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5 Take-Aways for Muslim Fans of Breaking Bad

Omar Usman

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 *This post contains major spoilers. If you don’t want the ending or major plot points ruined, don’t read this post. 

**The videos linked to in this post may contain objectionable material. Follow them at your own risk. 

***To read an extended version of this post with embedded videos from Breaking Bad, please see the post on my personal blog at ibnabeeomar.com

 

Breaking Bad is a story of transformation.

It is a story of evolution. A man spends his entire life living one way, and then suddenly goes in the opposite direction.

“Verily the creation of each one of you is brought together in his mother’s womb for forty days in the form of a nutfah (a drop), then he becomes an alaqah (clot of blood) for a like period, then a mudghah (morsel of flesh) for a like period, then there is sent to him the angel who blows his soul into him and who is commanded with four matters: to write down his rizq (sustenance), his life span, his actions, and whether he will be happy or unhappy (i.e., whether or not he will enter Paradise). By the One, other than Whom there is no deity, verily one of you performs the actions of the people of Paradise until there is but an arms length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him, and so he acts with the actions of the people of the Hellfire and thus enters it; and verily one of you performs the actions of the people of the Hellfire, until there is but an arms length between him and it, and that which has been written overtakes him and so he acts with the actions of the people of Paradise and thus he enters it.” [Bukhari]

Chuck Klosterman sums it up as,

Breaking Bad is not a situation in which the characters’ morality is static or contradictory or colored by the time frame; instead, it suggests that morality is continually a personal choice. When the show began, that didn’t seem to be the case: It seemed like this was going to be the story of a man (Walter White, portrayed by Bryan Cranston) forced to become a criminal because he was dying of cancer. That’s the elevator pitch. But that’s completely unrelated to what the show has become. The central question on Breaking Bad is this: What makes a man “bad” — his actions, his motives, or his conscious decision to be a bad person? Judging from the trajectory of its first three seasons, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan believes the answer is option No. 3. So what we see in Breaking Bad is a person who started as one type of human and decides to become something different. … what’s interesting is that this transformation involves the fundamental core of who he supposedly is, and that this (wholly constructed) core is an extension of his own free will. The difference between White in the middle of Season 1 and White in the debut of Season 4 is not the product of his era or his upbringing or his social environment. It’s a product of his own consciousness. He changed himself. At some point, he decided to become bad, and that’s what matters.

Whereas shows like The Wire, or The Sopranos may have showcased the decisions of people born into darkness, here we see someone willingly abandon the light for darkness. It’s a core lesson for many of us – to have iman and then consciously choose to take another path. Our ultimate fate is the cumulative effect of our decisions and deeds – and even if we don’t see the consequences immediately (as happens in the show), we will eventually.

 1. Intentions and Self-Justification

The story of Walter White begins with cooking meth as a means of supporting his family and paying for his cancer treatments. But intention is a complicated thing, and often gets mixed up with other motives. What’s interesting in the show is how Walt continually considers himself to be doing the right thing. Even when things go wrong, he has an uncanny ability to hit the ‘reset’ button and pretend he’s starting from scratch – as if his previous actions no longer matter. He always hatches a new plan as if to say, “If we just do this, we’ll be ok.”

This is an incredible trick of Shaytan, that we struggle with ourselves when we self-rationalize behavior, that we otherwise know is incorrect.

As the story progresses, Walt does more and more “bad” things. It’s readily apparent that he is seeking fame and recognition. This becomes clear when he talks about Gray Matter, a company he helped found but was bought out before it went big. Here we see how it affected him and stuck with him throughout his life – and in fact became a huge motivator for his actions.

Walt’s self-justification is always that he is doing this for the betterment of his family. It becomes confusing throughout the show where you begin to wonder if he truly believes that, or if he just thinks everyone around him is too stupid to realize it’s a lie. Finally in the last episode, he comes clean about his real intent when he finally tells Skylar (his wife),

“I did it for myself, I liked it. I was good at it. It made me feel alive.”

We don’t always get what we intend for, and that is why consequences matter. People may intend good, and end up with evil actions as a result. One cannot, out of good intention, try to prevent an evil or command a good if a greater evil will result from it.

2. Sin is a Slow Burn

Stole this phrase from Imam Suhaib Webb. It’s an accurate description of how Walt ‘broke bad.’ He didn’t begin by killing anyone or poisoning a kid, but he slowly crept in that direction. Once he made the decision to get involved, he had to continue down that path. Similarly, we see how his wife also ‘broke bad.’ She was at first a model of morality, then she overlooked his activities, then she laundered money, and by the end she asked Walt to murder Jesse and was ready to frame her own brother-in-law. Once she made the initial decision, she became entrapped by her sins and there was no way out.

The story of Barsisa comes to mind,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmsDrEadMLM

Walt’s story shares a lot of similarities. The initial decision he makes to cook meth eventually results in him poisoning a child, killing people, and destroying his own family. The show highlights the consequences of his sins.

The creator of the show intentionally highlights this,

Do we live in a world where terrible people go unpunished for their misdeeds? Or do the wicked ultimately suffer for their sins?….If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I hate the idea of Idi Amin living in Saudi Arabia for the last 25 years of his life. That galls me to no end. I feel some sort of need for Biblical atonement, or justice, or something. I like to believe there is some comeuppance, that karma kicks in at some point, even if it takes years or decades to happen. My girlfriend says this great thing that’s become my philosophy as well. ‘I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.’  [New York Times]

We of course believe that there is an ultimate justice in the next life.

