Open Letter to all Islamic Lecture Providers

In the name of God

To Alhambra Productions, IlmQuest, MeccaCentric, SoundVision, Astrolabe, and any other Muslim media company that provides Islamic video lectures.

First of all, I would like to thank you for your efforts and work in order to provide high quality lectures for the Muslim Ummah to benefit from. Before I begin discussing Islamic video lectures and the Muslim community, I’d like to spend some time discussing the broader scale of videos, movies, etc. and the common practice of downloading using BitTorrent or other file sharing protocols.

The current reign of BitTorrent has completely taken piracy to a new level. Any person with some basic knowledge of installing software and downloading files can get their hands on almost any movie, music album, software, and practically almost anything that can be stored on a computer off the Internet using file sharing sites and BitTorrent networks.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about then continue reading. If you do understand how torrents work then skip down to the section entitled “The Situation of Piracy in the Muslim Ummah“.

What is a torrent? What is BitTorrent?

A BitTorrent (.torrent) is a small file that contains an empty puzzle to an entire file(s). A BitTorrent client loads this torrent file and searches though other BitTorrent hosts who have the complete puzzle already completed. In order for you to complete your puzzle you will have to download from those who already completed it. This is what the BitTorrent client does. Once your puzzle is completed, you have fully downloaded the file(s) and now you are also sharing it as well, unless you take it off from sharing. Also while you are finding the puzzle pieces you need, other people are also looking to complete their puzzles and if you have a piece they need, then you will be sharing it with them and they will be able to download it. That’s pretty much the best analogy I can come up with. If you didn’t fully understand, then I’d check Wikipedia here for a thorough definition of BitTorrent.

Where does the piracy come in?

If you search through many of the BitTorrent search engines and BitTorrent hosting sites, you’ll find complete software packages and full length movies that are still in theaters or just released on DVD or complete seasons of popular TV shows. Literally thousands of people are downloading and uploading them all at the same time this very second as you read this. It’s that popular through out the world.

What have major TV channels done to help stop piracy?

Many TV networks like ABC, NBC, MTV, etc. are streaming entire full length episodes of very popular TV shows. Instead of trying to fight the wide spread piracy like the music industry is, they are catching on to the drift and realizing that many people want to watch movies, TV shows, etc. on their computers. So how do they make money? It’s very simple: online commercials and advertisements. They sell “online airtime” in between the TV episodes online. You can see examples here from NBCs Heroes.

The music industry has come down hard on the BitTorrent community, suing people left and right and forcing many BitTorrent sites to shut down or to close business in the US (They are still active for non-US IPs). The solution for this has been iTunes. Apple’s iTunes has a monopoly over the legal use of allowing users to download music for a price of course.

The Situation of Piracy in the Muslim Ummah

Islamic lecture providers are also facing piracy of their lectures being uploaded to Google Video, YouTube and other video sites. What’s worse is that many Muslims have defended this as saying you shouldn’t sell knowledge. Knowledge was never been sold during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) nor was it sold during the time of the companions (may God be pleased with them all) nor the salaf (the generations right after the Prophet Muhammad [peace and blessings be upon] ) and so on. They do have a point, because many scholars offer their lectures for free because they also feel that sacred knowledge shouldn’t be sold. The other view is that this is a means of living for some Muslims and that they need the money to survive and support their families. That point is also true. Both sides have substantial evidence to prove their opinions. My proposed solution will offer both sides a possible mutual agreement.

A Possible Solution?

I have thought about this for a while and I have been wanting to write about this for the past few months. Islamic lecture providers need to start providing free content online. Streaming videos with 15-60 second commercials is a way they can earn profit whilst providing it for free. They can sell commercial time and also sell online advertisements on their video pages. For example, extremely popular speakers like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf or Shaykh Yasir Qadhi would generate many hits, thus to buy a 30 second commercial spot would be expensive. To buy a 60 second commercial spot would be even more. Who wouldn’t want to advertise their product on a Shaykh Hamza Yusuf video or a Shaykh Yasir Qadhi video. Thousands will view the video. That alone should be enough for some companies to advertise if this system was implemented.

