas 2015)4. The
remaining studies highlight the types of speech acts (e.g., agreement, compliment, apology,
disagreement) used in various Arab countries (e.g., Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia) to provide
an understanding of Arabic communicative styles (e.g., Abdul Sattar et al. 2009; Al-
Adaileh 2011; Alaoui 2011; Al-Shlool 2016; Al-Zumor 2011; Ebadi and Salman 2015;
Emery 2000; Farhat 2013; Feghali 1997; Mazid 2006; Najeeb et al. 2012; Nelson et al.
2002; Samarah 2015). An exception is Tetreault (2015), who examined the linguistic
impoliteness-oriented practices of a group of second-generation Algerian immigrant
teenagers in France: Following Locher and Watts (2005), the author adopted an expan-
sive take on facework, theorizing it as more than mere mitigation of face attacks, to
highlight the teens’ use of Hashek, a North African politeness formula. The analysis
demonstrated how the function of the Arabic formula is changed from showing deference
in the North African discourse contexts to facilitating facework in multiparty contexts
involving peers in France. Tetreault (p. 297) discusses impoliteness strategies “as part
of larger reflexive processes in which meta-pragmatic strategies and language use come
to encompass identity perception beyond the interaction”. The author therefore argues
3 Impoliteness as a tool to protect group identity through othering has also been demonstrated
by Garcés-Conejos Blitvich (2010), Garcés-Conejos Blitvich et al. (2013), Kádár et al. (2013), Mak
and Chui (2014) and Upadhyay (2010).
4 Culpeper (2011) has revised this (1996) taxonomy.
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1043
for a complex view of impoliteness research, especially as it relates to Arabs, given
the centrality of face (i.e., the concept of le respect) in Arabic discourse.
Impoliteness, intertextuality and Arab identity in digital contexts has been the focus
of a growing body of studies, including my own, that demonstrate the centrality of autho-
ritative religious texts in negotiating Islamic identities on various digital platforms.
In Al Zidjaly (2012), I analyzed posts that Arabs of differing backgrounds had left
on the Al Jazeera news agency website in response to an article critiquing Arab cultural
face. I examined this facework through the analytical lens of reasonable hostility
(Tracy 2008), wherein expressing outrage is expected and encouraged in the democratic
discourse endemic to social media (although Arabs were and remain new to this demo-
cratic/civic form of communication). Moreover, I referenced the Goffmanian (1967)
concept of face (i.e., individuals’ public image) to characterize the strategies Arabs used
in the restorative stage (Ting-Toomey 2004) to maintain cultural face (i.e., the collective
face of a nation [Ting-Toomey 1994]). The findings revealed the prevalence of self-
face-attacks in response to the triggering article, which I associated with Arabic cultural
practices of lamenting or self-flagellation (Hegland 1998; Wilce 2005) and getting
the lower hand (Beeman 1986; Al Zidjaly 2006; 2015). I argued that by attacking their
own face, Arabs put themselves at the mercy of more powerful agents, which para-
doxically helps them gain the upper hand and exercise agency (through feeling bad
for them which often leads to helping them out). Al Zidjaly (2010) demonstrated Arab
Muslims’ transformation of authoritative Islamic texts into internally persuasive ones
that bring new understandings to old texts. In another study, Muslim Arab psychologists’
referencing of Islamic authoritative texts in their consultations on an Islamic website
was examined as a means of perpetuating Islamic texts in medical contexts (Al Zidjaly,
2017b). In Al Zidjaly (2019a) and (2020), intertextual religious references served
the function of linguistically repairing Islamic ideologies to better align Islam with twenty
first century tenets.
Building on Al Zidjaly (2010, 2012, 2017b) and Badarneh and Migdadi (2018),
Badarneh (2019) further examined how intertextual references from Arabic religious
and non-religious texts are used by a group of Arab elite intellectuals to perform acts
of impoliteness in reader comments posted to a London-based pan-Arab news agency
platform. The author (11) terms these types of posts as intertextual impoliteness, defined
as “the use of a synchronic or diachronic intertextual reference whose content has
conventionally become, in the Arabic sociocultural context, and from the point of view
of society at large and its “ceremonial idiom” (Goffman 1967, 89), a “symbolic linguistic
means for conveying impoliteness” (Culpeper 2010, 3232)”. Badarneh’s findings suggest
that referencing religious and literary texts in this way positions the post author as
intellectual and oppositional and the other as deserving of the putdown. Having estab-
lished the role of authoritative texts in motivating acts of impoliteness, the implicit nature
of impoliteness as used in the Arabic context is indicated5. This paper further explores
the implicit use of this Arabic cultural practice of implicit impoliteness through inter-
textual references.
5 See also Labben (2018) for more on impoliteness and Arab identity construction.
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1044 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
3. Data and analytical framework
The data set is extracted from a larger longitudinal and ethnographic project on Arab
identity and social media I commenced in 2015 (the impoliteness project is part of the
section on the Arabic Reform Community [Al Zidjaly 2019a])6. Accordingly, I collected
various types of data (e.g., over 50,000 tweets and memes with comments by Arabs from
various religious and political backgrounds) to contextualize the use of impoliteness.
I also collected larger discourses relevant to examining the role that impoliteness plays
in the context of digital religious activism (e.g., the history of Islam, Islamic religious
texts, cultural discourses, beliefs and daily practices).
In this paper, I zoom in on a thread of Twitter responses posted in reaction to
a triggering comment that indirectly questions the morality of an established Islamic
prayer, thus requesting its change (i.e., the questioned prayer or supplication limits
requests of healing to Muslims). The triggering tweet generated 1500 comments; however,
this paper includes only the first 300 comments, as these were posted within days of the
original tweet and the remaining 1200 comments repeated strategies and sentiments
demonstrated in the first 300, indicating the debate was resolved around the 300th
comment. The set of comments selected for analysis represents what Herring (2004)
refers to as sampling by theme (i.e., including the publicly accessible messages in
a particular thread). The thread under analysis was selected because it represents the most
liked, circulated, and commented-upon comments. I further include only first-order
comments (those addressed to author) and exclude replies to comments (Culpeper 2006).
Although I did not contact the tweet author or any commentators for feedback, I was
already aware of the debate and sentiments involved, as I follow the tweet author and
I too am a Muslim reformer.
Analytically, I draw upon Herring’s (2004) computer-mediated discourse analysis
and Bateman’s (2014) multimodal approach to analyze the data. My examination further
integrates recent theorizations of facework and impoliteness (discussed in the previous
section) with the Bakhtinian concept of intertextuality (1981; Kristeva 1980), which
asserts that texts and actions are in constant dialogue with past and future discourses.
Specifically, I theorize impoliteness as an analytical lens to capture the impetus of moral
shift in the Arabic context and intertextuality as crucial to a conceptualization of impo-
liteness as a culturally embedded practice (not just a local achievement). My analysis
distinguishes two types of intertextual references: authoritative discourse, defined
by Bakhtin (1981) as being from the past and closed to negotiation (e.g., the Quran,
considered the word and instructions of God, and the hadiths, the reported sayings
of the prophet of Islam documented in the authoritative books of Sahih Al-Bukhari and
Sahih Al-Muslim); and internally persuasive discourse, which are open for discussion
(e.g., praying for five or three times a day). I necessarily ground the aggravating tweet
and its responses in these larger Islamic discourses, as the actions documented in this
study are representative of various practices Arabs regularly use on social media plat-
forms. Highlighting the role of intertextuality in negotiating Arabic moral order enabled
6 The project, funded by Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, is entitled, The impact of social
media on Omani youth: A multimodal project (SR/ARTS/ENGL/15/01) — 2015—2020.
