Have you ever aimlessly scrolled down your Instagram feed? Or wasted time making up
scenarios in your mind that, as long as fantasy doesn’t become fact, would never come true? What does it feel like right after it’s over and you realize how much time you have lost? Not good, right? Have you ever felt like there should be a term for these things? Well, there is one. Actually, two.
Allah, the Almighty says:
“And the worldly life is not but amusement and diversion; but the home of the Hereafter
is best for those who fear Allah, so will you not reason?”
– Al Qur’an (6:32)
When Allah wants to describe this life in the Quran, He uses the words: La’ib and Lah’v, two
Arabic words that are sometimes translated into English as play and amusement or amusement and diversion. In some translations, it’s also referred to as ‘idle sport.’
What do these two short words mean exactly?
Basically, La’ib means playful activities, but not just any playful activities. It refers to the playful and heedless activities of a child. Arabic is wonderful, no? One small word and that deep a meaning! Anyway, back to the topic: So Lai’b is any playful or amusing activity, that would suit a child, or in other words, has no purpose. Such as scrolling your Instagram feed just for the sake of it, when you have homework left to do.
Now coming to Lah’v. Lah’v is any activity that diverts your attention from important matters. Where La’ib activities have no purpose behind them, Lah’v activities might have one or two, but these purposes would be the ones that would divert your attention from important matters. For example, taking drugs to achieve numbness, which might help one forget their pain, when God did give you the alternative of Sabr and Salah for such situations. (Not very easy to do, I know, but that’s a topic for later.)
Sheikh Salim Bhimji describes Lah’v in his article, The Status of Music in Islam, in the following words:
“This is an Arabic term which is used extensively in Islamic jurisprudence and it means anything that is vain or futile. Sometimes, it will be used to refer to a place such as when the scholars refer to music that is played or used in places where vain or futile acts are taking place such as the nightclub, disco, etc; and sometimes it refers to a particular act or certain acts that are done with no use or purpose behind them except to ‘waste time.’”
So basically, the summary of the two would be to do acts that are of no real benefit and are only wasting our potential. Now the question is why does Allah (SWT) use these specific words to describe this life? The concept that this life is mere play and amusement has been mentioned three times in the Quran. One can tell when reciting these verses that Allah strongly dislikes the very essence and nature of La’ib and Lah’v. In other words, Allah dislikes seeing his servants doing things that not only do not benefit them, but negatively impact them as well. He is completely against the idea of doing things that will stop us from growing and becoming better.
Now what do La’ib and Lah’v translate into in your life?
I’ll give you a criteria, and then you can judge for yourselves, InshaAllah.
Basically, any negatively impacting act that is of no benefit and is a mere source of temporary and fake amusement and short term happiness. That’s what it is. Things like drinking, listening to music and partying are all considered Lai’b and Lah’v, and are therefore forbidden in Islam. But is that it?
If you focused on the definition of Lah’v, you’d see that Lah’v could be any activity
that turns you away from important things. Now, when we talk about important things, we mean real important things like self-development and fulfilling our Islamic duties. No, watching Netflix doesn’t count as an important thing.
So Allah just wants me to have a boring life, huh?
Some people assume that Allah just “doesn’t want us to have fun” because He just decided to prevent us from doing random things.. Not really. It’s because these things are going to keep us away from living a meaningful and significant life where we can reach our fullest potential mentally, spirituality, personally and socially. It’s not like Allah doesn’t want you to have any fun at all. If you’re out on a recreational trip with your family, spending quality time with them and bonding with them, it’s not La’ib or Lah’v. If you’re reading a fictional book to improve your language skills, it’s not Lai’b or Lah’v. If you’re watching a movie with non-Halal scenes not present in it to relax for a bit, it’s not Lai’b and Lah’v. It’s when these things go so much out of control that you just seem to be wasting your life on them that it does become wrong.
Pro-tip: keep questioning your niyyahs or intentions for doing even some Mubah (neither Halal nor Haram) acts for extra safety.
In a nutshell, Allah does not like to see us wasting our time on things that are going to keep us away from living a fulfilling and peaceful life, instead He wants us to do things that will make our minds grow, give us purpose, give us serenity and give us meaning. I mean can you imagine how much a person will become greater and happier if instead of drinking they pondered and indulged in deep thinking on meaningful things? And instead of listening to music, if they prayed? Will listening to party music really give us a happy life? Sure, it can definitely turn up our emotions for the time being, but in the end, it will leave us sadder than when we were picking up our earphones thinking that it might improve our mood. Will getting drunk really make us feel true peace? Will being half naked for others really give us the purpose we are looking for? Will it make us a better person if we’re just binge-watching Netflix, while we had the potential to do something for our oppressed Muslim brethren in Yemen or Palestine?
I am sure if you sit down and ponder upon these questions you will come to realize that Islam by telling you to keep yourself away from play and amusement is keeping you away from depression and other societal evils you might fall into if you’re not careful, and helping you reach inner peace.