The Pleasure Principle
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
The principal weakness in the American people today, and especially the African-American, is the tendency to misinterpret the role of pleasure or leisure in their lives. Americans use their leisure time like the fallen Greek whose mind has gotten tired of exploring the world, and just rested on his material affluence. We cannot let our precious hours and precious intelligence be given to pleasure seeking only.
When I was taking a course in social studies, the professor said that the object or purpose of human life is pleasure. I couldn't accept that because he did not qualify his statement by giving the connecting facts or information needed to understand it. He simply said that the purpose of 1ife is pleasure. And it seems as though most American people have been taught that concept in school, because it seems to be the whole purpose of their lives. They just want to have a big bang in the bed of pleasure.
A man I respect very much said something about a peculiar weakness he observed in the people of African descent. He said that African people and their descendants on the whole seem to have a common weakness: they all seem given to relaxation. And the weakness is not because of any racial inferiority, but because of the effect the natural environment has had on their lives.
Not so very long ago if you went to the banks of the Nile, to Nigeria or to most other places in Africa, there was no need to wear an overcoat. You didn't have to chop firewood or feel desperate because there was nothing to eat. You didn't have to go very far to find an edible animal, an edible piece of fruit, or some herb on which to survive. But since the days of our traffic from Africa the world has changed. The population has increased greatly, so there might not be as much food now in many parts of Africa as there was when we were brought here to America.
Historically, we can see that the situation was quite different for the African people in the warmer climate than for the Caucasian in the much colder climate of Europe. In the much colder climate, the Caucasian was constantly aware of the threatening challenge from the environment. But in Africa, there was no constant environmental threat coming to the people. They would get up in the morning, do a little work and then get out the drum and play. They would sing folk songs, do a folk dance, crack jokes and do a lot of chatting. They had a lot of leisure time on their hands.
Sometimes leisure works to a people's advantage as well as to their disadvantage. When the mind is new in the environment, leisure works to your advantage, because at that time, the mind is very curious and excited like the mind of an infant or a little baby. I am sure that when the African people first began to evolve in such a favorable climate, their minds were excited at what they saw: the great rivers, trees, land masses, etcetera. And in all their excitement they went searching to explore and discover things they did not know or understand. I also believe that leisure brought them culture and great civilizations.
Leisure can work well for the scientist or scholar. There are people who will sacrifice their personal well being just to have some free time. The scholar wants extra time. He does not want to punch a clock because his intellect and mind are hungry. He wants to use leisure time to recreate himself. In fact, what we refer to today as recreation, was once known as re-creation. When we understand the scientific factor in our situation, we will have a greater appreciation for our lives. We will come to a greater sense of motivation in our lives. This is what has brought people back after leisure had become an influence to hedonize them. "Hedonize" or "hedonism" is from the Greek language, and it means a belief that pleasure or happiness is the chief purpose in life.
The Greek people as we know had a great civilization. They rose to great heights in the sciences. They gathered culture and sciences from around the world and brought that knowledge into Greece and built for themselves the earth's greatest empire at that time. Then something happened. They had been workers, but then they created so much material comfort that leisure became a dominating factor in their lives and made them t sissies. Since their minds had already feasted on the sciences and the environment, their minds had grown old and lost their youthful curiosity. Because they were not serious anymore, they became vulnerable to the influences of their wealth and material comforts. Those who have studied the history of ancient Greece know that leisure made them sissies and lazy. And this is what brought on the ruin of the great Greek empire.
Pain and Pleasure
Let us look at this pleasure principle and see how it operates. Pain and pleasure are the first governors in our lives.
When new life is born, it is born out of great pain and suffering. The mother in her labor endures great pain, and science says that the baby also endures great pain. If we could just understand the pain that comes to the skull of the baby when it is being pushed through the opening of its mother, we would have a greater appreciation for the birth process. Science says the pain that a child endures during birth is unbelievable; but look at how soon that child is smiling and showing us its pretty gums. Pain teaches us to have an appreciation for freedom from pain. And as human beings our movement for the most part is a movement from pain, a movement from discomfort. Sometimes we can get so far from pain that we lose all sense of the natural role pain has in our lives. We don't want to suffer pain at any time. Some people will go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled, but if the dentist says, it's going to hurt a little bit, he will answer, "I don't want it to hurt." If the dentist gives him one shot of pain killer above the normal amount and he still feels pain, he says, "Shoot me again." Even when the dentist warns him saying, "This might affect your mental capacity if I shoot you again," he still replies, "Go on and shoot, man. Hell, I don't want to feel any pain."
We should understand and know the importance of how pleasure operates and functions as a support for our lives. God has put into us a pleasure incentive, and its purpose is to keep the life support operating. There is a lure, a kind of pay for performing our natural biological functions. For example, we enjoy the taste of things that we eat. and we enjoy sleep when sleeping, yet when we perform either of these functions, our bodies are revitalized. No one wants to face death, but we can all die at night because sleep is not permanent. Sleep is natural, but we find pleasure in it. We don't go to sleep because it will restore our bodies. We go to sleep because it is going to make us feel better. Nobody says, "I'm going to sleep because I need to build up some more energy to revive the blood cells that have died today." You don't go to sleep with thoughts like that. You go to sleep with a feeling you are going to enjoy it, with a feeling that you have to do it because you are tired.
Even when discharging waste matter, there is pleasure involved. Why? Because that is a function vital for the support of your total life. I can go on and on naming the principles of pleasure operating in your life to show that the pleasure principle God established in your life is not to make you drunk in your mind or to dissipate your vital forces. This principle operates to give support and substance to your vital forces so that you will remain strong and able to deal with the things that contest your life in society.
The Greatest Pleasure
The greatest pleasure is the pleasure of knowing that you are responsible to your Creator and that you are doing something credible in His eyes. You may be doing something that may be a drudgery to you for the moment. It may not offer you an immediate tangible reward or monetary gain. You may be sweating, toiling and suffering, but in knowing that you are fulfilling the dignified role of a human being, and that you are moving a bit closer to your God given excellence, you should still find pleasure. Realizing the sense of dignity in fulfilling the role that God gave you in this life should give you pleasure. We need to learn the principle of the Qur'an wherein we are told to seek the pleasure of God first. In seeking His pleasure, we will move closer to our worth and dignity as persons, as a creature of God.
If we give ourselves to a wild crazy culture — to wine, to narcotics, to dancing and carrying these radio sets beside our ears all day or to leisure that is draining our lives, we are not following the pleasure principle that God has established in the natural makeup of the human being. Of course we should have pleasure, but it should be the kind of pleasure that supports us, and not the pleasures that dissipate and undermine our lives. Let us accept the warnings of the Qur'an that tells us,".....Every soul delivers itself to ruin by its own acts." (Qur'an 6:70) We are also told in the Qur'an, "Not for idle sport did we create the heavens and the earth and all that is between." (Qur'an 29:64).
'Know that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting, and multiplying (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children." (Qur'an 57:20)