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Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat: Understanding Privacy in Bangladeshi “pious” Muslim Communities

Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat: Understanding Privacy in
Bangladeshi “pious” Muslim Communities
Mohammad Rashidujjaman
Rifat
University of Toronto
rifat@cs.toronto.edu
Mahiratul Jannat
University of Dhaka
nmahiratul@gmail.com
Mahdi Nasrullah Al-Ameen
Utah State University
mahdi.al-ameen@usu.edu
S M Taiabul Haque
University of Central Missouri
haque@ucmo.edu
Muhammad Ashad Kabir
Charles Sturt University
akabir@csu.edu.au
Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed
University of Toronto
ishtiaque@cs.toronto.edu
ABSTRACT
HCI has a dearth of knowledge in understanding how religiosity,
spirituality, and ideological values and practices shape the notion
of privacy and guide information practices worldwide. In this paper,
we ll this gap by reporting our ndings from an eight-month-long
ethnographically informed study in Bangladeshi Islamic communi-
ties. We report how the Islamic spirit of purdah,amanah,gheebat,
riya, and buhtan represent the notion of privacy and guide privacy
practices among “pious” Bangladeshi Muslims. We further discuss
how sacred values generate norms and customs associated with
privacy and surveillance. Finally, we recommend how a nuanced
understanding of divine interests, identity performance, family
surveillance, and spatial privacy norms help designing for inclusive
privacy in the Global South. This paper makes a novel contribution
to HCI by providing a new analytical perspective to understand
privacy and design privacy-preserving technologies and tools for
regions where religiosity, spirituality, and sacred values play a dom-
inant role.
CCS CONCEPTS
Security and privacy Social aspects of security and pri-
vacy.
KEYWORDS
privacy, religion, Islam, surveillance
ACM Reference Format:
Mohammad Rashidujjaman Rifat, Mahiratul Jannat, Mahdi Nasrullah Al-
Ameen, S M Taiabul Haque, Muhammad Ashad Kabir, and Syed Ishtiaque
Ahmed. 2021. Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat: Understanding Privacy in
Bangladeshi “pious” Muslim Communities. In ACM SIGCAS Conference on
Computing and Sustainable Societies (COMPASS) (COMPASS ’21), June 28-
July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 16 pages.
https://doi.org/10.1145/3460112.3471957
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https://doi.org/10.1145/3460112.3471957
1 INTRODUCTION
The discourses around many core areas of HCI technology – includ-
ing communication, collaboration, and information sharing – are
entangled with privacy arguments. Privacy research in HCI and re-
lated elds has a long tradition of conceptualizing privacy through
theories and concepts involving contexts [
76
], norms [
67
], bound-
aries [
80
], or values [
70
], spanning from very broad and abstract def-
initions in philosophy [
74
], sociology [
35
], and anthropology [
64
]
to narrower, pragmatic denitions such as in legal studies [
82
].
Large scale communication technologies (e.g., Facebook
1
, Twit-
ter
2
), surveillance technologies [
108
], public digital services [
43
],
and data-driven decision making approaches [
83
] have spurred
discussion in contesting modernist values of autonomy [
49
], free-
dom [
112
], rights [
17
], and boundaries between public and private
spheres [
76
] – all of which contribute to a more nuanced understand-
ing of privacy. The increasing importance of information technol-
ogy in everyday life further complicates the perceptions of privacy
and the research community has focused to reconceptualize pri-
vacy and formulate design policies accordingly. Some regions have
adopted centralized policies and laws to address privacy-related
issues (e.g., GDPR in Europe [
95
]). However, privacy research has
been broadly criticized as Western-centric [
8
,
44
], where privacy is
analyzed within a doctrine of pragmatism [
26
,
31
,
55
]. This market-
driven notion of individualistic privacy results from an increased
attachment to “dataism”, where social values and personal life are
frequently quantied [15, 106].
In their inuential work, Palen and Dourish build on Altman’s
privacy regulation theory and suggest that privacy is a dialectic
and dynamic process [
80
]. They assert that privacy management is
not merely a matter of personal withdrawal, rather a continuous ne-
gotiation between the boundaries of privacy and publicity, self and
others, and the past, present, and future [
80
]. This and several other
works have brought to the fore the increasing importance of norms
in privacy management. The consideration of contextual nuances
and norms has moved the focus of privacy from an “individual”
to a “collective” perspective. In a recent work [67], McDonald and
Forte problematize the notion of privacy through a critical reec-
tion on the widely followed HCI theories and concepts, where they
present an additional set of challenges with “norms”. They argue
that norms are set by privileged people in an asymmetric setting
1www.facebook.com
2www.twitter.com
199
COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
of relationship, space, and contexts. As a result, norms provide a
specic group of users with greater power than others [
67
]. This
calls for a detailed attention to the characteristics and dynamics of
politics, power, and values while exploring the culture, norms, and
boundary regulations.
Prior work has extended its domain by incorporating the issues of
morality, ethics, and religiosity in privacy discourse. For example, a
series of studies in the Arabian Gulf region has explored how the no-
tion of privacy is related to religiously motivated modesty, national
and regional norms, trust, and social criteria of personal identi-
ties [
1
3
]. This body of research has given insights on privacy man-
agement beyond Western-centered, pragmatic, and capitalist values.
The strand of research indicates that privacy has stronger moral and
ethical dimensions embedded into cultures where religion plays an
inuential role in people’s everyday life. As privacy perception and
management are highly dynamic and contextual [
18
,
80
], religion
oers an important orientation in understanding contextual norms
and people’s information management practices [3].
Bangladesh has a rich colonial history where the dominant re-
ligion Islam has gone through many reforms at the conuence of
secularism and spirituality [
78
,
90
]. In contrast to many Arabian
Gulf countries, gender roles, autonomy, freedom, and other modern
values have shaped distinctively in Bangladesh due to its mixture
of religious forces [
53
], secular state values [
53
], and various oc-
cult practices [
101
]. Consequently, religious practices have evolved
more progressively among many Muslims in this part of the world
(see, for example, [
88
]). Such progress has resulted in a spectrum of
the degree of religious aliation and practices among Bangladeshi
Muslims. On the one hand, a group of Muslims holds onto the
traditional Islamic value systems, while at the same time continu-
ously demands socio-political reform of many Islamic jurisdictions
through a method of modern pedagogical inquiry (see, for example,
the activism of Bangladeshi Islamic Chatri Sangstha [
52
]). On the
other hand, the authoritative Islamic religious gures and groups
have shown less interest in the modernistic reforms. Within this
spectrum, Islamic clerics and their strong Muslim followers, as well
as madrasah students (we will call the groups of Muslims as “pi-
ous”
3
Muslims, used henceforth), form a visibly distinctive group
co-residing with other religious and non-religious groups. The pi-
ous Muslims share similar national, linguistic, and geographical
norms with comparatively progressive Muslims and non-religious
groups, while also radically dier in practicing Islam. As a result,
the notion of the “norm” comes up with various complexities within
and beyond the groups and complicates their privacy issues. In this
paper, we set out to explore the complexity of privacy expectation
of the pious Muslims in Bangladesh with a broader goal for strength-
ening the HCI’s empirical understanding of privacy in South Asian
religious culture.
McDonald and Forte’s discussion of the politics of “norms” and
privacy issues in group co-presence [
67
] brings additional unique
challenges by posing the following questions for designing for
privacy for the pious Bangladeshi Muslims: (a) What are the privacy
expectations of the pious Muslims that they may or may not share
with the “norms” of the community they belong to? (b) How their
3
The demography of our participants consists of Islamic scholars, clerics, mosque
employees, madrasah students, and Muslims that strictly set out to abide by Islamic
rules. We collectively call them pious Muslims throughout this paper.
Muslim identities put them into power (or powerlessness) or make
them vulnerable in managing privacy norms? (c) How the pious
Muslims manage their privacy concerns in their group co-presence
of various kinds (religious, geographic, cultural, normative, etc.)?
(d) What privacy issues lead the pious Muslims to use, no-use, or
partial use of technologies? These questions are strongly relevant
to HCI not only for designing for privacy for the pious Muslims
that we studied, but broadly for all Bangladeshi Muslims for their
aliation to Islamic value systems with various degrees.
