From Issue: 1021 [Read full issue]
The Pleasure of the Heart
"Verily, pleasure and felicity for the son of Adam lie in knowing Allah, glorified and exalted is He. Know that the felicity of everything, its pleasure and its comfort, is according to its nature, and the nature of everything is that which it was created for. Hence the pleasure of the eye is in beautiful forms, and the pleasure of the ear is in wholesome sounds, and so are the pleasures of the rest of the limbs according to this quality. And the exclusive pleasure of the heart is knowing Allah, glorified and exalted is He, for it is created for that." - Imam Ghazali
Philosophers and theologians differed for millennia over the meaning of felicity, and they came up with interesting definitions, from being the ultimate purpose in life for Aristotle to the modern American pursuit of happiness, where it is measured against material tangible gains. Sometimes happiness is used loosely to indicate that one is having fun or a good time. This is reductionist at best!
In general, associating happiness with pleasure, wealth and status is wrong. While one does need real things to survive, they cannot be the criterion of happiness. It is even worse when happiness is constructed as organically rooted in consumerism. This leads people to continuously buy and consume things in order to be happy, and this has its own toll on the human psyche. It may even become a source of misery.
Here, Imam al-Ghazali provides an interesting narrative about pleasure and happiness, where each organ finds its own 'happiness' in a life that fits its nature. The eye finds pleasure in beautiful forms and the ear in beautiful sounds. As for the heart, its source of happiness is knowing Allah. Elsewhere in the Ihya, al-Ghazali stated that the heart has only been created to know Allah. This knowledge necessitates an intimate knowledge of the Quran, Allah's message to humanity at large.
It follows that there is no happiness without knowing Allah. It does not matter whom and what you know apart from Allah. One may know the names of football players or actors or musicians, as is the case with many people today, but ultimately this knowledge does not help in the godly pursuit of happiness. Many of these stars lead unhappy lives that are the epitome of misery: gambling, drug addiction, alcoholism and, sadly, suicide. In the Greek and modern western worldviews, happiness is here and now. In Islam, happiness encompasses two realms, life on earth and in the Hereafter. The real happy and felicitous person is the one who makes it to Paradise.
"A Treasury of Ghazali" - Mustafa Abu Sway