Actions do have consequences. What’s interesting is the decision making paradigm we go through when faced with difficulty. In this case, Walt is tested with cancer. He chooses to start cooking meth. Once he’s done that, other decisions follow from that.

One lesson we can learn is what our reaction to a test truly is. It’s part of our understanding of qadr. When something happens that is not truly in our control, what is our attitude toward it? Do we humble ourselves? Are we grateful? Are we patient? Dissatisfaction with qadr is at the root of sin. It was this dissatisfaction on the part of Shaytan when Adam was created that manifest itself in the form of arrogance.

In the case of one who does not understand this (such as Walt), they have a desire to control everything around them. There are elements of both entitlement and arrogance at play. For us we learn a lesson about tawakkul as well. We do what’s in our control, but ultimately leave everything else to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). We know that we can’t control what is around us, and the need to do so is not just a sign of arrogance, but a huge deficiency in faith.

This is further driven by his own ego and pride. It further blinds him to the consequences of his actions. The root of evil is that he always assumes he is right, if everyone just follows his plan, then everything will be okay.

This is compounded with other motivating factors – such as seeking power (as covered above), and also fear. Fear of not providing for his family, a fear of what will happen because he’s not in control. Making a decision based on fear is a characteristic of Shaytan-

Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to immorality, while Allah promises you forgiveness from Him and bounty. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing. [2:268]

In the moment of sin, in the heat of that decision, we cast aside the long term consequences. A sin is not something isolated. It only takes one stupid decision to destroy your life and legacy.

The last point to be made here in terms of the consequences of sin, is that they affect everyone around a person as well. The entire show is an accumulation of decisions.

No one becomes Fir’awn overnight – it’s an evolution.

3. The Rise and Fall of the King

This is an incredible motif in the show. We see the slow rise of Heisenberg into being a king, and then his humiliating fall from grace.

This fall is an inevitable consequence of the arrogance of someone who considers themselves to be of such high authority.

Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “The most awful name in Allah’s sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings) [Bukhari].

And,

I heard Allah’s Messenger (S) saying, “Allah will hold the whole earth, and roll all the heavens up in His Rig ht Hand, and then He will say, ‘I am the King; where are the kings of the earth?”‘ [Bukhari]

These are no doubt characteristics reminiscent of Fir’aun,

And [Fir’aun] said, “I am your most exalted lord” [79:24]

We see the rise of Heisenberg slowly as he gains a reputation and further builds his empire. It is a rise at all costs for nothing more than sheer power.

Imam Suhaib Webb commented that the Fir’awnic mentality of Water White is how the bad broke him.

Here’s a quick look at the progression.

After this rise though, comes the fall.

One of the last episodes of the show is entitled Ozymandias. This is referencing a poem by the same title about the inevitable decline of leaders.

This is a direct reference to the rise and fall of Heisenberg. Despite his reaching the top, there was a humiliating fall from grace- one in which his entire world is shattered around him. This is a universal theme we have seen throughout the course of history. In this show, this fall is the consequence of his actions. This is the justice he receives for his decisions. Because of seeking this kingdom, he loses his family, his wealth, and his reputation. In the end he is a broken man with nothing left, killed by his own stray bullet. It destroyed not only him, but left everyone around him in ruins.

And Walt is a man transformed. If his cackling meltdown in the crawlspace near the end of Season Four marked his transition from Walt to Heisenberg, the slow dolly zoom on his face when Jack shoots Hank was the moment when even Heisenberg disappeared, replaced by something worse. Heisenberg wanted Jesse dead, but quickly and painlessly; this new thing wanted him physically and emotionally destroyed first. Heisenberg was deadly but methodical, vengeful but careful; the creature now taking Heisenberg’s place lashed out wildly, inflicted suffering gratuitously. Most importantly, Heisenberg still wanted to be seen as a family man; whatever Walt is now, he gave up on having a family the moment he saw in their eyes that he’d finally gone too far. (Rolling Stone)

The exact scene showing his ultimate fall.

4. Critical Examination of Wealth as a Blessing or a Curse

The pursuit of wealth, fame, and power is universal. They are motives nearly everyone can identify with. Wealth is an allure that causes man to break his own morality in pursuit of it. Wealth was sought as a symbol of security. A way to provide for his family long after his death. Wealth was also a scorecard by which to measure success. The more he made, the more successful he was – the more he was winning.

Wealth is also commonly seen as a solution to every problem. It is a way to ransom one’s self out of any situation.

Seeking wealth in this manner is an endless pit.

“If the son of Adam had two valleys of wealth, he would love to have a third along with them. Nothing could satisfy him except dust. And Allah accepts the repentance of the one who repents.” [Ibn Majah]

Of course, once obtained, it becomes a burden. First, quite literally in the sense that he can’t even physically move it,

This can be considered symbolism to the story of Sisyphus as well. Rolling the barrel seems almost futile, because there is no way for him to do anything with the wealth (and he ultimately loses the vast majority of it). Throughout the show, the wealth is his security, though he doesn’t realize he has lost all his dignity in trying to hold on to it. This is highlighted in the end when Walt pathetically asks the extractor (Ed) if he would deliver his money to his children after his death, to which Ed replies coldly, “If I said yes, would you believe me?”