We conducted an eight-month long ethnographic study in Dhaka,
Bangladesh that (a) examines the notion of privacy (digital, social,
and interactional) among Bangladeshi pious Muslims, (b) identies
the tensions and negotiation mechanisms between religious and
pragmatic values in their privacy acts, and (c) analyzes the associ-
ated ethical dynamics related to privacy and surveillance. We nd
that the pious Muslims in Bangladesh refer to texts from the Quran
and Hadith
4
to interpret dierent privacy-related values in the con-
text of their everyday life. More specically, they perceive privacy
through a few core religious values, namely purdah, amanah, and
gheebat. The divine reward is an important perspective in their
conceptualization of privacy, which is often not compatible with
pragmatic Western values and designs [
26
,
31
]. Based on our analy-
sis, we discuss how existing privacy literature in HCI marginalizes
the pious Islamic communities in Bangladesh. Finally, based on
our ndings, we discuss how the nuance understanding of pious
Islamic communities’ spatial privacy practices, family surveillance,
parental controls over children, and identity performance can lead
to inclusive and sustainable technology and policy design to ad-
dress privacy concerns. We believe, our study will guide the HCI
communities to design for privacy with and for the pious Islamic
religious communities in the Global South.
2 LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Conceptual Complexities of Privacy
Conceptualizing privacy has long been a topic of interest in various
disciplines, and hence, the approaches have evolved over time. In
particular, the scholarship in law has characterized privacy from
time to time, which has often inuenced other disciplines for de-
signing policies and technologies to preserve individual and group
privacy. Daniel J. Solove adopts a pragmatic framework to explain
approaches to understand situated privacy rather than dening
it. This approach focuses away from the universality of a deni-
tion and concentrates on specic situations [
100
]. In this approach,
Solove emphasizes social practices that include activities, norms,
customs, and traditions. He suggests analyzing privacy as a part of
the practice rather than as an abstract construct [
100
]. According
to this framework, privacy violation is a disruption in a particular
practice, where the disruption can come in various forms, including
interference, control, surveillance, loss, and breach. Ruth Gavison
suggests a value-neutral conceptualization of the loss of privacy
of a person in relation to anonymity, secrecy, and solitude [
39
].
According to Gavison, people lose their privacy when someone else
gets any information about them, someone else gives attention to
them to get information, or someone else has physical access to
4We have listed the meanings for religious/foreign words in Table 1.
200
Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia
them [
39
]. Adam Moore similarly describes privacy as an individual
having a certain level of control over the inner spheres of personal
information and access to one’s body, capacity, and power [
74
].
Moore highlights privacy as a right over the use of bodies, space,
and personal information. Other disciplines, such as philosophy
and sociology, discuss privacy as a social and a behavioral con-
struct [
35
,
74
]. Overall, the concept of privacy comes in a spectrum
from very abstract to concrete in diverse disciplines. Irrespective
of their focus, there is a consensus among researchers that privacy
is highly sensitive concerning social and communal values, where
any practical engagement with issues of privacy needs careful con-
sideration of situated practices among individuals and social groups
in question. The need for a nuance understanding of the concept
of privacy has led to dierent conceptual frameworks in HCI that
we discuss below.
2.1.1 Privacy and Context. Helen Nissenbaum provides a fresh
normative construct – contextual integrity – to deal with privacy
issues related to information technology [
76
]. The framework is
based on contextual norms that include culture, history, law, and
convention. The framework is guided by two information norms:
appropriateness and ow of distribution. Norms of appropriate-
ness guide what type of information is appropriate or tting to
be disclosed in a particular context. The information ow should
follow the contextual norms in question. Privacy preservation is a
function of both appropriateness and ow of distribution within
contextual norms. For example, Cornejo et al. study older adults
with dementia who generates and share contents online [
27
]. They
inform how privacy is a negotiated value between older adults and
art therapists. Frik et al. study privacy perception and preferences
among older adults [
38
] and propose privacy and security threat
models to provide insights on how older adults perceive and process
privacy threats and mitigate the risks. Wisniewski et al. study users’
boundary regulations on social networking sites [
115
], where they
report a set of coping mechanisms such as ignorance, avoidance,
blockade, withdrawal, etc., that are used to fulll privacy needs.
The recent development in wearable technologies has been re-
conguring our contextual understanding of the world [24, 59]. A
line of research is addressing the new challenges there by exploring
the issues of privacy breach and proposing countermeasures. For ex-
ample, Raji et al. study users’ privacy understanding and concerns
involving wearable technologies [
85
]. They nd that users are con-
cerned with sharing their behavioral features and physical and psy-
chological states through wearable technologies. Lowens et al. study
privacy perception of users in using wearable technologies [
63
].
Their study shows that even when users are concerned with their
privacy in using wearable technologies, they often cannot assess the
level of privacy risks. Other works focus on designing technologies
to enhance privacy while at the same time preserving natural ele-
ments of digital contents (see, for example, negating distortion of an
image by artistic transformations [
46
,
47
]). By studying diverse do-
mains [
4
,
48
,
61
,
65
,
75
,
85
,
111
], demographics [
10
,
37
,
51
,
114
,
116
],
and technologies [
41
,
60
,
66
,
84
,
97
,
103
,
109
], this strand of schol-
arship contributes to the better design of privacy-preserving tech-
nologies by unpacking social, cultural, and normative contexts.
A series of recent works in HCI4D has strengthened our insights
of privacy outside Western contexts. Vashihstha et al. provide a com-
prehensive review of privacy and security research in the Global
South and summarize unique challenges related to privacy for users
in developing regions [
107
]. They explicate ve key issues of pri-
vacy preferences in developing regions: culture, knowledge gaps,
unintended technology use, context and usability, and cost consider-
ations. Haque et al. report many vernacular techniques to exchange
condential and sensitive information among various community
members in Bangladesh [
44
]. They discuss their ndings of cul-
turally embedded hiding techniques to highlight the tradition of
social ciphering in the Global South. Ahmed et al. present a design
concept, namely “tiered” privacy model to address privacy issues
in a shared environment [
9
]. Through an exploratory study of their
tool – Nirapad – they show that their design is capable to resolve
issues such as plausible deniability and gendered privacy. Karusala
et al. study the technology use of Indian women and discuss their
unique privacy challenges in a patriarchal environment [
57
]. Jack
et al. study privacy perceptions and practices in Cambodia and
suggest that localization of transnational technology should be a
focus of privacy exploration to understand the contextual nature of
the issue [
54
]. This emerging line of privacy scholarship involving
developing regions strengthens our understanding of unique pri-
vacy challenges in shared technology use [
7
,
93
], informal repair
practices [
6
,
56
], biometric sim registration [
8
], social media use [
3
],
installation of new apps [
11
], and mobile money transaction [
22
],
among others. We join this emerging tradition of HCI4D and con-
tribute by presenting our insights from studying Bangladeshi pious
Islamic religious communities.
Our study builds on McDonalds and Forte’s notion of vulner-
ability, where they argue that normative privacy theories do not
take into account the power dierentials of a community who
are assumed to equally share the norms in the community [
67
].
Bangladeshi pious Muslims live in a hybrid culture where the state
promotes secular values and Muslims at large practice Islamic juris-
dictions with various degrees [
71
]. As a result, pious Muslims don’t
only share a uniform set of norms; rather they are often expected
to perform normative behaviors outside of their Islamic prefer-
ences. For example, if a neighborhood marketplace does not require
women to put on Islamic veils, a pious women may prefer not to
visit the marketplace at all to avoid discomfort even though they
themselves can put on veils. Such avoidance may occur online, too,
where some of our participants don’t have a social media prole
as they are not appreciative of the culture that does not promote
Islamic rules of segregation. As such, Bangladeshi pious Muslims
are often marginalized both online and oine due to their lack of
power, control, and agency. Our study explicate their values and
discuss their vulnerabilities of privacy issues in HCI.
2.2 Islamic Values, Privacy, Culture, Norms
A strand of research involving Islamic religious values and privacy
informs aspects of privacy of the human body [
96
] and space orga-
nization of home [
79
]. The privacy of the human body is associated
with Islamic guidelines of body coverings as well as connected
issues of purdah, safety, trust, and modesty [
3
]. Research works
involving architecture of Islamic houses design spaces inside the
houses in a way that reects Islamic guidelines of segregation and
spatial secrecy for both men and women [13, 33].
A handful of studies relevant to HCI inform the nature of pri-
vacy problems and their particular socio-cultural context in the
201
COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
Arab world. The concept and preservation of privacy in Islamic
countries are expressed directly through Quranic texts and Hadith
proofs [
1
]. The holy texts often present privacy as a function of a set
of values, including modesty, morality, closeness, and conservation,
among other peripheral values. Abokhodair el al. study Twitter
posts among Arab Gulf social media users and show that privacy is
a communal concept among Arabian Muslim citizens, where the
concept of privacy is shaped not only by behaviors of an individual
but also through Islamic social dynamics and people’s collective
behavior [
2
]. In some Islamic countries (Saudi Arabia, for exam-
ple), the texts from the Quran and Hadith are translated directly
to Government laws to protect people’s privacy [
1
]. Overall, the
studies present the concept of privacy among Arabian Gulf Islamic
communities as an issue that is related and intertwined with issues
of surveillance, freedom of expression within Islamic boundaries,
moralities informed by Islamic texts, communal norms and cultures,
and gendered roles, among other values.
