Mankind is kept in a constant state of trying to understand and achieve happiness. Friends, love, family, success, recognition, material escapes, and sensual pleasures are among the avenues that humanity has explored in its quest to attain this elusive phenomenon. But what exactly is happiness, and how can we even, achieve it, if at all?
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle coined the term 'eudaimonia' to define 'happiness'. According to Aristotle, eudaimonia involves not only reason but also the practical application of reason to achieve excellence or 'arete'. He famously stated, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
In the 97th verse of Surah An-Nahl (The Bee), Allah tells us:
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَلَنُحْيِيَنَّهُ حَيَاةً طَيِّبَةً ۖ وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
To whoever, male or female, does good deeds and has faith, We shall give a good life and reward them according to the best of their actions. (16: 97)
So, it appears straightforward: all we have to do is to believe, do good, and Allah will reward with a fulfilling based on our deeds. However, a dilemma arises: why does it feel that this concept seem to elude us, even when we believe we are doing right? Why do many experience persistent unhappiness?
This quandary is due to our adversary, Satan, also known as Shaitan. He perpetually attempts to misguide us and disrupt our equilibrium -the righteous path that messengers were sent to guide us along.
In Surah An-Nisa, verse 120, Allah exposes Shaitan’s tactics:
يَعِدُهُمْ وَيُمَنِّيهِمْ وَمَا يَعِدُهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ إِلَّا غُرُورًا؛
Satan only makes them ˹false˺ promises and deludes them with ˹empty˺ hopes. Truly Satan promises them nothing but delusion. (4:120)
Thus, as soon as we attain a sense of contentment through achievements- be it material gains, intellectual accomplishments, or life or overcoming hardships- Shaitan sets to work, aiming to deceive us, disrupt our equilibrium, and draw us away from our state of balance and inner goodness (fitra) through deceit and temptations. Instead of turning back to Allah (the straightway) and expressing gratitude, recognizing that He has granted us the opportunity (tawfiq) to do good and enjoy His blessings, which would lead to happiness, this gratitude transforms into greed, ego, pride, and any other negative trait associated with accomplishment. These are the false deities, the “ungods,” warned about by Allah, to which we might turn to in moments of vulnerability and deception.
But when He granted their descendants good offspring, they associated false gods in what He has given them. Exalted is Allah above what they associate ˹with Him˺! (7:190)
Consequently, humankind remains perpetually ensnared in a dichotomy between what their fitra (inner voice), guiding them in feelings, thoughts, and actions, and the voices incited by the enemy of truth and goodness. This results in being misaligned, unbalanced, and distancing oneself from the sole true source of goodness- Allah . How then can we resolve this dichotomy, fated to be face with Shaitan’s ever-present attempt to divert us from our equilibrium, the straight path?
We redirect to pleasing Allah whenever these deceptions infiltrate our minds. What actions, though, pleases Allah?
"Indeed Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves" The Quran 2:222
Purification takes on many forms, paralleling the various strategies of Shaitain's deceptions: seeking refuge from accursed Shaitan, affirming and witnessing the sole existence of the One True God (Allah), avoiding actions that would taint our body, mind, and heart by maintaining a state of ritual and spiritual purity (wudhu), acknowledging our mistakes, rectifying them, and continuing with righteous deeds. Allah assures that good deeds erase misdeeds and replace them with goodness.
The convergence of Islam and Aristotle’s teachings on happiness becomes evident-they both emphasize that it’s not the mere act itself that is excellent or brings happiness, but the habit and the continual process of being aware of ones thoughts, acknowledging imperfections, redirecting one’s thoughts towards Allah, abstaining from evil, and returning to the straight path.
Allah further instructs,
“O believers! Seek comfort in patience and prayer. Allah is truly with those who are patient.” (2:153)
This implies recognizing our inherent imperfection and inevitable deviations, but with Allah's assistance, patience, and prayer, we can always find our way back. Allah, in His compassion, has endowed us with tools to structure our lives in a way that fosters excellence through habitual practices.
These practices stand as the pillars of Islam- the five daily prayers, at a minimum, cleanse our hearts from the corrosive influences of Shaitan's schemes; charity helps us express gratitude for our acquired material wealth; jihad maintains vigilance and pushes us Allah; fasting combines physical discipline with the purification of actions, mind, and heart; and Hajj serves as a reminder (if the means are available) that our final goal is Allah.
However, even if we flawlessly perform our rituals, they can become lifeless motions. Thus, the Holy Quran, the teachings of the Holy prophet (pbuhh), and the guidance of his Holy Household (as) function as nourishment for our minds and hearts, replenishing them when our equilibrium of happiness is disturbed.
