The year 2020 is coming to an end in a few days time, and everyone will be greeting each other happily for the coming of the new year 2021 with “Happy New Year!” wish, just like we did previously when the year 2020 began, and every year in fact.
The word “happy” is perhaps one of the most uttered words on earth but unfortunately, not many people really have understood the true meaning of “happiness” and its essence. From time immemorial, beginning with the earliest civilizations on earth, whether the Western Greek philosophers who Eastern Mesopotamian people, they all wanted and aspired to attain happiness in their lives.
Islam, being a practical religion and suits all times has provided a clear concept of happiness in accordance with human nature. The problem with most ideologies, philosophies, or cultural religions of today is the inability to fully understand the true and real nature of man, and in consequence to that the pursuit of happiness is ultimately in vain and missed. The nature of man is grasped through a scientific-empirical method or sociological or psychological discoveries that fail to fathom the existence of another aspect of human nature which is his spirit. Only religious scholars usually believe in the existence of the spiritual aspect of man or another aspect of man which is not material but rather spiritual which is called the “soul”. Even that, these religious scholars are only making conjectures and hypotheses and not fully understand its true reality for they had not received any divine revelation from God, the one who created man. Only Islam gives a clear explanation of human nature through the Divine Revelation or God’s words as in the al-Qur’an and the Prophetic Traditions.
Man, according to al-Qur’an was created from the clay of altered black mud “salsalin min hama’in masnun” (Surah al-Hijr 15:26) and then “after God has proportioned him (Adam) He made him alive with [created] soul,” (Sura al-Hijr 15:29; 38:72). The evidence from the words of God here is very clear that man is first composed of the physical body (clay) as well as spiritual aspect (soul). Knowing this nature of man will surely help us in formulating how to attain complete happiness since only by managing these two aspects of man that we can truly gain true and comprehensive happiness.
So far, generally, people think that happiness is synonym with pleasure or enjoyment, and having that in mind, they think in order to be happy, they must strive to maximize the pleasures. Pleasures, in reality, are associated with the physical or bodily aspect of man, and pleasures of physical organs do not last long and will no contribute to the happiness of the spiritual aspect of man. Hence, they indulge in clubbing, drug-taking, promiscuous sexual activities, excessive alcoholic drinking, or frenzied indulgence, thinking that all these can bring them happiness. They do, but not true and lasting happiness that man was hoping for, instead momentarily temporary pleasures and enjoyments of their physical organs. Because their behaviour is not much different from the so-called “happiness” that animals are generally up to.
Happiness (sa’adah) of mankind from an Islamic viewpoint concerns more of the spiritual aspect of man rather than his physical aspect although Islam does not deny the importance of the latter but priority is to the former. Spiritual happiness is related to man’s own spiritual nature and his self entity, while the physical is more of a temporarily organic and emotional lustful experience. In order to truly affect man’s spiritual nature, God tells the man he should constantly remember Him all the time for this will make man tranquil, when He says in the al-Qur’an (Surah al-Radd 13:28): “Verily! In the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find tranquility”. Constantly remembrance of Allah will not happen unless one has a strong conviction that Allah Himself exists, and He is not a myth. The remembrance of Allah when increases day in and day out increases one’s conviction too. This strong conviction is called faith (iman) and God has commanded man to worship Him until his iman is firmly certain and convinced, which its peak will only come when he dies. Allah says “…worship your Lord until the last moment (of your life) that will most certainly come” (Surah al-Hijr 15:99).
The point we are trying to show is here that true happiness lies in one’s conviction of something certain, lofty, and noble in this worldly life which is permanent and fixed in nature. This includes the certainty that God exists, the certainty that one will meet Him in the Hereafter, the certainty that one will be rewarded and punished for whether one has done in this world, the certainty of Paradise and Hellfire, and so on and so forth. Having this in mind, man will surely know the purpose of his existence and what he seeks in this life, i.e his compass of life. Knowing the purpose of our own existence is one of the keys to make us happy. The bodily pleasures that we enjoy will unable to match the spiritual pleasures. It was reported that the Prophet Muhammad used to pray until his feet got swollen (al-Bukhari: 4836), out of love and gratitude to God. However, this should not be understood that Islam encourages bodily harm or modification. The Prophet reminds us on taking good care of the body when he says: “Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (al-Bukhari: 5199). It should be understood in the sense that spiritual happiness is of a higher degree, noble to the extent that physical pain has no effect on oneself. Hence, the real happiness that man should seek is not bodily pleasures. Bodily pleasures are of a lesser degree which, if complement the spiritual aspect of man, will render a man wholesome and comprehensive and true happiness, provided that the bodily pleasures that one sought is in accordance with God’s commandments that fit man’s nature.
[The shorter and edited version of this article is published in the New Straits Times, Jan 8, 2021]