What is the Islamic view of happiness?

Happy Muslims

The making of the Happy British Muslims video is not as worrying as some are making it out to be. But what is extremely worrying is lack of depth demonstrated by a large part of the Islamic community’s reaction to the video, the extent of which is deeply disturbing, writes João Silva Jordão.

While the more superficial comments centre around what the correct Islamic view on dancing, music, exuberance and extravagance is or should be, the slightly deeper, yet still relatively superficial comments centre on the significance of the video and what it means in the context of the deteriorating socio-political position of Muslims in the West.

Recently, some interesting, yet still not satisfyingly profound comments have pointed to possible discrepancies in the identity and funding behind the Honesty Policy group, the controversial video’s authors.

Not surprisingly, verses of the Quran are hardly, if ever, mentioned in comments surrounding the video and virtually no one cares to demonstrate, using Quranic references, that their position is in any way Islamic or in the least way related to the issues that Islam as a philosophy gives importance to.

What this interesting case study demonstrates is that more than being politically oppressed and socially disenfranchised, we as Muslims are increasingly philosophically and religiously disenfranchised from Islam itself, and for this we have only ourselves to blame.

The point I am trying to make is that I have heard no one yet discussing the Islamic view on happiness. This would be the most interesting debate to have. The question should not be “does Islam allow dancing?” but rather “what is the Islamic view of happiness?” And the truth is Islam has amazing insight into our relationship with happiness and its role in life, thereafter shedding light into the Islamic view on the purpose of life as a whole.

Hardship and struggle

Islam is actually an invitation to a very particular attitude towards hardship, usually called “fitna,” starting from the principle that God has made life as a test for human beings which they pass by facing up to inevitable individual and collective hardship in the correct way.

They do this through sacrifice, thought, contemplation, gratefulness, self-denial, charity, a relentless struggle for justice and ultimately (and most profoundly) cultivating a degree of detachment and even disdain for the material world so as to ultimately become so selfless as to be ready even for martyrdom if necessary so as to defend select, core principles. These principles include the belief in the oneness of God and its deep reverberations for everything else.

In Islam worldly happiness is a peripheral matter
In Islam worldly happiness is a peripheral matter

Though Islam does not view happiness negatively as such, it views it as peripheral when compared to other feelings, emotions and experiences, and most importantly, life objectives.

This is in direct contradiction to the increasingly globally dominant paradigm in which happiness, particularly happiness as achieved by experiencing individual material success and indulging in hedonism, is a legitimate and fulfilling life objective in itself, regardless of the consequences for other individuals and collectives.

It must also be noted that the majority of Quranic references to happiness refer not to worldly happiness, but rather to the happiness experienced in paradise. In Quranic terms, Islam is an invitation to the worship of God which translates in practical, wordly terms, to an invitation to the uphill road, i.e. the “path that is steep.”

The uphill road

So now the only question remains – what is the uphill road? And as usual, the Quran has the answer. To understand it, we must read Surah Al-Balad, “The City” (Chapter 90).

“1. I swear by this city;

2. And you are free in this city,

3. And by the begetter and that which he begot;

4. Verily, We have created man in toil.

5. Thinks he that none can overcome him?

6. He says: “I have wasted wealth in abundance!”

7. Thinks he that none sees him?

8. Have We not made for him a pair of eyes?

9. And a tongue and a pair of lips?

10. And shown him the two ways?

11. But he has made no effort to pass on the path that is steep.

12. And what will make you know the path that is steep?

13. Freeing a neck

14. Or giving food in a day of hunger,

15. To an orphan near of kin.

16. Or to a miskin afflicted with misery.

17. Then he became one of those who believed, and recommended one another to perseverance and patience, and recommended one another to pity and compassion.

18. They are those on the Right Hand,

19. But those who disbelieved in Our Verses, they are those on the Left Hand.

20. The Fire will be shut over them”

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