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Entertaining Ourselves to Death

How your daily entertainment can affect your spirituality

More often than not, you will find yourself mindlessly surfing through channels to fill up the free slots in your routine; or maybe to fill up the emptiness inside. For some, the best way to unwind is with a favourite show and a jar of cookies. And so it begins—the cycle of amusing yourself to death, episode after episode of that great TV series. What started as a short-lived way to pass time one fine morning becomes an everyday marathon. And it is not just one drama you get hooked to; it builds up to four or five series at a time…

Islām’s take on the matter

If you ask an average Muslim whether it is permissible to watch movies or television in general, most of them will shrug and say it is okay as long as you skip the “bad” parts. Everyone will have their own interesting logic of justifying the act. Coming to “bad” parts, who gets to decide what those are? Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), you, me or the society in general? According to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health reported by New York Times, there is significantly more sexual content in movies rated PG-13 today than a similarly ranked movie in the past [1]. Societal norms are changing and evolving with time.  Criteria for judging acceptable depictions of adult content are constantly shifting and are consequently reflected in the ratings as well. In effect, what might be considered “Restricted” a decade ago, is rated PG now. Putting it simply, what used to make you uncomfortable before, you are okay with watching it now—because you have subconsciously accepted it as a part of the Western culture and have lowered your inhibitions to its exposure.

What we need is a timeless standard and this is exactly why Allāh sent His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to instruct us for years to come.

Say, “The evil and the good are not equal, even though the abundance of (what is) evil may attract you. So, fear Allāh, O people of understanding, so that you may be successful.” [2]

Notice how Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) did not just say that evil and good are not equal. He instructed His Prophet to say so in the verse. This implies clearly that the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is to set an exemplary model for us to emulate. Secondly, he has explicitly told us of the acceptable (good) and inacceptable matters (evil), so any Muslim with a conscience can decide for himself if the dressing, language and displays of physical affection in movies and TV shows are acceptable or not. A Muslim, on default, should avoid such entertainment even though a person tends to gravitate towards the prevalent call of evil which is seductive on so many levels.  Also, noticeable is the fact that the verse addresses the “people of understanding”. It is only individuals with sound mind and intellect who can sort the wrong from right and will actually be bothered with it. The rest, as implied, will go with the flow.

Scientifically proven ways television can make an impact on you

  • Controlling thoughts

Hail the rise of neurocinema! [3] Courtesy of the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), movie producers can now pinpoint exactly which parts of their motion art had you enraptured. And they are using the data to further enhance their script, characters, effects and the plot just so you get a more fulfilling experience out of their movies. Directors are teaming up with neuroscientists to figure out the best way to storyboard and promote their trailers by tracking brain responses to visual stimuli of their test subjects. The question is—can we afford further innovation in filmmaking that already has half of the population hooked? Though this neurocinema is in early stages, it does promise to hypnotise you on a deeper, richer level. Whatever is left of your willpower to pray on time will take a nosedive.

Also, it is an undeniable fact that exposure to free media can change your opinions and beliefs to a considerable extent. For example, homosexuality is one such subject that is not as averse to the younger generation as it naturally is. It is gradually becoming tolerable even in some Muslim circles and you will hear it loud and clear in classroom debates. Even on Facebook, you have at least one friend who has set her relationship status to “married” to another female friend just for fun. A carefully crafted story on television can make a wrong seem right, and a right seem wrong, and one doesn’t hesitate to make light of a grave matter on the expense of one’s faith.

  • Changes in behavioural patterns

Whether or not onscreen violence promotes aggression in real life is still debatable. But take your kid to an Avengers movie and you will see him imitating the characters at home. According to a new study done at Linfield College [4], there is reason to believe that violence shown on TV fires up the neural networks in the brain prepping it for aggressive behavior. The study did not just take physical violence into account, it also evaluated cognitive patterns in the subjects after showing them clips of relational aggression where girls destroy family circles, engage in spiteful trash-talk or make someone an outcast; the researchers showed mean, immoral screen behaviour in general. They concluded that there is more reason to be wary of expressive bullying onscreen than before.

