Through the years, I have always tried to observe three principles, in my writings, all of which I fear I might overstep today:
- Respect the right to differ of those who do not share the same view as myself, as long as there is some Islāmic basis for their view, however weak.
- Avoid names of contemporary personalities, as we are discussing topics and issues not the persons themselves.
- Keep topics to matters which the entire ʾUmmah can associate with. Thus I declined requests to write on UK idol-worship of leaders and stealing of shoes in South African Masājid.
Today I find it increasingly difficult to respect the differing opinion, which through various experiences lead me to doubt the sincerity of the opposing view on this issue. The specifics of the situation may lead me to refer to specific personalities; and I may confuse the bulk of my readership (which is UK and USA based) by what may be perceived as my dinosaur conservatism.
Sense of Betrayal
I am not going to touch on juristic arguments of the legality of television of Islām. My zeal for Islāmic jurisprudence was severely dampened during my student days, when the teacher said that the ʾImām of my school of jurisprudence was a “crazy, worse than a drunkard.” The fact there are those who actually do subscribe to such views, and that his students who lead entire communities today, think that there is no harm in taking such statements light-heartedly, saddens me to no end. So many of our problems lie in only rectifying deeds and being complacent as to whether our minds are in tune with the spirit of Islām. Rather than juristic frowning against images and music, my opposition to the oxymoron of “Islāmic television” is based on the long-term change it is creating in the minds and spirits of the Muslims.
I grew up watching television. Gasp! Yes, I am not going to sanctimoniously pretend what I am not, nor do I feel that Islām commands me to remain silent simply because I have my own defects. Television as a medium is geared towards entertainment, even if it be under the name of news, documentaries and religion. Ask yourself why it is that a good sermon today is not what informs, but what is gripping, like a television programme. Why we choose speakers and venues with the same mentality as we change channels. After more than 12 years of public speaking, I can only recall three people saying that they learnt anything from me. Yet I cannot count the amount of people who say that they enjoy my talks, i.e. find my talks entertaining.
Conversely, I recall that as a student, I was informed of a scholar who had already attained much fame in his sterling service to the ʾUmmah. I was told that never in his life had he so much as glanced as a television. Today there is no technological media in which he does not broadcast the message. He is my senior and may Allāh reward his intention.
Yet whenever the issue of “Islāmic” television arises, I remember a layman bemoaning his sense of betrayal. He had been raised by the scholars to believe in the evils and prohibition of television. As a youngster he vowed he would never allow such evil in his home. Today, as a father, he witnesses the same class of scholars participating on television.
My mind was opened to the broader issues involved in trying to marry television with religion when the esteemed writer, Khālid Baig, was asked in a gathering of scholars what his opinion on the matter was. He in no uncertain terms, and most passionately, decried the concept at length. He specifically requested the scholars to read Amusing Ourselves To Death, by Prof Neil Postman, in order to better understand his vehement opposition. It is not at all amazing that one of the TV presenters who sat by Khālid Baig in that gathering, would later in another gathering quote an isolated sentence which he attributed to Khālid Baig and then state that Khālid Baig recognises the benefits of television. If anyone was deceived, let him read the words of Khālid Baig here out of which I reproduce the following:
Can this dangerous drug be somehow converted into a medicine? Not too long ago, a young professional in the U.S. approached prominent Muslim scholar and Deputy Chairman of the Jeddah based Islamic Fiqh Council of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Justice Taqi Usmani to inquire about his profession. He produced computer graphics for the television and motion picture industry. This is the age of the media, and the only effective way to spread Islam today is through television and movies, he argued. If we do not learn the trade how shall we be able to produce such programs and if we don’t who will, he inquired. Yet, some people had told him that it was not a good profession.
“I have given a lot of anxious thought to this issue,” replied Justice Usmani in his characteristic measured tone, weighing every word. “And I have reached the conclusion that the cause of Islam cannot be served through television, especially under the current circumstances. You should seek another line of work.”
