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Squid Game is the hottest show on Netflix right now. Economically disadvantaged people compete against each other in a series of children’s games. However, they’re competing to their death to win the grand prize. Since the show has a lot of violence and gore, how do we decide as Muslims whether a show like Squid Games is appropriate to watch?
The decision is not easy. We can look up fatwa sites online and ask if it is even permissible to watch movies. The answer is most likely going to be no because of the violence, sex and nudity, and profanity that is very common in movies nowadays. Understanding-islam.com gives a slightly more positive view of movies in general. Moiz Amjad examines this matter and he often takes a very reasonable approach to things. He discusses the interaction between men and women in the movies that would go against sharia norms. Other than that, however, he recognizes that movies can carry positive messages and can be used for good. One has to be discerning obviously and decide between the good and the bad that is out there.
Now, there are some Muslims who will say they won’t watch movies at all. It just so happens that a few years ago we were conducting a training program for young people and one of the youths was trying to explain a point. During the class discussion, she said to her peer, “...It's like in that movie”. The other girl replied, “Well, I don't know, we don't watch movies.” This shows two different approaches within the Muslim community. Even among devout people, among people who would be the sort to come and attend a Muslim training program, one watches movies and the other one says, “No, what do you mean? We don't watch movies.” We have this diversity among Muslims and we have to recognize this diversity. If one does not watch movies and does other things, which are stimulating for the mind, and help to develop and be aware of society and pop culture, then that's all good. Of course, that Muslim has avoided many of the negatives that we already mentioned. On the other hand, one is part of this popular culture in which everyone is watching movies.
The majority of the population are subscribers to Netflix and have seen all of the blood, gore, nudity, and so on. It’s very prevalent in these shows to the extent that now people have become immune to that. They don't notice it anymore and it's just a part of life. What do we say to those people? We say that you have to be discerning. Because now we have a younger generation. We have children and we have grandchildren. We can't tell them that all movies are bad and they can't watch anything. Even though it looks like almost anything that you watch will have something objectionable from a pure Islamic shariah standpoint.
Let me give you an example. I watch movies with my grandsons. Take something innocuous like Simba's Pride. This is an animated movie about lions and their interactions with each other. There's this scene where the lioness has left her pride because her father wouldn't agree with her relationship with Simba. The lioness leaving her pride is not a good message for children to have. Just because you disagree with your father's wishes doesn’t mean you should leave the pride. Afterwards, the lioness meets up with Simba and they float on the water together. They then start to sing about “Upendi” and how Upendi is a place of love and more. During this scene, I remember thinking “What are these movies teaching children?” Because these movies are meant for very young children!
We can’t say that all movies are haraam and children can’t watch anything at all. That brave girl in our classroom situation that I described earlier would say with full confidence that she doesn’t watch movies, and I'm sure if she is challenged, she would be able to defend her position and why is she right. However, most children will not be in that position, especially the younger ones. So, they'll go back to school and everybody will talk about what movies they’ve watched. The one who doesn't watch those movies will be considered the odd one out and hardly anybody wants to be the odd one out. Most people like to fit in with their environment. I’ve heard that some schools have been warning parents to not allow their children to watch Squid Game since children have started playing the same games in Squid Game during recess.
There are some ways in which parents can help their children decide between what is good and bad among the movies that are out there. There is a website called commonsensemedia.org. What makes this website interesting is that it gives ratings of movies based on a variety of categories. For instance, it will tell you the amount of profanity. In this case, Squid Game is rated three out of five because of alcohol and drugs, since these are depictions that will have an impact on the minds of young people. The rating for drug and alcohol use is around a three out of five, for nudity, it’s around four out of five, and for violence, it would be a five out of five. Interestingly enough, they have recently introduced a new category, which is diversity. Diversity in this case refers to the movie including diverse people, cultures, age groups, different sexual orientations, and so on. Squid Game rates a three out of five for diverse representations according to Common Sense Media.
The site gets these ratings from both parents and children, and they separate the two categories. Of course, every movie already comes with a rating, perhaps from a censorship board or something of the sort. So as far as I understand, Squid Game is rated for age 16+.
Parents have said that Squid Game is good for people 17 and older. Children say Squid Game is good for people 14 and older. This means that the children don’t see the show as only suitable for people 17 and older, but instead think that “we’re 14 and we can still watch it, it's fine”. Parents seem to have a higher expectation of what age the show should be appropriate for. What is interesting is that the last time I checked, the number of reviews from parents were 42, but the number of reviews from children was 142. This means more than three times the number of children must have been watching it to be able to do these reviews. On a simplistic count, that could mean many factors: maybe the parents watch but they're not into writing reviews. However, the stark number and the difference between the two gives me the quick impression that even more children are watching this sort of thing than parents. We need to call on parents to be aware of what their children are watching and not to be policing them, but to be helpful to them and to offer guidance.
Parents, when you watch a show with your children, you need to discuss the contents. Not in a school book fashion, like, “Okay, we’re finished! Now a half an hour sit-down session!”. Instead, discuss what you learned in a casual conversation. Maybe during dinner, you can talk about concepts, what's good and what's bad, and help them to navigate through this difficult world in which things are being thrown at them. The discerning Muslim has to be the one that is not so fully immersed. There's a hadith that says that the time will come when the pious person, the righteous one, will be the one who says to people “Don't commit adultery in the middle of the road; do it on the side”. This speaks to a time that evils will be so rampant that you can hardly extricate yourself from the society in which these evils are all around you. The best you can do in a certain situation is to follow the narrow path towards the edge of popular culture.
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