Reciting the Quran nurtures our hearts, aligning them with truth. As Imam Zaynul Abideen (as) noted, “Hearing is the gateway through which various concepts reach the heart.” (A divine perspective of rights, Imam Zaynul Abideen (as) Page 90). Reading the Quran replenishes our minds with reminders of Allah’s oneness, the importance of following the Prophet (pbuhh), reflecting on mortality, and staying true to the righteous path. It also presents instances of the consequences faced by those who succumbed to Shaitan’s temptations, alongside examples of those who prevailed- Prophets (as) and virtuous individuals like Lady Maryam, the mother of Prophet Isa (as), Asiya, the wife of Firoun and Yusuf (as). Despite confronting numerous external obstacles, Yusuf (as) exemplified patience and chastity, ultimately emerging as a true victor.
The Holy Prophet (pbuhh) teaches us morality through the laws of all actions in our lives, ensuring our hearts remain untainted while interacting with society, facilitating a state of utmost happiness. The Ahle Bayt (as) carry on this ethical legacy, guiding us to navigate society’s challenges while keeping our hearts pure, until the reappearance of the living Imam (atfs), when he will elevate the entire world to a heightened state.
In conclusion, aligning with the moderate and true path, persistently striving to achieve Allah's pleasure with all our faculties, allows us to rediscover happiness, even in the face of Shaitan's snares.
“I was sent by Allah/God to complement the best of morality” .
Morality is one of the most fundamental principles of any society and the determining factor of the success or corruption of human beings. There are different aspects of life, and most of them are still unknown to man due to his limitations and restrictions by nature. Therefore, human science and knowledge are not enough to discover all aspects of humanity.
On the other hand, viewing life and the universe as the artistic creation of Allah, one can conclude that He is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. Therefore the knowledge which He provided man with to have a beneficial and prosperous life is essential and vital for the blooming progress of humankind. This knowledge is called ‘religion’.
On our journey, we face difficulties, joy, sadness, hardship, success, and failure in different forms and occasions, including personal life, married life, academic environment, and a workplace where taking the right actions and decisions sometimes becomes challenging. Relying on the roadmap provided by Allah Himself, reduces the tension and paves the way for making the right and sound decisions. That is the origin of Islamic ethics and the rationale behind the mentioned Hadith from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP).
In the Quran, different commands suggest a safe journey through life:
“and indeed you possess a great character” (68: 4).
“We did not send you but as a mercy to all the nations” (21:107).
“Allah loves the steadfast” (3:146).
“And hasten towards your Lord's forgiveness and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the God-wary. Those who spend in ease and adversity and, suppress their anger, and excuse [the faults of] the people, and Allah loves the virtuous” (3:133,134).
“Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most God wary among you” (49:13).
These are just a few examples of endless guidelines provided in the holy Quran. All the prophets were depicted as role models for human morality and ethics; one of whom was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who tried his best to invite all people to Islam through his practical ethics. He stands in history as the best model for man in piety and perfection. He is living proof of what man can be and of what he can accomplish in the realm of excellence and virtue.
To sum up, leading an ethical life without any guidelines can be an exhausting task. Although there are many different views on consulting right and wrong, the most reliable and guaranteed is the one provided by Allah, called religion. In the religion of Islam, there are various ethical instructions and guidelines ranging from educational systems, raising children, science, and medicine to business, individual and social life altogether offered comprehensively and feasibly.
- Kanz-ol-a’maal, 13th vol. p.151, Hadith #36472
On the last days of the year, we usually look back at what we did and what were the things we gained in that 365 days that passed. Sometimes, we would regret the times that were wasted or the opportunities that were lost, but at the end of the day, we feel grateful for what we achieved and for having the chance to enjoy the rest of our lives.
Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities that make us stop for a moment and look closer at our life, embracing what has been given to us freely, that is the love and support of our family, and be grateful for what we have gained so far.
Let’s have a quick glance at the history of Thanksgiving and Islam’s attitude toward celebrating it.
Thanksgiving roots back to some traditions held during English Reformation in Britain. However, in 1621 the first Thanksgiving day was held by “the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians” in North America, after a successful autumn harvest. However, “It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November” .
Whatever be the history of this day – having some explicit or implicit negative points aside from its positive aspects -, Islam holds a positive attitude toward the concept of thanksgiving. In what follows we will have a brief look at this view of Islam.
As we said in the article on Halloween, Islam is not against celebrating and having fun. There are four points that we, as Muslims, should observe in any tradition or celebration that we intend to take part:
1. It should not be harmful to ourselves and others, physically and mentally. A superstitious ceremony which is not based on any logical reason, and has no benefit for our mind and soul is not considered a proper kind of celebration according to Islam.