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1045
me to construct Twitter as a cultural tool (Scollon 2001) of change (in contrast to its
traditional conceptualization as an affiliation medium (Zappavigna 2011). I, therefore,
contribute to the sparse research on impoliteness on Twitter and identify a new
function of impoliteness (i.e., creating a shift in consciousness), which extends well
beyond its role as accentuation of group identity (Kádár et al. 2013) or resistance
of moral order (Graham 2018).
4. Analysis
In this paper, I integrate moral and relational approaches to impoliteness. Im-
politeness is defined herein as a mediated practice that is discursively and culturally
embedded for the purpose of underscoring the “negotiability of the emic understandings
of evaluative concepts such as polite, impolite, rude, etc., and, in connection with this,
to highlight the embeddedness of the observed social practices within their local situated
framework of the moral order (see, e.g., Kádár and Haugh 2013, p. 95)” (Locher
2015: 6). Moral order is defined in this paper as a ritualistic, authoritative practice
engrained in the historical body (Nishida 1958) that requires cultural intersubjectivity
for its change. The analysis section is divided into three parts: 1) the triggering tweet,
2) cultural contextualization to ground the tweet, and 3) the responses to the tweet
(The rites of aggression); the response or comments section is in turn divided into three
subsections: keeping the questioned supplication intact, responding to the first part, and
changing the questioned practice.
4.1. The triggering tweet
The offending event (Jay 1992, 2000) or heckling (Kádár 2017a), as the majority
constructed it, occurred on December 14, 2018. By February 10, 2019, when the data
were collected, 1582 retweets, 5797 likes, and 1500 comments had been generated.
Notwithstanding public condemnation, therefore, many did like the tweet. The author,
animator and principal (Goffman 1967) of the tweet is a writer from the United Arab
Emirates7, as established by his profile with 89,800 followers. Judging by his tweets
and his published novel, he is one of the Arab reformers engaged in propelling forward
the social and religious revolution in Arabia (for details on the Arab Reform Community
see Al Zidjaly 2019a). Unlike Ex-Muslims on Twitter, the author’s tweeting style could
be considered as moderately provocative because he refrains from questioning the Quran
and the hadiths, the two most authoritative texts in Islam. Keywords for analysis are
underlined in the translation.
(1) The triggering tweet and its translation
ﺎﻫﺮﺼﺘﻘﺗﻭ ،ﷲ ﺔﻤﺣﺭ ﺮﺼﺤﺗ ﻡﺯﻻ ﻲﻨﻌﻳ !! " ﻦﻴﻤﻠﺴﻤﻟﺍ ﻰﺿﺮﻣ ﻊﻴﻤﺟ ِﻒﺷﺍ ﻢﻬﻠﻟﺍ " ﻮﻫ ،ﻲﻧﺰﻔﺘﺴﻳ ءﺎﻋﺩ ﺮﺜﻛﺃ ﻰﻠﻋ
ﺔﻴﺳﻭﺪﻨﻬﻟﺍ ﻚﺘﻠﻴﻣﺯﻭ ،ﺾﻳﺮﻤﻟﺍ ﻲﺤﻴﺴﻤﻟﺍ ﻙﺭﺎﺟ ﻲﻨﻌﻳ ..ﻊﻴﻤﺠﻟﺍ ﻞﻤﺸﺗﻭ ﻢﻌﺗ ﺔﻘﻠﻄﻣ ﺎﻬﻛﺮﺘﺗ ﺭﺪﻘﺗ ﺎﻣ ..ﺲﺑ ﻦﻴﻤﻠﺴﻤﻟ ﻲﻓ
!؟ ءﺎﻔﺸﻟﺍ ﻢﻬﻟ ﻰﻨﻤﺘﺗ ﺎﻣ ..ﻞﻤﻌﻟﺍ
The supplication that provokes me the most is, “O Allah heal the Muslim sick”!!
7 Given the sensitivity of the act, ethics and privacy concerns, I have not disclosed the author’s
name and account information.
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1046 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
So, the mercy of Allah must be delimited and restricted to Muslims only.. Can’t yo
u
simply leave it general to include everyone.. That is,
y
our Christian nei
g
hbour who
[happens to be] ill, and your Hindu co-worker.. You don’t wish good health to them ?!
1,582 Retweets 5,797 Likes
This tweet, which consists of two parts, is triggering in three primary ways. First,
by declaring an opinion that the widely practiced prayer is provocative (e.g., The suppli-
cation that provokes me the most)8, the author uses direct expressed agitation to resist
and indirectly construct as immoral an established Islamic moral order (i.e., to pray
for the salvation of Muslims only). Second, the author issues a face-attack wherein he
calls out Muslims on their exclusive acts (thereby indirectly constructing Muslims as
racists by questioning the lack of humanity involved in limiting God’s love to one kind
[Muslims] while excluding others [Christians and Hindus, the two major non-Muslim
identities found in the Islamic Arabian Gulf])9. In total, by inviting debate, the tweet
poses an indirect request (directive) that Arabs turn an authoritative practice into
an internally persuasive one. Third, the triggering tweet features a code switch between
two dialects of Arabic: The first part (e.g., The supplication that provokes me the most)
and the prayer itself (i.e., O Allah heal the Muslim sick) are in classical Arabic, con-
structing the expressed agitation as formal and the prayer as an authoritative text.
The insult or face-attack (e.g., So, the mercy of Allah must be delimited and restricted
to Muslims only ... You don’t wish good health to them?!) is written in colloquial Emirati
dialect, constructing it as informal. This intentional code switch between formal and
colloquial Arabic, termed heteroglossia with awareness (Bakhtin 1981; Tovares 2019),
makes the attack personal.
The intended audience of the face-attack is the Arabian Gulf people, given the
location and nationality of the author of the tweet and his use of the Arabian Gulf dialect,
making the online context less collapsed (Georgakopoulou 2017), rendering it a little
easier to identify the persons involved in the negotiation of an Islamic moral order.
The tweet, however, does reach Arab Christians from Egypt who join to correct mis-
conceptions about their Christian prayer practices10.
4.2. Cultural contextualization
Bousfield (2007: 2188) explained, “impoliteness is only that which is defined
as such by individuals negotiating with the hypothesized norms of the Community
of Practice”. Therefore, what one culture might consider polite might be “sanctioned
aggressive facework” (Watts 2003: 260) or heckling (Kádár 2017a) in another. Thus,
the cultural context merits consideration when reviewing the triggering tweet to
understand how Arabs appraise and respond to such acts.
8 The prayer in question is representative of a long list of inclusive Islamic rituals that bestow
healing and blessings solely upon Muslims.
9 Although Islam is a religion, not a race, the indirect illocutionary force of the tweet constructs
non-Muslims as a different race and Muslims as an imagined race. This is a common mixing of terms
in Arabic discourse.
