Are Videogames Permissible in Islam?


Are Videogames Permissible in Islam?

by Ebrahim Saifuddin


With new technologies came video game consoles like Microsoft Xbox, Sony Play Station and Nintendo Wii. When Sony PS3 was launched in Japan on November 11, 2006, 81,639 (Media Create) systems were sold within 24 hours. On August 3, 2009, a report quoting Sony’s earning figures stated Sony had sold 24 million units globally (AfterDawn) since the launch of the product.

Today, one can buy a PS3 80GB edition for about $400. Despite its price, many children as well as adults own either of the most famous video game consoles. Muslims now face a question whether the video games available to play on these consoles are halal or haram. As a Muslim, this question must be asked because we are to assess the permissibility of some thing before we can sell, purchase and utilize it.

Generally video games are without a doubt haram. There are many aspects to this issue which lead to it being forbidden.


Music in Videogames

The first element which cannot be missed by anyone is the presence of music in these games. Any videogame has plentiful usage of musical instruments which are haram in Islam. Some people wish to argue that it is not haram but this objection of theirs is baseless.

Is Music Halal or Haram?

In not less than four places in the Qur’an, music has been declared haram. One such verse is found in Surah Luqman:

وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ

عِلْمٍ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا أُولَئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ

Wamina alnnasi man yashtaree lahwa alhadeethi liyudilla AAan sabeeli Allahi bighayri AAilmin wayattakhithaha huzuwan olaika lahum AAathabun muheenun

There is a man among the people who buys discourses of distracting amusements, so that he may mislead (people) from the Way of Allah, and make a mockery of it. For such people there is a disgraceful punishment. [31:06]

The phrase ‘lahwa alhadeeth’ is of importance as this refers to music.

‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (ra), while replying to a question regarding “lahwa alhadeeth” said:

“I take an oath by Allah, this means music.”
(al-Sunan al-Kubra lil Baihaqi, v.1 p.223)

Imam Shawkani (rh) quotes this hadith and says:

“Ibn Shayba (rh) has quoted this hadith with sahih sanad. This has also been quoted by Hakim (rh) and Baihaqi (rh). Both of them classified it as sahih.”
(Nayl al Awtar, v.8 p.100)

Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) stated regarding “lahwa alhadeeth”:

“This means singing and things like it.”
(Adab al-Mufrad v.2 p.662)

Hasan Basri (rh) said regarding the same:

“This means music other things like story-telling the whole night, jokes, nonsensical talks etc. In fact, it includes all such things which would make one negligent of Allah’s (swt) worship and remembrance.”
(Tafsir Ruh al-Ma’ani, v.21 p.67)

Another narration from Hasan Basri (rh) is reported where he has said:

“This verse was revealed with regard to music.”
(Tafsir Ibn Kathir, v.3 p.442)

There are many such statements of the companions where they have explained the meaning of “lahwa alhadeeth” to mean music. The above are just a few mentioned to clarify the matter.

Apart from the Qur’an, there are many ahadith that leave no doubt that music is haram in Islam.

Umaamah Baahilee (ra) has narrated that the Messenger (saw) said:

“Verily, I have been sent by Allah (swt) as a guidance and mercy for the Muslims and He (swt) has commanded me to destroy the flute, drum, cross and objects of the days of ignorance (jahiliyah).”
(Abu Dawood)

Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) has narrated that the Messenger (saw) said:

“I have been commanded to destroy the drum and the flute.”
(Jamul Jawaami’)

Abu Hurairah (ra) has narrated that the Messenger (saw) said:

“Close to Qiyaamah, the forms of some people of my Ummah will be transformed and changed into that of monkeys and swines.”
The Sahabah (raa) asked: “O Rasulullah (saw)! Will these people be Muslims?”
The Messenger (saw) said: “Yes, they will testify that there is none worthy of worship but Allah (swt) and that I am Allah’s (swt) messenger and they will also fast.”The Sahabah (raa) asked: “O Rasulullah (saw)! Then why will this happen to them?
The Messenger (saw) said: “These people will become accustomed to musical instruments and singing girls and they will drink wine. One night they will be involved in drinking wine and in futilities and amusements. In the morning, their features will be transformed.”
(Ibn Hibban)

‘Abdullah ibn Dinar said:

“I went out with ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar to the market. He passed by a small slave-girl who was singing and remarked, ‘Shaytan. If he had left anyone, he would have left this girl.’”
(Adab Al-Mufrad)

‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) narrated that the Messenger (saw) said:

“Allah (swt) has forbidden wine, gambling, drum and saarangee (stringed instrument like violin).” He added, “Everything that intoxicates is haram.”
(Ma’ariful Qur’an, while quoting from Imam Ahmed, Abu Dawood and Ibn Hibban)

As this article does not pertain to the topic of music being halal or haram in Islam, hence, many authentic narrations, juristic rulings etc are omitted. The basic evidence has been given to establish that music which we have today is not permissible in Islam and as a result the music component of video games makes them haram beyond a doubt.

