'Muslims, the Family and Entertainment' - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Sha'ban 30, 1424 2003-10-26

by Yusuf Progler

Dialog Description

Why is entertainment necessary?

What did people do to entertain themselves before TV?

How can Muslims navigate the modern terrain of entertainment?

Subject:

Muslims, the Family and Entertainment .

Category:

Discussion

Guest Name:

Yusuf Progler

Profession:

Professor

Start Date/Time:

Sunday, October 26, 2003 12:00 ET

End Date/Time:

Sunday, October 26, 2003 1:00 ET

Posted Questions and Responses

Name:

Abdelhaq

Question:

It is awkward to see Muslims in the West still denying the role of art & entertainment in shaping the personality of the human kind. 1. What is your opinion on such thinking? 2. Does it define a state of denial in the Muslim Mind? 3. How dangerous such thinking would be on the Muslim community?

Answer:

Salam and thank you for the question. I'm not entirely sure if understand what you mean by denying the role of art and entertainment. Is it that you think Muslims somehow do not appreciate the arts? I agree that some strains of Muslim thought seem to be against the arts, but not all, and it also seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. In any case, that is a complex topic, and may be beyond the scope of our discussion here, which is about entertainment. On the other hand, if you are talking about a denial of the impact of entertainment, such as TV and video games, on children, which I believe is a concern of many Muslim parents, then we do have somewhat of a contested issue. In general, you can find that people who live in a new society formulate predictable reactions to the parts of that new society that do not seem to fit their own culture. Those formulations include various forms of denial and accommodation. On the denial side, it is twofold. Some will deny that TV programs like "Friends" have an adverse effect on teenagers, while others claim they do. In my mind, it is not very productive to speak of direct effects of entertainment, since most entertainment and advertising are more complex and operate on various levels. Maybe Muslims in the West, and the US in particular, could spend some time and deepen their understanding of things like media culture before formulating a response. I would recommend the book "Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction of Childhood" as a good place to start. But let me move on the other questions and maybe come back to this one later. Thanks...

Name:

Rukaya

Question:

I am a student in film production. Most of the time I am facing obstacles from Muslims. How could it possible to bypass them and be a Muslim artist who would produce sofisticated films?

Answer:

If you want to learn an art, then you should go to the places where people practice that art. For film and video, I would recommend Iran and Syria, since most of the recent high quality and interesting Muslim-oriented films are coming out of those places. The Syrians and Iranians work together on a number projects, and it would be a great education if you could find a way to become involved in that scene. Otherwise, you could go the solo route, and develop your own films, which in any case might be necessary to get the attention of the some of the large scale producers. In the end, you will have to surround yourself with supportive people, since the arts, including film are both emotionally draining and community oriented. If the people you are around are holding you back, then you might be around the wrong people. Some might say that the arts and film are haram, and maybe in some narrow interpretation that can be justified, but it by no means reflects the vast diversity of artistic achievement in the Muslim world, past and present. As with any art, in the end, you have to do it to learn it. Digital video cameras are not that expensive and you can do quite bit of editing and production on a PC or laptop. Start there, and develop your eye for filming, do some short projects, try to develop your own cinematic voice and see where it leads you.

Name:

Ahmed

Question:

Do you consider the state of the Muslim culture declining? If not why?

Answer:

It is very hard to speak of single entity called "culture." I addressed this one of the previous dialogues on this site, but in short we can most effectively speak of many cultures, and they are existing in real time, not declining or progressing. Culture is nothing more than the way we live our lives, and it can be informed by religion or not. If you are asking about a more monolithic entity like "civilization" then maybe we can say that Muslim civilization has declined, but that is nothing new. All civilizations rise and fall, including the Western civilization. It is somehow natural, and civilization is what we make it. Culture, on the other hand, is more local and regional, more amorphous and less linked to material objects like monuments and cities, which are what we usually use to judge civilization. You could also be referring to Muslim ethics and morals, and maybe there you can find some sort of decline in some places at some times, but this, too, is not unilinear. And I don't see it as a problem necessarily just for Muslims, since one could make an equally valid case that humanity is in some ways declining. Check an earlier dialogue on "Islam and the Crisis of Humanity" if you are interested.

Name:

Lobna

Question:

The information superhighway era, I found myself asking: what Muslims could do [not on the technical side]? Would you elaborate on this issue from a cultural point of view?

