Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Culture of Ostentation

The Prophet (SWAS) was meticulous about his grooming. He (SWAS) used to dress according to the occasion and with respect to the status of his guests. He criticized unkempt appearances and taught us that Allah (SWT) is beautiful and He (SWT) loves beauty, encouraging the Muslims to adorn themselves. Despite all this, the early Muslim lives was characterized by stark simplicity by today's standards.

When a society has real meaning and purpose in life, the individuals become more concerned in fulfilling that purpose. To them it does not matter too much where they live, what they ride, what they wear, where they shop, who they meet, where they go on vacation, etc. As long as they are meeting life's basic requirements in an appropriate manner, their focus is rather on the meaningful purpose of their lives. I remember a colleague in Bell Labs who liked to ride a bike to work. On busy days he used to bring his rucksack with him and used to sleep on his office floor when project deadlines approached. He loved his work, was friendly and cooperative with others, was humble in speech and often was dressed simply in T shirt and jeans. He won many awards of appreciation for his contributions at work, yet he remained essentially the same. In the West, I found many such people -- university professors, graduate students, researchers, etc. They had some internal purpose to their lives and they were engrossed in realizing that. There are people out there who live to study how stars are born and die using radio telescopes all there lives. Others travel to the Amazon, live in difficult conditions for years to document the life cycle of a new species of insect or travel deep down the Mariana Trench to study the bottom of the unexplored ocean. These activities, in themselves, are very fascinating and fulfilling to such individuals. That is their focus. The other things are periphery.

A society that lacks any substantial ideological perspective on the meaning and purpose of life, drifts into a meaningless existence. The focus shifts from the internal to the external. Materialistic competition to show off becomes their philosophy in life. Artificial benchmarks of happiness and the lifestyles are created by the social engineers that control our world through global media, formal education, lobbies, NGOs, etc, turning these masses into blind consumers of products and entertainment. If you talk to such people, there is no original insight in their thought. Their stand on an issue is derived from what they watched on the talk show last night. People are leaving reading and those that still do, do it only for entertainment or to make money. They fail to develop those qualities within them that make them essentially human - intellect and spirituality. In 1989, when I first visited USA, I was shocked at the generally low intellectual quality of the students and the public. I soon realized some of the reasons when I observed how American TV was systematically dumbing down the masses. We did not have it then, but today we have all the equivalent garbage shows that are aired there in our native languages -- and that makes them ours. What we do not have are the educational programs like our own documentaries, etc.

Let us re-discover our own way of life, its philosophy, its perspective and its lifestyle. Develop your mind, grow your soul. It will not only help you live a life in this world full of contentment, but will, God willing, be the key to everlasting bliss in the next.

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