We join this literature and strengthen our understanding of pri-
vacy by complementing the above studies with our ndings from
pious religious communities in Bangladesh. While the studies in
the Arab world depart from the individualistic Western concep-
tualization of privacy and brings culture in the forefront, it still
suers from the limitations of normative tradition of privacy [
67
]
as described in the previous section. Further, the studies in the Arab
world are centered around social media use and micro-blogging
practices of Arab citizens. The focus on social media and digital
technologies does not provide a rich holistic insight of Islamic val-
ues along with their Islamic roots of everyday lived experiences
that might or might not involve digital technologies. For example,
while the studies in Arab Gulf report ndings related to government
and macro-level surveillance, they do not provide much insights on
micro-level surveillance such as family surveillance or surveillance
inside of a madrasah. Moreover, the studies give more weighted
stress on the national attachment. It is intuitive that in a region
with established Shariah law in the national justice system will
form a normative culture heavily inuenced by religious traditions;
however, the national norm also builds on their economy, technol-
ogy, geography, and demographics [
50
]. In that sense, the privacy
research in the Arabian Gulf region is more reective of their civil
religion [
19
] rather than the traditional Islamic religion. There is
still a dearth in existing literature to understand how pious Muslims
around the world relate to and reference the Quranic or Hadith
lessons in their privacy practices in everyday life. We ll this gap
by exploring privacy practices among pious Bangladeshi Muslims
and explicating various tensions among cultural, normative, and
religious values.
3 ISLAM IN BANGLADESH
In this section, we provide a cultural and historical background of
Islam in Bangladesh and the Indian subcontinent. Islam is one of
the oldest religions that has diverse traditions under its umbrella.
This Islamic diversity is also common in South Asian Islamic cul-
ture [
5
]. Edward Said hence correctly recognizes the diversity by
calling Islam in its plural form, Islams [
92
]. The multifaceted Islamic
traditions across the world have created dierent cultural values
and identities. Studies in South Asian religion, history, and cultural
anthropology have reported a rich history of Islam, its diversity,
and its reform with the passage of time [69, 77, 89].
British historian Francis Robinson provides a snapshot of Is-
lamic reform and cultural revisions of Islamic tradition in South
Asia [
90
]. The British colonial history of the Indian subcontinent
has an impact on the reform of Islamic values and theological ques-
tions. The discontinuation of British institutional support to Muslim
ulemas put them in a precarious position where they had to ad-
just themselves into the social fabric of the Indian subcontinent
for sustenance. A fraction of ulemas – the Deobandi reformers,
with the help of Tablig-Jamaat – rejected previous Islamic schol-
arships based on medieval literature and established a new image
of the characteristics of a Muslim that was based on the Quran
and Hadith [
90
]. The most widely published book after Quran in
the Indian subcontinent is “Beheshti Zewar”, which progressed an
Islamic tradition, where it is the responsibility of each individual
to take knowledge from the central message of Islam, and use their
conscience to adopt the rightly guided behaviors. So, in a sense,
“reformed Islam was a willed faith, a ‘protestant’ faith, a faith of
conscience and conviction [
90
].” The new Islamic reformed era
hosted a range of Islamic groups with their own interpretations of
Islamic guidelines.
For example, Deoband, Jama‘at-i Islami, and Mujahid had dier-
ent guidelines for women’s rights. In Deoband’s tradition, women
are permitted to teach in female madrasahs, but under strict purdah;
Jama‘at-i Islami women can learn and teach modern subjects in
addition to traditional subjects so that they can become their own
religious authority; in the most progressive Mujahidin tradition,
women are not only permitted to teach but they can also teach
even male students [
90
]. While a group of sociologists argues that
the increased rationalization and secularization have marginalized
Muslims, another strand of research maintains that religion is still
a powerful force in the subcontinent. This unique characteristic
of Islamic (i.e., religious) tradition in this region has brought un-
usual features that are distinct from the Arab culture. For example,
Rizzo et al. study gender equality, democratic governance, and reli-
gious identities in Arab and non-Arab Muslim societies and inform
that many non-Arab Muslim countries have achieved the status of
“over-achiever” in regard to democracy, whereas many Arab Mus-
lim countries are still underachiever and authoritarian [
88
]. These
progresses in Indian subcontinent further create signicant cultural
dierences in women’s rights, equality, autonomy, and freedom.
Besides being a part of the historical reformed era in the Indian
subcontinent, Bangladesh has also built some distinctive religious-
cultural characteristics that are dierent from its neighbors. Al-
though the idea of religious nationalism was discarded after the
separation from Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, vari-
ous agents and forces in the society of Bangladesh reinforced the
Islamic tradition [
53
]. Unlike Arab Islamic countries, Bangladesh
legal systems do not adopt Islamic texts as Shariah law [
45
]. Like
other liberal democratic countries, religion is recognized as a private
sphere in Bangladesh [
53
]. However, the religious inuence in so-
cial, political, and national spheres are often inevitable [
53
]. Because
of this predominance of Islamic religious culture, neo-liberal eorts
often fail to achieve their intended goals [
68
]. On the other hand,
there have been rising communities within Bangladeshi Islamic
society that often question the validity of religious apparatuses, and
202
Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia
propose scientic values as a substitution of, or alongside religious
ones as means of joining the so-called modernistic trend. Alongside
the dominance of scientic and religious values, there also exist
occult practices such as witchcraft [
101
] and para-religious activi-
ties [
102
]. Within this spectrum of value systems in Bangladeshi
culture, religious and other values do not always necessarily collide
with each other; rather, they often coexist and work together to
achieve similar goals (see, for example, [
86
]). Broadly, such coex-
istence of scientic and religious values in many social practices
are not necessarily anti-modernistic [
105
], although it could be
anti-Western or anti-consumerist on ethical grounds [
105
], which
might have practical social implications for the Global South. As a
result of cultural dierences, the Global South often comes up with
contextual and culturally appropriate privacy breach mitigation
techniques [6, 9, 44].
We seek to study issues of privacy of Bangladeshi pious Muslims
and inform our ndings within this backdrop of Bangladeshi soci-
ety and culture. Particularly, within a qualitative rubric of Islamic
morality, virtues, shared use of technology, and gendered role in do-
mestic and social surveillance, we contribute to understanding how
Bangladeshi pious Muslims understand and preserve their privacy
issues, which oftentimes are in contrast to the broader Bangladeshi
social norms.
4 METHODS
We conducted an eight-month-long (July 2019 - February 2020)
ethnographically informed study in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to under-
stand information management strategies, privacy preferences,
and ways of mitigating the privacy risks of a pious Islamic re-
ligious community. Within this timeframe, we visited mosques,
madrasahs, and a university, all located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The madrasahs include both Qawmi and Alia madrasah. Qawmi
madrasah is known for its comparatively strict and conservative Is-
lamic tradition, whereas Alia madrasas have a progressive culture of
teaching both religious and modern scientic subjects. Besides the
mosques and madrasahs, we recruited participants from the Islamic
studies department in a renowned university to project our nd-
ings from conservative Islamic traditions with those from a more
progressive Islamic culture. The methods included semi-structured
interviews, focus group discussions (FGD), and contextual inquiries
involving technology use by participants.
Recruitment and Procedure.
All of the authors of this paper
are born and raised in Bangladesh. The authors are Bangladeshi
Muslims and familiar with Bangladeshi culture and norms. Two au-
thors of this paper had contacts with several mosques and madrasahs
in Bangladesh, where they either conducted ethnography before or
had a personal connection. We started recruiting participants from
this pool of our known contacts. After this, we followed a snow-
ball sampling technique for recruiting additional participants [
40
].
People in mosques and madrasahs in Dhaka maintain a close rela-
tionship with other religious institutions. We requested our known
contacts if they would be willing to introduce us to their connec-
tions who might be eligible and interested to take part in our study.
As they agreed to help, we provided them with a copy of study in-
formation sheet (printed, translated to Bengali) to distribute across
their networks and ask if their contacts would be interested to
participate in our study. Upon interests of the additional contacts,
we visited the mosques, madrasahs, and schools. We introduced
ourselves to each potential participant and read them the study in-
formation sheet. Then we explained their roles in the study and took
their consent for participation. We followed a similar recruitment
method for the focus-group discussion sessions.
Participation was voluntary, and there was no compensation to
take part in the study. We took written consents from our partici-
pants who are uent in reading and writing; this set of participants
received a study information sheet prior to the consent process.