The concept of using wealth for ransom was intriguing to me. In the end it seems Walt finally broke one of his own cardinal rules by bringing Hank to the brink of his death – despite their adversarial relationship. In the heat of the moment he offers up everything he has worked so hard for – all $80 million in exchange for Hank’s life, and it is refused.

It’s a stark reminder about the true value of what we accumulate.

Indeed, those who disbelieve and die while they are disbelievers – never would the [whole] capacity of the earth in gold be accepted from one of them if he would [seek to] ransom himself with it. For those there will be a painful punishment, and they will have no helpers [3:91].

And leave those who take their religion as amusement and diversion and whom the worldly life has deluded. But remind with the Qur’an, lest a soul be given up to destruction for what it earned; it will have other than Allah no protector and no intercessor. And if it should offer every compensation, it would not be taken from it. Those are the ones who are given to destruction for what they have earned. For them will be a drink of scalding water and a painful punishment because they used to disbelieve [6:70].

Secondly, it can actually be a curse in that it brings you further away from the very thing you were trying to obtain. Even his own family did not want anything to do with his money. Despite it being a large sum, because of what was attached to how the wealth was earned, they couldn’t bear to even think about it.

After all of Walt’s self-justification about making meth to provide for his family, his family didn’t even want it because of what he did.

No amount of wealth will never purchase what you truly treasure.

5. The Theology of Breaking Bad by Imam Suhaib Webb

This isn’t a singular issue like the previous 4, but this khutbah by Imam Suhaib does a good job of breaking down some major themes with more developed lessons Muslims can draw from them.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Aisha bint Phillips (@TaishaP)

    October 2, 2013 at 1:41 AM

    Masha Allah and Bravo excellent analysis. It was also interesting to see the character Jesse humble himself at the end. I’m sure there’s a lesson there too.

  2. Avatar

    Muddassir

    October 2, 2013 at 2:11 AM

    Asak
    What does this article do? I wanted an article giving good advice to the Muslim Fans of Breaking Bad to stop seeing this show and the reasons they must stop seeing it.

    • ibnabeeomar

      ibnabeeomar

      October 2, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      What’s stopping you from writing one yourself?

      • Avatar

        Hassan

        October 2, 2013 at 6:28 PM

        He is seeking advice, Not everyone is good writer/thinker.

    • Avatar

      Asif Balouch (@PhilAsify101)

      October 2, 2013 at 2:21 PM

      @Muddasir Breaking Bad Muslim fans aren’t seeing this show anymore because it’s over. :)

      Joking aside, this was a great and relevant blog. I contemplated writing a post about Breaking Bad and tying it to Islam myself on my own blog but I guess brother @ibnabeeomar beat me to it. Excellent points.

      There is a lot we can learn from TV shows and such as these that’ll make us appreciate our deen even more. Brilliantly writing shows like Breaking Bad indirectly remind us of the beauty and wisdom of Islam if we approach it from such a perspective.

      • Avatar

        ItzPress

        October 3, 2013 at 1:35 PM

        I personally feel that you can do that with any literary work (approaching a work from an Islamic point of view). However, just because one can approach a piece of literature (television shows, movies, and for the younger ones, anime, etc can in a sense be seen for its literary merit, just like novels) from an islamic perspective, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s okay to delve into such a work.

        For example, take a look at 50 Shades of Grey. This literary work has, well, literary merit in it; one could learn things from it, and even approach it from an Islamic perspective in that learning-from-it. However, that doesn’t change the fact that such a novel is of a genre (akin to) of pornography. Reading such a thing is bad for one’s spiritual state and has much haram elements in the plot itself.

        So, with the above example, we realize that one could approach a work on its own literary merit from an Islamic point of view, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the haram-esque elements in its plot or telling, if it has these. So the dilemma posed then is; should a laymen/person read into a literary work to gain knowledge from it in pertinence to Islam despite it having much ill-natured elements of telling/story-sharing? This is, admittingly, a personal dilemma of mine too. And I personally chose the safe path; to leave shows like Breaking Bad, (for a writer/habitual reader, possibly) to leave novels like 50 Shades of Grey, and (for an anime-lover, possibly) to leave lewd-intensive anime. (I gave examples of a variety of things to illustrate both that it isn’t necessarily just writing that can pose as literature, and the plain pertinence of these examples.) These things are doubtful, so to my understanding, isn’t the safe, more ihsan-related path to leave such things, if they have such a potential to impact one’s own spiritual state?

