Today, I want to express a few words regarding this ambiguous thing called ‘ a sense of humour’. Not everyone has the same definition of it but, for the most part, I’m sure people would agree it’s about having the ability to laugh. In doing so, we let go of stresses especially when there’s a need to release pent up pressure in our lives. Given we oscillate between times of great worry and times of ease, it’s important to stand back, look in from the outside, and learn to deal with all these situations with a healthy detachment. It allows us to be better prepared for any potential inevitability as life goes on.
There have often been times I’ve been in a social circle of fellow Muslims and noticed that some have lost the ability to practise or understand humour. They don’t appreciate those ‘let your hair down’ moments. It’s almost as if an outward sign of religiosity is the need to be ‘proper’ and serious at all times. Of course, there is no escaping that the very purpose of our lives here is to worship Allah only. It’s also true that it would be really inappropriate to humour someone who is experiencing a bereavement or some sort of grief. Feeling frivolous or light-hearted should happen at the right time and place.
However, I believe that finding moments not to take life too seriously is not the same as compromising on one’s faith. That latter duty should always be our ultimate focus. But we all have our unique methods on how to negotiate difficult situations. For some, it is to retreat to a solitary space; for others it is to travel and meet people; and for some others it is simply to be and feel positive. But for all of them, we can see that beseeching Allah can be achieved through all these means. No one type of personality has exclusive rights to Him. Alhamdulillah for the myriad of personalities that exist under the banner of humanity. It is because of these vibrant differences that we have woven together a wonderful fabric called the Ummah – a bit like a patchwork quilt. The net result is stunning. If we were all cast in the same mould, life would have become infinitely dull.
I, for one, can’t be too serious for too long. Even in my challenging times, I have made sure laughter has punctuated the monotony. Without that release valve, I would surely have imploded by now. Whether it’s an amusing anecdote someone else has shared or even I myself who has found a quick quip to lighten the mood, I’m grateful that I am still able to appreciate the blessings such moments offer. Indeed, bringing a smile to someone’s face is an act of charity itself. It is a profound prophetic teaching. What an amazing fact! It is part of the innate human condition to want to find happiness or joy and denying that is denying a blessing we have been endowed with.
Finding humour is so cathartic! In a very curious way, it actually makes us put everything in life back into perspective. That’s because at the end of the day, we must remember that we tarry on this Earth for a relatively short time. There is nothing we take to the other side except our deeds, good and bad. Whatever anguish we experience, even that will pale into insignificance once life is over. So, whilst we find our paths to healing, we need to remind ourselves to step back and try to look objectively at everything. Think about a grain of dust: it is always going to remain that insignificant little thing until it enters our eye and causes so much irritation and discomfort. The grain itself doesn’t change its form; what changes is the fact that it is much closer to us and so its relevance has also shifted proportionately. Keep it at bay and notice how irrelevant it becomes. The same can be said for our problems. Hold them at arm’s length and don’t let them consume you.
And so it is that I sometimes despair at the encounters I have had with Muslims who believe their ability to imitate a lifeless stone is far more honourable than participating in a moment of frivolous, but harmless, joy in the company of others. When did this become a spiritual goal? When did they take leave to occupy the higher moral ground? It’s important to understand that having a sense of humour is not decadent. It is not an unguarded recklessness leading to potential ruin. As long as rules of decency and respect are maintained, spending time laughing and joking with others can actually be an act of ibadah (worship) itself. Helping a distressed fellow human to find relief, however fleeting, is a great act of generosity.
I know some people reading this might feel my entire blog is based on imagined experiences. However, I know I refer to real past encounters. When meeting such people, I have sometimes even decided whether to pursue friendships or not based on their inability to respond to humour. An invariably serious person is a heavy burden to carry in life. They need to understand it really is possible to take the finger off the pulse of life without becoming heedless. It’s absolutely necessary to have periods where we can ‘switch off’ only to reset ourselves again for the next round of trials and tribulations. Because, for sure, they will be there and respite from them is not a crime. It’s a must.
I write this as a tribute to all those who have helped me stay sane in a world which seems to have gone crazy. I am eternally grateful for their humour and company. At the same time, my plea to Muslims who have not learnt the gift of laughter, either as medicine for themselves or someone else, I would argue that they need to question whether they are bordering on ingratitude itself. A happy disposition should be the default disposition. If that is understood, then our problems would themselves become mere inconveniences. Funny, isn’t it?