  • Becoming sexually active earlier

Most working parents leave their kids with TV or hire a sitter who neglects them to TV’s care as well. Children exposed to adult content can become sexually active earlier and this has now been confirmed by a study released by Children’s Hospital Boston [5]. Sexual frustration in youth is no doubt one of the obstacles to progressing as an Ummah. Moreover, according to another study [6], it leads to masturbation as an outlet for carnal desires and eventually opens gates for other evils.

“And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts, from illegal sexual acts). Except from their wives or (the captives) that their right hands possess; for them, they are free from blame. But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors.” [7]

It is on the basis of this verse that scholars have categorised masturbation as unlawful and the habit can only be nipped in the bud by controlling what your children watch on the tube.

  • Triggering traumatic experiences

You might watch movies to get some kicks out of it, but horror films in particular [8] can induce a certain state of mind that might be similar to one you experience during a trauma. It can evoke your past and make you dwell on events that were better off forgotten as pointed out by Bruce McEwen, neuroendocrinology professor at The Rockefeller University in New York. Even if you do not have psychological “baggage”, tearjerkers can cause a misery relapse in people who had recovered from their depression [9]. Dwelling on trauma is unhealthy, internally damaging to a person’s health and leads to depression. There is a word for it too: rumination. It is when you think negative things over and over.

Anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience knows that recalling the demons from the past sets a wheel of negative thoughts in motion where you keep asking yourself questions but reach nowhere. And especially if you relate to a character who has a similar sad story to yours, you philosophically begin to brood on life’s prejudiced points. Questioning fate and self-pity thus make way for feelings of ungratefulness and suppresses your spiritual side further.

  • Promoting soft porn

TV series like Game of Thrones, which is very high on popularity votes and enthusiastically watched all over the world, promote explicit sexual content that is not suitable for any Muslim with a conscience. The creator of Vikings (another TV series) has termed Game of Thrones as “soft porn” [10]. It is not only this series in question that is graphically sexual; many other TV shows promote sex scenes for high audience ratings. Eighteen separate studies [11] have been done and they all draw the same conclusion—soft porn desensitises all viewers. And as it so happens, one sin leads to the other.

Say, “My Lord has prohibited only the shameful acts, whether open or secret, and (every) sinful act, and unjust aggression, and that you associate with Allāh anything for which He has not sent any authority, and that you attribute to Allāh anything about which you do not have sure knowledge.” [12]

Like a coffee addict, where a person gradually develops a love for strong caffeinated beverages, he will begin to crave for stronger doses. This soft porn often paves way for more horrendous and explicit pornography—another vicious cycle that ensnares a person.

O you who believe, do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Whoever follows the footsteps of Satan, (should know that) he orders (one to commit) shameful acts and evil deeds. [13]

The above verse explains how addiction happens. In the initial stages, we have the upper hand. Allāh says “do not follow the footsteps of Satan” which implies that we have the power to stop before we are too deep in. We have the option not to click play on the movie we just streamed or to hold back from checking out a TV show our friends were talking about. But notice how the tables turn in the last half of the verse. Now that we have clicked play, now we are engrossed in the storyline, Satan has the ropes. He will order you to watch episodes back to back. And with all the lewdness that is in it, you will justify it saying you are only following the plot and not the adult content that comes with it. And soon it would matter very little why you began watching it in the first place.

A healthy alternative for mindless TV entertainment could be watching informative documentaries on a topic you are passionate about, or stream an Islamic lecture or invest your time into learning new skills. Keep yourself busy for it is free time that kills us; not us killing time much as we would like to believe.