        Digression; generally speaking, I, though finding it questionable, do see a bit of allowance in people reading into literary works that have very minor, non-explicit haram-esque elements (for lack of a better word). For example, Orwell’s 1984 technically has elements of adultery in it, but this is non-explicit and helps drive the plot, which helps make the reality within the novel more “real.” Something like 50 Shades of Grey, or Game of Thrones (never actually interacted with these, but from what I hear) are too ridiculously lewd and bring detriment to the viewer/reader within their spiritual state through desensitization. (And after all, it’s always desensitization of evil that leads people to believe that the evil is actually neutral or good.) There are different degrees of transgressions in literary works, and though all the degrees technically help drive the plot to make it “real” in their own universe/realities, it’s the explicit degrees that bring actual detriment to oneself; this is known when it stings at first, but then the poison gets used to. (Some have made metaphor that this is God’s fitra-related gift, that one’s own heart/soul is crying out from the sting/pain, and so listening to it and getting rid of the sting is the real message, while some just ignore it (in a sense).) From what I hear, Breaking Bad is extremely violent, and some have even praised that it is the fact that it’s so discomforting that it’s greater as a work of art. That’s the same excuse though, IMO (in my opinion), for every spirit-threatening violence/lewd-intensive work. So why is it allowed to some people for Breaking Bad but not as so for other literary works? This is a spiritual self-hypocrisy, some could even say.

        To sum, just because a literary work can be approached by its own literary merit from an Islamic paradigm/point of view, does not negate the haram-esque detrimental elements in it, if it does have these. Secondly, from my digression, literary works in general do approach transgression and the idea of transgression to make them more “real” (in their own sub-reality), but generally it is the explicit transgressions that actually sting one’s spirit and desensitize. Implicitly, as well, I am looking for nasiha on these issues.

        I hope what I said is clear, and if anything needs clarifying, you can ask. Any mistake is my fault only.

        • Avatar

          DK

          October 5, 2013 at 9:51 AM

          I will remember you in my duas :) Well said!

          I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking away lessons from whatever it may, whether these are islamic teachings or anything else in life.

          But I don’t understand why we need to look into TV series and analyse it, yeah sure, many people can relate to it more closely, but maybe that’s where the problem is.

          Perhaps the audience that the author wanted to address is probably not the same audience who will be looking for spiritual guidance on Muslim Matters, because the audience at Muslim Matters might already be looking for life lessons outside of TV series :)

          • Avatar

            Zaheer

            October 14, 2013 at 4:07 AM

            Haha, well that’s the thing right, MuslimMatters has a very diverse audience – some people here might be looking for life lessons from TV serials.

            I agree with both of you that, depending on the specific piece of literature the depiction or description of graphic haraam content can outweigh any benefits or lessons contained therein. Generally speaking, the medium of portrayal has a big bearing on how the content can be structured. Something like a TV serial, and for that matter most modern films, are limited by their medium in that their main aim is entertainment.

            So, people watching these, start inventing all sorts of justifications for how these are “good” series/films, and may even believe it themselves. The reality is that, like most people today, they’re just looking for a bit of escapism, and so they choose a form which is “deeper” than the majority of the mindless entertainment on offer, and try to spin it into some grand work of art from which various life lessons can be learnt. A likely story…

            I think those things called ‘books’ (“you mean e-book, or online novella, right uncle?”), due to their wider scope, can be more successfully used to draw lessons from. So while you might have tripe like 50 Shades being written, because the potential of the book/literature format is so great, you can have a myriad of novels, books on philosophy, ethics, theology etc which can be, overall, a more rewarding and positive experience. Why bother with trying to extract little nuggets of information from amongst the mind-numbing entertainment and glorification of sin, from TV series when you can get the same, nay better, thing from literature without the “bad” (no pun intended)? Or at least, the “bad” will not be so gratuitous that it muddies the meaning of the entire thing.

            It comes down to whether you’re capable of learning something without being entertained at the same time. People find books ‘boring’ because they’re so used to being overstimulated by visual and aural stimuli from TV/film, that they feel like they’re not deriving any benefit if they don’t experience those kind of sensations.

            PS: Huxley’s Brave New World is a far more accurate portrayal of the dangers of utopian ideas than 1984. If you haven’t already read it, I recommend it just for comparison’s sake.

    • Avatar

      Zaid

      November 10, 2014 at 7:03 AM

      Agreed mate. This ridiculous so called Muslim articles are pushing towards sin of watching nonsense which only breaks the law of Allah. No hijab, no lowering gaze and talk about lessons for muslims. Such utter nonsense to drive traffic to website and make money.

  3. Avatar

    kjs

    October 3, 2013 at 4:32 AM

    From the perspective of a Muslim the show also highlighted the benefit of iman in a persons life , the grief from the lack there of and highlighted the emptiness of the dunya.

    In the beginning we see the main character beset by a series of long running setbacks, not least the worry of who would provide for his family. Walter White couldn’t say “this is from Allah” and go forth with patience and prayer. Instead he took matters “into his own hands” despite the moral depravity of his decisions and those around him suffered the dire consequences.

    Also; he seemed to have no self worth as a humble teacher, husband and father, and he sought to fill the empty hole with the thrills and spills of the underworld, as he says to his wife in the end, he really enjoyed it. But his family is in ruins.

    All this whilst surrounded by the grand and raw beauty of a vast desert. The signs are all around.

    Brilliantly written story.

  4. Avatar

    7

    October 3, 2013 at 9:53 AM

    My daughter pointed out to me if Walter had gotten Cancer in Canada this show would not have happened because of free health care etc..