For others, we explained the research goal, communicated the risks
of participating in this study, and explained their research rights,
and lastly, took their verbal consent to participate in this study. As
per the culture and tradition, it is common that people participate
in such study in Bangladesh without any compensation (see, for
example [
6
,
9
,
86
]). Most of our participants were spontaneously
interested in the study with the hope that their voices would be
heard, and their values would be recognized. There are regulations
for meeting opposite sex in Islam; meeting a male person other
than permitted ones is prohibited (haram) for a female. Qawmi
madrasahs follow this strictly, while Alia madrasahs are less strict
about this. Following the requests from madrasahs, a female mem-
ber of the research team (also a co-author of this paper) visited
female institutions and interviewed the female participants; the
male participants were recruited and interviewed by a male re-
searcher (also a co-author of this paper). Following their religious
norms, we did not take any pictures of the participants and any of
their activities.
We conducted semi-structured interviews with 23 participants
(
M
=13,
F
=10), and arranged two focus group discussions (FGD)
sessions, one with four male and another with four female partici-
pants. On average, each interview took 35 minutes to complete and
the focus-group discussion sessions lasted between 50 minutes and
one hour. In total, we had more than 14 hours of interview data
and almost two hours of focus group discussion. We conducted the
interviews and FGDs in Bengali, which is the native language of
our participants.
One note of caution: Islam has a diverse set of ideological and
cultural identities [
92
]. Bangladesh also represents the diversity
within Islam [
78
]. Our study demonstrate views of Sunni Muslims,
who are Islamic scholars trained in Qawmi,Alia, and mainstream
Islamic scholarship traditions. Findings from this demography may
not generalize to other demographics who are not Sunni Islamic
scholars. Nevertheless, our participants’ demography consists of
a large number of population in Bangladesh and elsewhere, who
also possesses social capital to inuence Muslims through mosque
programs, Islamic public lectures (waz), and social activities.
Analysis.
Both our interviewers are bilingual with prociency
in Bengali and English and they completed certied training on
human subject research before conducting the study. The rst au-
thor’s institutional review board approved the research proposal.
Both the interviews and the FGD sessions were audio-recorded and
then transcribed and translated into English. Sometimes, our partic-
ipants used Arabic or Persian words. We cross-checked the foreign
words and phrases in our translation for linguistic nuances by an
ulema, who is a procient Arabic speaker and an Islamic scholar.
We analyzed the data using a grounded theory approach [
23
]. We
203
COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
Meaning of Islamic Words / Terms
Islamic Word /
Term
Meaning
Amanah Fullling responsibilities and trusts
Burqah An Islamic attire for women
Daoah Invitation
Fatwa A ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority
Ghair Mahram
The group of people whom a person is allowed to marry, but not allowed to meet and talk
without proper veiling
Hadith Record of the words, actions, and the silent approval of the Islamic prophet Muhammad (sm)
Haz Guardian and protector
Hakkul ibad Caring for human
Haram Forbidden by Islamic law
Hujur A common salutation for Islamic clergy in Bangladesh
Imam The person who leads the prayer in a mosque
Iman Faith or belief
Insan Human
Kar Indel
khatib A mosque Imam who also leads the Jumma prayers on Fridays
Maulana Muslim religious leader
Madrasah Islamic religious school
Muazzin Mosque employee who calls for prayers
Munaq False muslims
Qiyas Analogical inference or deduction
Rahim Merciful
Rahman Gracious
Sahabi Companions of prophet Muhammad (sm)
Tauba Repentance
Ulema Muslim scholars
Table 1: Meaning of Foreign/Islamic words used in the paper.
started the analysis with open coding, and then continued with fo-
cus and axial coding [
23
]. We then organized the codes into themes.
All members of the research team regularly met to discuss the codes
and themes, and addressed any analytical issues. Data from inter-
views and FGDs were analyzed separately, and then we aggregated
the analysis. The aggregation of interview and FGD data was done
in the thematic level. Two authors separately compared and con-
trasted the themes and aggregated them. In the next section, we
present the themes that emerged from our study.
5 FINDINGS
We report our ndings below by highlighting the key themes. Our
participants frequently referred to the themes when talking about
their privacy issues. The themes illuminate some core religious
values in Islam: purdah, amanah, gheebat, riya, and buhtan. These
values guide our participants’ everyday experiences as to how they
perceive and manage privacy in their information practices and how
they adopt or abandon technologies that violate their privacy norms.
Some of our ndings may not be directly related to information
technology, but nevertheless, have the potential to guide technology
design to address the privacy issues.
5.1 Purdah
Purdah means curtain [
81
]. This is a means for women seclusion
in Islamic (and also the Hindu) culture. The purdah system limits
interaction of men and women according to religious rules. Muslim
women’s purdah requirement starts from their puberty age. Besides
the religious signicance, the purdah is also a representation of
women’s modesty in South Asian culture [81].
Purdah has invoked widespread scholarly discourses, heated
political conversations, and diverse social rhetoric to date [
14
,
32
,
73
]. The norm is often shown as a religious patriarchal instrument
of constraining women’s voice and freedom [
21
]. On the contrary
to this view, purdah has been argued as an empowering means for
rural Bangladeshi women that increases their social participation,
mobility, and visibility [36].
Along this dual role – one that invokes the history of socio-
religious restraints and another that speaks about the story of
empowerment – purdah has become a dominant lens through which
our participants envision the notion of privacy in everyday life
(
n=
21). This notion of personal and social curtailing prevalent in
Muslim societies [
21
,
36
] has shown a promising connection to the
understanding of, and remedy for privacy concerns in our study.
Our participants (
n=
21) describe the limit of bodily exposure,
dierent visual constraints on spatial arrangements, and controlled
204
Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia
social participation as adherence to Islamic rules, as well as intrinsic
means for protecting themselves from various concerns involving
privacy breaches.
5.1.1 Purdah as both a Farz and a Lifestyle. Our participants (n=
21) show their literacy and varied interpretations regarding purdah
as well as its religious and social implications. Participants (
n=
17)
observe purdah as a religious duty commended in Quran (known as
farz activity). Islam has weighted rules and regulations according
to their importance in this and the afterlife, some of which are
more important to follow than the others, where farz is on the
top of this weighted list. The farz presents an Islamic regulation
that is instructed directly from Allah and a Muslim must adhere
to that instruction. Although, there has been debates and varied
interpretations for whether or not purdah is a farz and what is
the proper rule for veiling (both for men and women), purdah has
been observed historically with references to the Quran in Islamic
societies as a symbol of Islamic modesty and social prosperity [
113
].
We acknowledge the theological disagreements; however, we don’t
engage with theological debates for whether or not purdah is a
farz. Rather, we analyze the ndings of our study as presented
by our participants following by the tradition of the sociology of
religion [25].
Our participants follow the guidelines of purdah as part of their
faith (iman). A 27-years-old female Qawmi madrasah teacher high-
lighted the signicance of purdah:
“We have to abide by this rule [purdah] simply be-
cause this is the prerequisite for our faith (iman). This
a regulation from Allah – you don’t have a choice
here. You also cannot improvise this guideline, it’s
there in the Quran and Hadith
5
. If you don’t follow
this, there are punishments from Allah. Follow this
and there will be rewards from Allah.
Besides a farz activity, our participants (
n=
14) present purdah
as an essential aspect of their everyday life, with or without re-
ferring to privacy. Purdah in our studied communities is not only
seen as an aspect of women’s attire but also as a regulatory mecha-
nism for communicating in family and social circles. In our study,
participants cite concepts from the Quran, Hadith, and Islamic his-
tories that dene permission for both men and women in regard to
whom and what are allowed for Muslims to see, communicate, and
make relationships with. Such Islamic regulations further guide the
boundary for public and private spheres for our participants, as
individuals and groups. A female madrasah teacher in her thirties
explained the extent of the purdah concept to us:
“Purdah also means creating a curtain between the
two genders. It is applicable to both men and women.
Only dressing up is not a purdah, it is much more
than that. It is a modest lifestyle that matters and
includes a lot of things – could be your gesture, your
speaking style, your comments on the social media,
or on the phone. Creating a barrier of modesty, a
curtain – a distance between what is allowed to see
and communicate and what is not.
5Quran and Hadith are the two most trusted holy books in Islamic religion.
A female graduate student – who previously studied in a Qawmi
madrasah and currently have been continuing her study in a main-
stream school as a graduate student – explained purdah as a sign
of humbleness and respect. She started her purdah while she was
a madrasah student. When she graduated from the madrasah and
moved to the mainstream education, she continued the practice.
