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Television and Islam

Ever since the television was invented, it has been a long-debated topic. In the Muslim community particularly, the debate has centered on the appropriateness of television shows for our children. However, this should be only one of our concerns. In fact, television is detrimental to children in many different ways.

Ronald Dahl in his essay, Advice on Television in Large Martin, states that, ‘Television viewing has a detrimental effect on the minds and bodies of young children. Whether the programs they are watching are of good quality or not is of minor significance. It is the actual viewing itself which is harmful. When a large part of their childhood is spent motionless watching television, children’s health, motor skills and social development are retarded.’

The Qur’an says, ‘We ordained for the children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder or/and spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all of mankind.’
Yet, the average child in America watches at least six violent acts on television daily. University of Michigan psychologists Leonard Eron and Rowell Huesmann (having followed the viewing habits of a group of children for decades) found that watching violence on television is the single factor that is most closely associated with aggressive behavior - more than poverty, race, or parental behavior.

We can claim that millions watch violent TV without becoming criminals or even that ‘we’ watched TV and we are not criminals; however, this argument has no more value than the argument that some people smoke without getting lung cancer. We cannot deny the correlation between watching television and violence found in multiple studies. In fact, when the American Psychological Association task force examined the plethora of data on this issue, they had to conclude that, ‘Virtually all independent scholars agree that there is evidence that television can cause aggressive behavior.’

Television also impairs our ability to seek true knowledge. As Muslims, We are encouraged to seek two kinds of knowledge, true wisdom and knowledge of Allah. The Qur’an (102:5) says, ‘Nay, if ye knew with a sure knowledge.’ Bukhari reports that the Prophet (SAW) said, ‘If anyone travels on a road in search of (divine) knowledge, Allah will cause him to travel on one of the roads of Paradise.’ We are also encouraged to seek that knowledge which is aimed at improving mankind. The Prophet (SAW) said, ‘If anyone acquires knowledge of things by which Allah's good pleasure is sought, but acquires it only to get some worldly advantage, he will not experience the arf [i.e., the odor] of Paradise’ (Bukhari).

Television teaches us a different sort of ‘knowledge.’ It encourages us to gain knowledge that will make us ‘smarter than our peers’ and ‘more informed;’ it also encourages us to ‘eavesdrop and spy on our neighbors,’ while providing very little of the kinds of knowledge we are encouraged to gain as Muslims.

In fact, some researchers believe that television does not provide any real knowledge or learning at all. Bryce Gyngell, the former chairman of Australia's Broadcasting Tribunal, has found that once the television set is switched on the left side of the brain and all its faculties tend to switch off. Further research at the University of Canberra reports that the left ‘creative, social and moral’ brain ‘sort of went to sleep’ once TV was switched on, but the right brain was busy ‘storing information in its memory bank.’

The alpha and beta waves are not the only brain waves that can be damaged by the television. The Qur’an (Surah 32) says, ‘Allah created man from dust, then from a drop of seed, then from a clot, then from a little lump of flesh shapely and shapeless, that We may make (it) clean for you. And We cause what We will to remain in the wombs for an appointed time, and afterward We bring you forth as infants, then (give you growth) that ye attain your full strength.’ However, television blocks this growth in the brain because it reduces the formation of synapses through which the ‘wiring diagram’ of the brain is created.

At birth, the human brain has in place only a relatively small proportion of the trillions of synapses it will eventually have. It gains about two-thirds of its adult size after birth, and the balance of the synapses are formed. A portion of this formation process is guided by experience.

Synaptic connections are added to the brain in two basic ways. The first is that synapses are overproduced; then selectively lost. The time required for this phenomenon to run its course varies in different parts of the brain – from 2 to 3 years in the human visual cortex up to 8 to 10 years in some parts of the frontal cortex. By the time a child reaches his teenage years, these synaptic connections are no longer being formed which means that most of a child’s structural, organizational, relational and methodical ways of thinking are formed at an early age, usually before age seven.

Our brain-eye development is also harmed by television. The Qur’an says (Surah 32, Ayah 9), ‘Then He fashioned him and breathed into him of His spirit; and appointed for you hearing and sight and hearts. Small thanks give ye!’ And indeed, ‘Small thanks we give’ when we damage this gift from Allah by spending too many hours watching TV.

The human eye is unique in its formation and in the movement of the muscles around it. People consciously see objects with not only their eyes but also their consciousness – in a way that animals cannot. The perception of animals is far more passive than that of humans in their normal state. Our eyes are meant to be mobile all the time – focusing and re-focusing on the different planes in our environment. When we watch movies or television, our eyes motionlessly take in the screen – with no side to side, up or down movement and no need to focus and re-focus as the screen remains at a set distance from us. We can see close up and distant views of a stationary object with the same immobility of our eyes.

We cannot overvalue the powers of our sense organs, as it is through these organs that we develop our spiritual perceptions. The more we expose ourselves to cinema and TV, the less able our eyes become to perceive in their intended way. Healthy eyes require movement, the same movement that is necessary to read well. In fact, in her book, Growing up on Television, Kate Moody notes that, ‘Loss of eye movement is one significant cause of the drop in literacy.’

The arguments for and against television will probably continue for years. However, according to the American Medical Association’s public report, the experts have finally come to a unified conclusion that television should not be viewed by children less than two years of age, and that television viewing DOES harm our children.

The best argument, though, against television is simply the logic brought forth by the Waldorf Board of Education which stated, ‘If television did qualify as something that stimulated the conscious learning process, then school curricula would need to be adjusted to cater to modern-learned children who have been brought up watching educational programs, whereas in fact, television watching appears to have had an opposite effect on school curricula, where the likes of reading recovery programs are more common place.’
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