10 The Islamic world consists of 50 Muslim countries (but only 23 of them identify as Arabic
countries). Out of the 23, 6 identify as Arabian Gulf countries; these include: Oman, Qatar, Bahrain,
Kuwait, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1047
First, one reason that many constructed the triggering act as offensive is because
it was meant to disrupt Islamic intersubjectivity, defined as a display of mutual under-
standing of both conversational activities at hand and larger cultural norms that govern
such conversations and actions (Schegloff 2007) — what Kádár (2017b) names as moral
order or situated norms (Graham 2018). This construction is in line with the kinds
of tweets that the author often posts. The action (and its indirect request to change
the prayer) is also part of a larger reflexivity action that Arabs have been engaged
in since the introduction of Yahoo chatrooms (Al Zidjaly, 2019a, 2020). The main
purpose of this movement is to disrupt assumed norms or intersubjectivity to create a new
Muslim identity which is more accepting of difference by repairing (or changing) Islamic
authoritative texts (the Quran and hadiths), constructed by the reform community
as problematic texts (Al Zidjaly 2020). This paper provides a representative example
of another strategy to create reform by requesting the change of Islamic practices that
are neither Quran nor hadith. Because these practices are not authoritative (i.e., not from
Quran or hadith), change is often carried out by known members of the society (as ques-
tioning them does not result in incarceration). Both groups are part of a movement on
Twitter and YouTube to create a more humanitarian Islam that cares about people of all
background first and Muslim identity second. This is the motto and goal of the Arab
Reform Project. This contextual information is necessary to keep in mind because,
in many instances, what provoked commentators about the triggering tweet’s request
to pray for all instead of for Muslims only is that it is part of an ongoing attack on
Muslim identity and request to reform Islamic texts and practices from outsiders (e.g.,
non-Muslim governments) and insiders (e.g., Muslims) alike. This request to shift
practices pertains to identities and loyalties, and an indirect construction of Muslims
as racists towards non-Muslims (a charge made directly in other contexts) explains their
construction of this tweet as a face-threatening, aggressive act aimed to disrupt. There-
fore, in many of the responses, commentators are addressing both the implied request to,
locally, change the verbal text of the prayer from “heal Muslims” to “heal all”, and,
globally, engage in larger acts of critiquing and reforming Islam. While many of these
acts are carried out by ex-Muslims or outsiders, the triggering tweet was especially
face-threatening because it was an insider attack.
Second, Islamic identity is based on religion (Lewis 2001) and Islam is engrained
in daily activities. In other words, religion is not just a part of Islamic identity, it is the
identity. Any attack on a practice is therefore an attack on Muslims themselves. Because
religion is the source of their identity, verses from the Quran and hadith as well as
ritualistic prayers are memorized by all since childhood—it is a rite of passage into
adulthood. Therefore, many intertextual references in this study are only implied (“this
is what we have learnt”, Example 2) because they are part of the Islamic historical body
(Nishida 1958). Furthermore, because Muslim identity is based on religion, any act
by Muslims has to be justified through religious texts. For instance, Badarneh (2019)
illustrated how Muslim Arab intellectuals’ reference authoritative texts from the Quran,
the hadiths and even poetry to justify impolite verbal attacks on others. Because any form
Наджма Аль Зиджали. Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2019. Т. 23. № 4. С. 1039—1064
1048 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
of action has to be sanctioned by religious texts, intertextual references are therefore
key to the reform project.
Third, I opted for the terms divine politeness and divine impoliteness versus devout
(im)politeness because by referencing divinely inspired authoritative texts that include
impolite, hostile or exclusionary verbal attacks against non-Muslims, it follows that
a devout Muslim must be impolite as outlined in the texts. In this scenario, it is not
the Muslims who are being impolite, but rather God or the Almighty Himself. Muslims
are simply following the divine texts. However, as it becomes clear in this analysis,
the questioned prayer actually was not a hadith and the request to change it was taken
up. Notably, when the triggering tweet’s author took a follow-up poll five months after
the original tweet, 89% (of 3600 votes) agreed to changing the prayer. Relative to the
Arabic cultural context, I therefore introduce the term divine impoliteness that is, similar
to indirect ritual offence (Kádár 2017b) and authorized transgression (Vásquez 2016),
a linguistic strategy, position, speech act, or utterance that easily can be constructed as
face-threatening, but which is legitimized by hostile religious texts or cultural practices11.
4.3. The rites of aggression
Kádár (2017a) proposes that the rites of moral aggression comprise a natural process
to defend what has been attacked. However, unlike typical defensive counterattacks
against national or cultural face, the rites enacted in this example unexpectedly take
a positive turn, with a proportionate number of Arabs siding with the instigator in favor
of changing the questioned Islamic moral order. This is unexpected given the religious
nature of Muslim identity and community (Al Zidjaly 2017b), which explains why
the majority defended in favor of keeping the moral order intact.
I have organized the analysis of these rites of moral aggression into three sections:
1) comments in favor of maintaining Islamic norms or moral order (justified through
divine impoliteness); 2) positive and negative reactions to the expressed divine impo-
liteness, which reference religious texts that are aggressive towards non-Muslims; and
3) comments supportive of shifts in the norms and moral order (justified by divine
politeness or religious texts that are not aggressive towards non-Muslims). Within
the three categories, I identify ten strategies commentators used to enact the rites of moral
aggression, which alternately employed and rejected divine impoliteness. Each strategy
consists of various sub-strategies that concomitantly occurred (e.g., projecting Islamic
practices onto other groups, author attacks). Questioning was a key strategy used across
the categories to query the norms and their authoritativeness in service of advancing
the negotiation rather than halting it by claiming its authoritativeness. Accordingly,
the discussion proceeds from non-negotiability to openness.
11 To that end, while much digital interaction has been increasingly characterized as impolite (Graham
and Hardaker 2017; Graham and Dutt 2019), troll-like (Tovares 2019) or a “fertile ground for conflict”
(Hardaker 2015, p. 201), I argue in this paper (as I did in Al Zidjaly 2012) that a reasonable amount
of hostility (Tracy 2008) on Twitter is expected and encouraged, given its use as a form of civil
engagement.
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1049
4.3.1. Divine impoliteness: Those opposed, say no
The triggering author’s use of the word provoke (meaning in Arabic to anger or
bother), construction of Muslims as racists and consequent threat to Arabs’ positive face
(Brown and Levinson 1987) and request to change an authoritative (Bakhtin 1981)
Islamic practice stirred many negative emotions in commentators, evidenced by their
impolite-oriented responding tweets of moral indignation and judgment (Culpeper 2011).
Most of these commentators perceived the tweet as a public face-attack on Islamic Arabic
identity and felt socially pressured to justify the questioned cultural practice.
Many of the immediate reactions to the original tweet reject its inference of immo-
rality by constructing the prayer as a marker of group identity rather than an insult
to people from other cultures. Commentators also express the view that everyone else
(e.g., Christians and Hindus) does this same act, thus projecting Islamic beliefs and
practices onto others. In Example 2, chosen as representative of a larger set, divine
impoliteness is referenced indirectly through stating (This is what we have learnt) and
that there are (divine rewards) in doing what we have learnt, indexing the authoritative
nature and the normalization of Islamic exclusive practices learnt long ago in childhood.
(2)
ﻚﺼﻴﺼﺨ
ﻚﺴﻔﻨﻟ ﻮﺧﻹﻚﻧ ﻦﻴﻤﻠﺴﻤﻟ ﺎﻋﺪﻟﺎﺑء ﻚﻟ ﺮﺟ ﻪﻴﻓ، ﻫﻭ ﺎﻨﻤﻠﻌﺗ ﻚﻧ ﻮﻨﺗ ﺮﻴﺨﻟ ﻚﻟ ﻚﻌﺑﺮﻟ ..ﻲﻓ
.ﻞﺑﺎﻘﻤﻟ
ﻮﻋﺪﻳ ﻲﺤﻴﺴﻤﻟ ﻮﻬﻴﻠﻟﻱﺩ ﺎﻔﺸﻟﺎ؟ء
ﻮﻋﺪﺗ ﺪﻨﻬﻟﺔﻴﺳ ﻮﺒﻠﻟﺔﻳ ﺔﻤﺣﺮﻟﺎﺑ؟
23 replies 19 retweets 159 likes
Translation
Your restricting the supplication to yourself and your Muslim brethren, there is rewar
d
in it. We have learnt that it shows that you wish the best for yourself and your people.
In contrast,
Do Christians pray for the good health of Jews?
Do Hindus pray for mercy for Buddhists?