I say that I am not amazed because this same presenter can hardly (mis)quote a Ḥadīth in the Masjid without bending it to his agenda. What value then does Khālid Baig have as compared to Ḥadīth? I was recently pleasantly surprised to hear a talk of this presenter, to which I had no objection. It then struck me that that was because he had not directly quoted a Ḥadīth on that occasion. There were no distortions. When such is state of the honesty of the vanguard of televisionists, is it fair to demand that I consider this to be another sincere difference of opinion? Furthermore, by them now filming our senior scholars in the Masjid, without their consent, the televisionists have crossed the line. There is no difference of opinion when one side unilaterally imposes their opinion upon all and sundry.
Do you use Tech, or does it use you?
I am not opposed to using technology. How then do I write this blog? What I am opposed to is simply jumping and using something without fully understanding the implications. I have previously written on this topic. You may read what I wrote here. Servility to western ideas without pausing to ponder, is really pathetic, even if supposedly done in the name of Islām.
I oppose television as a medium of religion for it is a medium which changes one’s mind-set by its very nature, and not in a positive manner. I must admit that what little I have seen amounts to a less than an hour combined. Yet I am not impressed. Even when the Qurʾān is recited, it has to be with a beautiful nature background playing to titillate the visual senses. I ask the truly unbiased – if you sit for a duration in front of that instrument whose primary function is visual stimulation, can you honestly say that the recitation affected your heart or was it the constant staring at the images? Did you ever feel an inclination to recite the Qurʾān yourself, or did a subconscious desire to tour the Maldives perhaps embed itself in your heart? If you were truly listening to the Qurʾān, what need is there to stare at waterfalls and beaches? Could you not cover the screen and concentrate on the words?
Television calls to perfection of imagery, not a message to the heart. The Qurʾān and Ḥadīth even seem less glamorous if not accompanied by the perfect picture. Really, really question your heart if that is the level of our Islām. If you really believe that you indeed look past the physical appearance of the Shaykh and Molvi (apparently they do not use makeup as yet) and sincerely listen to his words, then you are truly unique. Reality shows that the handsomeness, appearance and glamour of the TV personality play more of a role than the substance. History has been changed and elections won and lost by the physical appearance of political candidates as shown on TV. This is not necessarily the fault of the viewer, it is the intrinsic function of TV to emphasise image over substance, the very antithesis of Islām. Even if the message you watch is 100% correct, your medium is from a world-view directly contradicting the teachings of Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ, and even the west acknowledges the subliminal effects of TV on the sub-consciousness.
Please ponder why the Qurʾān links education to the sense of hearing and speech. It refers to kalām, bayān and lisān. Imagery demands constant embellishment and adornment. Is your Islām a beauty pageant? Can you honestly reconcile such materialism with the spirit and words of the teachings of Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ?
How this medium changes people! A decade ago one of the current presenters told me that he did not want to speak on radio, but his teachers advised him to speak, lest someone less learned spoke something wrong. This same person/presenter has been transformed into a man who publicly denounced scholars who disagreed with him on the television issue.
A well-wisher had suggested that he could arrange for me to appear on television. All other considerations aside, I have to ponder over the satanic glee I feel in my heart when someone praises my talks, and the immense effort it takes for me to focus my attention to speak purely for Allāh the next time round. Me on television? As I stand now, I doubt my sincerity would survive.
Imagery of TV is the Servant of Materialism
My greatest fear of using television is that we shall be giving a permanent and official stamp of approval to matters which were previously personal weaknesses. There will be a permanent change in mentality, from which I see no return in this dark age. Despite my reputation as one who speaks his mind, there are facets of Islām which I have not touched on. They are so unheard of today, that they would simply be brushed aside as my personal ravings.
Islām teaches hygiene and permits the appreciation of beauty. Yet the principle of moderation in Islām should not be forgotten. Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ bathed when necessary or on special days, such as Friday. In our society we tend to bath daily or even more. That is your prerogative. What you do not have a right to do, is to pretend something is Sunnah when it is not. To go beyond the hygiene habits of Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ and label your habit as Sunnah, is to lie against Allāh and His Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ! Instead of admitting something is a personal habit or a culture and leave it at that, we have a filthy tendency to repaint Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ in our own image. This is similar to the Christians who portray Jesus as a blue eyed blonde.
