When television was introduced in the middle of the 20th century, it caused unprecedented upheavals in the society, changing moral norms and corrupting social structures. After watching the destruction caused by the glamorous new toy in their societies for decades, and the apparently unstoppable momentum with which it surged forth, many concerned Muslims decided to do something about it; in increasing numbers they wanted to use it to promote Islamic teachings. This decision was based on the assumption that television is just a tool that can be used equally in the service of good or evil. It was further deduced that the problems caused by television were caused solely because it was in the wrong hands and the only thing needed to counter those problems was to have more broadcast power in the right hands. With television signals potentially reaching millions of people, such vast numbers could be educated as had never been possible before.
However, apart from the fact that television involves pictures which are forbidden in Islam, they did not realise the evil that lies within the television as a medium. The medium itself becomes the message. On television, the picture is the centerpiece. It dominates and controls the entire communication and everything else is subordinate to it. Little regard is given to the theory that is presented. Before you can begin to think deeply about an idea, there is another eye-catching picture on the screen to distract you. Thus television does not only not require reflection; it does not even permit it. It can bring images into our heart, not ideas into our mind. Therefore, it appeals to the emotions and not the intellect and is not the medium to teach concepts based on arguments. Television will not just communicate, but shape and distort the message it is carrying. It will mold it in its own image. By moving the religious discourse to the world of entertainment, it will make religious authority irrelevant.
Furthermore, the challenge in captivating the audience on a program on T.V. is far greater as more entertaining programs are just a tap away. Hence, to succeed in building and holding a large audience, there is a need to constantly attract people through eye-catching visuals and entertaining programs. If a camera is placed in front of a scholar engaged in some serious discourse, it is highly unlikely for such a program to have mass appeal. As a result, gradually even religion becomes a recreational pursuit. In short, the entertainment becomes the concern and not the message that should be conveyed.
Christianity and TV
Let us look at how television has affected the Christian world. Decades before us, the Christians also came up with the same idea of using the television to promote their religion. According to Christian critics it was not the promotion of Christianity as it was known before the advent of television. Instead, the audiences were attracted and held though the lure of entertainment. The effect was that people started expecting entertainment everywhere; in churches, preachers or anywhere else. In short, as Neil Postman would say, it was not that religion became the content of television but that television shows were becoming the content of religion.
The Way Forward?
(Adapted from an article written by Khalid Baig)