Example 2 demonstrates interplay between visual and verbal components (Bateman
2014) to discredit the triggering tweet’s indirect moral judgment of Muslims to change
what commentators consider a perfectly well-established and normal cultural act. The
perplexed emoji visually signals the absurdity of the request, while the comment verbally
justifies the existing practice in three main ways. First, exclusiveness is constructed as
a virtuous collective feature of Muslim identity through pronouns such as we, yourself,
your Muslim brethren, your people as in “Your restricting the supplication to yourself
and your Muslim brethren”, stating “it shows that you wish the best for yourself and
your people”, and noting that, in the Quran and hadiths, God says he rewards those
who highlight their Muslim identity (e.g., “there is reward in it”). Second, stating that
“We have learnt”, without sourcing the original texts, additionally highlights the authorita-
tive nature of such acts. In other words, the us-and-them stance created by the prayer
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1050 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
and defended in Example 2 construct exclusiveness as a positive expression of the group
identity key to Arabic cultures based on tribalism (Hofstede 1990), rather than a polite-
ness concern.
The commentator’s divisive stance is further enhanced by contrasting Muslim
behavior with the prayer behavior of others through a set of questions aimed at inviting
others to align with the position of the commentator. This whataboutism strategy attempts
to justify Muslim behavior through questioning: Do Christians pray for the good health
of (their projected nemesis) Jews? Do Hindus pray for mercy for (their projected
nemesis) Buddhists? These unsubstantiated examples project both cultural practices and
imagined nemeses onto the other, all in defense of the existing norms or religious prac-
tices based on cultural texts (i.e., everyone else does it so why should we stop or be
criticized for it). This normalization of behavior strategy to save threatened collective
face receives many likes, retweets and responses, as indicated in Example 4 (below).
According to Tovares (2006), while many rhetorical questions do not receive answers,
the ones posed in Example 2 do receive answers from Egyptian Christians — but only
after commentators move from projecting their practices onto others into attacking
Christians and Hindus for doing worse than simply not praying for others, as Example 3
indicates.
(3)
ْاﻮَُﻣآ َ
ﻦﻳِﻟاَو ّ
ِِﻨﻠَِ
نﺎَﻛ ﺎَﻣ" ﻰﻟﺎﻌﺗ ﻪﻟﻮﻗ ﻚﺗﺎﻓو هوﺪﻨﻟا راد ﻦﻣ نا ﺖﻠﺻو ﻚﻧﺄﻛو ﻲﻨﻌﻳ
َأ َُْأ ََُْ
ََﺗ ﺎََِْﺑ ﻦ ِﻣ ﻰَُْﻗ ﻲِْوُأ ْاﻮُﻧﺎَََْو َ
ﻦﻴُِِِْْْاوََُِْْﻳ ن
َ
أ ُ
بﺎَْ
:ﺔﺑﻮﺘﻟا] " ِ
ﻢﻴ َِْﻟا113ﻚﺗدﺎﺑإ نﻮﻨﻤﺘﻳ ﻞﺑ ﻚﻟ نﻮﻋﺪﻳ  ﻢﻫ ﺎﻬﻗﻮﻓو [
So, it looks as if you are just now arriving from the pre-Islamic era, and you have
missed hearing the saying of the Almighty:
“It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to pra
y
for the for
g
iveness of the
idolaters — though they be close kin — after it becomes clear to them that the
are
destined for hell” [Quran 9: 113].
Over and above that, they don’t pray for you; rather, they hope for your extermination.
Example 3 concomitantly draws upon three types of impolite responses to reject
the request put forth by the original tweet: The first part mocks the author by constructing
him as a pseudo-intellectual who apparently does not know that things have changed
since Islam was introduced (e.g., “it looks as if you are just now arriving from the pre-
Islamic era”). Part two indicates that divine texts exist that prohibit Muslims from praying
for non-Muslims — even if kin — because God the Almighty has decided they are
destined for hell for not believing in him. This direct example of divine impoliteness
justifies an aggressive cultural behavior of exclusion (choosing Muslim identity over
humanity) based on a text from the Quran that bans Muslims from asking for forgiveness
to non-Muslims. The logic is: because we have such divine texts that forbid us from
praying for non-Muslims, we have no choice but to abide by the almighty, as he wants
us to be impolite to others. Part three goes one step further by directly accusing Christians
and Hindus of wishing bad will to Muslims (e.g., “Rather, they hope for your extermina-
tion”). In this accusation, the pronoun your is used in place of the group marker our,
constructing the author of the triggering tweet as disaligned with both the Muslims and
the non-Muslims he defends.
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1051
Projecting one’s behavior onto others (that others do it too) fails as a productive
strategy when Egyptian Christians defend themselves (see Example 4) by challenging
the questions and correcting the fallacious accusations made by Muslim commentators
in Examples 2 and 3.
(4)
ﻚﺗﺮﻀﺤﻟ ﻰﻋﺪﻨﺑ ﺶﻣ ﺎﻨﻧﺍ ﻝﺎﻗ ﻦﻴﻣ ﻂﻘﻓ ﺮﻄﺳ ﺮﺧﺍ ﺺﺨﻳ ﻚﺗﺮﻀﺣ ﻰﻠﻋ ﻰﻘﻴﻠﻌﺗ ﺪﻤﺣﺍ .ﺍ ﻡﺮﺘﺤﻤﻟﺍ ﻯﺰﻳﺰﻋ ﻦﻴﻣ
ﺖﻳﺮﻗ ﻚﺗﺮﻀﺣ ؟ﻝﺎﻘﺘﻴﺑ ﻰﻠﻟﺍ ﺖﻌﻤﺳﻭ ﺔﺴﻴﻨﻜﻟﺍ ﺍﻮﺟ ﺓﻼﺻ ﻩﺪﻛ ﻞﺒﻗ ﺕﺮﻀﺣ ﻚﺗﺮﻀﺣ ﻚﺗﺩﺎﺑﺍ ﻰﻨﻤﺘﻨﻳ ﺎﻨﻧﺍ ﻝﺎﻗ ﻰﻓ
؟ﻪﻴﻟﺇ ﺊﺴﻤﻟﺍﻭ ﻩﻭﺪﻋ ﺐﺤﻳ ﻪﻧﺍ ﻥﺎﺴﻧﻻﺍ ﻦﻣ ﺐﻠﻄﺘﺑ ﻰﻠﻟﺍ ﺕﺎﻳﻻﺍ ﺩﺪﻋ ﺖﻓﻮﺷﻭ ﻞﻴﺠﻧﻻﺍ
M
y
dear, honoured Mr. Ahmad, m
y
comment to
y
ou concerns the last line onl
y
:
Who says that we are not praying for you? Who says that we wish your extermination?
Have you prayed before in Church and heard what was said? Have
y
ou read in the
Gospels and seen the number of verses that command that mankind love his enemies
and those who offend [against] him?
The response in Example 4, written in Egyptian dialect, draws upon two linguistic
strategies to highlight respect: 1) Egyptian polite discourse markers (e.g., addressing
the attacker with honored Mr. and the Egyptian formal address term Hadretuk [akin
to Vous in French]) and 2) formal letter writing rather than spoken style (with direct
address and name). To counter the projections and accusations, the author of the response
poses questions aimed to discredit the source of the accusation, linguistically mirroring
the style of Example 2 (e.g., what evidence do attackers have to claim knowledge
of the content of Christians’ prayers in churches or that Christians wish ill for Muslims?).
To demonstrate the contrary, the commentator answers his own questions by reminding
tweeters of the Bible’s instructions to love their enemies and those who attack innocent
people. By using conventionally polite discourse markers (Schiffrin 1989) and indicating
the Bible’s stance on love for all humans, the Egyptian commentator demonstrates the
divine source of Christian politeness. Other Christian Egyptian commentators engage
in the discussion, signaling the wide reach of the tweet.
Once projection fails, the majority of Muslim Arab commentators give up on rhe-
torical questions as a productive strategy and select a new strategy of divine impoliteness:
directly drawing upon the two most authoritative texts (Bakhtin 1981) in Islam
(the Quran and the hadiths) to sanction the impolite ritualistic prayer. Also, in contrast
to Example 3, which referenced the divine text in conjunction with other linguistic
strategies (e.g., ridiculing the author, verbally accusing others), Example 5 indicates
an unapologetic stance against change, as the divine texts that index an aggressive
behavior towards the other are listed as stand-alone.
