Happy New Year!
The year 2021 will be welcomed in a few days’, and most will be greeting others with “Happy New Year!” just as at the start of 2020.
The word “happy” is perhaps one of the most uttered words on earth. Unfortunately, many have neither really understood its true meaning nor its essence. From time immemorial, beginning with the earliest civilisations on earth, be they Western Greek philosophers or the people of Eastern Mesopotamia, they all wanted and aspired to attain happiness in their lives.
As a practical religion that is suitable for all times, Islam provides 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. In consequence, the pursuit of happiness is ultimately in vain and missed. The nature of man is grasped through the scientific-empirical method, or sociological or psychological discoveries which fail to fathom the existence of another aspect of the human nature which is the spirit. Only religious scholars are those who usually believe in the existence of the spiritual aspect which is not material called the “soul”. Even then, they are only able to come up with conjectures and hypotheses while lacking the full understanding of its true reality as they had not received any divine revelation from God, the One who created man. Only Islam gives clear explanation on the human nature through the Divine Revelation or God’s words as recorded in the Qur’an and the Prophetic Traditions.
According to the Qur’an, man is created from clay of an 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
soul,” (Surah al-Hijr, 15: 29; 38:72). Such evidence from God’s words is clear that man is first composed of physical body (clay) as well as spiritual aspect (soul). Indeed, understanding this helps us in formulating how to attain complete happiness: since only by managing the two aspects can we truly gain true and comprehensive happiness.
In general, many believe that happiness is synonymous with pleasure or enjoyment. With such a notion, they believe that to be happy, they must strive to maximise their pleasures. In reality, pleasures are associated with physical or bodily aspects of man. The pleasures of the physical will neither last long nor contribute to the happiness of the spiritual aspect of man. Hence, some may indulge in clubbing, drug taking, promiscuous sex, excessive alcoholic drinking or other frenzy, believing that such indulgences could bring about happiness. Indeed, they do to a certain extent, but not the true and lasting happiness that is hoped for, just mere momentary pleasures and enjoyments of the physical. This is because their behaviour is not much different from the so-called “happiness” that animals are generally up to.
The happiness (sa’adah) of mankind from the Islamic viewpoint concerns more of the spiritual aspect of man rather than his physical aspect even though Islam does not deny the importance of the latter but priority is placed on the former. Spiritual happiness is related to man’s own spiritual nature and his self entity, while the physical is more of temporarily organic and emotional lustful experiences. In order to truly affect man’s spiritual nature, God tells man he should constantly remember Him all the time for this will make him tranquil, when He says in the Qur’an (Surah al-Radd, 13: 28): “Verily! In the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find tranquility”. The constant remembrance of Allah will not come about unless one has a strong conviction that Allah Himself exists, and He that He is not a myth. The increasing remembrance of Allah daily increases one’s conviction, too. Such a strong conviction is called faith (iman) and God has commanded man to worship Him until his iman is firm 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).
In point, true happiness lies in one’s conviction of a certainty—lofty and noble in this worldly life—which is permanent and fixed in nature. This includes the certainty that God exists, that one will meet Him in the Hereafter, that one will be rewarded and punished for what one has done in this world, of Paradise and Hellfire and others. With this in mind, man will surely know the purpose of his existence and what he seeks for in this life, that is, 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 are 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 mortification. The Prophet has reminded 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 sought for is not the bodily pleasures. Bodily pleasures is of a lesser degree which, if complements the spiritual aspect of man, will render man a wholeseome and comprehensive and true happiness, provided that the bodily pleasures that one sought for is in accordance with God’s commandments that fit man’s nature.