  5. Pingback: How a Muslim can avoid “Breaking Bad” |

  6. Avatar

    Zaid Mohammad (@Zaid_m95)

    October 5, 2013 at 12:50 AM

    I’ll be frank, after seeing this article I wanted to watch this show, asked my friend, and he told me there were a lot of ‘haram’ parts in the beginning. So I don’t know if this new direction with this article is a good thing. If I watched that show and ended up at those ‘haram’ parts would you also have to take part of the sin by tempting me to watch it, like you are promoting this. Of course, now that I did my research I’d rather not watch it.

    I honestly think muslims need to get into the arts, lets make our own tv shows, novels and other forms of arts. Otherwise this is going to happen often.

    But if I watched the show I would perhaps appreciate this more. I always thought if I should take anything ‘Islamic’ out of entertainment, and maybe this is giving me the message that i should

  7. Avatar

    Fatima Ariadne

    October 5, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    Ugh, I’m completely stupid when it comes to movies (I just don’t find a good reason to watch or follow them LOL). I don’t care about the movie being mentioned, but every points written here are spot on.

    Especially the “Sin is a slow burn”. Reminds me of story of a frog which jump into the water, if the water is hot it’ll immediately jump from it. But if the water is cool and someone slowly heated the water gradually, the frog will not feel the temperature shift and in the end, it will be too late for the frog to escape the hot water.

    • Avatar

      Zaheer

      October 14, 2013 at 4:11 AM

      Salaam Fatima,

      That story is apparently based on some experiments scientists did before animal cruelty was taken seriously. Some have tried to disprove it’s possibility, based on recent studies that certain species of frogs are very sensitive to temperature/smell changes in their environment.

      But if it did happen, poor froggies eh! The things we humans sometimes get up to…

  8. Avatar

    Hyde

    October 5, 2013 at 10:23 PM

    Weather it is Tony Montana transforming into Scarface or Walter White into Heisenberg, it is a typical of transformation of character that is embellished on the screen. But with Breaking Bad, the ethical choice of becoming a bad guy is made by the character himself, though in the beginning it is one can argue the certain events aided the predicament.
    Walter White, bland as bland can get. High school teacher from middle town America transformed into a drug kingpin of the Southwest. But with greed and ambitious and rationalizing on to the lofty idea of still trying to do for his family, he is ironically the reason for the demise of that rationale and hence begins his fall from grace. At the end what does he have to show for himself? No family.
    We all have a bad side inside of us. Call it the ego or the nafs. In Islamic talks, the nafs is often juxtapositioned with greed, or selfishness or “desire”, yet it can easily be buttressed with rage, murder, control and power.
    What do Muslims learn from this? That indeed the ego is the fuel for destruction. The worst enemy is none other than the man in the mirror. The voices of iblis are echo well for those who want to listen. The sin itself is not perpetuated until it is acted out, yet if lets it fester it inside it will soon come out anyway.
    To give a particular example, if running along a certain path every day for exercise, one sees someone that they should not yet continues to do run in the same path, that possibility of doing the sin builds up inside. “Everybody else is doing it so what not me?” “What is so bad about it?” “It is not like I am killing someone”. “It is only one time”. “She is a nice person”. “All Muslims I know do it” And the worst of it all, “if did it once, why should I not do it again”. Etc., etc.
    At the end of the day to paraphrase Mr. White people usually do things for themselves yet often rationalize that they are doing it for others. Blame it on “god”, others, society and etc. But the main culprit is the man in the mirror.

  9. Avatar

    sikandar

    October 7, 2013 at 7:53 AM

    Has anyone learnt that we must stop seeing haram shows after seeing this show.

    • Avatar

      Hassan

      October 8, 2013 at 8:00 AM

      Someone voted you down. Hence it has two possibilities:

      1. Watching Breaking Bad is encouraged in Islam.

      2. Or it is still haram, but who cares

  10. Avatar

    Sikandar

    October 8, 2013 at 9:08 PM

    Abu Hurayrah said: I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: “All of my ummah will be forgiven except those who sin openly. It is a part of sinning openly when a man does something at night, then the following morning when Allaah has concealed his sin, he says, ‘O So and so, I did such and such last night,’ when all night his Lord has concealed him and the next morning he uncovers what Allaah had concealed.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5721; Muslim, 2990).

    • Avatar

      Sis

      October 14, 2013 at 5:36 AM

      I tried to watch this show because a couple of my Muslim friends were talking about it……I could not get past the pilot episode due to nudity. The first scene shows a man in his underwear and we have to watch him escape from somewhere in this attire.

      Needless to say I did not watch the rest of this show. I’m shocked that anyone can openly admit to watching it since EVEN if we are watching it, it is better to hide your sins, rather than make them public and potentially influence others to watch the show out of curiosity, and as a result, bear some of the bad deeds for being a bad influence..