Answer:

Salam, I think you are asking about what Muslims can do with the new information and communication technologies (ICT). Part of the answer is to evaluate ICT in terms of what it can and cannot do. Like all tools, ICT is limited in the scope and content it can handle. Anything that cannot be digitized and sent along networks as packets is useless on the internet. That excludes a tremendous amount of knowledge and information. The other problem is the paranoia of state power and the greed of corporate entities, both of which collude to slow down the net, so at times it feels like one is rambling along an old dirt road in the country rather than a "superhighway." But beyond these points, since you are asking about "culture," I think it is important to remember that culture at its best involves face to face interaction, real people living their lives. That cannot be digitized, and we are limited to talking about our cultures or post digital images of cultural artifacts, but words and things exchanged online are not culture. So, the most important point to remember is that ICT, like all technologies, is limited in what it can do and we ought not to fool ourselves into thinking it can somehow create culture.

Name:

Nicholas

Question:

I am wondering why Muslims are not present in the media. You Muslims have a rich heritage. Why not developing it properly to Westerners?

Answer:

You mean present in the Western media? True, there is an absence of representative voices from the world of Islam in the Western media. However, there are vibrant forms of media, both news and entertainment coming out of the Muslim world. These are not accessible to Westerners, mostly due to language, but if you really look you can find good examples. The New York Film Festival this week, for instance, has been featuring a new Iranian film. If you are asking, why aren't Muslims on CNN more often, then I think we need to look into the politics of the media to answer that. And it is not due only to racism against Arabs or Islamophobia, though they are factors. More importantly, if one really studies the Western media, and the American media in particular, you will see that virtually everyone is excluded, other than those who are approved by the very narrow and vested corporate class that controls both the politics and economy of the US. The American media, despite pretensions at being free, have become lapdogs of that power, which is not difficult to fathom, since most media commentators are in the same class. Just look at the salaries of CNN and NBC reporters and you will see what I mean. It is a club. I think it is perhaps fruitless to try to join that club and play those games, since the sacrifices and expenditures to even get in the door are too immense. Rather, I would like to see Muslims develop their own voices on their own terms. As for "properly" developing our rich heritage, I don't see how media can do that, other than show pretty pictures and the like. More important, to me, is the project of finding voices independent from the Western way of doing things. If that can happen, then, for better or worse, Westerners will get Muslim perspectives, not some watered down wishy washy apologetic public relations ploy, which serves no one's interests, except those who charge exorbitant fees to develop that sort of thing.

Name:

Jhon

Question:

If Muslims were in the main stream meadia moreIe soaps sit coms ads and game shows would theybe more accepted in society

Answer:

This question could be better answered by some one who knows more about the British media scene, since there are a number of programs featuring Muslims and other ethnic groups. I am not familiar with the particulars, but if you are interesting in what are called soap operas in the West, then you can find all you can stomach in the Arab media, on stations such as LBC, MBC and Mustaqbal. Whether these make people more acceptable in society is debatable. In some cases, such programs are self-parodies, and even when they are not, they can be taken as such by Western audiences. Maybe that is what we ought to be talking about, then, the whole issue of entertainment and culture. What ways do peoples of different cultures entertain themselves? How did people entertain themselves and each other before the media age? What is fun and happiness, across cultures? Those seem to me to be more fruitful questions, rather than asking, basically, how Muslims can further acclimate to the American monoculture. From another angle, Muslims and Arabs have been in the American media from the beginning, though not always in a favorable light. Beginning with Rudolf Valentino's "sheik" in the 1920s and proceeding to the current spate of "terrorists," there has actually been quite a bit of Muslim imagery in the American media. I just saw a great film about this, made by a Muslim filmmaker, entitled "Hollywood Harems," which lays out that whole cultural history in an interesting and stimulating way. So I guess another good question is, to what extent should Muslims, or any other ethnic/religious group, put themselves in a position to entertain a dominant majority in the place in which they live. Isn't there another way to conceive of media and entertainment?

Name:

Mumin

Question:

What are muslims to do for entertainment in a family setting when observing strict separtion as a community? Ive noticed that some muslim comunities that dont observe seperation tend to have moreactivities as a community.

