FRIDAY KHUTBAH AT IIUM MOSQUE ON THE 6TH NOV 2009
HAPPINESS IN ISLAM
Dr Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran
As time goes by, we are over and over again witnessing around us, events, occurrences and all sorts of happenings took place in our life. Since they are so common and frequent to us we do not even have a chance to ponder upon the deeper meaning behind these events. They passed in front of us just like series of different episodes of a long story played by human being as the main actors.
There are many scenes of this long story. One scene presents us a setting where people are rushing hastily to their working place everyday in order to earn some money to sustain their living. For the poor among them, it is really a matter of survival. No money means no food. As for the rich, the matter is slightly different. The question is not what are we going to eat today but rather who are we going to eat today.
At another scene there are people struggling with the huge ammunition and weapons fighting under the name of their nation and land, to uphold the dignity of their state. What in their mind is only ways and strategies to kill the enemy. Life and death are at their fingertips. They are playing the role the angel Izrail to take life of human only by pressing one button or trigger.
The third scene takes place at the remote village of one of the so called developed country where science and technology as the new religion has replaced the old superstitions and biblical metaphysical beliefs. At one corner of the village a group of people assembled in a large hall to hear the sermons from their leader whom they also believed as the new Christ who come to save the mankind. They later burned themselves in the hall after police surrounded the place.
There is a fourth scene of the episodes. In a big stadium built from the charity of the people, a huge crowd are shouting and screaming to their idolized football teams. As the game were about to finish, the two big crowd ended up by fighting each other and resulted great casualties.
The episodes which I purposely mentioned before are just some lucid examples of apparent phenomena which took place in our world today. If we further analyse the very final purpose of all these occurrences, we will notice that, whatever these people are doing, it is only one definite thing they are finally searching for, that is the ultimate happiness in life. The material wealth gained by the poor and the rich are definitely just means to achieve happiness. The political conflict, the war between nation states, the struggle for power are finally aimed at attaining true happiness. Even the spreading of cult movements scattered all over the world are none other than a manifestation of a physical or psychological struggle of man to reach the ultimate satisfaction and happiness in their life. So much so that even if we ask our own self for whatever purpose some of us came all the way from our distant countries to this university, it is none other to seek knowledge which will later bring us a higher state of living and happiness in this world. Happiness is indeed the end in itself not a mean to an end.
The most basic question which we would like to ask is, are all these people mentioned before really happy? What really makes happiness, happiness? And as Muslims, what Islam has to say about happiness?
Throughout the ages, the concept of happiness has been widely discussed by the great thinkers of the past oriental or occidental. The Greek philosophers have stated in clear a term that the ultimate happiness will take place through what they called virtues. They unanimously agreed that there are four cardinal virtues, namely temperance, courage, wisdom and justice. Thus a happy person is the one who possessed these cardinal virtues in their selves.
Unfortunately, happiness in the context of modern western man is never been defined in a definite manner. It has continuously changed depending of which philosophical school or line of thinking these definitions are derived from. The utilitarians will define happiness based on their practical purposes. The hedonistic school will define happiness based on pleasure and pain. The homosexuals will on the other hand view happiness as what satisfy their animalistic instincts. All these groups will view happiness based on their biased subjective mind. Happiness has become a relative thing and the western man will never be happy with whatever definition of happiness given.
What is the view of the Quran on happiness? In the Quran happiness is termed by the word sa’adah. Whenever the term sa’adah mentioned in the Quran, it is always related into two conditions; the happiness in the hereafter (ukhrawiyyah) and happiness in the present world. For a Muslim, the ultimate happiness is the happiness in the hereafter as mentioned by God in Surah Hud (11:108):
‘And those who are happy shall be in the Garden; they will dwell therein o long as the heaven and the earth endure, except as our Lord will, a gift without break’
This sa’adah refers to the happiness which is everlasting, the highest of which is to see God in the hereafter which is promised to those who inwardly have lived in a willing submission and conscious obedience of God’s commands and prohibitions. This definitely does not mean that a Muslim cannot attain happiness in this world. To be happy in this world is to prepare one self for the ultimate happiness in the hereafter by having a strong faith and firm belief in God. It is a state of spiritual tranquillity which is everlasting, permanent and stable in one’s heart. It is deep feeling of secure and becoming free from fear, not the fear from God but the fear of the unknown , of the utter loneliness, and more importantly free from the fear of death and what lie beyond death.
This is exactly what is meant by all the good virtues in Islam such as temperance (‘iffah), abstinence (wara’), piety (taqwa), truthfulness (sidq). All these religious virtues nevertheless should be preceded by the prior condition of consciousness in the soul of truth which is termed by the Quran as yaqin. There are three level of certainty mentioned by the Quran, ‘ilm al-yaqin, ‘ain al-yaqin and haqq al-yaqin.
It is clear that happiness in Islam does not thus refer to the bodily or material aspect of the human life. As a matter of fact, the abundant material wealth, excessive physical pleasure sometimes contributes to the prevention of the true happiness. How many cases have we seen people with abundant of wealth are deprived from gaining the true happiness in their life. Their material bounties, on the other hand, are the very origin and cause of their unhappiness.