  11. Pingback: Breaking Bad, analysé selon un point de vue musulman. | Parole D'une Musl'iman

  12. Avatar

    O H

    October 14, 2013 at 3:07 AM

    The former mufti of Saudi Arabia, the late Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allaah have mercy on him) said in al-Fataawa 3/227: [Source http://www.islam-qa.com/en/3633%5D

    “With regard to television, it is a dangerous device and its harmful effects are very great, like those of the cinema, or even worse. We know from the research that has been written about it and from the words of experts in Arab countries and elsewhere enough to indicate that it is dangerous and very harmful to Islamic beliefs (‘aqeedah), morals and the state of society. This is because it includes the presentation of bad morals, tempting scenes, immoral pictures, semi-nakedness, destructive speech, and Kufr. It encourages imitation of their conduct and ways of dressing, respect for their leaders, neglect of Islamic conduct and ways of dressing, and looking down on the scholars and heroes of Islam. It damages their image by portraying them in an off-putting manner that makes people despise them and ignore them. It shows people how to cheat, steal, hatch plots and commit acts of violence against others. Undoubtedly anything that produces so many bad results should be stopped and shunned, and we have to close all the doors that could lead to it. If some of our brothers denounce it and speak out against it, we cannot blame them, because this is a part of sincerity towards Allaah and towards other people.

    Whoever thinks that this device (TV) can be free of these evils and can be used only for good purposes if it is censored properly is exaggerating and is making a big mistake, because the censor may miss things and most people nowadays want to imitate the foreigners. It is very rare to find censors who are doing their job properly, especially nowadays when most people are only interested in time-wasting entertainment and things that turn people away from true guidance. Reality bears witness to that.”

  13. Avatar

    tariq huq

    October 19, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    If there was one piece on muslim matters worthy of critcism levelled against it, this piece would be at the forefront. Have no idea what breaking bad is, but the “benefit” which is being brought out is miniscule compared to the harm. Have we lost all sense on what benefits us and what harms us. Watching tv shows/movies/pornography is bad when done in secret, worse when publicised. I ask you, o author, how did the hadith of the one who publicise his sins not cross your mind? And i know this is too much to ask but please remove this post and may Allah forgive you. If i come across as harsh, i’m sorry sincerely and its only because you as a senior member of this blog needs to show better judgement as to what needs to be published and what doesn’t.

    • Avatar

      O H

      October 19, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      There is a misunderstanding of the concept of Maslaha or greater good which many Muslims, including myself can commit errors. We may perceive many actions to be praiseworthy instead of blameworthy if we perceive the benefit to exceed the harm and whilst doing so the Satan may deceive us in this. May Allaah reward the writer for his efforts and grant him goodness. I dont think criticizing our Muslim brother (the writer) personally is a good thing. We may differ from him in his opinion without blaming and labelling him.

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Stats not Stories: Problems with our Islamic History

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Admit it. You’re bored by Islamic History. Sure, you might say that you find it fascinating, but the likelihood is that you are far more likely to be enamoured by the idea of what Islamic history should be like rather than the history itself.

How can I justify saying this? Well, lets take any other aspect of life that you are definitely not bored by. The latest Star Wars movie perhaps, Super Bowl 50 or all 7 Harry Potter books. Anything at all. Odds are that you can remember a lot about them in vivid detail. But if you’re asked the same thing about pretty much any aspect of Islamic history, the details are likely to be nowhere near as clear or captivating.

islamic history book

Outsold by the story of a wizard kid by a factor of a Million to 1

Relax. For once, it is not your fault.

Islamic history is the poor cousin of the Islamic sciences. It can often be poorly taught, poorly understood and even more poorly preserved. The blame for this partly falls on the shoulders of the Islamic historians themselves. Apart from some notable exceptions, many Islamic history books are dreary affairs over-filled with numbers, dates and exceptionally long names of individuals who sound very similar.

history quote

It is not that Islamic history itself is boring. On the contrary, I would make the case that no other history is as palpitation inducing, full of giddy highs and dramatic – seemingly bottomless – lows. However, even the most amazing thriller can go from awe to yawn if the main focus is on the factual details rather than the story itself.

explainafilmplotbadly

If the Dark Knight was described like your average text on Islamic history

In 2007 Deborah Small at the Wharton School of Business conducted an experiment to see how people would react to a charity campaign that was presented primarily using facts and figures as compared to the same campaign presented as a story. The outcome wasn’t even close. Stories trump stats every time. Or, as Stalin would say “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” He should know. He was kind of an expert on the subject.

stalin

Hipster Stalin – now he’s taken things too far.

In fact, we don’t need to look to modern research to prove this. The Quran itself is full of stories and lessons, but short on details. How many animals made it on to the Ark? Where exactly did Khidr live? What was the name of the Pharoah that was the arch-nemesis of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)? The lack of facts and figures detracts nothing from the power of these stories and their ability to inspire and transform those hearing them.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was explicit on this point when it came to the stories of the Companions of the Cave. Allah admonishes those who debate on the exact number of those in the cave saying “Now some say they were three and the fourth one is their dog and some will say they were five and the sixth one is their dog, guessing randomly at the unseen.” It is unfortunate that we don’t heed this lesson when it comes to how we teach our own Islamic history.

stat-stories-vs-statistics

From “Made to stick” by Chip and Dan Heath

Maya Angelou said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ If we want our Islamic history to be relevant and life-changing, we need to put away the facts and figures and bring out the monsters and legends.

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Five Courageous Ways To Respond To Anti-Muslim Hatred

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By Fatima Barkatulla

It was the day after the second Paris attack. Our local Muslim school sent parents a text-message telling them that security guards would flank the school gates the next day. Messages were flying around, complete with fuzzy CCTV footage of Muslim women who had been verbally or physically attacked in public places, in the climate of hatred and fear that seemed to hang like a cloud over us.

