Islam and television

The Islamic ruling on watching movies

Aoa could you tell me the ruling on watching movies? Even innocent ones? Whenever i look up rulings on this people always say things like all movies are filled with nude women and corruption and it confuses me what am i supposed to do in all my free time if most things young people do are grave sins?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

This is an area where there is great disagreement among the scholars since there are no clear texts that apply to most aspects of films. I have looked at many fatwas and each scholar seems to rely on his own reasoning and cultural beliefs in order to arrive at rulings.

At any rate, my view is that it is up to each Muslim to decide for themselves what films they want to watch (which is already the view that is being practiced by the majority of Muslims), except for films that are centered around eroticism, which I believe should be avoided by all Muslims. As for films containing nudity or sex scenes, a person can just skip those parts. However, teenagers may not be able to resist the temptation to watch such scenes even if they wish to be good Muslims since the ability to control our impulses only completely matures after the age of 25. So parents should not let teenagers watch films unsupervised. (See my essay The Philosophy of Pornography and Masturbation for a discussion of why watching nudity and sex scenes is morally wrong, even without reference to religion. Also see: The ruling on watching uncovered women on television.)

As for other “immoral” aspects of films such as violence or the promotion of criminal acts, I believe films have the same ruling here as stories. Many great Islamic scholars, such al-Tabari and Ibn al-Jawzi, recorded all kinds of violent and immoral stories in their history books since they did not believe that transmitting such stories is prohibited.

However, stories and films can affect us negatively, so it is up to us to work on maintaining our moral integrity. The balanced attitude is to not reject films wholesale, to realize their entertainment and sometimes educational value, and to realize that their harms can be counterbalanced through acts of worship, especially reading the Quran. The more time we spend in worship the easier it becomes to resist the negative influences of things like films. I would find it incredible if someone reads the Quran for an hour every day yet somehow becomes corrupt and misguided due to watching a lot of films. I don’t think such a thing can happen, or at least it is extremely unlikely.

It is also important to mention that parents who completely forbid their children from watching films in order to protect them from negative influences will likely do them more harm than good. The children will feel oppressed and demeaned by this treatment and will likely develop a dislike for Islam–considering it an oppressive religion that is out of place in the modern world. It is much better to have a moderate attitude, to tolerate most films except for the worst ones, and to make sure the children are exposed to enough good influences to counterbalance any bad that comes from modern cultural products like films and novels. Being too controlling is bad and being too lax is also bad, a person should try to find a balance.

The ruling on watching uncovered women on television

In answer to questions regarding whether it is permissible to watch people on television or in public not dressed according to the Islamic dress code, for example watching a female television presenter who does not wear the hijab

While the Quran prescribes what Muslims should wear on public, there are no Quranic verses or hadith narrations to help us formulate a clear policy regarding watching people not dressed according to the Islamic dress code. Many scholars have issued fatwas prohibiting watching non-hijabi women on television, or watching soccer matches where the men wear athletic shorts that end above the knee. But their prohibitions are not based on any clear evidence–they are extending the logic of the Islamic dress code into a different domain. Due to the lack of clear evidence regarding this issue, it is best to follow the common sense policy that the majority of Muslims already follow, which is to avoid watching sexually suggestive material while considering everything else neutral (such as watching non-hijabi television presenters and actresses).

Each person should judge the matter for themselves and according to each circumstance. When watching TV, it is sufficient to look away when sexually suggestive material is shown (for a example certain scenes of a film).

The Saudi scholar Dr. al-Sharīf al-ʿAwnī says regarding watching non-hijabi women on TV:

I cannot say with certainty that it is forbidden. I rather lean towards considering it a disliked thing. And if a Muslim can avoid it then it is better.

The Saudi scholar ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Suḥaym says there is no issue with watching non-hijabi females on television if there is no sexual desire involved.