Reflection No. 129 on Q 21:2-3 – To be serious
مَا يَأْتِيهِمْ مِنْ ذِكْرٍ مِنْ رَبِّهِمْ مُحْدَثٍ إِلَّا اسْتَمَعُوهُ وَهُمْ يَلْعَبُونلَاهِيَةً قُلُوبُهُمْ
Mā ya’tīhim min dhikrin mir-rabbihim muHdathin illā-stama‘ūhu wahum yal ‘abūna lāhiyatan qulūbuhum
There does not come to them a new reminder from their Lord but they listen to it while they play around, their hearts set on diversions . . . (Sūratul Anbiyā’ No. 21, Āyāt 2-3)
When human beings constantly engage in trivial matters and allow these to preoccupy their minds, it becomes difficult to give serious matters due consideration. Even when issues of great importance are being discussed, the hearts remain unaffected. This is because of the state of heedlessness that is created by continuous immersion in small and petty matters.
This verse talks about a certain type of reaction to the message of God. The receivers of the message listen, but their state of listening does not allow the message to enter into the heart and mind. It falls, as they say, on deaf ears. Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in al-Mizān describes the state of such listeners. He says the verse shows two different conditions of these people.
– The first is la‘ib (لعب) i.e. playing, an action which has no real aim or goal. It is just done in jest, is imaginary, illusory, done only for immediate amusement. An example is children’s play.
– The second is lahaw (لهو) i.e. preoccupation and diversion. He says this means the heart is distracted with small things and is thus unable to handle larger issues.
Many of us are often engaged, physically and mentally, in matters that could just be preoccupations. We fill life with a lot of stimulation that is empty and meaningless. Over time this leads to a state where nothing is really serious anymore. We are not able to pay attention properly, do a lot of long term thinking, or focus on things that really matter. Imam Hasan (a) says: A believer does not occupy himself with amusement lest he becomes negligent. (MH, H. 18060)
The present culture around us glorifies distractions and makes them seem appealing. Have fun, enjoy life, and be merry, etc. All this may be good but it has its own time and place. It is definitely not good for long periods of time. The constant culture of distraction is almost like a training of the brain, a training to focus on trivial matters and diversions. The more the brain does this, the less likely it is to be serious. The quote below encapsulates this well:
‘I’d argue that what’s happening is that we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractible brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous’
It is worth thinking about this matter ‘seriously’. Being constantly distracted is an unseemly state for the mind, with a lot of wider repercussions for the individual, family, society, and the world at large. That is why it is better for believers to stay away from certain types of entertainment and music, drinking, certain gatherings etc. It may be enjoyable for a while but is deadly for the intelligence. It leads to the crisis in attention that the world is witnessing presently.
Use this verse to remind yourself that it is necessary to be serious sometimes. Don’t let the culture of distractions delude you into thinking that seriousness is dark and gloomy. It actually lifts the veil of darkness and allows the light in.
Sources: ‘Allāmah S M Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Al-Mizān fī tafsīr al-Qur’ān; Muhammadī Rayshahrī, Mizānul Hikmah; and http://joekraus.com/were-creating-a-culture-of-distraction