The passage of time and years has always been tough to keep track of. I once happened to ask an old gentleman, “Sir, what’s your age?” The man with moustaches to whom I had posed the question stared at me with bulging eyes, as if I had stolen something valuable from his pocket. I recalled what a female friend of mine had said, “Jameel, never ask a girl about her age; it does exasperate her to an infinite extent.” Contemplating if I had committed done any misdemeanour, I looked at the man with apologetic face. But he replied that he was in his 90s. I enquired a bit more. “Sir, how long you think you have been living in this world?” Although my question was a bit philosophical, it made him smirk a little. “The speed of time is incalculable. One fails to figure out when he is a child, when an adolescent, and when he has stepped into old age.”
The mystery of a life’s span has always remained a mystery, even though many have tried to resolve it. The old man, I reflected, seemed to wish to live for centuries, with an unquenchable longing for this world. “A man by nature is selfish.” I had read something like this somewhere.
Islam and Prophet Mohammad, may peace and blessing be upon him, has taught us contentment. Man by nature is avaricious; if given paradise, he shall demand more. The holy Prophet (saw) has said, “Beware of greed, for it was only greed that destroyed those before you. It commanded them to be miserable and they did so. It commanded them to sever their family ties and they did so. It commanded them to behave wickedly and they did so.” Islam in many chapters discusses at length the ill effects of greed, though it does say that man is by nature greedy and can go to any extent to fulfil the greed. “Indeed, man is ungrateful to his Lord and He is witness to this; he is truly excessive in his love of wealth.” (Al-Adiyat, 100:6-8)
Many books that are written in the past bear testimony to how greed overwhelms a man and makes him act like a beast. It is greed that forces a man to go down that route which has been declared as profane and sacrilegious. However, restraining self from transgressions is very difficult task. A man by birth loves ease and liberty but self-discipline and self-restraint have to be learnt – by determination and commitment. Otherwise, lust and greed will overpower him. Imam Ghazali (AR) in his famous book Kimiya-e-Saadat writes that the initial years of his ‘ibadat’ were very tough as he had to train his ‘Nafas’ and convince it of the commands of Allah, until the time came that it became habit. Studying literature has been a blessing for me, for it taught me the essence of life. Literature taught me the meaning of determination, of honesty, discipline conviction, and commitment – as it was the breach of commitment that caused the fall of man, and it was pride, ignorance, and arrogance that made Satan refuse to prostrate before Adam. “And behold, we said to the angels: “Bow down to Adam”, and they bowed down. Not so Iblis: He refused and was haughty: He was of those who rejected faith.” (2.34)
However, not only Islam but other religions also discuss at length about greed. In Christianity, it is among the seven deadly sins, preceded only by pride. Mahatma Buddha had said, “This world is full of sufferings, and desire is the cause of these sufferings.”
A man should always be satisfied, and this satisfaction lies in understanding that everyone’s life is different. A man who earns good money is beset with problems different from those that trouble one who earns less. I won’t deny that money doesn’t make a man happy; money does buy happiness; but considering money as the sole source of happiness is stupidity. What one really needs to live is shelter, food and clothing; if one has that, one must be content and grateful.
Since my childhood I would always ponder on the meaning of existence. I used to think life is a dream from which I shall wake up soon. I was hardly 7 to 8 years old but later I came to know that such a way of thinking had Sufi characteristics. Or it may have been because of my Nani, who had a huge influence on my life. Instead of fairytales I was brought up with Qasasul-Ambiya which Nani would narrate every night before I would fall asleep. I still remember by heart the story of Yusuf and Zulaikha, the arguments of Iblees, of Hazrat Musa in Israel after crossing the Red Sea, Hazrat Luqman — the man of wisdom – and the temptation of Adam, about which I later read in Paradise Lost by Milton.
I remember that Nani would tell me: Akbar, the king, was the richest man but still had to rely on Birbal for advice.