If I am not working, spending time with friends and family, or sleeping, I am either reading books or watching movies/shows. I have been a proud “bookworm” since elementary school and an avid movie-watcher since high school. Whether it be through television, my laptop, or mobile device for films or actual books or e-readers for books, these two things are forever accessible.
One of the important things that drew me to Islam is that its a complete way of life. The guidance of Allah Subhana Wa’Tala(The glorified and exalted) covers everything, and as Muslims, we should strive to bring the practice of Islam and the remembrance of Allah into all aspects of our lives. I have known for a while that the content prevalent in the books that I read and the films that I watch are not in accordance with the Islamic ideals of modesty as well the values guiding the way we live. A good 60% of the movies I watch are action/adventure/thriller while the other 40% are romance/comedy. This means that “bold gender interactions” aka ‘hypersexualized characters’ are the norm and it is rare to find a film that does not have intimate images/scenes.
JMuslimah and I were were recently discussing the fact that we often forget that the Islamic practice of ‘lowering your gaze’ (not intentionally looking upon or lusting after the opposite gender) does not only apply to people surrounding you, but also actors/actresses featured in films. I have repeatedly watched a film (despite mediocre ratings and atrocious acting) purely because “OMG the actor in this movie is so unbelievably hot! He’s got great abs!” Astaghfirullah! I am admitting that I am enticed to watch a film for the main purpose of “gazing.” The truth is that I am not alone in my thoughts and actions; many Muslim sisters watch movies only to talk about “how hot or sexy” a particular actor is.
The practice of lowering one’s gaze does not exclude films. It includes films! Films, TV shows, magazines, posters, paintings—anywhere the body is exposed for the purpose of enticing physical appreciation—these venues should be avoided or approached cautiously with a ‘lowered gaze.’ In the past, I have rationalized that “It’s not a big deal. It’s not like I am busy having haram interactions.” Recently, I had to face the truth. I am at the point in my life now where I am seriously preparing for the next step: marriage. And as a sister who is usually quite conservative when it comes to religious opinions, I know that I would not want a prospective spouse who actively watched films/shows with the intent to gaze, drool, and fawn over female actresses. Furthermore, I know that when I have children, inshaAllah, I would not even want my teenagers to watch such films. So I questioned myself: “If you know that what you are doing is not in alignment with Islamic ideals and you know that you do not want your future spouse and kid (inshaAllah/By the will of God) watching/reading such content. . .then WHY do you continue to do so NOW?
This seems to be the predicament many Muslims, both born and convert, land themselves in. Perhaps our reluctance in actively doing what we know in our hearts to be right stems from the misguided mentality of “I can rationalize what I want to do now, and I can do what is right later.” How do we know we have a later? We do not know! On the Day of Judgment, when Allah Subhana Wa’Tala is taking account of our sins, what excuse will be accepted by our Creator for why we continued doing wrong when we had clear knowledge of what was right? There will be no excuse. No amount of enjoyment or laughter from entertaining or captivating films/shows will help us evade the eternal fire.
A tiny voice in my head is like “Halimah, aren’t you being a bit dramatic about this?” My responding thought is “No. If the Day of Judgment and risking an eternity in hell fire instead of Jannah(heaven) is trivial to you, then surely you are among the foolish. When you sideline the importance of reflecting on the Day of Judgment, then you sideline the importance of Allah Subhana Wa’Tala and our purpose as creations which is to to worship and please our Creator.”
Now that I have identified my problem and I have reflected on it, what I need is a clear strategy for improvement!
Operation “Keep It Halal with Books & Films” Strategy
Step #1: I know that I no longer want to watch movies or read books with inappropriate content. Now, one might ask “How will you evaluate what constitutes as inappropriate content?” Simple. Depending on how conservative you want to be or what motivates you, there are a few "halal check" questions I have generated. Basic: Would you invite your younger siblings to read/watch the book/film with you? Medium: Would you show the film or recommend the book to women in your local Muslim sister’s group? High: Does the film/book help you improve your practice/understanding of Islam or increase your worship/remembrance of Allah (SWT)? If you answered no to any of these questions, then you probably should not be watching/reading the film/book in question.
Step #2: When you observe people that are trying to quit smoking, you will notice that they pick other habits or activities to use as a substitute. Some smokers start chewing gum when nervous or they increase exercising to release stress instead of resorting to cigarettes. Psychologists advise that in order to successfully quit a bad habit, you have to start and maintain a better habit. When I feel like reading, I should pick up my Qur’an or a book about Islam or the prophets. When I feel like watching a film, I could watch recorded Islamic lectures. Now, Step #2 is not meant to imply that I am going to completely cut out books or films. I have tried avoiding all TV and movies before, and I would relapse after a few weeks or months, but InshaAllah if that is what I am meant to do than I will get there InshaAllah. What I am simply trying to do now is “cut out the excess haram content” I expose myself to by “halalifying my habits.”
Step #3: Keep up with active reflections. I have noticed that I make the most consistent improvements as a Muslim when I am constantly reflecting, discussing, and holding myself accountable. You have to be vigilant about things like this. I have asked JMuslimah to help keep me accountable by checking up on my progress. And of course, make dua(supplications to Allah)! Every time you pray, supplicate to Allah (SWT) for the strength to improve your decisions and habits despite all the temptations surrounding you.
I try to be as honest and candid as I can in my blog posts. I know that usually, as Muslims, we try to keep our flaws or struggles to ourselves. Well, I have been afforded some level of anonymity courtesy of the internet, so perhaps someone else who is struggling can know that he/she is not alone. We all struggle, sometimes we fail repeatedly, but the important thing is we strive even harder for our religious goals. InshaAllah this post will be beneficial.
Dua: Bismillah Al-Raham Al-Rahim. Allah, it is from You alone that we seek guidance and mercy. We take refuge in you from the shaytan. Bless us with the strength to choose what is right and the determination to improve ourselves in you favor. Ameen.
The "Muslimah Worries" section of Striving Clarity is dedicated to discussing the things that Muslimahs often worry about from hijab to marriage to how to remain spiritual when you're unable to pray. Join us!