My sons, proudly wear traditional garments (thobe and white skullcap) when going to certain classes at the Mosque. It is the uniform for their Qur’an class. It’s of course not obligatory for them to wear it but they normally do. They were about to set out and catch a bus when a sense of dread came over me as I realised how vulnerable they looked and how so visibly ‘Muslim’. People had been fed a drip diet of negativity surrounding Islam and Muslims. The heinous crimes of some of our co-religionists, playing on 24-hour news channels had contributed to that climate. It would only take one angry person…

 

Muslim boys

 

In that moment I considered telling my sons to pop their jeans on instead, reserving their traditional garb for when they were safely inside the mosque. In that moment I was terrified at the power I wielded as a parent to influence their mindset with a word I might utter. And in that moment, I bit my tongue and decided to choose Tawakkul and empowerment and banish victimhood and fear.

There was no real danger. Most of our fellow citizens are not full of hatred. Most of them do know a Muslim well enough to know better. I believe much of the fear-mongering that goes on in Muslim circles, is manufactured and perpetuated by people continuously forwarding unconfirmed scare stories to one another (or perhaps people infiltrating our lists and groups, maliciously intending to spread panic).

In the aftermath of these attacks it’s important to continue living as you normally live day to day as much as possible and since my sons usually do wear these clothes to the mosque without issue, I didn’t want to introduce the idea of hiding being a Muslim to them.

It’s not about fanatically holding onto garments. Indeed if there is real and present danger we should take the precautions necessary and should not put our children at high risk. However, this was about the attitude we seek to instil in the next generation of Believers.

Over the Channel in France, with its aggressive secularism, it has become commonplace for many Muslims to hide their Islam. Britain’s Muslims, including my sons, are confident and very comfortable expressing our faith and culture, Alhamdulillah. This is home and we aren’t guests here. The vast majority of our compatriots are respectful towards us and, especially in the vibrant melting-pot that is London, we have grown up together, laughed, cried, learned and played together. We grew up being told to express our culture and be ourselves.

British Muslims

In the 80s racists used to abuse us for having a different skin colour – which we couldn’t hide. They would hurl insults at my mother for observing hijab. That overt racism is largely gone. But the point is this: Our parents didn’t persevere through the tough times that they faced, only for our generation to lie down as soon as we face some pressure!

By all means let us teach our children to take the normal precautions any child should. Teaching them the very powerful duas and supplications for going outside as well as the du’a when facing fear, and the du’a for resolve, were my first port of call.[1] But I refuse to instil cowardice in their hearts and will continue to teach them to hold their heads up high as Muslims in a world where their faith is misrepresented.

I see parenting as a calling. Children are the ultimate carriers of our values beyond our own short lives. Most of us still hear our mothers’ voices in our heads, giving us the occasion telling-off or reminding us to do the right thing. Most of us subconsciously ask ourselves what dad would have done. We may of course reassess some of those values, rejecting some and adapting others. However, a parent’s attitude and philosophy of life is no doubt a most powerful factor in setting a child’s direction in the world.

So how will I be teaching my children to respond to anti-Muslim hatred? What do I hope their attitude will be, growing up in 21st Century Britain?

The key messages I will be giving my children are:

First: Have faith in Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan. Our tradition teaches us that everything, however difficult it may be for us to understand, happens for a reason and happens by the will of God. It teaches us that through Sabr – patiently persevering upon the straight path, through hard work and prayer, we will see the fruits of our efforts.

Second: Never be afraid to be different. Some of the greatest people in history went against the grain. They were immensely unpopular and often persecuted. In the end, their unwavering, patient, perseverance for justice shone through. We have an example of that in the great messengers of God such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace be upon them. And in recent times we have the likes of Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X – who fought injustice, were persecuted or killed for their cause, but morally triumphant as eventually the world caught up with them.

Third: Be politically engaged. Outrage at injustices around the world is natural. But how you allow that to manifest itself is pivotal. The Qur’an tells us that we must live up to being “the best people extracted for the sake of humanity.” The conditions for being amongst the best of people are that we must enjoin the good, beginning with ourselves and forbid what is wrong and have faith in God. Loving ones country means sometimes holding a mirror up to it and with wisdom, speaking truth to power.

Fourth: Be socially engaged. Contribute and give to society positively with all your heart and with all of your talents. Serve your neighbours, serve your fellow citizens. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would go the extra mile to reach out to people and fulfil their needs, to feed, to clothe, to share a burden. He never encouraged us to live in ghettos, happy with our own piety. Mixing with people, sharing, caring, giving, getting involved with the issues of society is his example and your duty.

Fifth: Seek deeper knowledge of scripture from traditional scholars who are also forward-thinking. The Qur’an has a context to it. Reading ones own interpretations into it willy nilly gives a warped understanding. We see the catastrophic effects of that in lands where injustice is being justified by ignorant Twitter and Facebook muftis interpreting revelation. Our tradition is rich, it gave birth to one of the greatest civilisations in history. Don’t be rash. Don’t be a hothead. The energy of youth needs to be tempered by the wisdom of scholars and elders. Our faith needs a generation of leaders who have depth of understanding and a wealth of wisdom in order to traverse the murky waters that may lay ahead. Be that generation.

