Is Islam against desire and pleasure?

‘They ask you what is permitted to them? Say: all good things are permitted for you…’ (Qur’ān 5:4)

Islām is here to show man the way to prosperity. The Creator of man – who knows him better than he knows his very own self – gave man religion (Islām). By following it’s guidance, man saves himself from that which is harmful for him and acquires that which benefits him.

A misconception that is sadly all too common, is that Islām’s function is to restrict man’s pleasure. With such an understanding – or, rather, misunderstanding – of faith, which reasonable person would ever adhere to it? The search for pleasure is essential to man’s being. So long as he lives, man searches for that which brings him pleasure. And he flees from that which causes him pain, including a religion that forbids him pleasure!

However, what is evident from the verses of the Noble Qur’ān is that Islām in no way, shape or form forbids man’s persuit of pleasure. Neither does it ever ask man to disregard a natural desire that exists within him.

‘…Allāh desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you…’ (Qur’ān 2:185)

‘Oh you who have faith! Eat of the good things We have provided you, and thank Allāh, if it is Him that you worship’ (Qur’ān 2: 172)

Rather, it invites man to utilise all his faculties and desires in order to acquire that which truly benefits him. It urges him to reflect on his own being and purpose, that he may discover the path that leads to true pleasure.

As man’s reasoning matures, he comes to understand that some things that he would consider to be desirable are actually harmful for him and other matters that he thought to be undesirable are in fact crucial for his development. A child despises medicine for it’s awful taste but when he comes to understand that this sour-tasting medicine is the key to acquiring his health once more, he drinks it without objection. When a youth leading a promiscuous life comes to see the devastation that such a lifestyle causes on man’s character, the family and society at large, his reason no longer permits him to continue down that sinful path. For the pleasure of a healthy body, a decent character, a stable family and a pure society far outweighs the momentary ‘false pleasures’ that stand in opposition to these.

And how beautifully the Qur’ān presents this concept:

‘…It may be that you dislike something, which is good for you, and it may be that you love something, which is bad for you…’ (Qur’ān 2:216)

Thus reason dictates that in the hierarchy of pleasures, lower and weaker pleasures be sacrificed for the acquisition of higher and stronger ones. Yet how does man, a continuously developing being whose thoughts and faculties are ever changing as he grows, determine which pleasures to sacrifice for others? Man only has one life, his sole chance to acquire and reach excellence. The result of a misinformed decision is detrimental. It is here that Islām, with its radiant Sharī`ah, comes to the rescue.

The verse mentioned above concludes:

‘… and Allāh knows and you do not know’ (Qur’ān 2:216)

Man has not been forsaken to wonder the wildernesses of the world in bewilderment, attempting to gouge his way through life relying on trial and error. He has been gifted with the light of reason, to guide him from within, and the light of Divine guides and scriptures, to guide him from without. Both lights love and acknowledge each other, as their source is but one.

‘Allāh is the Light of the heavens and the earth…’ (Qur’ān 24:35)

‘…Certainly, there has come to you a light from Allāh, and a manifest Book. With it Allāh guides those who follow [the course of] His pleasure to the ways of peace, and brings them out from darkness into light by His will, and guides them to a straight path’ (Qur’ān 5:15-16)

And what pleasure greater than knowing that one is treading the path of His pleasure, that the Beloved Himself is his Guiding Friend, that action to action, one is drawn from darkness to Light, ascending to greater levels of Divine proximity and human perfection? What greater pleasure than facing life’s challenges with such an enlightened vision, a vision that leaves no place for despair, no matter how bleak the world may appear?

Thus it is only through Faith that man enjoys the greatest spiritual and physical pleasures. Without following the illuminating teachings of Islām, while one may acquire and enjoy certain pleasures, the spectrum of those pleasures will be very limited. Moreover, without the guidance of the two lights, those same ‘pleasures’ may become the very reason for man’s destruction.

By Sayyid Haidar Hasanain

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