2. It should not result in ignoring our Islamic duties. Meaning that participating in a celebration should not lead us toward doing what we are not supposed to do as Muslims (e.g., drinking alcohol, eating Haram food, wearing immodest clothes, etc.) or forgetting what we must do as Muslims (e.g., praying, fasting, etc.).
3. It should not be a worthless and aimless pleasure that would only waste our time. “Islam always recommends us to be aware of what we are doing and think about our intention before any action. Even when we are having fun, there should be something behind it that makes it worthwhile. When enumerating the characteristics of a faithful person in Quran, Allah also mentions those who avoid vain actions (23:3); i.e., those activities that have no use for us and would only waste our time” .
4. Participating in that celebration should not make us like atheists or those who are against the belief in one God. That is to say, “A Muslim’s life should mirror his beliefs in every aspect. So, if an action even in appearance, represents what is against Islam or far from its teachings, then it should be avoided by Muslims” .
Thanksgiving is one of those celebrations that are very close to Islamic teachings. Being grateful to the creator for the blessings He had bestowed upon us  and also thanking other people for what they did for us, is one of the encouraged manners in Islam.
Also, Thanksgiving is a chance to gather with family and relatives and enjoy their company which is very much recommended in Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUHHP) said that: “I command all the people of my followers (Umma), whether present or not, and those generations which are to come … to maintain family kinship even if they live at a distance of a year's journey.” . The family is one of the most significant blessings of Allah to us, so we should give thanks to Allah for this precious blessing.
As a way to thank for God’s blessings, some people would give charity to those who are less privileged or are under financial pressures . This is one of the most praised actions in Islam and is highlighted in many narrations [i] as well as verses of the Quran: “You will never attain piety until you spend out of what you hold dear, and whatever you may spend on anything, Allah indeed knows it.” (3: 92). Thus, Allah would consider helping others as an act of gratitude.
Some American families would watch football games together, and some would play football together. Some others would pack up and go on a journey. Islam always recommended having fun, playing sports and traveling [ii]. Muslims should not keep themselves from enjoying Halal and lawful activities [iii].
As Muslims, we should keep in mind that whatever we have is granted by Allah. Thus the ultimate one to whom we give thanks is Him. That is the least we can do in return for Allah’s blessings. According to Imam Ali (AS), those who worship Allah as a way to appreciate His favors, are the most free-spirited ones, comparing with others who worship Allah with other purposes .
Thanksgiving Day is only a reminder. We should always thank Allah, in every breath and every moment of our lives. A Muslim knows the reason that he/she is alive, and is enjoying all kinds of opportunities and blessings is only Allah. Therefore, every day is a Thanksgiving Day for a Muslim.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have the opportunity to be thankful for what they have. Sometimes we find more things to complain than to be grateful. While if we consider what we have instead of what we don’t, our life would be much happier and more satisfactory. So, giving thanks is itself a blessing that Allah bestows upon the ones who believe in Him. Thus He says in the Quran, “And few of My servants are grateful” (34:13).
The more we are thankful, the more blessings will rain down on our life . A simple Physics formula that every action will have a reaction. The result of our thankfulness will be Allah’s favor on us. Therefore, Allah says: “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favor]” (14:7).
Being thankful is not limited only to significantly great things. Even small or seemingly insignificant favors should be appreciated. Sometimes what we consider small or insignificant is far more important than what we think. Like having the chance of embracing our parents, kissing our kids, finding the nature’s beauties, being healthy or even breathing clean air. When we appreciate these favors and much more that are less seen by others, we realize Allah’s great love and care that includes every living creature, especially us.
It is not enough only to say you are thankful. You should show it in your actions as well. Whether it is God that you are grateful or your fellow human beings, you should do something that represent your thankfulness. Knowing that all we have is from Allah and not participating in sinful actions with the use of Allah’s blessings are only two ways of showing your thankfulness . Also, helping others and giving away to the needy are other ways of appreciating your privileges .
Having said that, don’t forget that expressing your gratitude in words is cherished by Allah and there are many recommended and specific manners in doing so. For instance praying to Allah, performing a two Rak’aa prayer (Salat) with the intention of giving thanks to Allah, repeating some Zikr (short Islamic phrases for praying; e.g. Alhamd-u-lillah (praise be to Allah), Shukr-an-lillah (Thanks to Allah), Allah-u-Akbar (Allah is the greatest), Subhan Allah (Glorious is God)), etc.
[i] Imam Reza (AS) stated in a narration that after having faith in Allah and his messengers, there is no better way of thanking Allah than to help your fellow human beings in their worldly matters .
[ii] Quran (29:20)
[iii] Quran (5:87)