Is It Permissible to Watch a Film That Has No Impermissible Content in a Movie Theatre?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch

Question

I was just wondering if it is permissible to go to the cinema to watch a film, even if the film does not contain anything haram?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

Many scholars have made a categorical prohibition of attending cinemas or movie theaters regardless of the movie or film one intends to watch. In support of this, they cite that the cinema is a place in which there is great, unabated sinful being carried out.

Although I understand the sentiment behind this answer, I would not agree with a categorical prohibition. I believe there are a lot of factors that inform the answer to this question:

  1. The nature of the content being viewed;
  2. The focal activity being done;
  3. Direct correlation to sin.

Content

If a film contains prohibited elements, such as nudity, the glorification of violence or promiscuity, or other prohibited elements – to view such a movie is prohibited. [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]

If the movie, however, does not contain such content, and one does not neglect any of their religious responsibilities because of it – the most that can be said is that it is somewhat disliked (makruh tanzihi) or merely leaving that which is better (khilaf al-awla), seeing that one can use that time for something more beneficial for this or the next life. [Ibid.]

One should always seek out wholesome, permissible avenues of entertainment. Documentaries or films that accurately depict historically significant events are educational and not bereft of benefit.

The Focal Activity

The focal activity of the cinema is watching a film. The sinful activities that may occur at the hands of other viewers does not affect the ruling of the cinema unless those activities become the focal activity for all.

This is supported by the Islamic axiom: “al-Hukm li’l Ghalib – The ruling is based on the most dominant factor.” [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]

Some people who attend a cinema engage in inappropriate activity such as the impermissible mixing of genders, however, this is their doing and not the responsibility of other attendees. If this wasn’t the case, then even going to the grocery store or a clothing store would have the same secondary sinful acts. [Ibid.]

If, however, the main activity of the cinema is a sinful act (which occurs when the content is impermissible), then it would be obligatory to disengage from that gathering. This again is based on the above axiom. [Ibid.]

Direct Correlation to Sin

Lastly, if one attends a film with permissible content but does other actions at the same time that are impermissible, the additional actions are impermissible whilst the film remains permitted. Likewise, if one intends to commit sin by watching attending.

The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “All actions are based on their intentions (…)” [Bukhari]

If, however, the watching of that film goes hand in hand with the prohibited action, such that if one is present the other is necessarily present as well, viewing that film will take on the same ruling as that secondary action.

An example: If watching a particular film (even though its content is permitted) stirs up sinful desires or leads to committing sins, that particular film is prohibited to watch. This is because anything that necessarily leads to another thing shares in the ruling of that thing. [Ibn Nujaym; al-Ashbah wa al-Nazair]

Not An Encouragement

The above is not meant to be an encouragement, rather a fair, rational assessment of the rulings of these issue as it is without allowing secondary factors to effect the core ruling.

It is highly unlikely to find a cinema that shows wholesome, or at least, non-sinful content. Despite that if one does find such a cinema and such a film, it is permissible to attend, however, one should be careful of a few things:

  1. Not to allow the film to distract their hearts from Allah Most High;
  2. Not to allow the film to distract one from religious of worldly responsibilities;
  3. One should not make this a habit. (Watching films/tv is considered a low-level addiction, but an addiction not the less);
  4. One should have righteous intentions therein (Such as, education or a permitted avenue of relaxation);
  5. One should abstain from all other sins.

Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.