Animate Objects in Videogames

Another component of videogames is the animate objects i.e. humans, animals. Many a times the female characters in video games are highly inappropriately dressed. All such things render the games impermissible. There are many ahadith which render making the picture of an animate object, impermissible.

Narrated Said bin Abu Al-Hasan:

While I was with Ibn ‘Abbas a man came and said, “O father of ‘Abbas! My sustenance is from my manual profession and I make these pictures.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “I will tell you only what I heard from Allah’s Apostle. I heard him saying, ‘Whoever makes a picture will be punished by Allah till he puts life in it, and he will never be able to put life in it.’” Hearing this, that man heaved a sigh and his face turned pale. Ibn ‘Abbas said to him, “What a pity! If you insist on making pictures I advise you to make pictures of trees and any other unanimated objects.”
(Sahih Bukhari, v.34 b.3 n.428)

Narrated Ali ibn AbuTalib:

The Prophet (saw) said: “The angels do not enter a house which contains a picture, a dog, or a man who is impure by sexual defilement.”
(Abu Dawood, b.32 n.4140)

Similar ahadith are found throughout the hadith collections. They stress on the grave punishments one will face if they make pictures. The making of pictures includes sculptures as well. There are hardly any videogames available that do not have any animate objects in them. This again renders them to be impermissible.

There is an objection raised by some after quoting the following hadith:

Narrated ‘Ayesha, Ummul Mu’minin:

“When the Apostle of Allah (saw) arrived after the expedition to Tabuk or Khaybar (the narrator is doubtful), the draught raised an end of a curtain which was hung in front of her store-room, revealing some dolls which belonged to her. He asked: What is this? She replied: My dolls. Among them he saw a horse with wings made of rags, and asked: What is this I see among them? She replied: A horse. He asked: What is this that it has on it? She replied: Two wings. He asked: A horse with two wings? She replied: Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with wings? She said: Thereupon the Apostle of Allah (saw) laughed so heartily that I could see his molar teeth.”
(Abu Dawood)

Similar ahadith related to dolls are also present in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. They state that ‘Ayesha (ra) was allowed to keep dolls. Many scholars have explained the doll issue in this hadith. Firstly the doll was without features and made out of rags. This is nothing like the dolls today. Today dolls have prominent features like eyes, nose, ears etc. Moreover, some scholars have stated these events were before picture-making was declared impermissible.

Maulana Manzoor Ahmed in Fadhl al-Ma’bud fi Sharh Sunan Abu Dawood writes:

“Imam Munzari has said the word ‘banaat’ in the hadith refers to dolls with which girls play. If they had facial features then this event was before the prohibition of picture-making. Otherwise, many times things which do not have such features are also referred by the same name.”

Commenting on a hadith in Sahih Bukhari (Kitab al-Adab), related to dolls, Maulana Salimullah Khan in Kashf al-Bari ‘amma fi Sahih Bukhari, has stated:

“From this hadith, majority of the scholars have said that children can play with dolls but to make facial features like eyes, nose, and mouth, and to give it the proper human shape should be avoided.”

As a result, if any object made by man for example a doll, has distinct features etc, then it is impermissible. In many videogames, the characters have distinct features which render them impermissible, even for children.

Use of such objects is only deemed permissible when needed strictly for an academic reason. For example, in a medical college, students require the use of 3D plastic models to study anatomy. Due to this, scholars have permitted to use of such objects.

Analyzing famous games

Many of the famous videogames, at times have a lot of inappropriate content in them.

Grand Theft Auto

The main theme in all the games in this series is based on car theft. One has to steal cars and carry out missions which require one to break the law. Gang mentality is promoted and crime is marketed as something “cool”.

What was the outcome of such a game? Two boys aged 14 and 16 shot and killed a man after being inspired by this game.

“His (the deceased) parents have sued Sony for $246 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Sony makes the video game “Grand Theft Auto,” which the two boys accused in the death said inspired them to shoot into traffic.”
(http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?S=1490662)

In fact, many online websites now present a “dating guide” for a videogame in this series where the lead character can date various women in the game.

