In order to maintain good mutual relationships, humans need to socialize. It results in strengthening of bonds, nurturing of love, and exchange of ideas that benefit society. It is the best way to de-stress oneself; receive helpful advice, which is the most common means of relief from worries and sorrow; and an effective way of receiving reassurances from others. It can be a positive way of pastime, especially if one is in the company of a learned scholar or a pious person, who is sharing his or her gems of wisdom.
All this is good as long as it doesn’t have negative characteristics, some of which are explained below:
One of the specialities of Paradise is that it will be completely devoid of any vain or sinful conversations.
“They will hear no vain talk therein, nor any call to sin.” (Qur’an, 56:25)
The Arabic word “Laghw” used in the verse above means “vain, useless talk or pastime.” Anything that is not beneficial for one’s self, for others, or for the hereafter falls into the realm of Laghw. Paradise will have no Laghw in it, there will only be pure enjoyment.
Allah has detailed the qualities of true believers in Surah Mu’minoon (no. 23) and also in several other places in the Qur’an. One of the first qualities mentioned is:
“And those who turn away from vain talk.” (Qur’an, 23:3)
This indicates that sincere believers avoid useless talk and conversation even in the life of this world. Some pastimes, habits and hobbies are so utterly useless that wise people among non-Muslims too avoid them.
In order to decipher whether what we do comes under Laghw or not, we should ask ourselves two key questions:
1. Will this benefit me in this world and the hereafter?
2. Is there something else more beneficial that I can do?
Useless and sinful conversation to “kill boredom” is so common nowadays. Picking up the phone to talk without any specific purpose, meeting people all the time to have chit-chats over food, spending hours in front of the TV watching movies and soaps, or flirting in online chat-rooms are all Laghw. In addition, comedians who say anything to make people laugh, even fabricated statements, and drama and films that are fantastical and far-fetched, not to mention immodest and promiscuous, and give us no beneficial knowledge all fall under Laghw.
If one consistently and honestly guards one’s pastimes by rating them according to the above two questions, he or she in the long term can really make the most out of life.
On the other end of this spectrum, Muslims should be careful not to use a broad brush to sweep every creative, constructive and beneficial hobby under the category of Laghw. Some worldly activities that may not be direct acts of worship in Islam, can become a kind of worship if done with the intention to please Allah. Gardening, pottery, painting (while adhering to Islamic guidelines), reading, fitness and exercise, interior décor, crochet, fashion designing, carpentry, weaving, baking, are a few to mention.
Any activity taken to an extreme is discouraged in Islam. If a person’s life revolves around a hobby or he indulges too much time in it at the expense of obligatory duties, it becomes either Laghw or extravagance. If done within proper limits, it could benefit the person and those around him.
For example, playing word games that improve vocabulary is beneficial, but if done for several hours a day, it can become Laghw. A woman who designs decent clothes for others as her occupation is providing a service to society, but one who is using up all her free time for this activity alone is probably getting into Laghw.
The manner in which sincere believers turn away from Laghw has also been described in the Qur’an:
“Those who witness no falsehood, and, if they pass by vain discourse, they pass by it honorably (in avoidance).” (Qur’an, 25:72)
“And when they hear vain talk, they turn away from it and say: ‘To us our deeds and to you yours; peace be to you: we seek (way of) the not the ignorant’.” (Qur’an, 28:55)
To pass by Laghw “honorably” means to not be drawn to it; not take keen interest in it; and not inform others about it to encourage them towards it. Laghw engages a person so ardently that he might get distracted from important obligatory duties, such as prayer. For example, addictive soap operas, racy romance novels, fantasy-based comic books, and video games.
The sincere believer avoids these pastimes, even if his friends are into them, without indulging in angry outbursts or judgmental statements that could estrange them from him. This is obvious in the above verse that describes how believers send salutations of “peace” to ignorant people.
Let us analyze our personal pastimes and hobbies, and honestly ask ourselves whether each of them will really benefit us in this world and the hereafter. Perhaps then, Insha Allah, we can take steps towards “honorably avoiding” the useless ones, replacing them with lofty righteous deeds that will benefit us, and others, both in this world and the hereafter.