(5)
ْ
َِْْﺳﺍ
َُْ ْ
َ َ
ْ
ََِْْ
َُْ ِ ْ
ََِْْ
َُْ َﻦﻴِﻌْﺒَ
ً
َ ََ َ
َِْ
ُ
َُْ َ
َِٰۚ
َُِْ ﺍﻭ ََُ
ِ
ﺎِ
ِِﻟﻮَُ
َ
ُ
َ
ۗ
َ
َِْ
َْ
َْﻟﺍ ﻦﻴِِﺳﺎَْﻟﺍ. ﻕﺪﺻ ﻢﻴﻈﻌﻟﺍ
A. [A quotation from the Quran 9: 80] (Whether you ask for their forgiveness or not.
If
y
ou ask for their for
g
iveness sevent
y
times, Allah will not for
g
ive them. That is
for their re
j
ectin
g
Allah and His messen
g
er. Allah does not
g
uide an immoral people).
God is the truth speaker.
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1052 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
B. A redacted Hadith:
The Prophet asked leave of Allah to request for
g
iveness for his mother, but it was
not granted him. After that, he asked leave to visit her grave, and it was granted.
Example 5A draws upon a verse from the Quran that disqualifies prayers of for-
giveness (of any length) for non-Muslims as punishment for not believing in him.
Consequently and indirectly, the commentator argues that praying for non-Muslims is
futile and should not be done. The authoritativeness of the text (its unquestioned status)
is signaled by the use of vocalization, a Quranic linguistic strategy, and the end statement
of (God is the truth speaker), verbalized after reciting Quranic texts. Example 5B, posted
by a different person, strengthens the argument for preserving the questioned practice
by intertextually referencing the second most authoritative text in Islam to justify divine
exclusiveness, as the story (extracted from a known hadith) indicates the prophet
of Islam was allowed to visit the grave of his non-Muslim mother, but was forbidden
by God to pray for her salvation12, thus demonstrating the exclusion of non-Muslims
from God’s mercy. Together, the intertextual references to authoritative Islamic texts
legitimize verbal impoliteness against non-Muslims and present examples of divine
impoliteness (impoliteness sanctioned by religious texts)13.
Divine impoliteness creates a moral dilemma among the responders and bystanders.
To exonerate themselves from the implicit charge of impoliteness (and the entailing
racism against the other), the tweeters discuss the moral responsibilities of Muslims
towards non-Muslims in accordance with the general Islamic moral order. A negotiation
of the Islamic moral order (i.e., Islamic norms and cultural practices) ensues.
(6)
ﻂﻠﺨ ﻦﻴ ءﺎﻋﺪﻟﺍ ﻟﺍﻭﺔﻠﻣﺎﻌﻤ ،ﺔﻨﺴﺤﻟﺍ ﺪﺟﻮﻳ ﻕﺮﻓ ﺮﻴﺒﻛ ،ﻢﻬﻨﻴﺑ ﺍﺫﺍﻭ ﺖﻨﻛ ﺍﻮﻋﺪﺘﺳ ﺮﻴﻐﻟ ﻦﻴﻤﻠﺴﻤﻟﺍ ﺍﻮﻋﺩﺎﻓ ﻢﻬﻟ
ﺔﻳﺍﺪﻬﻟﺎ ﻲﻬﻓ ﻰﻟﻭﺍ ﻦﻣ ءﺎﻔﺸﻟﺍ ﻦﻣ ﺽﺮﻤﻟﺍ
A. Do not confuse supplication with
g
ood deeds; there is a bi
g
difference betwee
n
the two. If you pray for non-Muslims, pray for their guidance, for that takes priorit
y
over healing from disease.
ﺯﻮﺠﻳ ﺎﻨﻟ ءﺎﻋﺪﻟﺍ ﻢﻬﻟ ﻻﺇ ﺔﻳﺍﺪﻬﻟﺎﺑ ﻰﻟﺇ ﻦﻳﺪﻟﺍ ﻖﺤﻟﺍ
B. We are not permitted to pray for them except for guidance to the true religion
In Example 6A, a commentator cautions against confusing Islamic prayers (i.e.,
rituals to accentuate group identity) with polite behavior, indicating they do not see how
not praying for others is an impolite verbal act. The commentator instructs: If Muslims
have to pray for non-Muslims, prayers for the salvation of their souls should trump
12 An interesting note about this hadith is that the prophet’s mother died when he was just a child
of approximately 7 years old, meaning his mother died before Islam was created (Mohammed became
prophet at age 42).
13 Note that the source of both texts is not provided, signaling the ubiquity of the texts. The Quranic
verse ends with trust God as he is the speaker of truth, the known ending phrase of Quranic
verses.
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1053
prayers for the salvation of their bodies. This moral stance is condoned in Example 6B
by a different poster, who declares, based on known but uncited Islamic teachings, that
Muslims’ only (verbal) moral obligation toward others is to pray for their guidance
towards Islam, as anything else is forbidden. This declaration is prefaced with the plural
pronoun we, highlighting group identity and the us-versus-them moral stance created
from the onset of the rites to correct the perceived moral aggression of the triggering tweet.
4.3.2. Reaction to divine impoliteness
The divine impoliteness of prohibiting others to pray for all people angers many,
leading to ridicule and accusations of racism in both directions. Those in favor of chang-
ing the prayer verbally align with the triggering tweet’s author and attack those who
want to preserve the impolite ritualistic prayer. The following are some of the most-liked
tweets in support of changing Islamic prayers to include good will for all humans.
The tweets also oppose all who justify racism (in prayers) against the other through
referencing divine texts.
(7)
A. I agree with you ﻖﻔﺗﺍ ﻚﻌ
B. Bravo! You have opened my eyes ﻮﻓﺍﺮ
! ﺖﺤﺘﻓ ﻲﻨﻴﻋ
C. Bigotry at its finest
ﻳﺮﺼﻨﻌﻟﺍ ﻰﻓ ﻰﺼﻗﺍ ﺎﻫﺭﻮﺻ
D. Paradise, mercy, and other such, is
a privilege reserved for some
ﻨﺠﻟﺍ ﺮﻟﺍﻭ
ﺔﻤ
ﺎﻫﺮﻴﻏﻭ ﺯﺎﻴﺘﻣﺃ
ﻱﺮﺼﺤ ﺾﻌﺒﻠ
E. You are right: May Allah grant health
to everyone ill
ﻚﻌ
ﻢﻬﻠﻟﺍ ﻒﺷﺍ
ﺾﻳﺮ
Example 7B demonstrates support for the tweet that opened commentators’ eyes
to new possibilities. This admission is significant, as is the original triggering text, as such
discussions of Islamic moral order are frowned upon (in some cases, forbidden); it is only
the fact that the prayer was proven not to be a hadith (and also the choice of anonymity
of social media) that have created a platform for such exchanges. Their assent is
accentuated with sarcastic remarks against those favoring maintenance of the moral
order, claiming it exposes them as racist (7C) and reflects distorted thinking regarding
salvation (7D). Subsequent tweets repair the ritualistic behavior, replacing it with
inclusive prayers for all to heal (Example 7E)14.
To retaliate against the support shown for the triggering act and the rejection
of divine impoliteness, those in favor of preserving the Islamic prayer enact five types
of actions: attacking the tweet author, ridiculing him, questioning his identity as Muslim,
provoking him and the supporters by repeating the questioned prayer, and defining
Muslim identity. Example 8A, for instance, attacks the author’s character by portraying
him as a pseudo-intellectual. They ask God to heal him, which is a sarcastic statement
uttered in the Arabic context to those who are mentally disturbed. In Example 8B, the
commentator questions whether the author really is Muslim (being ex-Muslim is a
crime that may lead to incarceration in Islamic societies).