Such acts of violence and mingling with people of the opposite sex are highly unislamic and one should neither allow one’s children to play these games nor should one purchase these for oneself.

Metal Gear Solid

The British Board of Film Classification has rated this videogame 15 despite noting extreme violence, implied child rape and references to suicide:

“According to the BBFC, MGS4 includes ‘references to suicide and an implied child rape,’ broadly speaking, the violence on show isn’t overly graphic, however.
‘During battles enemy soldiers die with small puffs of blood. The weaponry includes petrol bombs, however there is no detailed portrayal of injuries. During cut scenes slightly more detailed violence is portrayed, such as enemy creatures spearing friendly soldiers and one protracted fist fight.’”

(http://play.tm/news/17623/metal-gear-solid-4-includes-strong-references/)

Similarly, there are many popular videogames with inappropriate content especially for children and they should not be allowed to play these. As Muslims, our duty is to raise our children with Islamic morals and not corrupt their mind with unnecessary violence or other things of provocative nature. Such content is simply impermissible by Islamic standards.

Psychological Impact of Videogames

In a report titled “The Influence of Media Violence on Youth” by a team of 8 members (Craig A. Anderson, Leonard Berkovitz, Edward Donnerstein, L. Rowell Huesmann, James D. Johnson, Daniel Linz, Neil M. Malamuth and Ellen Wartella), it is stated:

“Violent video games have recently surpassed violent music videos and even violent TV as a matter of concern to parents and policymakers. There are several reasons for this. First, children are spending an increasingly large amount of time playing video games. Second, a large portion of these games contain violence. Third, because the children playing these games are active participants rather than observers, they may be at increased risk of becoming aggressive themselves. The impact of exposure to violent video games has not been studied as extensively as the impact of exposure to TV or movie violence; however, on the whole, the results reported for video games to date are very similar to those obtained in the investigations of TV and movie violence (Anderson & Bushman, 2001; Anderson et al., in press).”
(http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf/pspi/pspi43.pdf)

Craig A. Anderson, a PhD in psychology, writes a detailed article on the psychological effects of videogames. Some of his arguments are reproduced hereunder:

Myth 1: Violent video game research has yielded very mixed results.

Facts: Some studies have yielded nonsignificant video game effects, just as some smoking studies failed to find a significant link to lung cancer. But when one combines all relevant empirical studies using meta-analytic techniques, five separate effects emerge with considerable consistency. Violent video games are significantly associated with: increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased prosocial (helping) behavior. Average effect sizes for experimental studies (which help establish causality) and correlational studies (which allow examination of serious violent behavior) appear comparable (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).

Myth 2: The studies that find significant effects are the weakest methodologically.

Facts: Methodologically stronger studies have yielded the largest effects (Anderson, in press). Thus, earlier effect size estimates – based on all video game studies – probably underestimate the actual effect sizes.

Myth 8: Unrealistic video game violence is completely safe for adolescents and older youths.

Facts: Cartoonish and fantasy violence is often perceived (incorrectly) by parents and public policy makers as safe even for children. However, experimental studies with college students have consistently found increased aggression after exposure to clearly unrealistic and fantasy violent video games. Indeed, at least one recent study found significant increases in aggression by college students after playing E-rated (suitable for everyone) violent video games.

Myth 11: If violent video games cause increases in aggression, violent crime rates in the U.S. would be increasing instead of decreasing.

Facts: Three assumptions must all be true for this myth to be valid: (a) exposure to violent media (including video games) is increasing; (b) youth violent crime rates are decreasing; (c) video game violence is the only (or the primary) factor contributing to societal violence. The first assumption is probably true. The second is not true, as reported by the 2001 Report of the Surgeon General on Youth Violence (Figure 2-7, p. 25). The third is clearly untrue. Media violence is only one of many factors that contribute to societal violence and is certainly not the most important one. Media violence researchers have repeatedly noted this.”

(http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-anderson.html)

The above are only some of the common objections raised by those who state videogames have no psychological effects. In the source link given above, other objections and their answers can also be read.

