We have all heard of halal food, go to great lengths to procure it and ensure all the ingredients in our food and drink are halal or permissible from an Islamic standpoint. But what is halal entertainment you might ask? Can entertainment also be halal or haram (impermissible or sinful)? This article introduces the concept of halal into the domain of entertainment.
Commonly understood as amusement or enjoyment, entertainment is a vast area. It includes what we watch on television, what we listen to, the activities we participate in for fun and for passing time, and the company we seek in our leisure time.
It is obviously impossible to sift through each category of entertainment to ascertain what is halal and what is not. Therefore, let us understand the concept of halal entertainment through the lens of Islam and through the excellent examples from the life of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
What we watch and listen to
What we watch and for how long has a direct impact on our psyche. A child in America watches 3 hours of television per day on average. Total screen time (derived by adding television, computer, phone, ipad and various other electronic devices), averages 7 per day. By such exposure, children learn to passively absorb whatever information comes in front of them rather than actively engaging and learning new information. Their minds can be molded for the remainder of their lives as mentally inactive and passive, or alert and active, according to what they are allowed to watch and for how long.
As adults, we also need to monitor what we watch. Most movies and television shows involve some aspect of zina (adultery or fornication), extreme violence, or shirk (association of partners with Allah). Songs, music, lewdness and nudity are freely available and have become the norm, but because they are the norm does not convert them into halal activities. It is also common for people who indulge in watching and listening to such content, to ridicule those who do not. However, we must be able to distance ourselves from the activities which bring us closer to hell fire and farther away from Allah and the way of life he has chosen for us. As Allah says in the Quran (chapter 2 verse 212), “Beautified for those who disbelieve is the life of this world, and they ridicule those who believe”.
The company we keep
Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said that “A person is upon the religion of his close friend, so beware whom you befriend”. The company we keep has such a strong impact on our lives that it can lead us astray or help us stay on the straight path of Islam. It is therefore important for us to select our friends and acquaintances, and those of our children, carefully. There is sufficient research in the wider community about peer pressure’s role in vices such as drug addiction to validate this point. Our friends shape play a role in what we consider important (are these prayer, remembrance of Allah and participation in halal activities?) and how actively we can strive to be successful in this world and the next (do they enjoin doing good, advise against evil and condemn sinful activities and guard each other from causing strife or plotting haram acts?). Allah tells us that:
Evil words are for evil men, and evil men are [subjected] to evil words. And good words are for good men, and good men are [an object] of good words….(The Quran, chapter 24, verse 26).
Even our jokes and humor need to conform to an Islamic standard of behavior. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) prohibited us from targeting specific people, cultures or societies in our jokes and from using ridicule, hurtful statements, sarcasm or double-meaning in our speech. There are many examples of permissible jokes from the life of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him); one such example is:
Once old woman came to prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) and asked if she would go to jannah or paradise. He replied that old people would not be found in jannah. Hearing this, the woman thought she would not be allowed in paradise ; but the prophet continued, and said that all people would be made eternally young in jannah and would be aged in their early 30s. Hearing this the old woman was very happy as she knew she would shed the frailty and limitation of old age for ever if she could attain a place in jannah.
What our activities should be
Islam does not restrict people from enjoying their lives. Neither is it expected that people should only worship Allah and not do anything which they are inclined to do naturally.
Entertainment and refreshment must be sought in a halal manner, and in activities which strengthen the family and the society, and which do not cause deviation in our faith. Some examples are: excursions with family to places which do not include zina and which do not involve the intermingling of sexes; visiting family and friends and inviting them over; holding competitions in sport; playing mentally challenging board games, learning a new sport and practicing it.
It is the sunnah of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) that both boys and girls and men and women be physically fit and strong. This allows them to be better Muslims and also more productive and focused in life. For this reason, all people are encouraged to participate in activities such as running, swimming, horse-riding, and in sports involving marksmanship, like archery.
To develop a balance between our commitment to Islam, and our involvement in entertainment, it is useful to be reminded that:
And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the hereafter- that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew. (The Quran, chapter 29 verse 64).