Answer:

Salam, and thanks for the question. Keep them coming, and I will do my best to answer each in turn. You are referring to separation of men and women? And I assume you are referring to entertainment in a media addicted society, such as America. The question of entertainment is becoming more and more inseparable from the question of media. In human history, that is an aberration, since people in different places and times found ways to entertain themselves and each other long before the media age muscled its way in. The issue you raise is interesting, and for a number of reasons. For example, if you visit a typical middle class American home, you will see a voluntary form of separation being practiced. The kids are in one room playing video games. Dad is watching the game with his mates, mom is surfing the net and chatting with her friends, and grandma is reading a book or knitting. It's not too far from the truth, and this is by design, not accident. It's called "audience segmenting" and is driven by marketing. Somehow, we all fell prey to this. So long before we even get to the question of Muslims who practice separation based on gender, we have a much more complex topic of the inherent ways that media age entertainment separate people into all sorts of age and gender based groups. If you want healthy entertainment, then I would say anything that can help put some of those fractures back together is good, and it need not proceed along gender lines. How about boys and men, girls and women, doing things together? Old folks and children? What happened to all of that? The big question is not about Muslims practicing separation, the big question is about media forms of entertainment sundering social and cultural unities. The answer to that question is to find forms of entertainment that can some how bring them back together. Otherwise, the whole idea of family has become an illusion.

Name:

Mira

Question:

Hello Dr. Progler, I have a question: If all our "Family Entertainment" comes from the West, and particularly from the US; does that make it proper for the upraising of a Muslim family? What is Entertainment, and does it have to be different because we're Muslims?

Answer:

Salam Mira, and thanks for the question. You have made fair observation that much the entertainment in the Muslim world, and throughout the world in general, is coming from America. That is no accident, since next to weaponry, America's next largest export product is entertainment. That points to the economics and politics of entertainment, which I think we have to analyze quite separately from aesthetic or qualitative questions. What is it about programs like Baywatch or Friends that are so appealing the world over? That is a big question, and maybe one for the psychologists, but you are asking something beyond that, you are asking about a fundamental issue, which is "What is entertainment?" Indeed, what is it, or what has it become? Entertainment used be something people did for each other, and it was bound up with notions of hospitality and kindness to guests. It later got intertwined with community identity, with respect to the forms of entertainment preferred by different peoples in different places and at different times. Most of that is moot today, at least for the time being, since when we speak of entertainment today, we are largely speaking of mass media commodities, which are bought and sold in the global market place just like any other commodities. So the real question is, how did we turn over something intimate and hospitable like entertainment to a global mega-corporate that has its eyes on expanding markets and profits above all? How did that happen? And, more importantly, can we recover other forms of entertainment prior to the globo-mega-media mergers that now seem to control it all. Most radically, can we entertain ourselves outside this whole corporate matrix? And so, Mira, you have asked the most pointed question of all, and I think most fruitfully we can turn this back on ourselves and meditate on it, rather than seeking an immediate answer. Indeed, what is entertainment?

Name:

shabab

Question:

In modern world all entertainments are related to the consumersim, and even games and toys that are good for developing mind are not away from that. Parents cannot help such entertainments, how they can save their children who are more involved by pair pressure in thier school life?

Answer:

Thanks for all the questions. There are three more, including this one, and will answer them in due time, even though the dialogue has officially closed. So stayed tuned for the remaining questions. As to your question, Shabab, I have been alluding to this above, and you stress it in more direct way. We have become consumers of other people's entertainment. That is a pathology of the modern world, and it only seems to be getting worse. In the past, people found various ways to entertain themselves and each other, and it usually involved some sort of community activity. Today, we have turned that very important community function over to distant producers. The antidote to that is simple and complex at the same time. The simple part of it is that to avoid consumerism, just walk away! Nobody forces us to consume. In fact, think of how absurd it would be if you had to be marched at gunpoint to the toy store and buy the latest plastic contraption, or handcuffed to your chair and forced to watch Friends each night. It's not gonna happen, and if it does, then people will really have something to resist. But as it stands now, we are voluntarily turning our ability to entertain one another to distance manufacturers. So, the easy part is to say, just walk away. But the hard part is to ask, "Then what?" What will we do when the TV goes off, when the plastic toys are pitched into the recycling bin? This alludes back to an earlier question about Muslims developing culture, and maybe this is the link. Rather than finding ways to further enslave ourselves to the corporate consumerist machine, can we salvage anything from our cultures, Muslim or otherwise, that can give us a sense of satisfaction and happiness, to fill the void we will no doubt feel when the TV and games go out? I think we should start now, have some serious discussions about this question of entertainment, which has to include hard questions like, "Is entertainment necessary? And if so, why?" As for saving ones children, I think schooling does far more damage to children than Barney or Friends on the TV, but that has be the topic of another dialogue. Suffice to say for now that we are trained to be consumers by institutionalized schooling, and despite pretensions of learning and freedom, it has actually severely circumscribed human possibilities, to the point that we can't even think of ways to entertain ourselves.