Surely, the ear, the eye and the heart – each one of them shall be interrogated about. [14]

Unless we have a really good explanation ready for the lewdness we expose ourselves to, we need to keep a check on our “entertainment” for a productive life and a better hereafter.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/14/movies/study-finds-film-ratings-are-growing-more-lenient.html

[2] Al-Qur’ān 5:100

[3] http://edition.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/09/28/brain.scans/index.html?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ

[4] http://blog.oregonlive.com/my-portland/2012/03/onscreen_bullying_primes_brain.html

[5] http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/chb-cwv050409.php

[6] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3440907/

[7] Al-Qur’ān 23:5-7

[8] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-06-22/health/sc-health-0622-movies-impact-on-body-20110622_1_horror-films-intense-movies-birgit-wolz

[9] http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44286245/ns/health-mental_health/t/response-sad-movies-linked-depression-relapse/#.U-7pB_mSySr

[10] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/02/vikings-game-of-thrones_n_5252825.html

[11] http://www.ewtn.com/library/PROLENC/ENCYC134.HTM

[12] Al-Qur’ān 7:33

[13] Al-Qur’ān 24:19-21

[14] Al-Qur’ān 17:36

About Saadia Hamayun

Saadia Humayun is pursuing Biomedical Engineering. She currently works as a Motion Graphic Artist for LiveDeen and Azan, two non-profit Da'wah organisations in Pakistan that conduct Islamic workshops and conferences inviting scholars from abroad. She also volunteers at AlKauthar Institute and blogs in her spare time at callofthedusk.wordpress.com.

16 comments

  1. I am just in the mid of article and so want to say… yes our society is changing bad. People’s tolerance of evil is soon converting into acceptance. We started ‘discussing’ the filthy thing as homos first, then we started mocking them and now we are recognizing them slowly .. inna lillah e wa inna ilae he rajeun. That is why Allah forbids us from discussing evil so often since we become used to it.
    And about bad part.. I’ll mention the Hadith that says do not go near the doubtful since it takes to to haram. Scary. Allah humma inni asaluka minal khair.

  2. Asalam waliekum

    I was extremely delighted when this article was published. I have been a victim of T.V and also many people around me. It has became the primary institution for children. we do need to find an alternative and solutions to these problems. I was happy when “Inspiraton” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulPATCtqfFM) was released. we need more islamic based movies, films, drama to teach or children the norms and the values of Islam

  3. Great article sister! Beautifully written. This is an issue that is destroying our Ummah and needs to be addressed again and again, you never know when and what may enter someone’s heart that will lead them to change for the better. May Allah swt accept it and grant you and your family Jannah Al Firdous.

  4. “And those who guard their chastity (i.e. private parts, from illegal sexual acts). Except from their wives or (the captives) that their right hands possess; for them, they are free from blame. But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors.” [7]

    1. A ‘captive’ female is a ‘slave’ that does not have a right to refuse her masters sexual advances. Therefore it is rape. How does Allah justify rape of females, and slavery of men, women and children?

    2. Can a married Muslim female use male/female ‘captives’ to satisfy her sexual needs?
    If not … why not?

    3. If I wanted to own lots of females that my right hand posseses, how do I go about getting them?
    I could then have my own harem of slaves, rape them every chance i get, and still go to paradise.

    • That’s an awfully relevant set of questions you’ve got there, but here goes:

      1) Your question is based on an absurd presumption that sexual relations equals rape; that the right to have sex with a woman means the right to rape her. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s not. If you actually do feel that way then if I were you I would seriously have a crack at some cognitive psychotherapy to deal with whatever issues you have when it comes to relationships or women. Don’t feel bad, acceptance is the first step towards healing…as long as you don’t act out those impulses out you won’t be held accountable, but don’t let them fester untreated either.

      Also, the word ‘slave’ has many other connotations especially in the west, which don’t apply to Riqq (captives, prisoners of war, etc.).

      2) No. Ask Allah when you meet Him. Or take a look at the sexual reproduction chapter of a biology textbook for clues.

      3) Sorry to burst your bubble again, but it’s highly unlikely. You’d have to wait for a war to break out across the globe, and people to start fighting like they used to back in the day, and happen to come across some female prisoners of war with no one else to protect them. Anyway, even if that happens, sorry but you still won’t be able to rape anyone, because that’s not allowed, remember?

