Television has spread like a wild fire in the world, including the Muslim world

It seems to have overcome the limitations of space and time

Consider in a place like Makkah, one can find the imprints of Hollywood only a few yards away from the Haram, the most sacred of all sanctuaries of Islam.  Video-cassettes are easily available at stores.  A hotel attendant, at a walking distance from the Haram al-Sharif in Makkah can be found busy watching English movies on the television in his office even as the prayers are going on.  At the Jeddah airport, the Umrah pilgrims can watch a European beauty contest courtesy of an Egyptian TV channel being broadcast to the airport television sets.

Consider this.  Ramadan is the most sacred month in the Islamic calendar, a period of time that is to be devoted to direct acts of worship of Allah. Yet, during Ramadan, believers around the world can be found glued to their television sets when they should be busy making dua, doing dhikr and tilawa or offering mustahab prayers.

Or consider the time of suffering.  Hardly a day goes by when we do not get the news of pain and suffering from Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria or a dozen other hot spots around the globe.  Yet, between all the suffering and grieving that accompanies the tragedy, the dish antennas on the rooftops have been flourishing.  In the past at times of catastrophes people would turn to Allah, would stop going to the cinema houses, and would repent from sins, even though temporarily.  Today, there is an ever-increasing appetite for the television fun.  This is also true in the lands closest to the areas of suffering.  On days when a strike is called to protest Indian atrocities in Kashmir, the video stores in Karachi run out of videos of Indian movies.

Throughout the world religious, moral and social values have been drastically undermined by this great “technological gift” of the century.  And entire nations seem to be helplessly “enjoying” the invasion.  When people are doing nothing, they watch television.  When they are doing something else, they still have television in the background. The device has contributed to the addition of a new space in the architecture of the private home: the TV lounge.  It is a space where perfect strangers come to pedal nudity, immorality, and hedonism.  This is the space, which increasingly controls the entire house.

It is fashionable to complain about “excessive” sex and violence on television. Even those who make money from this enterprise willingly do that. CNN tycoon Ted Turner said in July 93 before a U.S Congressional subcommittee: “I don’t need experts to tell me that the amount of violence on television today and its increasingly graphic portrayal can be harmful to children.  Television violence is the single most significant factor contributing to violence in America.” And a poll released in February 95 in the U.S. by Children Now, whose directors include TV producers and Warner Brothers Chairman, reported that most children believe that what they see on television encourages fornication, disrespect for parents, telling lies, and aggressive behaviour.

The most significant thing here is that what the TV industry wants us to discuss (and we willingly follow) is what is ON television, not television itself.  Everyone will wholeheartedly agree with the problems with TV programs and offer all kinds of advice. (Watch the programs with your children. Tell them what is wrong. Be critical. Be creative.)  Irrational and meaningless as it is, this exercise will nonetheless soothe your irritation.  In the meantime, keep on watching.  It is fun.  It is also unavoidable.

In about three decades, this “wonderful” technical development has played havoc with societies around the globe.  But what is even more unprecedented is the ambivalence with which these societies face this greatest of all invasions.  Underlying this is a strongly held belief that television is a neutral tool that can be used with equal facility for good or evil.  Unfortunately, this position has been taken without any critical examination of the facts.  It is about time that we approached the subject with an open mind.

Tomorrow we all will have to answer this question to our Creator Allah swt:  “How did you spend your time on this earth?”  Will ‘watching TV’ be a good excuse?  WATCHING TV FOR JUST ONE HOUR A DAY equals OVER 25,000 HOURS IN AN AVERAGE LIFETIME.  Next time when you switch on your TV Set, remember this question being asked in the darkness of the grave:  “How did you spend your time on this earth?”  Will 25,000+  hrs. of our precious life in front of a TV Set be a good acceptable answer?