Shabina S. Khatri
We’ve all done it. Exhausted after a long day of school/work/taking care of the kids, we plop down in front of the TV to “veg out” for a few hours. Or we’re home alone and turn on the tube for some comforting background noise. Or we’re just plain bored and can think of nothing better to do than watch reruns of “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”
The point is, television has become an alarmingly important fixture in our lives. According to A.C. Nielsen, the average American watches four hours of TV a day. That adds up to two non-stop months a year. And that means by the time we’re 65, we’ll have spent almost 10 years of our lives watching TV! SubhanAllah.
The problems with TV addiction are many and obvious: watching TV can make you fatter, dumber and more depressed. Think about it in terms of opportunity cost – the more time you spend watching TV, the less time you have to exercise, read and interact with others. The scariest consequence of excessive television-watching, though, is our weakened faith.
Let me give you an example. I recently came home from a business trip and felt too tired to do anything productive. So I flipped on the TV. Of course, as a member of Generation Y, I couldn’t just focus on the screen; I also surfed the Internet on my laptop, perused through a few magazines and read my most recent bank statement.
Still, two hours later, though I wasn’t as passive a viewer as most people are, I felt more tired than when I had started, my mind far less alert than when I had been reading a book on the plane. And I felt guilty about what I watched, sitcoms that revolved around plots that were pure garbage. There’s a popular saying, “You’re either influencing or you’re being influenced.” As I trudged off to bed, looking at my Qur’an sitting forlornly on my desk, I had a sinking feeling that the TV was influencing me more than I was influencing it.
Given the morally deficient nature of most shows, it makes sense that the more we watch, the farther we move away from Allah (SWT). How is it possible to maintain pure hearts and minds while consuming a steady diet of depravity-filled movies and shows? And it’s not just about what we’re consuming. It’s also about what that consumption is replacing. It’s like food—if I’m eating ice cream and pizza all the time, my stomach is simply not going to have space for carrots and apples. Similarly, if my free time is filled with talk shows and soap operas, my schedule just won’t be able to accommodate Qur’an memorization and extra prayers.
I once heard an Islamic scholar say, “one who is not increasing is decreasing, and one who is decreasing is better off dead.” That’s really scary, because it’s a reminder that life isn’t a zero-sum game. So by resisting the temptation to do something wrong, I’m just staying afloat, not increasing. To avoid being better off dead, I’d have to consciously do something, like help someone, or travel somewhere. And that takes effort. Ugh. Still not convinced? Let’s pull out the big guns.
In the Qur’an, Allah (SWT) commands us, “O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the messenger, and make not vain your deeds (47:33)!” On the Day of Judgment, one of the first things we will be asked about is how we spent our time. That’s why the Prophet (SAW) advises us, “Lose no time to do good deeds before you are caught up by one of seven calamities awaiting you: a starvation which may impair your wisdom; a prosperity which may mislead you; an ailment which may damage your health; an old age which may harm your senses; a sudden death; the Dajjal (Antichrist); or Doomsday, which is indeed the hardest and most bitter (Tirmizi).”
Can you imagine standing before God on Judgment Day and trying to explain why you let the NBA Playoffs take precedence over a masjid dinner? The mere thought of such a circumstance makes me tremble. Now, I’m not saying TV is the devil (though that seems to be the consensus among many Islamic scholars), or that you must go cold turkey right now to avoid an eternity of burning agony. I’m just advising you, as your sister in Islam, to reflect on all the free time we squander on meaningless things, especially watching television. I’ll confess, as someone whose TV consumption has gone up significantly since leaving an action-packed college town for the humdrumedness of suburban life, this diatribe has been difficult for me to write.
But I’m doing it because I know after this article runs, I’ll have to cut down on my TV-watching. If I don’t, I’d be nothing short of a hypocrite, and the Prophet (SAW) has condemned hypocrites as the very worst types of people, worse even than rapists and murderers. I’m hoping the nice weather will encourage all of us to stay off our couches, but I know summer is also vacation time for students. So parents, take care to involve your kids in activities that don’t involve video games and cartoons. And be sure to lead by example – if even you can’t tear yourself away from “Oprah” and “George Lopez,” why should you expect your children to be any different?
Finally, I recently read something that I think will help us all put the value of time into perspective. Sadly, it’s human nature to appreciate something only when it’s gone, but that doesn’t mean we have to fall into this common trap. Like our health and our wealth, time is too precious to throw to the wind. So capitalize on your time and enrich your soul by shutting off the idiot box once in a while.
To realize the value of one year, ask a student who has failed a grade.
To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a pre-mature baby.
To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of one day, ask a daily wage laborer who has kids to feed.
To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who has missed the train.
To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has avoided an accident.
To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.