HAP­PI­NESS AS A SOURCE OF PUBLIC POL­ICY

It is in­trin­sic to the five tra­di­tional ‘es­sen­tials’ of the ‘Maqasid’, write

New Straits Times - - Opinion - Wan Naim Wan Man­sor is an an­a­lyst at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Is­lamic Stud­ies Malaysia

own per­sonal and sub­jec­tive eval­u­a­tion of their lives.

This of­fers in­valu­able in­sight, and pro­vides a more holis­tic pic­ture to hu­man well­be­ing, some­thing not achiev­able if we rely solely on ex­ter­nal ob­ser­va­tions, such as in­come, wealth, spend­ing habits, health, debt ra­tio and so forth. So, does “hap­pi­ness” have a place in Is­lam?

Ex­ten­sive ev­i­dence sug­gests that the an­swer is highly in the af­fir­ma­tive.

God Almighty is il­lus­tri­ous in His in­ten­tions to pro­vide hu­mans with ease and fa­cil­i­ta­tion, and pro­tect against grief and hard­ship: “And we have not sent you, (O Muham­mad) ex­cept as a mercy to the worlds” (Qu­ran 21:107), and “Al­lah in­tends for you ease and does not in­tend for you hard­ship” (Qu­ran 2:185).

Also, Mus­lim philoso­phers and schol­ars had long ar­tic­u­lated hap­pi­ness in var­i­ous terms, such as: falā, farah, saā­dah, tama’ni­nah, ayā­tan ayy­ibah, mas­rŸroh and sakOE­nah.

These terms can be found in the ex­ten­sive works of Al-Farabi, Ibn Misk­awayh, Al-Ghaz­ali, Ibn AlQayyim and S.M.N. Al-At­tas. Cer­tainly, hap­pi­ness is a well-es­tab­lished topic in Is­lamic schol­ar­ship.

How­ever, a more in­ter­est­ing ques­tion is how does Is­lam re­late to the con­tem­po­rary find­ings of hap­pi­ness re­search?

Let’s take one ex­am­ple. Re­search has shown that more money does not al­ways make us hap­pier ad in­fini­tum.

For in­stance, a RM1,000 in­crease in monthly in­come to a poor per­son would in­vari­ably im­prove his well­be­ing and make him very happy. Yet, as a per­son bec omes wealth­ier, the same RM1,000 would mean less.

To a bil­lion­aire for ex­am­ple, that amount would be neg­li­gi­ble to his well­be­ing. This, in eco­nomic jar­gon, is called “di­min­ish­ing mar­ginal util­ity”.

This sup­ports the con­clu­sion that peo­ple who are ma­te­ri­al­is­tic “tend to be sub­stan­tially less happy”. One of the rea­son is sim­ply that the end­less pur­suit of ma­te­ri­al­ism will ul­ti­mately re­ward them less and less hap­pi­ness, and thus, bound to lead to­wards frus­tra­tion.

There­fore, it is sug­gested that eter­nal hap­pi­ness is not achieved only in this world. In Is­lam, ul­ti­mate hap­pi­ness rests solely on God since He is the source of all hap­pi­ness (Qu­ran 10:58). But one is also re­minded to avoid ex­tremes, and re­main stead­fast to the path of moder­a­tion (ummah wasa­tan — Qu­ran 2:143).

This es­pe­cially en­tails hav­ing a bal­anced world view be­tween the eter­nal and tem­po­ral life. Sev­eral other find­ings in hap­pi­ness re­search that res­onate with Is­lamic prin­ci­ples are as fol­lows.

THE “rel­a­tive in­come” fac­tor: re­search shows that de­spite be­ing rel­a­tively blessed with ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions, one can be un­happy if he con­stantly self-com­pares with oth­ers who are “above” him.

The Prophet, in a renowned ha­dith, ad­vised be­liev­ers to “Look at those who are be­neath you...” in terms of ma­te­rial wealth (but look up­wards in terms of spir­i­tu­al­ity). This mes­sage of grat­i­tude is also re­it­er­ated in the Qu­ran, promis­ing that those who are “grate­ful” will re­ceive even more (Qu­ran 14:7).

THE so­cial cap­i­tal: it is found that public poli­cies that em­pha­sised so­cial trust and har­mony yielded higher hap­pi­ness lev­els.

This res­onates with Is­lam’s em­pha­sis on its pe­ri­od­i­cal, con­sis­tent and prac­ti­cal so­cial pro­grammes, which in­clude daily prayer con­gre­ga­tions, weekly Ju­maah prayer, bi-an­nual large eid gath­er­ings, in­ter­na­tional-level Mecca pil­grim­age, an­nual and con­tin­u­ous za­kah (char­ity) to the poor, an­nual meat sac­ri­fice to feed the poor, and so forth.

FREE­DOM and au­ton­omy: re­search shows that “pro­ce­dural util­ity”, or the abil­ity to make im­por­tant life de­ci­sions, such as ca­reer path, per­sonal val­ues, choos­ing our gov­ern­ment and so forth can im­prove life sat­is­fac­tion and make us hap­pier.

Freewill and moral au­ton­omy are deeply i ngrained i n the Qu­ranic mes­sage, fre­quently ask­ing the reader to “choose” and “de­lib­er­ate” de­spite nudg­ing to the side of truth — (Qu­ran 91:8).

THE en­vi­ron­ment: mul­ti­ple re­searches have es­tab­lished that hu­mans are hap­pier when sur­rounded by pris­tine and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

The Qu­ranic mes­sage is em­phatic in re­gards to the en­vi­ron­ment: “And do not com­mit abuse on the earth!” (Qu­ran 2:60).

In a fa­mous ha­dith, the Prophet pro­scribed wast­ing wa­ter dur­ing rit­ual ablu­tion “even if you are on the bank of a flow­ing river”.

The re­mark­able affin­ity be­tween hap­pi­ness re­search and Is­lamic teach­ings makes it a ben­e­fi­cial model for syariah-based public poli­cies.

This ap­par­ent com­pat­i­bil­ity also makes it a prime can­di­date to be con­sid­ered as one of the Maqasid al-Syariah (higher purposes of syariah).

In fact, when an­a­lysed, we can see that hap­pi­ness is in­trin­sic to the five tra­di­tional “es­sen­tials” of the Maqasid (the pro­tec­tion of life; preser­va­tion of re­li­gion; up­hold­ing the in­tegrity of the hu­man in­tel­lect; pro­tect­ing the fam­ily and pro­tec­tion to law­ful­ly­owned prop­erty).

We, thus, con­clude that hap­pi­ness re­search is es­sen­tial in the field of Is­lamic public pol­icy. Ah­mad Badri Abdullah is a re­search fel­low at the In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Is­lamic Stud­ies Malaysia

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