Let us first try to understand the western concept of entertainment and fun which is being promoted world wide and most of us are caught up into it.
Western concept of fun & entertainment
Entertainment can be defined as an activity designed to give people a diversion. Entertainment tends to be passive; certain forms of entertainment which involve active participation, like reading and engaging in sports, belong to a subcategory known as recreation.
It is quite interesting to note that throughout the history, humans have been trying to find various ways to entertain themselves. Every person tries to go out of the way in enjoying or having fun. Although it is a natural trait, humans tend to go to extremes in fulfilling their desires. We find various examples of this trend in the modern Western entertainment industry.
The entertainment industry has reached a peak in the modern world unlike in any previous period in history. The content is so diverse that it is possible for people to entertain themselves almost continuously for years on end, and we find people increasingly moving in this direction. Addiction to television, movies, video games and music is commonplace. People walk with their headphones connected to their iPods, PlayStation portables (PSPs) and other portable forms of entertainment. Indeed, many people today live for entertainment.
This boom in the entertainment industry has two main causes.
The first of these is the advancement of technology in recent history, hence allowing humans to create previously unimaginable forms of entertainment. The second is the Western ideology of life itself. In fact, the average Westerner, under the banner of secular democracy (meaning rule by the people, without interference from religion), has been raised to believe that one’s purpose in life is only to enjoy oneself. The commonly-quoted saying, “You only live once, so make the most of it,” means that one should enjoy this world as much as possible, since there is no second chance.
This ideology will undoubtedly cause people to live their lives for entertainment. Thus, the goal of the average Westerner is to enjoy life with every possible form of entertainment and to make as much money as possible in order to acquire more expensive forms of entertainment. Their goal is essentially entertainment, and the means towards such a goal is to make money. Thus, one can say that the most commonly worshiped idols on earth today are money and entertainment. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him?” (Qur ‘an 25: 43)
Since such people believe in secularism, they have divorced religion from their lives. As a result, all the moral boundaries in the way of attaining such a goal are discarded. The result is what we see today: people are willing to go to any means necessary to earn money. They are inventing various forms of entertainment with no moral limits. This has led to the spread of such evils as pornography, homosexuality, casual sex and many other open vices.
When we explore the Islamic view of entertainment, the problems with the Western concept will become clear; however, I wish to draw the reader’s attention to certain verses in the Qur’an which describe the lifestyle of the disbeliever exactly as mentioned above. This shows the relevance of the Qur’an to every day and age; this is part of the miraculous nature of the Qur ‘an. It is the right of Allah that every human studies and ponders the Qur’an, so that its guidance can become manifest in our lives.
“And the worldly life is not but amusement and diversion; but the home of the hereafter is best for those who fear Allah, so will you not reason?” (Qur ‘an 6: 32)
In this verse, Allah has informed us that those who center their lives around Him will have the best of the afterlife. At the same time, He has explained what people who shun Allah do with their time: nothing but entertainment. Allah then invites us to think about this and to ask ourselves: do we understand that paradise is far greater than this world? Is it sensible to exchange the greatest of Allah’s gifts, an eternal life of fun and entertainment in paradise, for something which is insignificant in comparison to it? Indeed, only a fool allows oneself to be distracted from Allah and paradise by the temporary enjoyments of this world.
“Who took their religion as distraction and amusement and whom the worldly life deluded. So today We will forget them just as they forgot the meeting of this day of theirs and for having rejected Our verses.” (Qur’an 7: 51)
This verse is a stern warning to all those people who ignore Allah and indulge themselves in this world. In fact, in this verse, Allah calls entertainment their deen (religion or way of life), showing that some people will indeed make entertainment their goal in life as we see today. Such people will be ignored by Allah in the afterlife. They will be in the hellfire where they will scream for help, but nobody will care to respond since they ignored their duties to Allah in this life. We ask Allah to save us from being among them.
These are just two of many verses in the Qur’an which condemn this lifestyle and, likewise, its miserable end. Indeed, we were created for a much greater purpose than to just indulge ourselves in this world.