14 To learn more about Arabs’ repair actions of Islamic authoritative texts, see Al Zidjaly
(2019a, 2020).
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1054 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
(8)
A.Author-
ridicule
By Allah, right!
Blah blah blah
The fellow [lit. brother] is
an ignoramus
Egalitarian, cultured [or educat-
ed], and forgiving but heedless
God heal you
ﻦﻣ ﺪﺟ ﷲو
ﻊﯿﻜﻟ ﺔﻋﺎﻜ خﻻا
يﻮﺴﻣ ﻒﻘﺜﻣ ﺢﻣﺎﺴﺘﻣو ﻰﻠ ﺔﻠﻔﻏ
كﯾﻔﺷﯾ
B. Author-
identity attack
On the Day of Resurrection,
the prophet Muhammad (May
Allah grant him peace) will
call upon his nation. Will that
provoke you too???
مﻮﯾ ﮫﻣﺎﯿﻘﻟا لﻮﻘﯿﺳ ﻲﺒﻨﻟا ﻤﺤﻣ )ص(
ﻲﺘﻣا ﻲﺘﻣا ﻞھ كﺰﻔﺘﺴﯾ اﺬھ ﺎﻀﯾا ؟؟؟
C. Provocation May Allah heal all Muslims
who are ill. Only. Does that
ease your mind, Sir? Provoked?
Go to hell, Sir
.ﺲﺑ ﻦﯿﻤﻠﺴﻤﻟا ﻰﺿﺮﻣ ﻊﯿﻤﺟ ﻲﻔﺷا ﻢﮭﻠﻟا
يﺪﯿﺳﺎﯾ ﻊﻟوا تﺰﻓﺮﻨﺗا يﺪﯿﺳﺎﯾ ﺖﺤﺗرا
D. Muslim
identity
We as Muslims are tolerant;
we wish the best for our kind
and we hope the same for others
out of humanity, no dispute
about that. Specifying suppli-
cation for Muslims “ought not
to be provoking”. Rather it is
a natural matter; we hear it
in the Friday sermon and we
say “Amen”
ﺐﺤﻧ ،ﺢﻣﺎﺴﺗ ﻞھا ﻦﯿﻤﻠﺴﻤﻛ ﻦﺤﻧ ﺮﯿﺨﻟا
لﺪﺟ ﻻو ﺎﯿﻧﺎﺴﻧإ ﺎﻧﺮﯿﻐﻟ هﺎﻨﻤﺘﻧو ﺎﻨﺴﻔﻧﻷ ﻲﻓ
ﻻ" ﻦﯿﻤﻠﺴﻤﻠﻟ ءﺎﻋﺪﻟا ﺺﯿﺼﺨﺗو ..ﻚﻟذ
أ ضﺮﺘﻔﯾن ﻮﻜﯾن ﺮﻣأ ﻞﺑ "اﺰﻔﺘﺴﻣ ﻲﻌﯿﺒط
ﺔﻌﻤﺠﻟا ﺔﺒﻄﺧ ﻲﻓ ﮫﻌﻤﺴﻧوو لﻮﻘﻧ ﻦﯿﻣآ
E. Questioning
Author
Have you studied this piece of
knowledge and found that the
diction is legally legitimate, or
are you making it up without
knowledge, thereby becoming
one of those who makes up
unseemly regulations for Islam?
There will be a price to be pai
d
for that on the Day of Resur-
rection. Allah did not permit
the prophet, may Allah grant
him peace, to pray for the for-
giveness of his mother when
she died as an idolater; and the
prophet did not pray for the
health of his Jewish neighbor,
but he did visit him and invited
him to [embrace] Islam.
ﺗ ﻞھتﺮﺤﺒ ا ﺖﻓﺮﻋو ﻢﻠﻌﻟا اﺬﮭﺑن ﻚظﺎﻔﻟأ
ﺢﺒﺼﺘﻓ ﻢﻠﻋ ﺮﯿﻐﺑ ﻲﺘﻔﺗ ﻚﻧا مأ ﺔﯿﻋﺮﺷ
ﮫﯿﻠﻌﻓ ًﺔﺌﯿﺳﺔﻨﺳ مﻼﺳﻹا ﻲﻓ ﻦﺳ ﻦﻤﻣ
مﻮﯾ ﻰﻟإ ﺎﮭﺑ ﻞﻤﻋ ﻦﻣ رزوو ﺎھرزو
ﺈﻓ ﺔﻣﺎﯿﻘﻟان ذﺄﯾ ﻢﻟ ﷲن ﷲ ﻰﻠﺻ ﮫﯿﺒﻨﻟ
أ ﻢﻠﺳو ﮫﯿﻠﻋن ﺖﺗﺎﻣﺎﮭﻧﻷ ﮫﻣﻷ ﺮﻔﻐﺘﺴﯾ
هرﺎﺠﻟ ﻲﺒﻨﻟا ُعﺪﯾ ﻢﻟو كﺮﺸﻟا ﻰﻠﻋ ﻮﮭﯿﻟاد ي
وءﺎﻔﺸﻟﺎﺑو هراز ﻦﻜﻟد؟؟مﻼﺳﻺﻟ هﺎﻋ
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1055
By asking the author if he would be bothered in the afterlife when the prophet of
Islam calls out for his nation on Judgment Day, Example 8B further claims that group
identity (including the belief in exclusiveness) is central to Islamic identity. Accordingly,
this example questions the author’s loyalty to Islam and Islamic identity. Example 8D
also defends exclusiveness, simultaneously and directly stating that exclusiveness is
a natural (rather than sinful) trait, and an outcome of love for oneself first. Example
8C seeks to accentuate the prayer’s provocation and Islamic exclusiveness by adding
the modifier only (God heal all Muslims who are ill. Only). The author is then bullied
through a direct, ironic inquiry about his attitude before the commentator signs off with
go to hell, sir, indicating rudeness and lack of care. Example 8E questions the author’s
authority and the legitimacy of his triggering question, indicating that in Islam any form
of social change must be sanctioned by religion, whether by God as in past examples,
or by religious men as in this example. Putting forth the need to sanction behavior by
religious texts or men alerts those supportive of change to mirror the linguistic strategies
their counterparts deploy to shift consciousness.
When emotions run high and the legitimacy of requesting the moral shift is ques-
tioned, those supportive of change realize the necessity of referencing divine sources
if they are to succeed. They additionally realize the resourcefulness of questioning (as per
their counterparts) as a linguistic strategy to bring about change.
(9)
ﻞھ ﻲﻟ ﻞﯿﻟﺪﺑ ﺢﯿﺤ ﻦﻣ ﺔﻨﺴﻟا ﺔﯾﻮﺒﻨﻟا ﻰﻠﻋ ان اﺬھ ءﺎﻋﺪﻟا )ﮭﻠﻟا ﻒﺷا ﻊﯿﻤﺟ ﻰﺿﺮﻣ ﻦﯿﻤﻠﺴﻤﻟا( ﻦﻣ ﺔﻨﺴﻟا ﺔﯾﻮﺒﻨﻟا
؟ةﺮﻄﻌﻟا
ﻲﻧﺪﻓا كرﺎﺑ ﻚﯿﻓ كاﺰﺟو ﺎﻨﻋ اﺮﯿﺧ ﺮﻈﺘﻧا ﻚﺑاﻮﺟ ﻲﺧا ﻢﯾﺮﻜﻟا
Is there reliable evidence from Sunna (hadiths) that proves that this supplication
(
God heal all Muslim patients) is from the reputable prophetic tradition?
May Allah
bless you, Sir, and may Allah reward you with good from us. I await your answer,
my good brother.
