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Entertainment and partisan prohibitions

Abdullah bin Bijad Al-Otaibi

Published: Updated:

Entertainment has been a human need since ancient times, although its manifestations have varied among different communities. It develops as humans develop. Individuals, societies, communities and nations need it all the more as modern life gets more complex and complicated.

Life’s difficulties have increased. The conditions for a decent life represent great pressure on individuals and societies as they constantly need to entertain themselves and their families in order to confront daily challenges, renew their energy and thus continue to develop.

Some philosophers have said that a part of a state’s task is to provide entertainment to its citizens. Entertainment is an offshoot of prosperity and well being, and religions, including Islam, does not prohibit it as a form of recreation. Some extremists have condemned the entertainment activities sponsored by the Saudi kingdom as part of its Vision 2030.

Doctrinal issues

Most of these topics they discuss are, however, controversial doctrinal issues that are well-known among respectable scholars. However, what we must realize is that there are some significant differences between what’s prohibited by religion and what’s prohibited by what’s known as sahwa (Islamic awakening) or political Islam. The former is motivated by faith while the latter is motivated by partisanship.

Islamic sahwa distanced itself from the rest of Muslims by escalating some well-known doctrinal controversies to definitive matters not because these matters are definitively prohibited according to jurisprudential logic, but because there is a desire to control the society under the name of religion and Islam.

Islam, which is a heavenly religion whose followers today are more than 1.5 billion, include several definitive prohibitions that form Islam’s pillars. However, part of political Islam’s mistake has been that it turned controversial matters into definitive matters where discussion on these issues is unacceptable for them.

Entertainment is an offshoot of prosperity and well being, and religions, including Islam, does not prohibit it as a form of recreation

Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi

Human understanding

The human understanding of the need for entertainment, leisure and adornment is noted in Quranic and Sunnah texts. The prophet used to make jokes. Al-Nuayman, one of the prophet’s companions, was well-known for making the prophet laugh. Some of the prophet’s followers were also known for their humor.

An example is the doctrinal stance on singing. There is a huge doctrinal controversy regarding this. Many scholars used to listen to songs and believed they were permitted. Those who claim there is a doctrinal consensus on this matter are liars or mistaken.

In Bukhari wa Muslim, it’s narrated that Aisha, one of the prophet’s wives, had two maids who sang. Abu Bakr warned of the devil’s psalms but the prophet said: “People have their feast, and this is our feast”.

Imam Ibn Hazm, the well-known scholar, said “singing, playing and dancing during the days of Eid is fine in the mosque and elsewhere. Allah’s Prophet heard Abu Bakr talk about the devil’s psalms and prohibited that, while not prohibit the maids from singing. No one can argue with that.”

In his book ‘The Revival’, Imam Al-Ghazali said: “The Prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, used to hear the two maids sing as he lied down. This indicates that women’s voices are not prohibited, like the sound of the flute, but were prohibited when there is fear of strife. These standards and texts indicate permitting singing, dancing, and playing the tambourine and watching Al-Habash and black people dance during times of happiness, compared to the day of a feast.”

Ibn Taymiyyah said: “The slaves’ singing which men heard was heard by their companions at weddings.”

Respectable scholars’ statements are many regarding this matter. Those who read jurisprudence books will know the scale of the dispute regarding this issue and will realize that this issue is in fact simple and does not call for all this mobilization and tensions.

I apologize to the reader for going into jurisprudential details but they are important in this context so as to clarify that much of the confusion caused by symbols of political Islam or by so-called preachers aim to serve partisan interests and achieve the desire of controlling society in any way possible, even if it includes talking in the name of religion or exploiting it to incite society against the state’s activities and citizens’ needs.

‘Partisan prohibitions’

Movements in political Islam use “partisan prohibitions” as a tool to mobilize and impose control. If we review their history, we see that once they find that matters which they have once prohibited have spread, they change their minds and go back to their senses – or worse, they compete with others over how supportive they are. There are many examples to that, from permitting coffee drinking, to permitting girls’ education or to permitting photography, television and satellite channels. The examples are countless.

People’s needs change over time and place, along with all the different givens imposed during certain developments in societiy. These developments become part of the reality which imposes itself on everyone. Throughout history, reality imposed on scholars certain changes and amendments to their doctrinal choices. They were thus forced to restructure their priorities all over again. Sects that do not change and renew will disappear and die.

The General Authority for Entertainment which Saudi Arabia announced as part of the Vision 2030 is a body which handles organizing entertainment activities that harmonize with society’s developments and seek to meet the societies’ needs via different means. It provides entertainment to people and does not force anyone to attend or practice something they do not want to do.

Finally, it was so delightful that Mohammed Abdu, the favorite artist of Arabs, and Rashid al-Majid performed beautiful patriotic songs at the King Fahd Cultural Center.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Abdullah bin Bijad al-Otaibi is a Saudi writer and researcher. He is a member of the board of advisors at Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center. He tweets under @abdullahbjad.

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