بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
We praise Allah, Lord of the heavens and earth, Who created everything to facilitate success for humanity. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the best of creation, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), who served as the best example for success in this life and the hereafter. To proceed:
If we were to take a moment and look at the current state of the average American, regardless of background, what we would see is a steady pattern of toil and entertainment. This similarly leads to a rollercoaster type of existence where there is a drudging climb full of negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness followed by a short moment of anticipation followed by a fast paced experience of joy and excitement. This cycle is then repeated on a daily, weekly, and perhaps even a monthly basis. And though many may enjoy riding an actual roller coaster, living a life of toil and entertainment, regardless of what one may have been programmed to believe, is not fulfilling.
Of course life has its ups and downs, and its downs are made bearable by its ups while the ups are met with gratitude due to the downs. But this isn’t what we are speaking of here. We are specifically speaking about how people spend their lives working hard during their days in order to sit and watch television or movies, listen to songs, or become active on social media at night; how they toiled five days a week to have rest and recreation on two; how they work hard all month so they can relax a bit during the next billing cycle. On top of all of this, how many live under the perpetual strain of bills, debts and taxes. How many never get to see nearly a third of their earnings – taxes equivalent to medieval stories of unjust feudal lords.
If we took a moment to reflect upon this, we would realize that we aren’t as free of a people as we like to claim. Most of us, the vast majority, are but serfs. We live an existence like domestic slaves but we have been raised in a system to make us believe this is normal, it’s just how things are, or, perhaps even that it is somehow good. If you think I am exaggerating, perhaps we can take an example from a classic America voice to describe to us what occurred during the chattel slave trade here in the U.S..
Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a fictional novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, but she wrote it based on thorough research. This work of fiction is believed to be one of the historic triggers for the civil war, and though this can be disputed, it is well documented as offering a pretty accurate account of what occurred during the period of open slavery in the U.S.. In this book, she describes a scene where the slaves are being transported, she says, “The dealers in the human article make scrupulous and systematic efforts to promote noisy mirth among them, as a means of drowning reflection, and rendering them insensible to their condition. The whole object of the training to which the negro is put, from the time he is sold in the northern market till he arrives south, is systematically directed towards making him callous, unthinking, and brutal. The slave-dealer collects his gang in Virginia or Kentucky, and drives them to some convenient, healthy place,–often a watering place,–to be fattened. Here they are fed full daily; and, because some incline to pine, a fiddle is kept commonly going among them, and they are made to dance daily; and he who refuses to be merry–in whose soul thoughts of wife, or child, or home, are too strong for him to be gay–is marked as sullen and dangerous, and subjected to all the evils which the ill will of an utterly irresponsible and hardened man can inflict upon him. Briskness, alertness, and cheerfulness of appearance, especially before observers, are constantly enforced upon them, both by the hope of thereby getting a good master, and the fear of all that the driver may bring upon them if they prove unsalable.”
In reading this passage, we see that the slaves were driven, on their way to market or field, and then, each day they would be fed well and encouraged to partake in mirth-making…generally in the form of song and dance. Between working, eating and merry making, they were kept occupied from taking time to reflect. In this way, it was sought to transform them from dignified men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children into beasts of labor. Anyone who preferred to focus on their nature as a human, their family or even their faith was met with abuse. They were viewed as dangerous and threatened with a loss, harm and much worse.
Today, we do not face the label of slave or the harsh realities meted out against those of the past yet we are still met with the same means of training. Encouragement by society, media and policies to indulge in licentiousness, fornication, intoxication and endless forms of mindless distractions we deem as entertainment suffocate our time. Warnings to go along to get along, to not “buck the system”, or else we will be stuck in a dead end job, unable to get ahead fill our ears in both youth and maturity. If a person wishes to speak on pressing matters such as faith and family, humanity and the welfare and wellbeing of our communities, they are met with disdain. So, the average American lives as happy serfs, under a system which separates them from their very humanity as they conform to live as little more than animals.
This may be a harsh reality check. It may be one that many choose to deny or even argue against. Perhaps some may take offense to my liking it to slavery – though I differentiated between chattel slavery, domestic slavery and serfdom. Still others may go a far worse route and throw their hands up saying, “this is just how it is.” The reality is – we have the power to change. We have the power to change ourselves and this means we have the power to change the world around us.
The prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said that it is from the excellence of one’s Islam that he leaves that which doesn’t concern him.” Perhaps this is a good place to begin our change. Perhaps if we leave off following what is going on in everyone else’s lives and began to focus on our own, this would be a great leap in the right direction. Reality television is not reality. The prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged us to keep the ties of kinship. Perhaps spending time with family, in person, would be a good use of our time. He (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged to help the poor and visit the sick – perhaps putting our time into these things would be fulfilling. Spending time with pious people is from the example of the companions, this is another way to elevate both our states and our spirits. Also, opposite to many of us, when the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) sought comfort and relaxation, he found it in invocation, supplication and prayer. Perhaps if we spent time in devotion instead of numbing our senses with mindless distractions, we would find peace and tranquility.
The aim of this article is not to say stop working or stop seeking times of merriment. What is being said is that we need to anchor our lives to our faith in order to reclaim our humanity. In our work and play we must observe the shariah, treating the lawful as lawful and the unlawful as unlawful, living congruent to our faith. We must be people of principle, spreading good and standing out against every form of wrong. Regardless of whether we are in times of ease or difficulties, we must live as people of nobility, people of honor, people of faith. How is this achieved? By ensuring that every aspect of our lives – not just work and play but also public and private, word and deed, thought and character – all of it is according to the best of teachings and examples, that of the beloved of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). In this light, I quote the words of Imam An-Nawawi, and it is one of the greatest quotes which we should all remember, “if you are not doing something to benefit your hereafter, at least busy yourself with that which will benefit you in the life of his world.” Don’t go through life, live; don’t waste your time, do something to benefit!
Life will have its ups and downs, its twists and turns; life will have its toils and mirth – but we, as believers must understand that the nature of this world is that it is but a fleeting moment. It is a staging ground. It is an opportunity for us to prepare something for the life to come. This life is not a punishment or a reward but rather a test. What are we sending forth for tomorrow? Will we live it according to our Adamic nature, as free human beings, grateful to Allah and content with His decree or will we live it like ego driven beasts driven by our instincts of fear and want? The life of this world and all its glitters are but fleeting enjoyments, so let us reclaim our humanity, our freedom and live as principled people of faith, heeding Allah’s warning,
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمْ
وَاخْشَوْا يَوْمًا لَّا يَجْزِي وَالِدٌ عَن وَلَدِهِ
وَلَا مَوْلُودٌ هُوَ جَازٍ عَن وَالِدِهِ شَيْئًا
إِنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ
فَلَا تَغُرَّنَّكُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا
وَلَا يَغُرَّنَّكُم بِاللَّهِ الْغَرُورُ
“O mankind! Be consciously aware of your Lord,
and stand in awe of the Day on which no parent will be of any avail to his child,
nor a child will in the least avail his parent!
Verily, God’s promise [of resurrection] is true!
So let not, then, the life of this world delude you,
and do not allow the delusions of the deceivers delude you!”
And with Allah alone is every success.