The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Amusing Our Hearts to Death

maxresdefaultOne hadith states: ‘Laugh not too much; for too much laughter deadens the heart.’1 This isn’t to say that laughter or humour must be avoided altogether; for laughter and light-heartedness, in moderation, are prophetic Sunnahs that helps lighten burdens, ease anxiety and bring about joy to oneself and to others. Indeed, there is little virtue in always looking grave and solemn: And that He it is that makes to laugh and makes to weep. [53:43] And as the Prophet, peace be upon him, remarked: ‘O Hanzalah! There is a time for this and a time for that.’2 Yet, as the above hadith shows, to overindulge in laughter is a lethal poison that kills the heart spiritually.

The eleventh century hadith master, ‘Abd al-Ra‘uf al-Munawi points out: ‘Making a habit of laughing diverts one from deliberating over matters of importance.’3 When life becomes little more than “a bundle of laughs,” then the heart’s spiritual death has well and truly set in. Al-Munawi again: ‘The laughter that kills the heart comes from being frivolous and careless in the world. The heart has [spiritual] life and death: its life lies in continuous obedience [to God]. Its death, in responding to the call of other than God; be it one’s ego, desires, or the devil.’4 In fact, in the prophetic teachings, a cheerful countenance and an easy-going nature (one hadith says: ‘The believers are amiable and easy-going: al-mu’minun hayyinun layyinun.’5) is to be tempered with the sobering recollection of God, death, the Afterlife and the imminent Judgement and Accountability. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, urged: ‘Remember frequently the destroyer of pleasures [i.e. death].’6 A heart desensitised to such realities, or numbed to their recollection, is a heart that has had the stuff of life sucked out of it.

The Qur’an warns about being diverted or distracted through things of the world: ‘O you who believe! Let neither your wealth nor your children divert you from remembrance of God. Those who do so, they are the losers.’ [63:9] In houses which God has allowed to be raised up, where His name is remembered. In them is He glorified morning and evening. By men whom neither merchandise nor trade distract from the remembrance of God. [24:36-7] Trade, riches, possessions, and the pursuit of thrills and pleasures so preoccupy most people, so as to make them oblivious to all else; unless hearts are tuned to the higher purpose of their existence. Wealth and children and partaking of permissible worldly pleasures are all lawful, and are to be a means to maintain our connection with God; unless and until they distract us from the worship and remembrance of Him. If we lose ourselves to the world, we ultimately lose everything.

Tragically we are now a culturally obese society, continuously feeding on an excessive diet of trivial amusement and entertainment. This over-consumption of laughter and frivolity, as noted before, distracts most of us from more serious considerations: war, famine, disease, environment, disintegration of society and breakdown of the family; as well as existential issues more serious still, that relate to our Creator, the Afterlife and our purpose of being. Our continued addiction to all this joviality and diversion has made us a society wherein we are, in the words of Neil Postman’s deftly entitled book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

O people! Fear your Lord, and fear a Day when the parent will not be able to avail his child in any way, nor the child to avail his parent. God’s promise is the truth. Let not the life of the world deceive you, nor let the deceiver deceive you concerning God. [31:33]

1. Ibn Majah, no.4193.

2. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2014.

3. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:157.

4. ibid., 5:52.

5. Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.139.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2307.

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14 thoughts on “Amusing Our Hearts to Death

  1. By far the biggest challenge many of us face is how to keep ourselves occupied in a beneficial way during our spare time and I’m sure many of us have more of it than we believe. More often than not we turn to entertaining ourselves in a frivolous way with the thought that we’ve spent all day working or looking after the kids or with this or that and now it’s some ‘me’ time. Unfortunately ‘me’ time doesn’t include much worship if any at all and often leads to little spiritual benefit. One always thinks ‘after this film’ or ‘after this game’ at which point we find ourselves too tired and bundle ourselves off to bed. Indeed Allah is the source of all success.

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    • Very true!

      And though it’s easier said than done, we need to ask Allah for the will to rollup our sleeves and engage in spiritual struggle or mujahadah against dunya’s distractions. We need to make a conscious effort to gradually detach ourselves from dunya’s frivolities, and slowly but steadily fill our time with works of the Afterlife.