[1] Some of the supplications can be found in du’a books and on the website: http://www.makedua.com/ . A couple of examples are:

بِسْمِ اللهِ ، تَوَكَّلْتُ عَلَى اللهِ وَلَا حَوْلَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللهِ

“In the name of Allah, I place my trust in Allah and there is no might nor power except with Allah.”

The Prophet ﷺ told us, when we say this, an angel will say: “you shall be defended, protected and guided”. (Abu Dawud)

And this wonderful du’a which every one of us should memorise! It is protection from facing ignorance or harm when going out! Make sure your kids have memorised it!

 

اللَّهُمَّ إني أَعُوذُ بِكَ أَنْ أَضِلَّ أَوْ أُضَلَّ ، أَوْ أَزِلَّ أَوْ أُزَلَّ ، أَوْ أَظْلِمَ أَوْ أُظْلَمَ ، أَوْ أَجْهَلَ أَوْ يُجْهَلَ عَلَيَّ

“O Allah, I seek refuge with You lest I should stray or be led astray, or slip (i.e. to commit a sin unintentionally) or be tripped, or oppress or be oppressed, or behave foolishly or be treated foolishly.” (Abu Dawud)

Fatima Barkatulla is a seminarian and award-winning Islamic lecturer. Follow her on FacebookA version of this article was published in The Times and Times Online on Saturday 9th April 2016

[1] ‘thaub’ is sometimes called a dishdasha (it is a long, dress-like garment worn by men in the Middle-East). ‘Thaub’ is the more commonly used name for it in the Muslim community.

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Science Not Art: Problems with our Islamic History

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Let me introduce you to Hassan. He is an artist with an imagination that runs wild with more creativity in his little finger than most of us have in our whole lives. He spends his spare time in art galleries and exhibitions. He enjoys experimenting with different pantones to find the right shade of green for his latest artwork. So far, he’s your typical artist, except for the small fact that he’s a medical student.

Like many children of first generation immigrants, Hassan was prodded towards a stable career in healthcare rather than the decidedly less secure world of being an artist. His innate artistry is out of place in the sterile world of Medicine, but he accepts this trade-off for the security that a career in medicine brings.

The-Art-Science-of-Content-Marketing

Much like Hassan, I contend that Islamic history is art trapped in the world of sciences.

While Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t being busy leading the Rough Riders or being President, he made the same case for history in general. Every civilization and culture views history through a different lens. While the Europeans classically treated History as a category within literature and the Hindus as often indistinguishable from mythology – Muslims took an entirely different approach. When it comes to fields of Islamic studies, we tend to classify the most important as sciences. Tafsir, Ilm al hadeeth, Tajweed and Fiqh are all researched and taught with the same precision and accuracy as physics or maths. There is relatively little room for artistic license or experimentation.

science vs art

This is a strength especially when it comes to the studies that make up the bedrock of the faith and are used to decide the rules and regulations that govern it. However, problems arise when subjects that don’t naturally fit into the scientific category are reclassified as such. One such example is Islamic history. Our history has often been subjected to the same rigorous standards as those applied to other Islamic sciences. Anything that doesn’t meet the highest standards of verification and authentication can potentially be downplayed or treated as suspect.

This view of history was pioneered by none other than the father of historiography Ibn Khaldun, who was frustrated by the “uncritical acceptance of historical data.” It comes as no surprise to find out that Ibn Khaldun was a jurist before he found fame in later life as a historian. However, history is not merely data to be proven or interpreted in a narrow set of ways. History is the art of putting together bits of information from the past and weaving together a narrative that gives us an insight into the motivations and actions of those that preceded us.

quiz art vs science

Translation: Artists tend to see boats first, scientists tend to see arches.

For instance, History as science will tell us that the Moghul Empire finally collapsed due to a range of socio-economic factors afflicting the corrupt Moghul state combined with the overwhelming military superiority of the British. While that may technically be accurate, History as art would explain the fall as a perfect storm of threats compounded by the tragic but unexpected outcome of an aging Emperor’s affections for his ambitious and treacherous young wife Zeenat Mahal. The former view is based on empirical evidence but wholly uninspiring and devoid of the human touch, while the latter is pieced together based on some facts, some extrapolations and based on the characters of the personalities involved.

zeenat mahal

Worth sinking an Empire over?

Skeptics from the scientific school of thought will read the above and fear that this is a call to legitimise superstition and fairytales. It is not. The reality is that the majority of our history, or any history for that matter, will fail to pass the benchmarks that we must necessarily use for our sciences. The result of this is that there are swathes of our history that are simply looked upon as second class and therefore not prominent.

Maria Konnikova argued the same point cogently in Scientific American. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we see and classify Islamic history. Islamic historians should feel comfortable in the freedom to discuss and teach aspects of our history that may not be 100% verifiable, but that fit within the broad construct of our traditions. We need to explore and cultivate the vast fertile expanses between irrefutable evidence based facts and pure fiction. Should we do so, we will reap a rich harvest of engaged and inspired Muslims who can take lessons and inspiration from our past and use it to guide our future. That’s hopefully something that even the most dedicated scientist would find it difficult to argue against.

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