The Humble I

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Archive for the tag “dunya as distraction”

Are We 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.

Big Brother: Who Watches Who?

big-brother-1984-carrier-q-640x353During the first half of the twentieth century, many books were written which warned about the dangers of giving the state control over new and powerful technologies. The nightmare visions of society these books conjured up have left an indelible mark upon our collective consciousness and subsequent social and historical development.

George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World, are regarded by many to be the two most influential works in this genre. The two novels describe a dystopia in which an all-powerful state controls and manipulates the behaviour and actions of its people in order to preserve its own power and stability and to keep the masses servile and under control. Orwell’s 1984 is, no doubt, the better known of the two. Words like “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” have even entered our lexicon as synonyms for abusive or totalitarian societies and all-controlling, surveillance states – such is the impact the book has had, both culturally and politically. That said, the two depictions of dystopia, the Orwellian and Huxleyan, are quite distinct and their warnings very different.

Orwell’s dystopia warned about a repressive surveillance society where every thought and conversation was monitored and dissent was brutally punished. Huxley’s warned about society held captive to gross consumption and seduced by sensual gratification, political theatre and trivial amusement. So whilst society is kept entertained, political power would grow unchecked as people embraced their own oppression.

Orwell, as Neil Postman says in Amusing Ourselves to Death, warns of a world in which books were banned. Huxley, Postman noted, warns of a world where no one wants to read books because of being distracted by trivial pursuits and mindless pleasures.

Orwell warns about those who would deprive us of information. Huxley warns about those who would feed us too much information, so that truth becomes lost in a sea of triviality and minds made passive with mediocrity.

Orwell warns of a society where ideas are brutaly controlled and truths manipulated. Huxley warns of a society where a population, preoccupied with trivial gossip or news, no longer cared about truth.

Orwell warns we would all be watched by Big Brother. Huxley warns that we would all be watching Big Brother.

Orwell warned we would be controlled by inflicting pain. Huxley warns we would be controlled by inflicting pleasure.

Orwell warned we would be frightened into submission. Huxley warned we would be seduced into submission.

Passionate discussions still abound as to whether we are closer to being an Orwellian society or a Huxleyan one? Whether the state is growing increasingly Orwellian, and society ever more Huxleyan? Whether we are now in the grip of a Huxleyan dystopia which will eventually morph into an Orwellian one? And while we should continue to be vigilant against state tyranny and totalitarianism, their presence or approach tend to be quite conspicuous. But, as Huxley remarks in Brave New World Revisited, we may be ever alert to oppose a coercive regime, but must not fail ‘to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.’

The Qur’an speaks against the tyranny of the rich and the powerful in many passages. Yet because of the subtlety of its deception, the Qur’an places greater emphasis on the distraction and subjugation brought about by over-indulging in worldly comforts: The life of this world is nothing but play and distraction. But the Hereafter is better for those who fear God. Have you no sense? [6:32] So although both kinds of subjugation are nasty – the Orwellian type and the Huxleyan – it would seem to be a case of: ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’

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