Name:

saeed

Question:

There are a lot of everyday activities Muslims do and yet feel uncomfortable with them if they are really religious, like listening to music, watching TV, playing computer games, ... No one have a reason against them and still not sure if they are ok and they maybe ask for a fatwa about it. Can you please explain why it is so?

Answer:

I am not sure if I entirely understand your question. If you are asking for a fatwa on some specific issue, there are other sections of this site for that. But I think that if you take some time to do research, you will find that fatwas on these issues are diverse in their responses and outlooks, and for the most part reflect the time and age in which they were made. Today's age is media driven, and so when you talk of listening to music, you mean mediated music, and of course TV and computer games are obviously mediated experiences. Rather than asking for fatwas for or against what amounts to pieces of machinery, I think we can more constructively address this question by looking at ourselves, taking a deep hard look, and asking the questions I have posed above, questions like "What is entertainment for?" or "How did people entertain themselves before the media age?" Some one asked a question above about the decline of Muslim culture, and I noted that I felt humanity is in some sort of decline, and certainly part of the reason I feel that way is due to our increasingly narrow outlook on questions such as this. We have become consumers. Even seeking a fatwa about what to watch on TV is acting like a consumer. I said it above and I'll say it again here, part of the problem is the institutionalized schooling to which we subject ourselves and our children (maybe we need a dialogue on this issue in the near future). That form of schooling, euphemistically called "education," has as its primary outcome the creation of consumers, who are barely able to think for themselves and always in need of some fix from somewhere, whether it be TV or more schooling, or therapy. What has happened? Maybe the discomfort that we feel is not due to the act of listening to music, or watching TV, which implies some sort of guilt complex. Maybe it is deeper than that, maybe we are lamenting the gradual slippage of our humanity.

Name:

fehm

Question:

I have been married for 9 years in those 9 years it has been good and bad, but never perfect!! i have noticed that when my husband and i have confrontations they have started with his family, i.e his sister will call in early hours of morning and wake us all up and i tell him this is not right time to call! and end up not talking, he will never admit they are wrong and attack me on how i talk, what can i do to prevent this?

Answer:

Last question! And what a workout! Let me say thank you to everyone for all the stimulating questions, and I hope you all found this somehow useful. But this question does not really seem related to the topic at hand, which is Islam, the family and entertainment, unless you want me to somehow reflect on the family part absent from the entertainment part, in which case you seem to be asking a question about family relationships. Late night calls seem rude and inconsiderate, but the reason for those calls might be a factor. Is it a family emergency? Or is the person calling just bored? In the latter case, maybe she is seeking some form of entertainment by calling your home at all hours of the night! Maybe there is a yearning there for some familial contact, or maybe they are tired of the reruns of Friends! I wish we had more time to develop the issue of family relations in the context of entertainment, and I am not sure how far I would have to stretch this question to do so, but let me make a few general concluding remarks. Islam, the family and entertainment, what a complex mix. We can meditate on all these separately, and how they relate in pairs and as a whole. Islam as a religion enjoins certain kinds of activities, which lean more toward either practical or contemplative endeavors. In many ways, entertainment is not practical and it is not contemplative, so there is a possible double vote against entertainment. But then we are left with the problem of most people being engaged in one form or another of entertainment, usually as consumers, so we can't just say "it is bad" and leave it at that. More constructively, as I have been stressing, we need to ask constructive questions about the forms of entertainment we consume, and then take the further step of becoming producers of our own entertainment. And I don't mean something like "Muslim Friends," or the Kuwaiti version of South Park. What I mean is really finding ways to entertain ourselves, to produce it in our communities and in our families. If you have to listen to music, then make your own. If you have to look at images, then learn to paint, if you have hear stories, then tell them to each other. Storytelling used to be a revered art, and families would tell each other stories. That got taken over first by books, and then by media. But what all this says is that people love stories, so maybe a way to escape the media mega-machine is learn to tell stories again, face to face, in whatever groups make us feel comfortable. Thanks to all who participated in this dialogue, and please accept my very best wishes for a Happy Ramadan, with my hopes that the coming year can be peaceful and prosperous for all.

Courtesy: www.masnet.org

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