This purdah brings her a sense of security as other people around
her respect her for this humble lifestyle. In her opinion, this lifestyle
brings a heightened “status” for her in the society. She described
her experience in the following way:
“I have a personal observation. I have maintained
purdah since I was in the seventh grade. So, whenever
some men came to talk to me, they did it in a respectful
way. They know that I have a heightened sense of
modesty and they cannot treat me in a disrespectful
way. It [purdah] is a safety mechanism for me. On
the other hand, this is not enough to put on just the
veiling, you also have to have humbleness. If you are
putting on a burqah
6
and leading a life as you wish
without giving attention to Allah’s regulation, it does
not make any sense.
The above understanding of purdah among our participants
presents it as a concept related to Islamic segregation, security,
modesty, humbleness, and a lifestyle that guides them to refrain
from seeing and communicating whatever is prohibited.
5.1.2 Purdah and Digital Presence. The interpretations (often with-
out consensus) of how Islamic purdah rules could be applied to
digital spheres are diverse due to the fact that most of the direct
Islamic regulations came before digital innovations. For example, 16
of our participants (both from interviews and focus group sessions)
explained to us about an Islamic tradition called qiyas (analogical
inference or deduction), where there is a provision of resolving con-
icts regarding any Islamic regulations through scholarly analysis
and consensus over a solution. The participants (
n=
16) asserted
that translating everyday Islamic rules regarding purdah to digi-
tal spheres could be a great way of preserving privacy in Islamic
communities. However, 11 of these participants also acknowledged
that it is dicult to maintain the spirit of purdah on social me-
dia, and often they nd it dicult to come up with an eective
Islamic law for using social media. A female madrasah student in
her twenties presented her interpretation of maintaining purdah
and its challenges on digital media:
“When uploading pictures to social media, we should
follow the similar rules of purdah as we do in our real
life. We should be aware of who are ghair mahrams
(knowing who are allowed and who are not to meet
and talk). You should know that just uploading a pic-
ture does not violate an Islamic rule. It depends on
how careful you are, and how strictly you are follow-
ing the rules of purdah.
This response suggests that just uploading a picture on social
media does not violate the purdah rules. She indicates to categorize
contacts on social media based on purdah rules that guide whom
women can communicate with. However, eight female participants
6An attire common in Islamic culture.
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COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
could not give a concrete idea of how they should categorize the
“allowed‘’ and “non-allowed‘’ contacts on social media since face-
to-face communication takes place there. When asked about this,
they suggested consulting Islamic scholars who provides Islamic
legal pronouncement (fatwa). Five other participants have the opin-
ion that men and women can communicate on social media. This
communication does not break the purdah rule since they are not
meeting in person. Three participants disagreed with this giving
an interpretation that the essence of purdah is to save people from
being “attracted” to the people who are haram (prohibited) for them.
The last group of participants suggested that people should abstain
from anything that might attract a stranger on social media. In that
essence, any attractive writing, a picture (even with proper purdah),
chatting, etc., that may attract a stranger should be avoided. One
participant suggested that a woman can still chat with a stranger
when necessary, but she should be careful that the stranger does
not get attracted. One mosque Imam explained it in the following
way:
“If someone is using an Android phone or Messenger,
or WhatsApp, we should not say anything or spread
any information that can potentially attract the per-
son to whom we are talking. A woman should be
aware of the rules when communicating with these
men. [...] If she is being nice to the extent that the
man gets attracted to her, you know, she is commit-
ting sin. Similar rules apply for men, too. We should
teach these rules to our children, too.
For further clarication of this aspect of attraction, a mufti stu-
dent gives an example of possibly seeing a doctor. In his opinion, if
he has to choose between a robot and a female doctor, he would go
for the robot:
“I would rather see the robot doctor [than the female
one]. See, a robot is a machine. It does not have a heart.
So there is no possibility that I will get attracted to
a robot and vice verse. But if I see a female doctor, I
might get attracted to her or she might get attracted
to me. This is not to say that you have to avoid female
doctors at all. Islam is not that extreme. If there is no
other option, feel free to see a female doctor, but both
should maintain purdah as much as possible.
The quote above shows how the aspect of attraction and purdah
draws a boundary and creates spaces of private and public spheres.
However, our participants (
n=
14) expressed their concern that
even if they follow purdah rules in uploading a picture, that alone
does not eliminate their privacy risks. They fear that there are peo-
ple with bad wills, who are often more technology savvy than them.
The participants recalled their experiences of misusing pictures on
social media for various purposes. Seven participants mentioned
various memes on Facebook that contain pictures of women with
even burqah, which is consider the most proper attire for Muslims.
The participants fear that they cannot control such privacy issues
in using technology. They are aware that there are many software,
which can make anything editing their pictures. Some participants
emphasized more of their technology literacy, while most of the
others partially avoid and abandon many technologies because of
their religiosity and privacy issues.
There are other concerned participants (
n=
8) who said that they
cannot maintain purdah on digital media because they don’t go with
the contemporary norms of other social media users. The issues
include the misuse of digital pictures and facing ridicule for not
showing the face like “others” online. Three participants reported
that they have seen pictures of women being used in memes and
ridiculed especially because they were maintaining purdah, which
was taken as not conforming to their contemporary social media
“friend group” norms. A female madrasah teacher in her thirties
does not have a Facebook account and she describes why:
“You know I a not modern enough to open a Face-
book prole yet. How many women have you seen
on social media with a niqab (a popular Islamic veil
for women)? [takes a pause for my answer]. I guess
none! That is the case. Do you think if I go on social
media with my niqab on, people are gonna be happy
with that. Facebook is for showing o; we do exactly
the opposite in Islam!”
The diverse responses on how the purdah rules should be applied
to digital media show increased diculties and confusion among
our participants. Besides whatever opinion they have, they suggest
(
n=
16) consulting Islamic scholars for concrete suggestions and
guidelines.
Participants (
n=
15) present their interpretation for male purdah
rules on social media, too. One essence of the purdah for men
is to control their eyesight from anything that is prohibited in
Islam, which speaks about the signicance of strict guidance for
Islamic communities to control themselves from anything that they
are not allowed to see. When talking about privacy issues, our
participants allude to this internal control of vision and minds. An
imam suggests to enforce this education of controlling eyesight in
the society:
“One of the primary rules in Islam is to control your
eyesight; you cannot look at prohibited things. This
is true not only for the male, but also for the female.
My parents taught me this very clearly during my
childhood, so I grew up with these values.
These and many other comments and stories from our partici-
pants demonstrate how purdah shapes the notion of privacy among
their communities, for both men and women. The prior research
on privacy in CSCW and related areas have presented diverse inter-
pretations of what constitutes the distinction between public and
private sphere across varied contexts and communities, both in the
Global South and the Global North [
28
,
93
]. In those studies, the
contexts, communities, and cultures have been characterized by
spatial proximity, professional aliations, or personal relations. In
our study, we nd how religious ideologies shape the personal and
communal notion of privacy facilitated through purdah – both in
its literal and interpreted forms.
5.2 Amanah
5.2.1 Amanah, Privacy, and Islam. The central meaning of amanah
is accountability to Allah for any action. The origin of amanah
is amn, which means security, safety, protection, peace, and tran-
quility, among various other related meanings. In Arabic culture,
al-amanah means honesty. Amanah has been collectively dened
206
Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia
in Islam as the fulllment of trust through material and immaterial
means [
104
]. The religious and social values of amanah are multi-
faceted. Samsudin and Islam discuss ten values of amanah [
94
] in
their work. Some social values of amanah include fulllment of
rights of Allah and humans, establishing justice, psychological com-
fort and reassurance, and reliability and respect in a society [
94
].
Referencing Quran, authors explain that amanah denotes trustwor-
thiness in the moral sense.
Our participants recognize amanah as a part of their faith (iman).
This faith comes in terms of responsibilities to Allah (hakkullah)
and responsibilities to human (hakkul ibad). The responsibility to
human includes obtaining other people’s trust as it represents car-
ing for Allah. The participants emphasize the moral responsibility
that comes up with the guidelines of amanah. Observing the value
of amanah serves to perform this responsibility to both Allah and
humans. An Islamic scholar (mufti) explained the signicance of
amanah while talking about an individual’s responsibility to others
in keeping trust and honesty:
“There is a hadith from Rasul (sm)
7
that says, one
who does not have amanah, does not have religion.
Not only the wealth, but also our words are amanah.
When we trust someone and tell them something
out of our belief that they will not reveal that...but if
they do this later, they are breaking their amanah. By
doing such misdeed, they alienate themselves from
their religion.