The Qur’an mentioned about Qarun, the multi-billionaire of the classical age, whose key of his boundless treasures is reported equivalent to the weight of 300 camels, has been swallowed by the earth, as a reminder to the later generations that it is not the acquisition of the worldly pleasures that are blessed by the all-Mighty God. By stating this it is also not true to deduce that Islam is an anti-material gain. Islam simply views material wealth is only one of the tools to a more absolute kind of happiness which goes beyond the boundary of the physical gain.
This is the very reason God states in the Quran (Al-Kahfi 18:46)
“Wealth and children are temptation of the life of this world; the only things endure, are good deed, which is the best in the sight of your Lord as rewards and as the best hopes.”
It is interesting to see that the contrary of sa’adah is termed by the Quran as shaqawah, which conveys the meaning of great misfortune and misery in general. Shaqawah is the generic term which include within it many other terms also mentioned in the Quran as khawf (fear), huzn (grief), dank (narrowness), hasrat (profound grief and regret for something gone and never be experienced again). These terms are used in the Quran to denote those who turned away from God and spend his life in self-waste which than he discover after death how he has lost his soul and appeal toward God in turning back to worldly life to make good deeds.
As accurately observed by Prof . Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, the term shaqawah is reflected in the concept of tragedy in the Western literary tradition. It was very popular in the field and art and literature and gained its roots from early Grek thinker, Aristotle in his book Poetics. Contrasted with comedy in the field of theatre, tragedy is referred as a narrative recounting the life of some ancient or eminent person who suffered a decline of fortune toward disastrous end as a result of either personal failings or circumstances beyond his control. It is a constant failing from prosperity to suffering and chaos. According to the western writers, the function of tragedy is actually to help people to overcome the thought of death in their life.
This concept of tragedy is not confined to the field of art, but later it started to creep into the real life of the western man. Their thought, their feeling and the whole life of western man has been infected with the tragic spirit. It manifests crystal clear in the modern literatures, film and sports. The existence of huge film industry such as Hollywood is one of the symbols of the tragic spirit of the western man. Through film, they try to search for the meaning of life by portraying various episode of life of man with tragic experiences. If we are the attentive watchers of the western films, we can simply see the effect of the Greek tragedy in the films. Every film will start with a harmony stage followed by a tragedy and later came the hero to overcome the trials and difficulties. Each and every film will show their ideal heroes facing thousand kinds of tribulations.
In the field of sport, the tragic spirit of the western man is also clearly manifested. The objective of sport which was initially to produce a healthy community has already transformed to be a tool of racial confrontation, riots, gambling and the most irony is that it becomes the way to destroy the health of human being with all its malpractices and abuses. In addition to that, all kind of weird and strange sport had emerged in our day. All these new sports are gradually moving toward an animalistic and barbaric in nature such as Gladiators and wrestling. I’m sure the spirit will gradually return back to the classical primitive age where the western man tries to associate themselves to the nature and the animal kingdom.
These are all the manifestation of the western tragic spirit which is nothing to do with Islam.
This is what tragedy is all about and also what the Quran means by the term shaqawah. It is the total misfortune and misery of those who reject the guidance of God. To prevent themselves from the fear of death particularly, the western man keep on looking for a so called sensational activities to quench his lonely tragic spirit. They, according to Professor al-Attas, are just like Sisyphus in the Greek literature who pushed the stone up the hill where at the top it is destined to roll down again.
We pray to God that we will be among those who will attain the real happiness in this world and the hereafter. The happiness that is based on the real knowledge of God and the true certainty of the soul toward God. There is no other real tranquillity of soul for a Muslim than to gain the true knowledge, faith and consciousness of his Creator. What else does a man of faith really need when he already gained the ultimate knowledge of reality.
I am taking up this issue of happiness in our khutbah today simply because there are among Muslims who are seems to be affected and infected by the same tragic spirit of the western man, who keep on plunging himself in the excessive worldly pleasure while the real happiness actually lies right within his own religion. They feel a kind of loneliness and everlasting fear in their heart while the remedy is in the true faith to his Lord.
They never feel content with what they have gained and keep looking for extreme physical excitements to fill the gap of his lonely soul while they fail to realise that this pleasures are only the artificial ones. They just like a confused parrot in a beautiful story presented by the great Sufi of the past, Mawlana Jalalaluddin al-Rumi in his famous book Mathnawi which runs as follows:
A parrot which is owned by an oilman used to amused him with its excellent humanly speech, and to watch after his shop, a cat had broken one of the oil jar. When the oil-man returned home he thought that the parrot had done this mischief and in his anger he gave a big blow on the head of the parrot and cause all its feathers drop off, and the parrot is so shocked that it lost the power of speech for several days. But one day the parrot saw a bald-headed man passing the shop, and immediately recovering it’s speech, it cried out, ‘God, whose oil-jar have you broken? The passer-by smiled at the parrot’s mistake confounding baldness caused by age with the loss its own feathers due to a blew.
This is simply a metaphor of someone who confuses the reality with the artificial one just like those who confuse the artificial happiness with the real one. May Allah give us strength to take examples and lessons from this story.