      • Typical. When someone has no reasonable answers, such as yourself, they start attacking the person. I’m assuming you are a Muslim. Is your insulting behaviour a result of Islamic teachings, or are they due to your uncouth parents/friends?

        • So…in response to me providing a comprehensive point-by-point answer to your questions, you resort to accusations and speculation about my friends and family. Right…that says a lot. If only the irony in your reply wasn’t so clearly unintended, it would not have been like watching a car accident.

          • If you cannot see your reply containing ad hominem, you need to stop replying to anyone’s questions.
            Clue-less psychotic people only disrupt dialogue.

    • 1. Gibril Haddad quoted Imam Shafii saying the slave girls consent is not asked for because she doesn’t own herself

      2. No, sex is only allowed with female captives

      3. They are taken as prisoners of war and such a practice is highly inadvisable in this day and age

      • Thank you for your reply Mahmud.

        Is there anything wrong with slavery? Why would Allah, or his Messenger think it’s ok? Of course it makes perfect sense if this law is man-made. Man, who wants wealth and women. Especially young virgin girls.

        Whether it was the Crusades, or the Islamic conquests… it was this human greed that drove it. Nothing to do with spreading Gods laws.

        Religions are man-made. A means to control people.
        There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s not at the expense of other people. Slavery cannot be justified by any sane person.

        • On the off chance that that is indeed a real question, then realise that your confusion arises from a fallacy of four terms. E.g.

          All dogs are quadrupeds
          Bashar al-Assad is a dog
          Therefore Bashar al-Assad is a quadruped

          The word ‘dog’ is used with two distinct meanings (hence the name of the fallacy). In your case, you are using an arbitrary translation of riqq (“slavery”) and importing the western notion of “slavery” along with it. Simples. When Christians and secular westerners/atheists took “slaves” it had nothing to do with prisoners of war, just literally kidnapping people and pretending they owned them, without the “slaves” having any choice in the matter.

          You might have more luck taking this conversation to a more relevant article.

          • Misleading statements may work on some people who are susceptible to anything authority tells them. I, on the other hand, saw through the nonsense of Islam at the age of eight.
            I ‘reverted’ to becoming a human being, many decades ago.

            I will end this conversation with a link of ISIL and slavery. A terrorist organization setup and funded by USA and their puppets, the Saud family.

        • Some ayats worked at the time of the rasul, (saw), some now some for future. takeout what benefits. In this world, you take out what will benefit you in Akhira and the verses of the Quran are interpreted according to person, there you go.

  5. JazakAllahukhayr for this much needed reminder, the article is very well written. May Allah reward you immensely.Ameen

  6. As with many other articles and discussions on the issue of television (particularly from a Muslim perspective), there is too much criticising and not enough solutions. There also needs to be a distinction between the act of wasting time and the act of watching something which contains some form of haram; if you fail to separate the two you’re condemning far more people than intended.
    I’m sure within the Ocean of television, there are shows which may not represent the various horrors of the world, but may not be of any benefit either! So that is a loss upon the individual, but is it a door to lewdness and sexual desensitisation?

    Game of Thrones is a disturbing sign of what TV can expose us to; but it’s not the benchnark for TV, at least not yet, and I pray it doesn’t. But contrary to its popularity, it also has its fair share of condemnation. Not everybody has lost their marbles and given in to the evils of such a show.

    Finally, as this is not the place for such discussion in all honesty, if we as muslims want our youth to leave the bad tv behind (bad in its literal sense, not in terms of acting and script quality), perhaps the solution is to provide an alternative… Documentaries are one such example, but what about MUSLIM made media? If Haqq and Baatil are locked in an indefinite battle, then the tools of media should be used for good, not left in the hands of Devils.

    Other than that, may Allah reward the sister, at the least it provokes discussion that many are not quite ready for.

  7. Very well said. May Allah reward you for your good deeds

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