Our study shows various examples of our participants (
n=
18)
connecting this value of amanah to privacy management, both for
themselves and for others. Almost all participants mentioned that
if someone shares particular information with a group of people,
and do not want anybody outside that group to know about this,
that piece of information is amanah. Even when someone does
not say anything regarding the privacy of the information, it is the
responsibility of the one who is listening to that information to keep
it secret. Even when a person does not explicitly asks to keep their
shared information secret, it is the responsibility of the recipient
to gure out the sensitivity of the information. The person who
is sharing the information would leave gestures, such as speaking
in a low voice, or looking around while speaking, which are the
indicators for the listener to keep the information secret. However, if
someone shares information that potentially causes harm to others,
it is permissible to share that for the greater good of the society. A
mosque cleric (mufti) and madrasah teacher explained such cues to
us:
“A hadith from Tirmizi Sharif
8
says, if someone has
told you anything and then has looked around to see
if someone else is there, then it means that he does not
want others to know about it. Whatever he said to you
is amanah now. Don’t tell it to someone else. However,
if there is something you know about someone else
that is threatening to others or may harm others if
you keep it secret, you must reveal that.
According to this and other participants, the shared piece of
information automatically becomes an amanah, which could be
7Prophet Muhammad goes by Rasul in Islamic culture.
8One of the six reliable hadith volumes in Islam
broken in special circumstances only. When the shared information
is a potential risk to other people, then it becomes a responsibility
to reveal this information. This is the responsibility of the recipient
to assess the risk of the information and then deciding to keep it a
secret or reveal it.
Our participants provided an interpretation of amanah in digital
spheres. While the essence of purdah guides whom to communicate
or not, amanah guides what information to keep secret and what
to reveal. Our participants described examples of leaking chat his-
tory, stealing digital contents from other people, demeaning others
online as activities that are prohibited according to the values and
teachings of amanah.
Eleven participants mentioned that they are concerned of the pri-
vacy risk of their online interaction and they mentioned the value
of amanah to manage their information exchange online. Some par-
ticipants (
n=
7) informed abandoning social media altogether due
to various privacy risks. However, other progressive participants
are positive about the potential of using social media. This group
of participants suggest to bring fore the value of amanah and teach
that to other pious Muslims. A madrasah teacher mentioned the
practices he follows and teaches in the digital realm:
“Look, you cannot avoid YouTube, social media, and
other digital platforms. You have to use them often
for the sake of Islam, say for sending your invitation
(daoah) to others. I have to chat with my friends. We
talk about many things, personal and professional.
Our conversations are amanah to me. I never give my
phone to even my kids [who are less than ten years
old]; even if they won’t be able to open the chat box
or leak the conversation. I cannot break amanah of
my friends. If I do, I am violating my responsibilities
to people (hakkul ibad).”
Some madrasah teachers described that they start privacy edu-
cation in their institutions from the rst grade; however, they don’t
come in the literal terms of privacy, rather through the value of
amanah and the responsibility to human (hakkul ibad). Upon our
ask to elaborate on this, a madrasah teacher explained,
“Now, in the age of technology, it is very hard to
maintain the responsibilities to people (hakkul ibad).
Say someone might have exchanged a text or made a
video to blackmail someone else. They are publishing
it on Internet. These contents might become vital and
the consequences might be damaging. That’s why
you will see many madrasahs are strictly prohibiting
mobile phones on the campus. There are reasons why
they do it.
Our participants describe another aspect of amanah as forgive-
ness (
n=
12). They refer to this aspect of amanah while talking
about online defamation and leaking private information for re-
venge purposes. Participants mention that people often make mis-
takes that are unacceptable to Allah, and also, to our society. In
such a situation, our participants described the signicance of per-
severance and forgiveness to save the person from public shaming
by keeping the news secret. A mosque Imam gave us such an exam-
ple, which he also described in one of the recent Friday preaching
during midday prayer (Jummah):
207
COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
“I can tell you a story now. Once a woman came to
Rasul (sm) to inform that she had committed non-
permitted sex in Islam (jena). Rasul (sm) did not give
any attention even though the women came multiple
times until she gave birth to the child. Rasul (sm) was
actually trying to hide this information. If it got leaked,
it would have been dishonoring for that woman in
the society. You know, Allah does not only forgive, He
is also gracious (Rahman) and merciful (Rahim), no
matter how many sins humans do, how big the sin is,
He will forgive and keep your secret in Him. People
should do the same.
Some participants (
n=
13) brought the concept of amanah to
address privacy issues among spouses. One participant describes
spouses as condant and amanah to each other. In times of suspicion
and distrust, Islam suggests being generous to each other. They
described that even if one spouse nds something disturbing about
their peers, they need to address it rst before letting others know
about this. They mentioned that if spouses took each other as their
amanah, the need for family surveillance would have been less. A
participant in his thirties said:
“Say, the husband is working on the laptop, and the
wife is constantly in suspicion of what her husband
is doing. You will nd enough example around you
where spouses are checking each other’s phone. For
such a situation, Allah said in the Surah Hujurat, pro-
tect yourself from unnecessary distrust, meaning stay
away from this [distrust]. Don’t look for someone’s
fault constantly. Our social unrest is mainly due to
this. If people can handle this, spouses don’t distrust
their peers unnecessarily, then the situation might
change.
Our participants showed their concerns of people’s unawareness
of the true value of amanah. They stressed that spreading this value
can awaken Muslims who care for Allah and humans. Caring for
Allah will also help them to take social measures related to amanah.
Our participants (
n=
17) expressed their anxiety that many
Muslims nd it dicult to keep up with the guidelines of amanah in
the recent time. With people’s access to a lot of technologies, anyone
has the option to commit unethical activities anytime if they want to
do so. Although there are options for access control and customizing
online proles, our participants reported that they cannot properly
understand the privacy and security features because of their lack
of digital literacy. Our participants thus warn Muslims to be more
careful than ever. A mosque cleric (khatib) in his forties mentioned:
“Now is the most challenging time than any other
time in the past. We have a lot of things in our hands
now. We can do anything, good or bad. This increased
opportunity has come with a cost, too. You have to
be alert, always; otherwise, you might lose your faith
(iman) so quickly if you break amanah of someone
else.
Some other participants talked about the punishments (
n=
15)
if someone breaks any amanah. They also reminded us the divine
rewards of keeping amanah. This reward-punishment system in
Islam further motivates Muslims to adhere to the guidelines related
to amanah. A mosque employee who calls for prayers in the mosque
(muazzin) was explaining:
“Keeping secret is like keeping amanah. Whoever
breaks amanah is showing a sign of a false Muslim
(munaq). We should always be careful to keep amanah.
[...] I believe that breaking amanah is prohibitted
(haram). I believe it because whatever Allah has pro-
hibitted, there is a reason for that. He knows this is
not good for humanity, that’s why He has prohibited
them (haram). I have a rm belief in this.
In summary, our study reveals Islamic values of amanah in rela-
tion to privacy. The set of values include trustworthiness, honesty,
forgiveness, secrecy, commitments, and empathy. Imams, Islamic
clerics, students, and attendees of mosques and madrasas showed
their literacy of the values of amanah, social implications of prac-
ticing them, and challenges of conforming to the values in the time
of various technological and social challenges.
5.2.2 Amanah, Privacy, Surveillance, and Freedom. Our participants
(
n=
11) mention that Islam has guidelines regarding subordina-
tion in family and social levels. They also talked about Islamic
cultures around the world that reinforce these guidelines with vary-
ing levels of strictness. The sub-ordinations commonly translate
into gendered and family surveillance. This culture of subordina-
tion and surveillance often are connected to amanah. For example,
wives are often regarded as dependent on their husbands when it
comes to personal and social security. Husbands are responsible
for taking good care of their wives and the children in the family,
and protecting them from wrongdoings and external harms. This is
because wives (women in general) and children are amanah to the
husbands and fathers. One madrasah teacher explained this to us:
“Your wife and children are amanah to you. You have
to take care of them, both inside and outside of your
home. When I give a mobile phone to my kids, you
know, it is unavoidable that there will be prohibited
pictures coming into his sight. So, I take the time to
tell them, hey, don’t look at it. This is bad; Allah does
not like it. My duty is to create his mindset so that he
loves Allah, loves Muhammad (sm), loves what they
instructed us to do.
However, most participants (
n=
17) recognize the boundary
between privacy, personal freedom, and surveillance. Many of the
participants expressed their concerns that Islamic regulations re-
garding surveillance are often misrepresented, even by Islamic
clerics, which leads to misinterpretation. This, in turn, makes the
rules of surveillance as tools for improper control in Muslim fam-
ilies. A Quran memorizer (haz) discussed this at length with us
with a story from Rasul (sm). In his opinion, surveillance is not
absolutely unnecessary. Kids must be kept under surveillance but
the extent of surveillance also needs to be reasonable; otherwise,
it would not be sustainable and would break down at some point.