The only issue would be to find companies (Muslim and non-Muslim) that would be willing to be the first to advertise in this type of marketing strategy. Also, what is the cost per video to be put up for free instead of being sold by quantity. I personally believe that the number of lectures sold is less profitable than providing free videos online. The amount of people that watch the lecture for free is far greater than the amount of people that would buy the lecture. Providing commercial time would be more profitable than to sell the video lectures by the quantity.

What kind of Advertisements?

Well that’s up to the video producer.  It can be advertising Islamic events, fundraisers, or Muslim businesses.   It can be whatever the video producer and speaker agree on.

I hope, God willing, that this idea could become a reality in the near future. Please forgive me if I have said anything wrong. It was only out of good intention to help expand the online Muslim community with this idea and to provide Muslim businesses with other alternatives in making a profit.



23 Replies to “Open Letter to all Islamic Lecture Providers”

  1. yesssssssssssss. you’ve adopted the “open-letter” approach! this is a proud day for me. lol i’ll definitely stumble this. thanks! we need more open letters, they’re awesome!

  2. I think this analogy is somewhat flawed. Music/movies/television are means of entertainment. The sole purpose of this media is to entertain people for profit. The last thing I would want to see is an islamic lecture or a recorded khutbah dispersed with advertisements, the same way i would be annoyed to see advertisements in a book.

    Not everything should be commercialized – especially islamic knowledge, The fact that lectures are sold as DVDs and CDs is perfectly fine. What we are paying for is not necessarily the knowledge but supporting those scholars and institutions that are providing this knowledge.

  3. I strongly disagree with the advertising during lectures with sacred knowledge. To me this compromises the knowledge and sort of cheapens it as teachers begin to search for advertising as a source of income. This makes it even MORE commercial than straight up selling lectures.

    Furthermore, this can put teachers at the mercy of advertisers and their whims similar to when teachers and scholars are dependent on governments for their livelihood.

    A better consideration is to examine the means by which Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails successfully marketed his latest Music albums. He offered an entire album for free but had more content available for download at progressively higher prices. In the end he made seven million dollars.

    I believe this marketing method is a more dignified means of providing quality Islamic content.

  4. H.Ahmed,

    I agree that a pepsi commercial in the middle of a lecture about controlling one’s nafs would be inappropriate, but I don’t think what MR is calling for is really all that different from what already exists. Don’t we already have Islamic television networks and radio stations that have programs interlaced with commercials? Don’t many Islamic magazines provide revenue through commercials? As far as I am aware, even Sunnipath runs ads. If the fear is that the commercials aren’t in accordance with the underlying message of the program, then the producers can regulate it.

  5. H.Ahmed and theManOfFewWords –

    What kind of Advertisements?

    Well that’s up to the video producer. It can be advertising Islamic events, fundraisers, or Muslim businesses. It can be whatever the video producer and speaker agree on.

  6. There are some masjids already doing that. Local community would sponsor the video streaming and get an ad space in the video.

    Hope your open letter will reach them.

  7. lol I mean they got one of the highest traffic hits in the entire world…you kill that site, you kill it all. But it’s also linked to the growth of Dawah.

    Anyways, I written a helluva lot on this topic since I used to do this and then recanted…see some of my posts below. But I really like you idea–we need more ideas like that and someone to implement them.

    But there is a difference of opinion on it apparently. Sh. Feiz (visit kalamullah) says its OK to disregard copyrights since the deen belongs to Allah and is free.

    I disagree with that because I can use the same argument to steal someone’s Quran. 🙂

    Here is a nice discussion on me suggesting we sue the fools!

  8. The reality of 21st century America is everything is comercialized and that is the only way you can successfully compete in a capitalist society. In theory I agree with those that say it shouldn’t be capitalized however in practice this is not practical. Nice post MR very innovative [bid’ah hasanah] 😉

  9. salemu laykum…..i think the intenion is great, and the idea might work but i think it would just change the problem to making the ilm seem even more comercialised, its too bad that we just wouldnt come out of our pockets more and support our shuykh so they didnt have this problem, basically it will just solve one problem and create another in its place, and i could be wrong, but at least we get reward from allah for buying the material with the right intentions. and allah knows best.

