25 Years Without a TV

Who’s in Control of Who?

This is not a call for a pity party. It is not even meant to be a lament. It is simply a statement of fact.

I recently succumbed to the purchase of a TV after so many years and yet I had resisted having one for different reasons. The main justification for this decision has been my children. The second is that I view the TV as a malevolent magnet for all things evil. Across most channels, viewers are bombarded with references to a decadent society behaving at its worst. Pure debauchery. This assault on the visual and audio senses was something I knew I did not want pervading my home. After all, home is my sanctuary and a place of peace and contemplation.

For years, even without having a TV, I have reluctantly grown to accept that access to the programmes described is still possible through the internet. Computers have become the insiduous substitutes for that black box that sits on our living room table. That being said, I’ve always taken necessary measures to protect my young children from inappropriate material. This includes the usual parental blocks but also the important conversations to help them navigate their way through life. Yet even without owning a TV, we have still come to know about programmes which we have never watched a single episode of! For example, the infamous reality TV shows where privileged mortals take up the podium as self-proclaimed demigods and watch as underlings sacrifice their dignity in the race for fame and fortune. It’s a sinister setup and yet the increasing popularity of this genre is very disturbing. Society seems to take a sick sense of pleasure at watching people make a fool of themselves.

As already mentioned, my incentive for abstaining from having a TV was always my children. In their formative years, I wanted to show them that we can always look for alternatives; there is not one single way of doing things. My sons know my famous line: “If 99% of people do something one way, you can be the 1% that dares to be different.” With that mindset, I fought off many comments from people who simply couldn’t understand my wish to teach my children that it was OK to deviate from the popular (but not necessarily correct) opinion. I always sought alternative pastimes for them as it was important to me that they didn’t grow up vegetating in front of a TV. I have never wanted to raise merely obedient sheep. I’ve always wanted my sons to be shepherds. Have I been successful? At the very least, they have seen how remaining defiant in the face of wider peer pressure can actually be sustained.

Another scenario I have always wanted to avoid is the idea of a TV becoming the shrine in a room. I have seen how, in other homes, people are expected to pay homage to that black box by muting themselves in its presence and giving it undivided attention. That situation is one I could do without at a time when my children were immature and impressionable. What I wanted instead with them was good conversation and proper engagement between them and myself. Alhamdulillah, my sons have grown up never knowing the experience of a TV in our home and I would argue they are no less deficient for it.

Awe-Inspiring and Free Viewing

I won’t deny that I have had to fight the request for this machine to be installed over the years. As citizens of the 21st century, of course, my sons have been exposed to it at other people’s homes and I have not denied them that pleasure. (Remember: catapult effect?) However, for the most part, my intention was to make them cognizant of the world around them: the sky, trees, rain, animals and plants, to name but a few. How could that have been achieved if their eyes were glued to and minds were numbed by ephemeral and vacuous entertainment on a screen?

And so, here we are… Today, it would seem as if I have succumbed; as if I have surrendered all my principles which I held on to so dearly for years. But that is far from the truth. We now have a TV. True. However, even the place it has taken in the living room is such that it is not a shrine. It blends strategically with the other furniture and I refuse to let it take prominence in our hearts and our home. Also, the incentive to buy it was to actually serve as a giant monitor and nothing more. As a house of adults, where we know what is wrong and right as Muslims, we also control what we we subscribe to (or not). What’s more, even since we purchased it, the time spent in front of it hasn’t actually been that much. There is no dizzy excitement as the decision to purchase it was made with careful consideration. We all have other priorities in life so having time to chill in front of ‘the box’ is welcome but also inevitably limited.

It’s for this reason I feel the time was ripe to acquiesce to their request. I don’t deride anyone who has a TV with its traditional trimmings but I do take offence to those who have never understood my choice not to have one. Why can’t I also claim the absurdity of their decision as much as they have mine? I guess, ultimately, the lesson I have always wanted to teach my children is that they don’t need to subscribe to mass opinion and instead, should be able to hold their own. InshaAllah, this is only one example where they have witnessed it in me. I pray they have been taking mental notes and can take a similar stance should the need ever arise.

I hope the following words will always echo in their ears:

Dare to be different!

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