Talking about the sustainability of surveillance, he also reminded
that in Islam, nothing extreme is permissible. He said:
“Many times Ayesha (ra)’s [Prophet’s (sm) wife] friends
used to visit her. When it happened, Rasul (sm) went
outside of the house, leaving them [Ayesha (ra) and
208
Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia
her friends] alone so that they could talk alone. Now
the point is, if you keep someone in extreme surveil-
lance, someday it will explode. I agree that our parents,
they can observe us up to certain stages in our life.
They might have some personal information. There is
nothing wrong with this. Now say, a kid is watching
a drama. If their parents are visiting them frequently,
and keeping them in observation, the situation will
be suocating for the kid.
Overall, our participants showed a dynamic relation between pri-
vacy, surveillance, and public participation, especially for women
in Bangladeshi religious communities. In this complex relation-
ship, the cultural norms and clerical rhetoric play as much role
as does Islamic regulations coming from the holy books. Amidst
these cultural and societal norms, technology is opening up new
opportunities as well as challenges to renegotiate the boundary
between privacy and freedom.
5.3 Gheebat,Riya, and Buhtan
In Islam, gheebat means backbiting [
62
]. It is considered as one of
the major sins in Islam [
62
]. When someone talks about someone
else at their back in a way that they would not like it, it is considered
as gheebat. Our participants indicated it as one of the dominant
ways through which private information is leaked in social life.
Our participants (
n=
13) recommend educating people about this
deadly sin and suggest that controlling this sin could help mitigate
situations in which private information is exposed to unwanted
entities.
Two other concepts that our participants referred to are riya and
buhtan.Riya means falsely presenting oneself as having virtues
and good natures [
12
]. In doing so, people often give examples of
other people for a comparative analysis to heighten their worth.
In our study, participants were particularly familiar with this act
as they saw a rise of Islamic preachers who were trying to make
themselves famous online by making false and vulgar comments to
increase their popularity. Buhtan is closely related to gheebat, which
is similar to slandering, and spreading false statements about others’
acts and characteristics to damage their reputation. Throughout
our study, participants referred to these three Islamic values, which,
if people are aware of, and careful about, could help mitigate the
privacy issues in Islamic communities.
There has been a recent surge of religious preaching in Bangladesh.
Many preachers with the ill intention of gaining temporary social
media attraction back talk about other preachers and even spread
rumours about others. Since this was being done by some Muslim
preachers, our participants could relate to this practice strongly
and expressed their concerns. A mosque cleric (khatib) explained
his own experiences of rumors being spread about him:
“Ten years ago when I was not a mufti, I went to
Cox’s Bazar and took a picture. The picture was of
such nature that people wouldn’t expect a mufti to
take. I am a mufti now. If someone pulls up that picture
now and defames me out of jealousy, saying ... hey,
see, hujur has taken this picture, this is one kind of
blackmailing. This has happened to me. They spread
this picture on social media.
This participant is a well-known and inuential cleric (khatib)
in the community. He often provides progressive ideas of reform
in the social systems within the community. For his wisdom and
literacy, he has achieved respect and popularity inside his clergy
circle. But the group who wanted to defame the cleric (khatib) was
sharing his old picture claiming that he does not conform to Islamic
norms. This cleric (khatib) then went on explaining the severity of
sins committed through gheebat,
Gheebat is prohibited (haram) in Islam. The Quran
strictly prohibits this. This practice is so gross that
it has been compared to eating esh from your dead
brother. Ai yuhibbu ahadikum ai yahdu lahma akihi
9
,
meaning ‘Would any of you like to eat the esh from
your dead brother’? See? Any self-respecting person
cannot commit any kind of gheebat.
Our participants (
n=
14) explain both religious and social con-
sequences of gheebat,riya, and buhtan. They mentioned that such
practices not only impact the personal images of Muslims through
social defamation; but also harm Islam itself by setting examples of
Muslims committing such actions. A madrasah student mentioned
that such back-talking do harm to the religion of Islam overall:
“You don’t have to look far, look at our Imam (hujurs)
who are delivering public speech (waz) every day
[a lot of Islamic public speaking happens during the
winter, he has referred to those]. They are spreading
rumours about each other, judging each other, belit-
tling every now and then out of jealousy, to keep up
their popularity. They are not only demeaning each
other, but they are also demeaning Islam overall.
The way our participants see it, such incidents happen due to
the absence of faith in Allah. To help people become aware of the
sins of gheebat,riya, and buhtan, our participants suggest looking
into Islamic history during Rasul (sm) and his companions (sahabis).
One mosque cleric was explaining this to us:
“Don’t they [people who commit gheebat] know Omar
(ra)? Don’t they know that during Omar (ra)’s time,
Kharijis did a lot of [awkward] incidents, spread ru-
mours, even killed people? They [kharijis] did a lot
of things. Omar (ra) never levelled them as indel
kar. He thought that they [Kharijis] are currently
misguided but they might return to the right path
soon. And what are we doing? We are not pulling
people closer. We are pushing them far away from
us through riya. Quran mentioned several times to
stay away from riya. Rasul (sm) told many times to
stay away from riya. Generally, I was thinking about
this today. Riya is the worst thing in this world, it will
never let you be happy.
In summary, referring to gheebat,riya, and buhtan, our partici-
pants presented us the multifaceted ways people back-talk, spread
rumours, and lie about other people. Our participants showed their
awareness of these sinful activities and suggest people to be mindful
about the punishments if they engage in those activities.
9
It is an Arabic sentence quoted from the participant. Islamic clerics often quote holy
texts in foreign languages to emphasize their signicance.
209
COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
6 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
In the sections above, we have presented the perceptions of privacy
among Bangladeshi pious Muslim communities. We have discussed
some key Islamic values for privacy preservation, including pur-
dah,amanah,gheebat,riya, and buhtan. Our participants either
extrinsically refer to or intrinsically imply these values while dis-
cussing privacy-preserving behaviours. We further discuss how
these values are contextually integrated into Bangladeshi pious
Muslim communities to construct privacy-preserving habits among
the community members and members outside of the groups, where
they not only refer to these values to attain social obligations but
also to fulll the divine interest of pleasing God. In this section,
we discuss the implications of our ndings and highlight some key
takeaways for the HCI community.
6.1 Limitations
We start by acknowledging that our ndings may not generalize to
other Islamic religious cultures. As we have discussed above, Islam
has multiple ideological groups with their own interpretations and
socio-cultural traditions. The Indian subcontinent has this pluralism
in Islamic traditions [
5
]. We study Bangladeshi Sunni Muslims,
including Islamic scholars, madrasah students, and pious Muslims
in urban settings. Our ndings may extend to Bangladeshi rural
Islamic communities as well, as the Muslims in both rural and
urban regions demonstrate similar Islamic practices. However, we
acknowledge that additional research is required to understand how
the aspects of privacy are perceived and practiced among Muslims
with their variable aliation to Islam in dierent geographical
locations with their distinctive spiritual orientation and cultural
norms.
The above being said, the force of organized religion is prevalent
throughout the world with varying degrees of societal impact [25,
42
]. This force is not uncommon even in the West [
42
], where mod-
ernistic and pragmatic values are stronger compared to other parts
of the world. Many studies within HCI recognize the signicance
of religion and provide suggestions for design [
20
,
117
,
118
]. We
join this literature to understand the connection of the religious
values of pious Bangladeshi Muslims to their privacy management.
We encourage future studies to explore this connection in other
religious traditions around the world.
A related issue is whether or not we should have checked the
theological root for our ndings. For example, one might expect
proofs from the Quran or the Hadith where our participants refer
to the purdah or amanah in addressing their privacy concerns. Al-
though one of the authors of this paper is knowledgeable about
Islamic literacy, we did not cross-check the ndings for theological
accuracy primarily because of the reason we describe below. Fol-
lowing the ethnographic tradition, we have immersed ourselves in
the eld and reported our ndings through a systematic qualitative
analysis. Our ndings demonstrate how pious Islamic communities
interpret religious texts and justify their social actions based on
that. Varied interpretations–and likewise the social actions–lead
to dierent Islamic traditions. Such dierent traditions eventually
strengthen our original questions that norms as the primary design
focus marginalizes religious communities, whose norms are shaped
by Islamic holy texts with various interpretations. In summary, our
ndings do not directly come from Islamic scriptures, rather from
our participants who interpret the texts in the scripture to describe
their privacy and information sharing practices.
Having acknowledged the limitations above, we now discuss the
key takeaways of our ndings for the HCI community.
6.2 Surveillance, Family Norms, and Privacy
Our study explicates a unique case of peer surveillance and privacy
issues in shared space and technology use among pious Muslims.