Islamic concept of entertainment
As Muslims, we know that there is much more to life than enjoyment and diversions. In fact, Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
“And We did not create the heaven and earth and that between them in play.” (Qur ‘an 21: 16)
If we humans cannot even manufacture the smallest of things without a reason or purpose, it is ludicrous to believe that Allah would create this entire universe without any purpose or reason. Allah clearly tells us in the Qur’an:
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Qur’an 51: 56)
Thus, our purpose in life is clear: to worship Allah Almighty. He has given us a free will, so we worship by choice.
If we fulfill our divine purpose, He will reward us with paradise. If we ignore it, He will cast us into hellfire, just as we cast our useless items into the garbage dump. Allah does not need us; rather, we need Him and His mercy.
However, before I move on, it is important that we understand what is meant here by worship. In Islam, worship is a broad term which is not restricted to rituals. The Arabic word for worship here is Ibddah, which can also be translated as servitude or slavery. This means that we are supposed to behave on earth as slaves of Allah, doing what He wants and staying away from all that displeases Him. Another word that can be used to describe our duty to Allah is the word ‘Islam’ itself, which can be translated as ‘surrender and submission to the will of Allah’.
This understanding is important because it shows us that we do not have to pray all day to fulfill our purpose in life. Rather, if we live our lives within the boundaries set by Allah, fulfilling our obligations towards Him and staying away from His prohibitions, with the intention to please Him, our every act becomes an Ibadah (act of worship)! For instance, our sleep can be an act of worship, our eating can be an act of worship, and even entertaining ourselves within the boundaries of Islam can be an act of worship. This is the correct understanding of our purpose in Life.
If our purpose in life is to worship Allah, how does entertainment fit into the equation? Should we not be serious all the time, worried about the afterlife and praying to Allah? If we were doing so, it would be the ideal scenario. There would be no difference between us and the angels. However, Allah has created humans with different needs and defined the boundaries within which they can fulfill them. One such need is for entertainment or recreation. True Muslims spend their time wisely; doing only what pleases Allah.
However, wise Muslims know how to maintain balance in life. They know that if they do not take a break every now and then, to rest and enjoy Allah’s blessings, this can lead to negative results such as losing their energy, being unable to continue in their worship or even developing a mental illness. Wise believers take breaks from their daily worship to enjoy some of the things which Allah has made permissible, with the intention of recharging their energy levels in order to worship Allah even better. Following this logic, entertaining oneself in a permissible manner becomes an act of worship and is rewarded.
One should note, though, that even without that intention, entertaining oneself with something permissible is not frowned upon in Islam if done in moderation. However, Ibn Qayyim has pointed out that to reach the higher levels of piety, one should voluntarily stay away from the permissible but futile actions and instead involve oneself with those that bring rewards.’ It is not permissible to force this abstinence on others, though, since this is something that should be done voluntarily; all humans differ in their levels of piety and worldly needs.
The Islamic concept of entertainment is that it is a natural human desire which can be fulfilled within the boundaries of Allah, but it is not the sole goal or purpose of a Muslim in and of itself. Here we note a few differences between our understanding of entertainment and that of the West. Firstly, for Muslims, entertainment is not a goal in itself; it is a blessing from Allah to be enjoyed. Secondly, entertainment in Islam has limits set by Allah, which must be firmly adhered to.
These factors distinguish between the practicing Muslim and the average Westerner. Both entertain themselves, yet a Muslim earns numerous rewards for obeying Allah, while a Westerner incurs the wrath of Allah by forgetting Him and crossing the limits of permissible entertainment. The difference is vast because it involves the purpose of existence itself.
I will now state some general proofs for the permissibility of entertaining oneself and enjoying all that is allowed. This is especially for the benefit of those who, in their ignorance, go to the extreme of declaring most, if not all, forms of entertainment to be forbidden, making Islam difficult for themselves and others.
