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.
**This article was taken from the lecture of Dr. Farid Shahran. He delivered this topic in Friday Khutbah at IIUM Mosque on 6th Nov 2009.