Some scholarships of privacy in the Global South have informed
shared use of technology as an expected culture [
93
], while oth-
ers have highlighted the vulnerabilities of the shared use of a de-
vice [
6
]. While the works are good resources for understanding
privacy norms in many South Asian regions, they make blanket
assumptions about the notion of the norm and oer insights into
the shared use of technology in an over-generalized way sidelining
many intersecting community values. We specically discuss two
points below.
6.2.1 Spatial Privacy Norms. With the increased adoption of tech-
nologies and social media, many traditional privacy practices in
the Global South are breaking down. For example, the traditional
understanding of spatial privacy–who sees or accesses what spaces
in a shared environment–is changing [
72
]. Now, people are sharing
images of their private spaces on social media, which are often
not accessible even to their family members and relatives [
72
].
The privacy control is shifting from collectives to individuals [
8
].
On the contrary, our study shows that this shift is not happening
entirely and at once. We have shown that pious Muslim families
intentionally share the same technological devices so that each
family member knows what other members (especially children)
are doing using the device. This tradition is dierent from other
sharing cultures of technologies, where people share the same de-
vices due to resource constraints [
6
,
8
]. Our participants put shared
technologies on a spatial spot that is visible and accessible to every-
one in the family. Through this spatial arrangement, they ensure
accountability for everyone’s actions. Even for individual private
spaces (e.g., females rooms), there is an implicit sense of privacy
norm for what a family member is allowed or not allowed to do in
the private spaces. For example, our study shows that a woman will
not share a picture of her private space on social media because of
Islamic regulations. Such a structure of traditional and digital pri-
vacy management demonstrates that pious Muslim communities in
Bangladesh adhere more to the divine controls, which is in contrast
with the normative culture where the patriarchal and gender-based
controls are prevalent [6, 93].
Such dierences in spatial privacy management demonstrate that
a grand culture is less likely to exist even in a small geographical
region. As a result, we argue that a culture-based design (such as the
one suggested by Abokhodair and her colleagues [
3
]), while helpful
in overcoming limitations of Western design, is inadequate for
addressing privacy issues of Bangladeshi pious Islamic communities.
Instead, we argue that an approach to designing for plural values
might be more eective in Bangladeshi Islamic culture.
In designing for sustainability for Muslim communities, Rifat et
al. [
87
] draws on Arturo Escobar [
34
] to suggest ontological changes
210
Purdah, Amanah, and Gheebat COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia
for epistemological orientation in designing for dierent values
and ideologies. We argue that this suggestion applies in designing
for privacy as well. Beyond the Islamic identity, the identity of
South Asian Muslims is complex and inter-sectional [
98
]. Designers
need to recognize the identity and value complexities in designing
for addressing privacy-related issues among pious Bangladeshi
Muslims.
6.2.2 Peer Surveillance and Adolescent Online Privacy. Our work
joins the emerging HCI literature of adolescent privacy, safety, and
the parent-child relationship in managing adolescent privacy needs.
Most discussions to address adolescent safety and privacy problems
are overly focused on technology (see, for example [
16
,
91
]). Al-
though the works marginally mention societal aspects of adolescent
safety and privacy, they barely mention how dierent social forms,
values, and structures recognize and manage privacy issues among
adolescents. We expand this literature by explicating adolescent
privacy and family surveillance in pious Muslim communities.
Our ndings show that the shared use of technology in pious
Muslim families is a form of peer surveillance. Parents in a family
keep an eye on their children’s technology use, often intervening
to protect their children from prohibited (haram) contents. As a
justication, our participants pointed out that children are amanah
for parents according to Islamic guidelines. Parents’ responsibil-
ity in a family thus is to raise children with Islamic values. It is
the parents’ responsibility to protect their children from being ex-
posed to prohibited (
haram
) contents on the Internet. Although
surveillance is intended to be maintained strictly in our studied
communities, our interviewees show careful consideration so that
extreme boundary regulations do not upset the family members.
The regulatory culture is formed through inter-relational trust and
respect. As information technologies open up various ways for
children to engage in prohibited activities, parents often do not
allow children to use technology at all.
Many existing HCI studies deepen our knowledge of mutual
understanding of privacy issues among children and their parents,
the negotiation of privacy boundaries, communication gaps, and
nding technology and policy solutions for parental mentoring [
29
].
In this literature, children’s privacy is recognized primarily as a
liberal right. On the contrary, pious Bangladeshi Muslim children’s
privacy issues are recognized primarily as a religious and ethical
problem, where parents are responsible for safeguarding their chil-
dren (amanah). As a result, there is a need to shifting the focus
of the adolescent privacy problem and their parental mentoring
from rights to ethics and designing technology and policy solu-
tions accordingly. One implication of this shift is to providing tools
and manuals to parents in pious Islamic communities to help them
easily categorize prohibited (haram) and permissible (halal) con-
tents online so that they have the proper knowledge to guide their
children to avoid non-permitted contents.
6.3 Divine Regulations, Marginalization of
Pious Muslims, and Inclusive Privacy
Our ndings show that pious Muslims in Bangladeshi religious
communities have a strong divine interest in the way they un-
derstand and manage privacy. The ndings demonstrate that the
divine dimensions are mediated through a set of values: purdah,
amanah,gheebat,riya, and buhtan. Purdah guides what or whom
our participants are allowed to show, see, communicate, and accept
in the digital realm. This Islamic regulation ultimately guides the
communities to categorize prohibited (haram) or permissible (halal)
online contents. The value of amanah does not only instruct how a
Muslim should manage their own privacy but also how they should
help others manage their privacy. The values of gheebat,riya, and
buhtan gives the pious Islamic communities additional analytical
tools to categorize private and public information. Altogether, the
values constitute the moral umbrella for our studied communities
to address their privacy issues.
The recognition of the divine dimension of privacy practices
strengthens HCI knowledge in several dierent ways. This study
reveals how privacy practices among pious Muslim communities are
a part of their identity performance [
58
] within and outside of their
communities. As a community itself, pious Muslims do not only
refer to the texts from holy books concerning their lifestyle, but also
perform the lifestyle through purdah,amanah,gheebat,riya, and
buhtan. Such performances reinforce their identity as Muslims. The
community members have a shared and collective understanding
of what to do regarding inter-personal boundary regulation, online
and oine visibility, and responsibilities to safeguard others’ secrets.
Such a consolidating function of in-group activities (such as keeping
secret of each other (amanah)) and artifacts (such as purdah) [
58
]
form their social and online “norms”, which may or may not go
with the other intersecting norms that they share, like geographical
or national norms. Building on McDonald and Forte [
67
], we argue
that a lack of nuance attention to such privacy rhetoric focused on
the divine motivations and esoteric languages may marginalize the
pious Muslim communities from privacy-preserving technologies.
Beyond the in-group norms and identity performance, pious
Muslims also make their norms visible to their other intersecting
normative groups. For example, our ndings show how a partici-
pant makes her purdah visible to a group of university students not
only because of the divine motivation but also to make her Muslim
identity visible to others. Such an identity performance also com-
municates her privacy preferences to her peers. In a similar act, the
veil on a Facebook prole picture communicates our participants’
online privacy preferences.
The observation above further advances the literature of inclu-
sive privacy [
30
,
99
,
110
] that argues for designing privacy mech-
anisms that are inclusive of people with dierent characteristics,
needs, abilities, and values [
110
]. In section 2, we discussed how
privacy recommendations for Arab Muslim culture, while doing a
laudable job to get rid of various limitations of individual-centred
design coming from the West, fall short of addressing the privacy
needs of pious Bangladeshi Muslims. On the other hand, privacy
studies in the Global South also [
6
,
8
,
93
]) do not deeply engage with
the divine values among pious Bangladeshi Muslims. As a result of
no recognition of pious Bangladeshi Muslims’ privacy issues, our
ndings demonstrate that many Muslims partially use technolo-
gies or abandon technologies altogether despite their increasingly
changing attitude towards technology. The recognition of pious
Muslims’ values is important for eective and sustainable tech-
nology design in the Global South as the community constitutes
sizable demography in the region.
211
COMPASS ’21, June 28-July 2, 2021, Virtual Event, Australia Rifat et al.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
We thank our participants for their cooperation. Special thanks to
our anonymous reviewers from CSCW and COMPASS, whose con-
structive comments helped to improve our paper. This research was
made possible by the generous grants from Natural Sciences and En-
gineering Research Council (#RGPIN-2018-0), Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council (#892191082), Canada Foundation for
Innovation (#37608), Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation
(#37608), and the International Fulbright Centennial Fellowship of
Syed Ishtiaque Ahmed.
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