1. There is a principle in Islam that states that following the religion is easy. Scholars of Islam have agreed that the general principle is that everything is permissible unless proven otherwise. Hence, the burden of proof actually falls on those who say entertainment is prohibited. The following verses prove this principle:
“… Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship…” (Qur’an 2: 185)
“…has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty…” (Qur ‘an 22: 78)
The following hadith also proves this principle:
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but aim to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings and the nights.” (Bukhari)
In fact, imam Bukhari named a chapter in his Saheeh al-Bukhari: “The chapter of the religion being easy.” It contains more evidence to prove this point.
2. Islam condemns those who prohibit the good things of this world without any proof. Allah has said:
“Say: Who has forbidden the adornment of [from] Allah which He has produced for His servants and the good [lawful] things of provision? Say: They are for those who believe during worldly life [but] exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection. Thus do We detail the verses for a people who know. Say: My Lord has only forbidden immoralities – what is apparent of them and what is concealed – and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know.” (Qur’an 7: 32-33)
3. The Prophet (pbuh) did not disapprove when his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) enjoyed themselves with permissible activities. The following hadith is a good example:
“It has been narrated by ‘Aishah (ra), the wife of the Prophet, that once the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came home, and at that time, two little girls were singing songs about the battle of Bu’ath.” The Prophet (pbuh) lay down on the bed and turned his face away. Then Abu Bakr (ra) came and scolded her, saying: These musical instruments of Satan in the house of the Prophet of Allah (pbuh)! Prophet Muhammad turned to him and said: Leave them. In the words of ‘Aishah (ra): When Abu Bakr got busy in other matters, I told the two girls to leave, and they left. That was the day of [the Islamic celebration of] Eid. The Abyssinians were playing in the mosque with shields and lances. Then either I asked the Messenger (pbuh), or he himself said: Do you want to have a look? I said yes, so he let me stand behind him, with my cheek against his cheek, and said: “Carry on, Banu Arfidah”. When I became bored, he asked: Is that enough for you? I said yes. He said: Then you may leave.” (Bukhari)
From this hadith, it is clear that the Prophet (pbuh) saw nothing wrong with his Companions entertaining themselves with innocent songs accompanied by a hand-drum, or by playing. He disapproved of Abu Bakr (ra) censuring them and instead allowed them to continue.
While some Ethiopians were playing in the presence of the Prophet (pbuh), Umar (ra) came in, picked up a stone and hit them with it. Seeing that, the Prophet (pbuh) said: O Umar! Allow them [to play]. Ma’mar [the sub-narrator] added that they were playing in the mosque. (Bukhari)
The Prophet (pbuh) once told a young Companion who had married an older, previously-married woman: “Why haven’t you married a virgin who would have played with you, and you would have played with her?” (Bukhari)
4. Islam is the religion of the fitrah of human beings. As such, it caters to every natural need of theirs, which includes the need for leisure and entertainment.
As we progress and discuss other narrations, it will become clearer to the reader that Islam caters to a human’s needs in many ways, and there is a lot of scope for enjoying the good things of this life
A misunderstood hadith
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Any act of entertainment done by a believer is void (batil) except three: playing with one’s family, training a horse and practicing shooting.” (A reliable hadith recorded by Ahmad and at-Tirmidhi)
This narration is often misquoted to prove that all forms of entertainment and leisure, except three, are void. In this regard, one should note, firstly, that scholars have differed over the authenticity of this hadith. Secondly, this is a gross misinterpretation; there is nothing in the wording of the hadith that says that everything else is haram. It simply states that everything else is batil (void/useless), which means one is not rewarded for entertaining oneself except with one of the three mentioned types, or if one indulges in any other form of permissible entertainment while remembering Allah. Allah knows best.
Imam al-Ghazali has said regarding this hadith: “The Prophet (pbuh) saying that these things are void does not indicate prohibition, rather it indicates lack of benefit, and it is authentically reported that the Prophet (pbuh) enjoyed watching the Abyssinians playing with their spears in the Masjid which is not one of these three things.”
[Article Source: Adapted from “Having fun the Halal way” by Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar. Click here to buy the book]
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