Pre-modern human life involved storytelling. Through storytelling we learned about our tribes, history, culture, family, society, and religion. Even in books of fiqh and hadith sciences you’ll find ulema’ referring to the “storytellers,” some told true stories and some told fables (they typically had a low opinion for fables, even if beneficial).
When we seek mainstream entertainment, such as sitcoms, television, movies, and music, we’re replacing storytelling that existed before. Except this storytelling takes exhorbitant amounts of time and, like storytelling throughout human history, is laden with agendas.
Imitation and Perspective
Imitation isn’t as simple as “monkey see monkey do,” but also understanding on a deeper level what others are up to. Language and communication is rooted in imitation. Part of what makes us human is our capacity for sharing attention with other persons; for understanding that others have intentions of their own; and for imitating, not just what someone else does, but what someone else has intended to do. In this setting of observation, experience, and storytelling, each generation of children grows up with a certain language, culture, religion, etc.
As psychologist Peter Stromberg writes:
Our easy ability to grasp perspectives other than our own is also what makes it so easy for us to enter into an imaginative situation such as a story. And we really do enter into stories. As developmental psychologist Paul Harris has pointed out, the imitative capacities of our minds enable us to almost completely occupy a fictional position, so that both our thoughts and feelings begin to be shaped more by the fiction than by our real-life situation. We feel that we are there, in the story, an experience that psychologist Melanie Green and her colleagues call ‘narrative transport.’
Jump ahead 25,000 years now to a world in which there are 3D movies and surround sound and computer enhanced imagery, all sorts of technologies that enable us to plunge deeper into our beloved fictions. It’s like a powerful, mind altering drug, except that it’s legal and completely safe. No wonder entertainment is so entertaining.
Reshaping Human Beings
When you add mainstream media into the mix of human development, you now have external forces shaping our worldviews. You have children growing up watching TV more than interacting with their own parents–the average American 5 year old has spent more time watching TV commercials than time talking with his own father for his entire lifespan. And these external forces have their own agendas: the LGBT movement, lewd talk, filthy ideas and behavior, sex and sexual discussions, sexual jokes, drugs, alcohol, and fawning over wealth and external “beauty.” The National Eating Disorders Association reported that more than fifty person of ten-year old girls wish they were thinner. Is there really freedom of belief if one is indoctrinated with beliefs about one’s own inadequacy since the age of ten? Perhaps America’s obsession with some fictitious slogan of “liberty” is in fact a cover-up for its own misdeeds, internally and externally.
Once our fitrah (primordial nature) has been snuffed out and we’re left with little purpose in life but to be a consumer of products and entertainment in a nightmarish life of hedonism. It’s not surprising that mental health is at an all-time low and suicide is one of the top-ten causes of death according to the CDC, and the others are mostly related to preventable diseases as a result of America’s agricultural woes. In Islam, we believe everything we do has some sort of connection to our spiritual state, and eating food farmed on oppression is problematic.
A major tool of Shaytan is wasting people’s time. He wants to waste your time so you never find the truth, or if you have it you don’t act upon it. In the time of the prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the Quraysh used to send the best storytellers to stand by the roads in order to distract people from hearing the revelation. They would regale people with epic fantasies from the Arabs, Greeks, Romans, and India. The only thing that changed was the medium of these stories, their purpose is the same.
True pleasure is in seeking God’s pleasure. Turning away from the idols of entertainment and seeking the Divine Countenance is the only place we’ll find true happiness. Allah ﷻ says in the Qur’an:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ – 51:56
I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.
Now go through your day and ask yourself: how can I make this “إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ?” How can I make it this an act of worship of my Creator? How can I make this into something pleasing to my Lord? Always set an intention behind your actions. Here’s a few examples:
- Sleep: We can go to bed intending to recover our strength to worship more.
- Work: A way of providing for our families for the sake of Allah ﷻ. We can put ihsan (excellence) into our work and make dhikr throughout.
- Studying: Attending classes and seeking knowledge for the sake of Allah ﷻ to seek employment and provide for ourselves and our families, benefit others for Allah’s ﷻ sake, and remove our ignorance by His permission.
When we taste the sweetness of seeking the pleasure of our Lord, we will find the idols of entertainment to be bitter. Wasting time is only a distraction from our purpose in life: worship of our Creator.
Sources and Additional Reading
Why is Entertainment so Entertaining? – Psychology Today