In Example 9, a commentator turns the table on the divine impoliteness group by
asking whether the questioned prayer is a hadith (an authoritative text)? If so, it shall
remain unchanged, but if it is simply a historic prayer, then change is possible. This
question shifts the balance and exposes the resistance to change endemic to Islamic
societies.
Despite a lack of supporting evidence, many Islamic texts and practices are treated
as authoritative (sanctioned by God and his prophet). The prayer is found to not
be a hadith. Recognizing that the questioned prayer was not an authoritative text (i.e.,
neither a Quranic verse nor a hadith) helped advance the discourse of shifting the Islamic
moral order, motivating others to pose more questions and proceed with humanitarian-
inspired change that questions the Islamic moral order oriented around exclusiveness.
4.3.3. Divine politeness: Those in favor, say aye
The examples in this section present many questions and answers that move the
discussion of the Islamic moral order from being nonnegotiable (authoritative) to one
being internally persuasive, capable of being discussed and reconciled with humanitarian
tenets and love for all.
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1056 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
(10)
A. Why do you forbid praying for the
health of all innocents while you
call them to Islam?
ﺍﺫﺎﻤ
ﻥﻮﻌﻨﻤ
ءﺎﻋﺪﻟﺍ ءﺎﻔﺸﻟﺎ
ﻰﺿﺮﻤﻠ
ءﺎﻳﺮﺑﻷﺍ ﺎﻤﻨﻴ
ﻢﻬﻧﻮﻋﺪﺗ ﻡﻼﺳﻺﻟ
B. Religion is humanitarian before all
else
ﻦﻳﺪﻟﺍ
ﻴﻧﺎﺴﻧﺇ ﻞﺒﻗ ﻞﻛ ءﻲﺷ
C. Yes, our Islamic religion is mercy
to the worlds
ﻢﻌ
ﺎﻨﻨﻳﺩ ﻲﻣﻼﺳﻹﺍ
ﻤﺣ
ﻦﻴﻤﻟﺎﻌﻠ
D. This civilized tolerance will take
us to the top and it is not farfetch-
ed [that] it will bring us to the core
of religion and the guidance of the
Messen
g
er when he visited his
Jewish sick neighbour.
ﺍﺬﻫ ﺢﻣﺎﺴﺘﻟﺍ ﻱﺭﺎﻀﺤﻟﺍ ﻰﻗﺮﻳ ﺎﻨﺑ ﻮﺤﻧ ﺔﻤﻘﻟﺍ. ﺲﻴﻟ ﻦﻣ ﺪﻴﻌﺑ
ﺎﻨﻴﺗﺃ ﻪﺑ ﻦﻣ ﻢﻴﻤﺻ ﻦﻳﺪﻟﺍ ﻱﺪﻫ ﺳﺮﻟﺍﻝﻮ ﻦﻴﺣ ﺩﺎﻋ ﻩﺭﺎﺟ
ﻱﺩﻮﻬﻴﻟﺍ ﺾﻳﺮﻤﻟﺍ
Example 10B redefines religion as humanitarian. Example 10A questions the mo-
rality of praying only for others’ conversion to Islam while neglecting to pray for their
healing. Example 10C immediately justifies 10A by referencing religious texts to justify
inclusion that Islam (per the Quran) is sent for mercy to all universes, not just Muslims
or this universe. 10D draws upon a hadith where the prophet visited his sick Jewish
neighbor, indicating the inclusiveness of merciful acts and supporting the strategy of
divine politeness. These various examples, by using authoritative texts to demonstrate
that forgiveness and inclusion are actually part of Islamic religion, represent a strategy
of divine politeness.
Once an increasing number of people agree that the religion of Islam does not reject
humanitarian actions, questions about the form of a new, more inclusive, humanitarian,
and merciful moral order are posed, leading some to extend healing to all living creatures,
not just humans.
(11)
A. The reward in pra
y
in
g
for their
health has been made clear to me,
and praise be to Allah for the grace
of Islam. Thank you
ﺢﺿﺗﺍ ﻲﻟ ﺯﺍﻭﺟ ءﺎﻋﺩﻟﺍ ﻡﻬﻟ ءﺎﻔﺷﻟﺎﺑ ﺩﻣﺣﻟﺍﻭ، ﻰﻠﻋ
ﺔﻣﻌﻧ ﺍﺭﻛﺷ،ﻡﻼﺳﻹ ﻙﻟ
B. To pray for the health of unbeliev-
ers who are not at war [with us] is
good and moral, but what would you
want the style of prayer to be?
ءﺎﻋﺩﻟﺍ ءﺎﻔﺷﻟﺎ ﺭﻓﺎﻛﻠﻟ ﺭﻳﻏ ﺏﺭﺎﺣﻣﻟﺍ ﻭﻫ ﻥﻣ ﺭﺑﻟﺍ ﻥﺳﺣ
ﻖﻠﺧﻟﺍ ﻥﻛﻟ ﻑﻳﻛ ﻥﻛﻣﻣ ﻰﻐﺑﺗ ﻥﻭﻛﺗ ﺔﻐﻳﺻ ءﺎﻋﺩﻟﺍ
C. When I pray, I say, “O Allah heal
your whole creation”
ﺎﻧﺍ ﻡﻭﻳ ﻲﻋﺩﺍ ﻝﻭﻗ ﻡﻬﻠﻟﺍ ﻑﺷﺍ ﻊﻳﻣﺟ ﻙﻘﻠﺧ
D. We wish health of all those who are
ill, Jinn and mankind
ﻰﻧﻣﺗﻧ ءﺎﻔﺷﻟ ﻊﻳﻣﺟﻟ ﻰﺿﺭﻣ ﻥﺟﻟﺍ ﺱﻧﻹﺍ
Together, this analysis illustrates the workings of (im)politeness and Islamic
intersubjectivity concerning Islamic moral order: Namely, how the instigator used
impoliteness as a linguistic strategy to disrupt Islamic intersubjectivity, how some
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1057
commentators used impoliteness to maintain intersubjectivity by referencing religious
texts that sanction exclusion, and how other commentators used politeness to disrupt
and shift intersubjectivity by referencing texts that encourage inclusion.
5. Discussion and Conclusion
In this paper, I used impoliteness as an analytical lens to capture the shift in the
Islamic moral order as manifested on Arabic Twitter. The analysis specifically identified
ten strategies commentators used to enact the rites of moral aggression and alternately
employ and reject divine impoliteness in response to a triggering cultural attack:
discrediting the moral judgment, projecting onto other cultural groups, responding
to the projection, referencing authoritative texts, considering Islamic moral responsi-
bilities toward others, attacking the existing Islamic moral order, launching ridicule and
counterattacks against the triggering author, turning to religious clarification, proposing
legitimate negotiation of the Islamic moral order, and initiating the start of an actual
shift in the moral order. This examination of impoliteness was useful for understanding
what Arabs do in digital contexts and why such actions matter, thus aiding in capturing
one historic digital moment (of many) made possible by the agency of Arabs on Twitter.
Although present sociolinguistic research suggests that attacked individuals
appropriate impoliteness to enhance group identity (Georgakopoulou and Vasilaki 2018)
or to resist a particular moral order (Graham 2018), this paper demonstrated that,
through the rites of moral aggression, impoliteness-oriented discourse served to create
and maintain alliances (Graham 2007, 2008), help negotiate personal relations (Locher
2018), and ignite a reshaping of cultural identities. Specifically, commentators shifted
from using divine impoliteness to justify a questioned moral order to appropriating
divine politeness to justify the change in Islamic moral order and reconcile them with
humanitarian principles. Accordingly, this study demonstrates that impoliteness is not
only a relational concern at the linguistic level, but a cultural concern at the social
level — key to disrupting an old intersubjectivity and erupting a new intersubjectivity.
