What kind of a balance should be established between enjoying and abandoning worldly pleasures?

Details of the Question

-  Is it appropriate not to eat when one has a lot of food, to lie on the floor when there is a bed and to make wudu with cold water in winter when there is warm water?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The religion of Islam is based on “as-Sirat al-Mustaqim” (the straight path), which is the moderate way, away from extremisms. Therefore, it is natural for people to benefit from the boons Allah created for them.  

“Say: Who hath forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of Allah, which He hath produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He hath provided) for sustenance? Say: They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) purely for them on the Day of Judgment. Thus do We explain the signs in detail for those who understand.” (al-A'raf, 7/32)

This fact is emphasized in the verse above.

There are criteria and good manners for everything; similarly, there are criteria and good manners for legitimate sustenance like eating and drinking. The clearest aspect of these criteria is not to waste.

“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters.” (al-A'raf, 7/31)

Attention is attracted to this criterion in the verse above. It is understood from the verse that man can wear nice clothes and eat delicious food without wasting.

There are certainly different aspects in the details of this issue, whose general principles are indicated, which will lead to different decrees. For instance, it will disturb one’s conscience if he eats delicious food when his neighbor is hungry. It disturbs softhearted people to wear clothes that people around them cannot afford. It will harm one’s nature to try to live based on the desires of the soul in this age, when the wealth of people is doubtful.

There is a big difference between “to eat to live” and “to live to eat”. There is a big difference related to having strong and stimulative food between a young bachelor and a married man. It can be poison for one of them while it is antidote for the other. 

The tradition of abandoning pleasures has existed among the pious people (people of taqwa) for a long time due to the issues mentioned above and similar ones. Some practices of diet have been made and some pleasures have been abandoned since the era of the Companions so as not to spoil the soul and not to be deceived by the suggestions of Satan.  

What matters is to have a standard of living that will not disturb the balance of the world and the hereafter. This standard is not the same for everybody. There are different standards that change from person to person.

A person cannot demand others to follow the same standard that he prefers. He can perform fasting every other day but he cannot force his family members to do the same. He cannot expect them to abandon the pleasures that he has abandoned.

Some explanations of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi shed light on the issue. There are some conditions of pursuing pleasures and comfort in the world life:

The first condition: Pleasures and comfort must be within the bounds of licit (halal). To pursue pleasures and comfort through illicit (haram) ways lead man to Hell. Besides, "the bounds of the licit are sufficient for enjoyment; there is no need to enter the bounds of haram." Man is free within the bounds of licit.

The second condition: It is necessary to thank Allah for pleasures and comfort. That is, man can pursue any legitimate pleasures to thank Allah. Besides, Allah equipped man with numerous organs and faculties so that he would thank Allah. Then, it is possible to thank Allah by enjoying all kinds of halal pleasures and comfort. Only then can man know Allah through all of his feelings and organs and thank Him.  

The third condition: It is necessary not to waste and go to extremes even if it is halal. For, this world is not for satisfaction but for tasting. We are allowed to taste but not allowed to swallow greedily. We can pursue pleasures and comfort unless we waste.

The fourth condition: It is necessary to take the state of the majority of the people into consideration. That is, if the majority of the community in which one lives is hungry and miserable, it does not fit a human being and a Muslim to pursue pleasures and comfort. However, if the general state of the community is good, one can pursue pleasures and comfort.

To sum up, man can pursue all kinds of pleasures and comfort of the world life in accordance with the conditions mentioned above. (see Lem'alar, On Dokuzuncu Lem'a, Üçüncü Nükte)

Thus, it changes from person to person, from time to time, from place to place, from intention to intention and based on the other conditions to pursue pleasures and comfort. The intentions of a person who pursues pleasures and comfort in order to satisfy his bodily desires and a person who wants to thank Allah by tasting the flavor of the boons He gives are to be evaluated differently along with the spiritual nature of the pleasures they pursue.  

Finally, we can read the following statement of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, expressing the criteria of waste:

“One consists of nutritious food like cheese and egg and costs forty para and the other is of the choicest pastries and costs ten kurush. Before entering the mouth, there is no difference in these two mouthfuls with respect to the body, they are equal. And after passing down the throat, they are still equal in nourishing the body. Indeed, forty paras’ worth of cheese is sometimes more nutritious. Only, in regard to pampering the sense of taste in the mouth, there is a half-minute difference. You can see from this what a meaningless and harmful waste it is to increase the cost from forty para to ten kurush for the sake of half a minute.” (see ibid, İkinci Nükte)

We think that it is quite a useful method to consider those explanations in the form of a composition under the light of the consciousness of belief, to arrange the criteria based on the state of the individuals, to determine the places of the standards without confusing rukhsah (permission) with azimah (strict rule), to have sound intentions, to act without forgetting that not all drugs are useful for everybody and that they have side effects, to have subjective evaluations without leaving the objective scope of haram and halal, and to apply a specific method of treatment.

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