Another report titled “The Effects of Violent Video Game Habits on Adolescent Aggressive Attitudes and Behaviors” by Paul J. Lynch, Douglas A. Gentile, Abbie A. Olson and Tara M. van Brederode, points out the following:

“Students were also asked whether they had been involved in a physical fight within the past year. Students who spend more time playing video games, have played for more years, or buy or rent video games more frequently are more likely to have been involved in physical fights……We asked students whether they play video games when they are angry as a way to release their anger. Thirty-nine percent of students overall (45% of boys, 31% of girls) say they play video games with the intention to release their anger. This usage pattern is related systematically with each of the aggression variables. Students who play video games as a way to release anger see the world as a more hostile place, get into arguments with teachers more frequently, tend to be more hostile, and are more likely to have been involved in physical fights. They also perform more poorly in school. ”
(http://www.fragtopia.com/currrent-news-images-etc/Violent%20Video%20Games.pdf)

For a detailed study these reports can be read in full in the links given.

Impact on Physical Health

While people spend time on videogames, they miss out on healthy activities. A person may sit for 2 hours playing tennis or boxing but they hardly burn any calories. If one would play only one hour of tennis, they would burn a whole lot more calories than 2 hours of tennis on video console games. Exercise outside makes both the mind and body healthy. Sitting in a room playing videogames does neither.

There are some who claim Nintendo Wii solves this problem because playing games on Wii requires physical movements and hence it is just like playing the actual sport. The reality of the matter is that Wii sports burns about only 60 calories per hour more than regular console games:

“A new study shows that kids playing the active computer game Wii Sports burn 60 more calories per hour than while playing Xbox 360, a sedentary computer game.
But they would burn far more calories playing the real sports, report experts at the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences in Liverpool, England.”

(http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=85994)

Another problem related to Nintendo Wii, as stated by some, is that its overuse injures soft tissues, muscle and tendons:

“Prolonged use can lead to injuries The Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky reports warnings of overuse from a local PT Siri Njos, who has gotten reports about pain and soreness among both adults and children who got Wii Sports for Christmas.
The action of using the Wii is like hitting the air, hundreds or even thousands of times which can inflame the rotator cuff tendon and bursa in the shoulder…….Imagine playing virtual tennis for much longer than you would in real life. “Unlike the real sport, physical strength and endurance are not limiting factors,” Dr. Julio Bonis wrote in his letter.”

(http://www.allhealthcare.com/news/articles/167-nintendo-wii-pts-weigh-in)

The gist of the matter is that it is far better to go out and play a particular sport in real life than spend hours playing it on video game consoles.

Such forms of activities are a waste of time and have no benefit in them. As Muslims, it is prohibited to get into idle activities that simply wastes time. Islam does not prohibit one to indulge in healthy activities and in fact encourages people to do so.

In Imam Suyuti’s al-Jami’ al-Sagir, v.1 p.62, it is reported:

Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
“Carry on playing and enjoying for I dislike harshness in your religion.”

In Maraasil Abu Dawood, it is recorded:

Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
“Refresh your hearts from time to time.”

These narrations make it clear that Islam does not expect one to be in ‘ibadah 24 hours a day. However, enjoyment and play should be those that are beneficial to our body and mind. That which has no benefit should not be practiced by us.

In Mustadrak Kitab al-Jihad, v.2 p.95 it is reported:

The prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
“Every game in the world which a person plays is fruitless except for 3 things. These are archery, training one’s horse and playing with one’s wife.”

In a similar narration recorded in al-Jami’ al-Sagir, swimming is also mentioned. Further, a hadith reported in Abu Dawood:

Narrated ‘Ayesha (ra):
“While I was on a journey along with the Apostle of Allah (saw), I had a race with him and I outstripped him on my feet. When I put on some weight, I again had a race with him and he outstripped me. He said: This is for that outstripping.”

The focus of indulging in these sports is to acquire skill and also train the mind and body for time when one has to defend his deen or himself and his family.

Sitting at home playing video game consoles prepares us for neither. This is purely a useless activity and one should abstain from it at all cost. In Sahih Bukhari it has been recorded:

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:

The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said:
“There are two blessings which many people lose, health and free time for doing good.”

Distraction from Obedience to Allah (swt)

Another issue related to videogames is that it distracts people from their religious duties. It often happens that people playing videogames would hear the adhan but do not get up to offer the salah because they are so much engrossed in the game.

Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an in Surah al-Munafiqun:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تُلْهِكُمْ أَمْوَالُكُمْ وَلَا أَوْلَادُكُمْ

عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَلِكَ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ

Ya ayyuha allatheena amanoo la tulhikum amwalukum wala awladukum AAan thikri Allahi waman yafAAal thalika faolaika humu alkhasiroona

O you who believe, your riches and your children must not divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And those who do that are the losers. [63:09]

Although the apparent objects in the verse are riches and children, the verse refers to all forms of entertainment. Mufti Sahfi’ Uthmani, in Ma’ariful Qur’an explains:

“There are two major objects in this world that divert a person from the remembrance of Allah (swt): [1] wealth; and [2] children. Therefore, these two things have been named in particular. Otherwise, it refers to all the means of enjoyments in the world.”

