By Shabina S. Khatri
I’m big on making Islam work for me. After all, it’s not just a religion, but a way of life, right? If the whole of my being is to revolve around one faith, then that faith better make good sense to me. Otherwise, it won’t be unshakable. And I could lose it.
I see a loss of faith happening a lot these days. Not for a lack of trying – but rather, a lack of understanding. A frustration at not being able to reconcile faith with practice, with culture, with lifestyle. The mainstream belief is that Muslims are a serious, violent people, so hell-bent on reaching their promised reward in the afterlife that they can only see this world as a trial to be endured – and never enjoyed.
Sadly, this is a misconception that both Muslims and non-Muslims perpetuate, and one that is wreaking extensive damage particularly among the youth.
It’s a daunting task, for our children to grow up memorizing a long list of don’ts in a culture that only exalts do’s. No Lucky Charms, no hot dogs, no alcohol, no dating, no joking, no laughing, no fun. No fun?
The 28th chapter of the Qur’an tells the story of Qarun, cousin of Moses (PBUH). Qarun is so wealthy that even the keys to his riches are too heavy to lift. He is eventually swallowed up by the earth for his insolence, but prior to that, is advised, “Do not exult, surely Allah does not love the exultant/ And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world, and do good (to others) as Allah has done good to you, and do not seek to make mischief in the land, surely Allah does not love the mischief-makers (28:76-77).”
Not only is Qarun not forbidden to enjoy his wealth, but he is actually encouraged to do so! Of course, that advice is tempered with a call for moderation. I will make the same call here, for therein lies the key to reconciling faith with fun.
Because let’s face it, Muslims are fun-starved. Most of us take the stories of the companions throwing watermelon seeds at each other and the Prophet (SAW) racing his wife literally, thinking those are the only Islamically-sanctioned ways to have fun.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But I can understand why we’re so afraid of stepping over the invisible line, of crossing to the point of no return. Just look at our environment.
It’s full of excess, so oversaturated with thrills that obesity and adultery and corporate corruption have become downright commonplace, almost ho-hum in their frequency.
Islam rebels against such indulgence, and justly so, because the more, more, more mentality robs people of self-control. It makes people addicted to pleasure, making them slaves of their own desires. And we all know such submission should be reserved for a far loftier purpose.
But I wonder if, in rebelling against excess, Muslims have rebelled to excess. As in, we’re so afraid of falling into sin that we are too hard on ourselves when it comes to having a good time. Islamically speaking, there is nothing wrong with indulging in a (halal) pleasure or two – a funny film, a tasty dessert, a shopping excursion. These things make us feel good, and Allah (SWT) never prohibited that.
The problem arises when we start to live only for those moments that make us feel good – when we refuse to recognize the transience in pleasure, which is by definition a temporary pursuit. That kind of denial is what transforms one scoop of ice cream into a pint; one hour of TV into four; one innocent glance into an unholy stare. More, more, more.
Yet ironically, even as we fill up on unhealthy treats, evening excursions and the latest Hollywood gossip, we can’t get full. Even by exploiting that which has been made halal for us, we are never full.
Which bewilders and dismays us, much like it bewilders and dismays our secular neighbors and friends. Which brings us full circle back to Islam, and the reason why the Prophet (SAW) advised us to never eat or drink to the point of fullness, and why Allah (SWT) orders us to curb our consumption during the month of Ramadan. Temporary pleasure brings temporary relief, but if our souls are to thrive, they will require the infusion of something far more substantial.
That substance is what some people might call the spiritual side of life. The quiet time, the moments of reflection, the pause in between checking e-mails and washing dishes, barking orders and filling our tanks with (over-priced) gas. The time we spend not rushing to get that quick fix, but simply allowing a connection to be made between ourselves and the universe, and to the only One who can ever make us full.
It’s so easy to have fun these days. And it’s ok to have it. But Muslims who truly crave satisfaction will find it only by striking a balance, by walking the line between worldly and other-worldly, all the while realizing that God can be found in both pursuits.