As for beauty, Islām commands grooming, but again with moderation. Over-grooming is an element of materialism. If you do so, that is your weakness between you and your Creator, but if you over-step the line, and justify your weakness as Sunnah, then most disgusting is the creature who wishes to portray Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ as a modern “metrosexual”.
In the distant past scholars such as ʾal-Ghazzālī, could detail these discussions in their writings. In the recent past these issues were no longer discussed, but at least the principle remained. Now when a slight crease on a turban cannot be permitted because of the TV phenomenon, when a scholar spends as much effort on his appearance as does a teenager in love, rank materialism in the guise of supposed Sunnah beautification has been given scholarly approval. It is no longer a personal weakness, but viewed as the official face of Islām. This is just one point on how TV changes the mentality of Muslims. I shall narrate two Ḥadīth on this topic. You decide if the spirit of your religion can ever be conveyed on TV. Ponder over these sacred words and ponder if the blessings and spirit of the one from whom they originate can ever be transmitted over TV.
عن عبد الله بن مغفل قال نهى رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم عن الترجل إلا غبا
ʿAbdullāh bin Mughaffal narrated that Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ forbade males from combing their hair except every second day. [at-Tirmiẓī]
Note the phrasing. Combing is granted as a concession from a prohibition, not the other way around. Islām does command balance, but TV commands crass worldly and image obsessions.
عَنْ أَبِي أُمَامَةَ ، قَالَ : ذَكَرَ أَصْحَابُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَوْمًا عِنْدَهُ الدُّنْيَا ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : ” أَلَا تَسْمَعُونَ أَلَا تَسْمَعُونَ إِنَّ الْبَذَاذَةَ مِنَ الْإِيمَانِ ، إِنَّ الْبَذَاذَةَ مِنَ الْإِيمَانِ
ʾAbū ʾUmāmah narrates that the Companions of Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ were discussing the world. Allāh’s Messenger صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ then said, “Will you not listen? Will you not listen? Verily untidiness is also part of faith. Verily untidiness is also part of faith.” [ʾAbū Dāwūd]
In other words obsession with the world and one’s appearance is prohibited. One should be neat, but not to the degree that nothing is ever out of place in your beauty, grooming and appearance, which are basic requirements of TV and unfortunate and false messages to Muslims.
I know Neil Postman was not a Muslim. I know that what he wrote was decades ago. Yet it is my opinion that the views and warnings he expresses are definitely in line with what should have been Muslim thinking. That only isolated figures such as Khālid Baig and myself agree, do not necessarily make us wrong.
If Postman as non-Muslim could point out the debilitating effects of television on the mind how much more should Muslims be aware of these assaults on mind and soul.
I normally keep my posts short due to the short attention span of Muslim readers. I blame TV for this as well. I have far exceeded my normal length, and although there is much more to say, I have to cut off at this point…… assuming you reached until here : )
Brother Ibrahim Musa had interviewed me on Channel Islam International concerning the above subject.
To listen to the interview, click here
Brother Ibrahim has also transcribed the gist of the interview here
I had given credit to a meeting with Brother Khalid Baig to opening my mind to the pitfalls of using the entertainment medium of TV as a religious medium. However, I had not deemed it appropriate to mention on CII, that the very people who received a thorough and personal explanation on the view of Khalid Baig in that meeting, very mischievously selectively quoted him at a meeting last year, to give the impression that this great thinker is in fact in favour of their participation on iTV (“Islam” TV). I should respect differences of opinion, but to respect dishonesty?
I strongly encourage every Muslim who is interested in honest discourse on the issue, and not just empty slogans of, adapt to the times, etc, to read the book Khalid Baig had advised us to read. Please obtain a copy of Amusing ourselves to death by Neil Postman.