Videogames are addictive and many people have suffered from it. According to the data cited in American Psychiatrist Association council’s report:

“Up to 90 percent of American youngsters play video games and as many as 15 percent of them – more than 5 million kids – may be addicted.”
(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19354827/)

In the same news item, it is further noted:

“Joyce Protopapas of Frisco, Texas, said her 17-year-old son, Michael, was a video addict. Over nearly two years, video and Internet games transformed him from an outgoing, academically gifted teen into a reclusive manipulator who flunked two 10th grade classes and spent several hours day and night playing a popular online video game called World of Warcraft.”
(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19354827/)

In a news report from Australia, the following is stated:

“The father of a 15-year-old Perth computer-game addict has described the family’s extraordinary nightmare – comparing it to heroin addiction.
Wanting only to be known as Lee, the distressed dad told The Sunday Times his son’s life had spiralled out of control in the past 14 months.
The Year 11 Ballajura Community College student has not attended classes for two months.
He spends his time alone in a dark room playing the RuneScape game for up to 16 hours a day.”

(http://www.news.com.au/perthnow/story/0,21598,22073926-2761,00.html)

One of the leading newspapers in United Kingdom published a report on the same issue. They mentioned psychologists to have said “one in 30 videogame players have symptoms similar to those of gambling and drug addicts.” The report further mentioned:

“Gaming formed such a large part in the lives of three per cent of gamers in a study that they missed meals and went without sleep to spend more time playing.
They suffered withdrawal symptoms and had difficulties cutting back on their hobby, and were found to be more introverted, emotionally unstable and have lower self esteem than average.
Psychologists, presenting the research at the British Psychological Society conference in Dublin yesterday, said gaming addicts had personality traits similar to people with Asperger’s syndrome.”

(http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/3338422/Video-game-addiction-like-being-on-drugs.html)

Realizing such harmful effects of videogames, China imposed online gaming curbs. The player was expelled from any game which he was playing, after 3 hours. However, later in 2006, due to unknown reasons China relaxed this ban and the restriction was applicable only to those under 18:

“A watershed online gaming announcement from China’s General Administration of Press and Publications, or GAPP, last Friday means that its proposed “fatigue system,” which is designed to restrict online game playing in an effort to combat addiction among youth, will only apply to gamers under the age of 18.”
(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/online-gaming-restrictions-eased)

Could it be that the gaming industry was losing a lot of money due to the initial ban and hence pressured the government to relax it? This question will probably remain unanswered but we should consider all possibilities.

Keep in mind that professionals have compared video gaming to drugs and gambling. Both these are strictly forbidden in Islam. How then can we say something similar to both drugs and gambling can be freely used?

Wasting Money

As noted earlier, a PS3 80GB edition costs about $400, while games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and Grand Theft Auto 4 costs almost $39 and $30 respectively on a known online shop. To spend so much on something which, in principle is useless, is wasting money. It is far better to simply take a membership of a gym or jog around the park which would virtually cost nothing.

In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, the prophet Muhammad (saw) has said that one of the things for which Allah (swt) has hated us is “wasting of wealth.”

Do we really wish to earn the hatred of Allah (swt) or should we yearn to earn His love?

Many Muslims in third-world nations earn a fraction of the cost of PS3 in a month. There are yet many who do not even earn that much in a year. Our brothers and sisters all over the world are simply dying of hunger. How can we then sit and spend all this money on something which is futile.

With the same money we can purchase books that would enable us to be better Muslims. There are so many of us who have been offering salah for a long time but all that has been invalid because they were not executing the fardh aspects of salah properly. The reason for this is that we do not wish to learn fiqh of even the basic pillars of Islam. However, when it comes to videogames, we are always informed about the new ones that are about to be released and have read reviews of multitude of others.

Conclusion

Keeping everything in mind, videogames should be avoided and the money spent on them should, instead, be channeled in a useful way which would be beneficial to us and others. A Muslim household should have members who have a healthy mind, body and soul.

Video game consoles, if used for educational purposes would then be permissible. Some videogames can simulate learning in children and thus can be used for these purposes strictly. However, there are other ways to simulate learning in children but if it is so necessary to use videogames then they can be used for such purposes.

Apart from this, videogames should be avoided and not deemed permissible for the many reasons stated above.

And Allah (swt) knows best.

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