If we take television or other communication technologies as our benchmark of how people can live more happily—through its advertisements and any benefits that it claimed to be able to provide—we will see that the very least these media are actually doing is to pump our hopes to obtain what they are selling. Our hopes are inflated through the air of what we could ‘do’ or ‘be’ through its consumption. For instance, we are told that we could be more productive through the owning of product X or that we could maintain our prestige by having product Y. Once our hopes are pumped, then ‘desire’ kicks in. In turn, we may as well thought that the fulfillment of desires is a form of entertainment; to have fun and relax after working hard for a period of time—and sometimes with no hard work at all. It has to be realized, however, that external consumption like these are, at best, distraction.
The danger is in believing that what our society call as ‘entertainment’ will really entertain us. If the purpose of entertainment is to make ourselves feel good, happy and happier, then it certainly is a short-lived one. A jolt in our sensation that immediately dissipates and difficult to sustain. In other words, it fails to deliver its promise since we do experience the following notion upon our accomplishment of consumption of any entertainments: now I am back to the ‘reality’. This ‘reality’ seems to us as something banal, less than interesting, and awful. What we meant by saying “to be entertained” is then actually “to be distracted” from the real banality of life. To forget, albeit momentarily, from realizing how awful and boring our routines are. Entertainment is a matter of distraction.
Quite paradoxically, the production of technologies that were intended to enrich our lives make us away from life itself (Murad, 2012). And by ‘life’ we meant ‘nature’. Humans’ primordial tendency is to be one with nature, to align with it, to be in harmony with it. That is why we are humbled by our gaze at the stars, we find calmness in listening to rainfall, and we find beauty in our witnessing of symmetry. As soon as there is something in between our direct experience and nature, we are distanced from it. The more distant we are from nature, the more we are distracted, the more we forget.
Our inner self, the soul, is always longing for its return. And the way to return—to not to forget, to not to be distracted—is through remembrance. Islam is a religion of remembrance. With its obligatory five-time prayers, one is supposed to be in the state of ever-remembering. That is, to remember how great He is and how small and weak we are. If this is still a difficult thing to do, Al-Ghazali do offer us a striking advice: try to remember death. Death is the very certainty that everyone will face. Yet, it is still the most distant thing that we can feel (thanks to our busyness and all the advertisements we face everyday). The mechanism in which our current economy is operating is based on the pumping of hopes and desires, one after another, so that we are trapped in the illusion of satisfying our desires. “No man has had his needs fulfilled therein; one desire ends only in another” (Al-Ghazali). Remembrance of death may seem to be the most uninteresting thing to practice, but we learn that we don’t find calmness and joy when we do what the desire interests. We need to break from that vicious circle. By reflecting on the pain and perils when our soul is taken from our body, perhaps we will find ourselves to be freed by the illusion of this world.
Al-Ghazālī. (1989). The Remembrance of Death and the Afterlife (T.J. Winter, Trans). Cambridge: The Islamic Text Society.
Murad, Abdal-Hakim. (2012). Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions. Cambridge: The Quilliam Press.