What is happiness?

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

A few years ago I went to Kruger National park with my family. As we were driving down a side road we came across a pride of lions who had killed a hippopotamus and were eating it. There were a couple of very young cubs who were frolicking on the road while their mothers ate, but there was an older cub who was eating alongside the adults. The hide and meat of the hippo was too tough. Some of the adults were also having a hard time in tearing and eating but this young cub had it hardest. His fur was drenched in sweat as he tried to tear the tough hide and chew the tough meat.

Later on at dusk when we passed the same road again, the whole pride was sleeping around their kill, exhausted. It would have taken them a lot of effort to bring down such a huge prey, and who knows how hungry they had been. So until the whole carcass was consumed, the lions would stay in the same place protecting their kill from thieves like hyenas and vultures. A few lions were sleeping on the dirt road and we had to wait at least half an hour there until they moved away from the road and we could carry on our way to our accommodation.

As thrilled as we were with our safari, and the beautiful pink colors of dusk surrounding us, I couldn’t help but feel pity for the lions, especially that poor little cub who was sleeping a sleep of utter exhaustion. That’s the thing with nature, you feel sorry for the prey but also for the predator.

A few days ago I was watching this video from Natgeo about rock hopper penguins by @bertiegregory. In photographers own words:

Rockhopper penguins have got to be one of the toughest animals on the planet. After battling through the open ocean in search of food, this group of adults is returning to their colony on Sea Lion Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. In order to reach their hungry chicks at the top of the cliff they must first time their exit to perfection. Although the rocks and waves are potentially dangerous to the penguins, they are experts in using the power of a wave to eject them out the water and up the cliff. Even though I know they are built like little tanks and they have done this many times before, it’s still nerve-wracking to watch!

There is an old lady who works for an estate agency in our area. Every Sunday without fail she is to be seen distributing advertisement material for the estate agency at the entrance to our suburb. Her shoulders have bent with age and her skin is all wrinkles but no matter how hot it is, she is there struggling to earn her keep.

When I used to live in Karachi, there was an old Afghan guy who used to collect recyclables from the trash. He will have a huge back-pack on his back, his old shoulders sagging under its weight and he would go in the scorching heat of Karachi day after day, sifting through trash cans, looking for stuff he could sell for a few bucks to feed his family.

There is a lot of struggle in this world. From animals in the wild to people in big metropolis, everyone is thrashing their arms and feet to stay afloat. Fighting a fierce battle of survival. According to statistics, out of the seven billion people who call this planet their home, only one billion have got it easy. Six million are those who are struggling every day to have their basic needs met. [1]

And this is just one kind of struggle, the struggle to put food on the table. There are other struggles too. The struggle to navigate through war and pain and suffering. Through loss, through incurable diseases. Allah’s world is full of people who are fighting a fierce battle of survival every day. It makes me sad. I know a lot of these problems are avoidable, if those one billion weren’t so greedy or corrupt or ignorant the rest six billion could have an easy life. But the fact remains that everywhere around me people are struggling and there is hardly anything I can do to help them. And it makes me sad.

And then one day I was reading surah Mariam. And the first ayah is

[This is] a mention of the mercy of your Lord to His servant Zechariah. [Mariam:02]

I was arrested by this word, rahmat. I saw in my mind’s eye the whole life of Zakariya AS. His prayers for a child, for a warith, his getting the child in an old age. And when that child grows into a young man he, Yahya As was killed. Before he married or had kids he was killed. According to some narrations Zakariya AS was still alive when Yahya AS was killed. On the face of it this looks like a story of pain and grief and sorrow and struggle. Yet Allah labels it as a tale of mercy and success. Why?

And then I understood. I understood that I need to rethink struggle. I need to re-evaluate the meaning of happiness and the meaning of ease. I need to redefine success.

I need to understand that if a butterfly breaks through its sac without struggle, it is going to stay lame for the rest of its life. I need to understand that the lack of oxygen prompts the chick to break free from the confines of the egg. I need to remember that a lion who gets its food in a plate without that hard work will get fat and lazy. And the little cub’s hard work keeps the eco system balanced.

I need to cherish and value the struggle, not loath it. If my kid exerts himself in the pursuit of halaal, I should be proud of him, not sorry for him. If I pass that Afghan guy, or that South African lady, or the child mining for Uranium, I must help them, I must cheer them but never pity them for earning an honest living. Pity is for those who choose to bypass the struggle.

And I need to remember what I tend to forget, that Allah has equipped that penguin for her life on rocks and that little cub for his in jungle. Allah has equipped me for mine, and you for yours.

And the last of our utterance is that all praise and all gratitude is for Allah, the loving Nourisher, sustainer and Cherisher of the worlds.

سبحانك اللهم و بحمدك نشهد ان لااله الّا انت نستغفرك و نتوب اليك

1. From Hans Rosling’s famous TED Talk The magic washing machine .

 

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