  10. Salaam ‘Alaikum

    No, I suppose that traditionally, scholars didn’t charge for the dissemination of knowledge — because they didn’t have to. The awqaf and the Ummah supported them with dignity and honor. That same situation does not occur today.

    In add’n, when people justify spreading lectures and videos without payment, they say that “knowledge is free.” Okay, but the video cameras, microphones & audio equipment, editing software, production, and facility rental isn’t. When people sell DVDs or CDs of lectures and classes, *that* is what the money pays for — it’s not just “supporting the scholars.” It’s supporting the Muslims who have already laid out their money and time to make these events happen and capture them for the benefit of those who could not attend. Not that I think Muslims will care or understand about this — not until it is *their* right and effort that is being walked on.

    Subscription based services (at a decent, affordable price), yes, advertisements ( no longer has advertising on their site), and the establishment of awqaf to support these endevors — all would allow both the scholars and the producers to receive fair compensation for the *work* that they have done. And isn’t there a sahih hadith about paying someone for his *work* before the sweat dries? Believe me, getting up to deliver a lecture is as much work as those of us who sit down at computer screens and work for the man everyday… yadda yadda.

  11. Assalamu’alykum,

    I have thought about this issue myself and had similar idea in my mind. However due to Muslim companies and “record label” being very restricted, I thought it would be almost impossible to agree on such solution.

  12. I don’t want commercials in my islamic videos personally mainly for the reason it’s annoying. On sunnipath and other sites, it doesn’t waste 30 seconds of my time to read an ad.
    It will also be frustrating to try to share with bros (who don’t usually listen to/watch lectures) when they have to sit through ads. It will turn a lot of people off.
    What *could* work is if they have ads at the END of a video. Ilmquest does this with their cds, by giving audio samples of their own works. That way, a person is not compelled to watch an ad.

  13. Atif said:

    I don’t want commercials in my islamic videos personally mainly for the reason it’s annoying.

    What if the commercial was advertising an Islamic event? Or advertising Halal Meat store? What if the commercial was just at the beginning of the lecture and in between the question and session and the actual lecture?

    I’m not saying that to put it every 10 minutes within the lecture. But to generate income by allowing advertisers to advertise on the video at an appropriate location.

  14. MR,

    Read Suhaib Webb’s explanation of the hadeeth on immitating the kuffaar – although the topic itself is not relevant to what you’ve posted, within that discussion Imam Suhaib mentions when and why (sort of like an afterthought) we changed from no payment for knowledge to paying for knowledge.

    Great brainstorming, I’m inclined to agreeing with ManofFewWords and others who had that opinion, but I like your train of thought, may Allah subhaana wa ta’aala reward you for it. Keep thinking, insha’Allah you find a really awesome solution and that’ll be lots of reward, insha’Allah.


  15. MR,
    I would only want any commercial at the end of the lecture if it’s long. If it’s short, such as “Brought to you by ABC Halal marshmallows!”, then it could be in the beginning (just like how “Ask Baba Ali” does it)

  16. Thank you UmmZaid. Say it once more louder. Times have changed.
    Scholars are no longer supported. Even the money they make off the people who do buy the lectures is not very much. Like it is always repeated, Muslims are willing to spend their money on good quality etc, etc, but not good quality Islamic products. People often bring up people who can’t afford these products. I’m sorry but I think the majority of people that are pirating or downloading CAN afford these cds and dvds etc. It’s just NOT what they choose to spend their money on. Hold back on the extra pair of Puma sneakers or whatever. It’s wrong. These people need to be financially supported. In my opinion, if one can’t afford these things, then there is a myriad of free knowledge on the net etc…It’s not like every Islamic lecture is for sale!! It’s not like anyone is holding back pamphlets of what the 5 pillars are or qurans until they get money.

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