In their efforts to create this new intersubjectivity, Arabs are not just repairing problematic
religious texts (as I demonstrate in Al Zidjaly [2020]), they also are highlighting the
non-aggressive, the non-impolite texts as a source to create a new moral order. These
findings foreground the call made by Kádár (2017a) to examine the workings of impo-
liteness and moral order in under-studied non-Western cultures. Doing so is needed
to properly theorize impoliteness-oriented discourse because as a cultural tool, its func-
tions are deemed to vary. Impoliteness therefore merits continued examination in digital
contexts, as social media platforms provide heretofore unprecedented access to different
types of data, cultures and actions (KhosraviNik 2016; Al Zidjaly 2019b). According
to Blommaert (2018), social media moreover provide the opportunity to test and fully
theorise terms and concepts—in this case, allowing me to linguistically identify a new
function of impoliteness that goes beyond relational work to cultural work with larger,
yet to be realised effects.
Linguistically analyzing Arabs’ Twitter-based negotiation process following cul-
tural attack also revealed the role that religion can play as a resource for impoliteness,
rituals and the moral order (while highlighting the role that intertextuality, questions
Наджма Аль Зиджали. Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2019. Т. 23. № 4. С. 1039—1064
1058 Исследование вежливости и невежливости в глобальном контексте
and pronouns can play in the negotiation process). The centrality of religion to Arab
identity suggests that the key to advancing Arab reform might lie in intertextually refer-
encing inclusive religious teachings and texts needed to sanction the reconciliation of
Islam with so it reads the tenets of the 21st century — shifts that are key in an increasingly
digitized and globalized world. Although this might be irksome for Ex-Muslim reformers,
this route may offer the most expedient path to change, given the religiously engrained
nature of Arabic societies (Lewis 2001). Further, as this analysis indicated, Islamic authori-
tative texts allow for various interpretations and even anecdotes of actions and Islamic
practices assumed to be authoritative may actually be malleable cultural practices
(see Example 9), underscoring the importance of ongoing examination of such texts.
Impoliteness as a cultural practice connected to moral orders of societies therefore
was shown to be a driving force of the Arabic reform project, as it was the negative
reactions produced by divine impoliteness that prompted an attitude shift. Impoliteness
also was central to unraveling and to understanding social change. This bears further
examination in different cultural contexts and social media platforms to adequately
theorize the links between impoliteness, moral order and social change.
In sum, this paper contributes to advancing the Arabic reform movement I docu-
mented in Al Zidjaly (2019a). The analysis not only contributes to impoliteness and
social media research, but also to research on Arab identity and sociolinguistic theory
and method. Impoliteness-oriented discourse, as a key to cultural revolution, is an
important tool in the process of cultural reflexivity occurring in digital discourses among
Arabs. Giddens (1990) noted that such reflexivity is a main ingredient in the creation
of democratic societies. Being able to witness the negotiation has made it easier to
fathom what goes into the making of Arab identity and analyzing the workings of such
cultural reflection has provided a rare glimpse into the shifts needed for Arabs to integrate
into an increasingly globalized, connected world. This is a notable counterpoint to the
cynicism typically surrounding social media actions and actual change (See Mozorov
2011 for a discussion). The ramifications and extent of such changes in Islamic society
are yet to be measured; in the meantime, divine politeness appears to have ignited change
among the participating Arab commentators. My ongoing ethnographic documentation
of Arabs’ digital actions demonstrate that since the represented tweet and ensuing dis-
cussions, inclusive Islamic prayers frequently appear on Twitter and WhatsApp. They
signal an actual shift in the Islamic identity which is historically centered around exclu-
siveness. Twitter therefore has played a key role in providing Arabs with a platform
to engage in cultural reflexivity, and impoliteness has provided Arabs the linguistic tool
to elevate their societies.
© Najma Al Zidjaly, 2019
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I am eternally indebted to David Wilmsen’s willingness and ability to provide exact translations
of Arabic data (used in this paper and in others), which capture the true essence of what has
Najma Al Zidjaly. Russian Journal of Linguistics, 2019, 23 (4), 1039—1064
Politeness and Impoliteness Research in Global Contexts 1059
been said in Arabic and make all the difference. I also thank profusely Sage Graham, Miriam
Locher, Tatiana Larina, Alla Tovares and an anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on earlier
versions of this article.
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Article history:
Received: 21 June 2019
Revised: 12 October 2019
Accepted: 19 October 2019
История статьи:
Дата поступления в редакцию: 21 июня 2019
Дата принятия к печати: 19 октября 2019
Наджма Аль Зиджали. Russian Journal of Linguistics. 2019. Т. 23. № 4. С. 1039—1064
Bionote:
NAJMA AL ZIDJALY is Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature
at the College of Arts & Social Sciences (Sultan Qaboos University, Oman). Her research focuses
on social media and Arab (Omani) identity (with or without disability). She is the author of Disability,
discourse and technology: Agency and inclusion in (inter)action (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and
the editor of the Special Issue, Society in digital contexts: New modes of identity and community
construction (Multilingua, 2019). Al Zidjaly is on the editorial board of the Journal of Multimodal
Communication and has additionally published articles in scholarly journals such as Discourse &
Society; Language in Society; Communication & Medicine; Multimodal Communication; Multilingua;
Visual Communication; and Discourse, Context and Media
Contact information: najmaz@gmail.com
Сведения об авторе:
НАДЖМА АЛЬ ЗИДЖАЛИ — доцент кафедры английского языка и литературы Колледжа
гуманитарных и социальных наук (Университет имени Султана Кабуса, Оман), член редкол-
легии журнала Journal of Multimodal Communication. Ее научные интересы сосредоточены
на социальных медиа и арабской (оманской) идентичности. Она является автором книги
Disability, discourse and technology: Agency and inclusion in (inter)action (Инвалидность,
дискурс и технологии) (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), редактором специального выпуска журнала
Multilingua, посвященного идентичности в цифровом контексте (Multilingua, 2019). Ряд ее
статей опубликован в журналах Discourse & Society; Language in Society; Communication &
Medicine; Multimodal Communication; Multilingua; Visual Communication; Discourse, Context
and Media.
Контактная информация: najmaz@gmail.com
... As an object of study, impoliteness is often associated with conflict, morality, and identity (Garcés-Conejos Blitvich, 2010;Graham, 2007;Upadhyay, 2010Upadhyay, )2003Spencer-Oatey, 2005. This phenomenon also occurs in the Arab world, where language impoliteness on the internet is closely related to society's identity, morality, and sociological phenomena (Al Zidjaly, 2012, 2019aKhosravinik & Sarkhoh, 2017;Labben, 2018)I draw on contemporary theorizing on the concept of face (e.g., Ting-Toomey 1994, 2004Tracy 2008. A study of (Al Zidjaly, 2012, 2019a I examine impoliteness-oriented discourse on Arabic Twitter as a resource for the negotiation of Islamic moral order. ...
... This phenomenon also occurs in the Arab world, where language impoliteness on the internet is closely related to society's identity, morality, and sociological phenomena (Al Zidjaly, 2012, 2019aKhosravinik & Sarkhoh, 2017;Labben, 2018)I draw on contemporary theorizing on the concept of face (e.g., Ting-Toomey 1994, 2004Tracy 2008. A study of (Al Zidjaly, 2012, 2019a I examine impoliteness-oriented discourse on Arabic Twitter as a resource for the negotiation of Islamic moral order. I do so by highlighting the responses Arabs post in reaction to a tweet which attacks Islamic cultural face. ...
... Viewed from the perspective of speech content, the study's results confirmed the study's findings (Al Zidjaly, 2012, 2019b, 2019aKhosravinik & Sarkhoh, 2017;Labben, 2018)I draw on contemporary theorizing on the concept of face (e.g., Ting-Toomey 1994, 2004Tracy 2008. Negative impoliteness speech in data sources aims to reconstruct Arab identity to deal with various aggressions from foreign countries. ...
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