Is It Unlawful to Watch Movies or Read Novels?

Shafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick

Question

I love games that are story-based with choices or graphic novels and movies, but the actions portrayed are, of course, not typical Muslim behavior. I have watched and played many things like this, but it doesn’t affect my behavior as I know it is fictional. The religious rulings online say it is unlawful, but I know that many of them follow strict opinions or are restricted to only the four Schools of Thought.

I want to know if any opinion or scholar made the above lawful. With music, for example, Imam Ghazali made it lawful, even though the four Schools of Thought have made it unlawful.

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, forgive us for our shortcomings, and alleviate our difficulties, Amin.

Well done on your willingness to improve your relationship with Allah by asking questions to learn whether your actions are lawful and pleasing to Allah or not.

Preamble

Please note that scholars are unanimous that deliberate pursuit of the easiest and most convenient rulings, or dispensations in Law, is unlawful, so we should be careful of that. Another critical point raised by your questions is the misconception that scholars make certain things unlawful or lawful. No one makes the Law except Allah. Scholars exert their intellectual faculties on the sources of the Law, relying on the sound system of Islamic Legal Theory (Usul Al-Fiqh) to try and discover what exactly Allah’s Law (the Sharia) is. The scholar’s role is to “discover” Allah’s Law, to the best of their ability, and according to their knowledge, and Allah knows best.

Answer in Summary

The ruling on consuming various forms of media content is based on the nature of contents of the intended material. Suppose no impermissible elements (such as lewd behavior or exposed nakedness (awra)) are involved. In that case, it is lawful to watch within the reasonable limits of Sacred Law. If, however, there are unlawful elements contained in the intended material, then it is unlawful to consume such content, regardless of whether one feels it impacts one’s behavior or not, and Allah knows best.

Answer Details

Watching Television – Looking at the Opposite Gender

It is unlawful to look at the opposite sex with lust, whether they are properly clothed (including wearing hijab) or not. If, for example, a man sees a woman, or the image of a woman, and felt attracted to her, he would have to look away. The same applies to a woman, and there is no difference of opinion about this. [Nawawi, Minhaj Al-Talibin]

It is permissible to look at the face or hands of the opposite sex without lust. One may not actively look at uncovered parts of the nakedness (awra) of the opposite sex (in the case of women, this includes their hair). That said, unintentionally seeing something is not one’s fault. Furthermore, it would also be challenging to ask people to lower their gaze all the time because in Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike, we frequently have to work with people who do not cover their nakedness according to Sacred Law.

Simultaneously, one should be honest with oneself regarding whether or not one is looking with lust and the difference between looking and seeing. Allah Most High says, “Allah knows the sly glances of the eyes and whatever the hearts conceal.”
[Quran, 40: 19]

Refrain from the Precursors to Avoid the Major Sin

Instead of the expected form of prohibition, such as “don’t fornicate,” Allah commands that we avoid even the precursors of fornication. Allah says: “And do not approach unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever immorality [fahisha] and is evil as a way.” [Quran, 17:32]

Allah also says: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze [from looking at forbidden things] and protect their private parts [from illegal sexual acts]. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze [from looking at forbidden things], and protect their private parts [from illegal sexual acts].” [Quran, 24:30-31]

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give peace) said: “Allah has recorded the choices every son of Adam makes for his share of zina, which he will inevitably commit. The zina of the eyes is looking. The zina of the tongue is speaking. A person would wish and desire, and the private parts either confirm or deny it.” [Agreed upon – Bukhari and Muslim]

Watching Television – With and Without Sexual Innuendos

In all forms of media, sex is one of the world’s biggest sellers. Actors and presenters are usually chosen for their looks and sex appeal. The imagery and stories of most movies, novels, and television shows are designed to pique your desire and interests. Therefore, most of the time, watching your average film or TV series is usually sinful because you know very well that there will be sexually enticing images.

If the above limitations are observed, watching a documentary of genuine benefit with no sexually attractive images of the opposite sex is okay.

Some Practical Tips

There are also online parent-friendly reviews of shows, movies, and books that may help. Some of them are detailed and describe even the slightest sexual innuendos. It would also be wise to keep television viewing to an absolute minimum. One scholar in the West was asked about what kind of television he watches when there is a need with his family, and he replied that he only watches nature documentaries. He chose something where sinful images would be infrequent, and the benefit is excellent.

I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. 

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.