      They say that spiritual aspiration, or iradah, is: tark al-‘adah – “forsaking what is habitual”. We need to be acutely aware of the familiar frivolities that we permit to steal our time and then ask Allah for the will to begin eliminating much of them from our lives. And as the saying goes: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” But is there a will? That’s the question we each need to ask ourselves. Does the heart truly aspire to Allah and the Afterlife? Does it want to be set alight by the yearning for Him? Is it convinced that what is with Him is better, worthier and more lasting? Does it understand that the Spirit of Man was created for something profound and honourable, not merely to seek cheap thrills?

      Until we do not address these questions to ourselves, and unless we do not seek out the right sort of company that will help us on the quest, dunya’s deceptions are likely to continue to keep us captive.

      And Allah’s help is sort.

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  2. Salaam
    Does this mean, as Muslims in the West, we should not be encouraging nor endorsing such things as Muslim comedy, stand-up comedians, etc which obviously would exacerbate the amusement culture amongst Muslims?

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    • Salams Shabir,

      Far be it for me to give a fatwa, especially about matters that impact on Muslims collectively. One can, however, see some pros and cons to the issue; and intentions will significantly determine outcomes. On the one hand, stand up comedy can be an effective tool for putting across positive social criticisms, or highlighting sensitive topics that would otherwise be awkward or difficult to raise.

      On the other hand, you are right to be concerned. What long term impact does Muslim comedy (or Muslim comedians) have? Does it, as you quite rightly ask, exacerbate the amusement culture? Frankly, I don’t really know. What I don’t buy is the idea that we Muslims are “too serious” about our religion; and that we need to “lighten up”. If by “too serious” we mean “too committed” then on a theory level, we are indeed – alhamdulillah. But on a practical level, the level of actual religious practice – our lives, I suspect, tell a rather different story. In this sense, we need to be more committed and less entertained. Religion is, after all, about salvation. And what believing heart could trivialise that?

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  3. Abbas Dhami on said:

    Salama. Timely reminder MashaAllah.
    Unfortunately this comes at a time when we as Muslims in the West are so detached from matters of the heart and afterlife, we organise ‘Muslim’ family fundays, comedy shows, Nasheed gigs, and wear clothes with ‘solider of Allah’ plastered over the front. Ironically, as soldier’s of God, we cannot even awake for Fajr salah!

    Even our religious instructors of various courses worry more about pupil numbers and amusement, everyone seems to have forgotten how knowledge is meant to consciously bring you closer to God.

    May Allah reward you immensely. Ameen

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    • Ikhlas, or sincerity to Allah is indeed difficult and disentangling our motives from our own egos, whims or infantile selves is a huge problem. Our current need to sensationalise Islam, as you observe in your article, Plastic Muslims (http://islamicate.co.uk/plastic-muslims-the-growth-in-i-am-a-believer-t-shirts/), is very troubling.

      A little bit of light-heartedness is one thing; but crass triviality is another thing entirely. Even our lighter moments should be infused with some degree of dignity and sobriety – minus the commercialisation or sensationalisation of this honourable din.

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  4. Robert on said:

    Greetings,

    Thank you for this post. Like your others, it is heavy with meaning, though relatively brief in length.

    All good wishes,

    robert

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  5. shabana on said:

    That is so true that we are obese consuming the Duniya, which practically leaves us nothing for the Akhirah. JazakAllahu khairun for the reminder.

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  6. gordon2 on said:

    “Truly God instructs me to be humble and lowly and not proud and no one should oppress others.” A quote sent to me from my brother in Islam….one that I constantly read to remind myself that life is so good and so important…and laughing and smiling means that a good day was had…yet always remembering…just as the spider wove his lacy web within the shining sun, that lit both the lamps…for us two to always be reminded of that Universal understanding..that goes hand in glove held together…..4evr….that Allah is truly great!!! xx

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  7. Assalam Shakyh, this might be not related to the post, but I am currently one of your students who are learning Aqeedah Tahawiah with you. I am studying Medicine in university and one of my Christian colleagues who is very practising would love to have a discussion about Islam/ Christianity over a dinner. I have a strong feeling that she wants to preach about Christiniaty to me which she always did when we talk about religion. Little bit of my background, I did learn about basic Tawheed when I was in primary, secondary school and college back in Malaysia. And I do listen to some talks regarding this topic; Islam and Christianity. So the question is, shall I actually accept the invitation as I was thinking am I actually qualified to have a discussion about this with her as I am still in the process of learning and my English is not great to be able to have a proper discussion with her. If yes, is there any of your articles will help me to be able to protect the dignity and beauty of Islam if she starts to argue on Islamic principles?

    Jazakallahkhairankatheeran

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