Islam and Recreation
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People require rest and recreation. This is something completely natural. Without it, a person cannot be productive in life. The Companion Abû al-Dardâ’ said: “I seek recreation in something that is neither useful nor unlawful, and this makes me stronger on the truth.”

Islam is complete and comprehensive, addressing all aspects of our lives and all of our needs, including our need for diversions and for recreation. It provides for us lawful means to fulfill this need.

We read in the Qur’ân how the brothers of Joseph (peace be upon him) appealed to their father, the Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him), on the basis of this fundamental human need. They said: “Send him along with us tomorrow so he may engage in revelry and play. We will indeed keep him safe.” [Sûrah Yûsuf: 12]

The judge Abû Bakr b. al-`Arabî, commenting on this verse, observes:

There is no real objection to this type of recreation. A man engages in play with his family, as well as engaging in horse riding, archery, and in any other form of recreation sanctioned by the sacred texts. It is authentically related to us that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to Jâbir when he married a mature widow: “Why did you not marry a virgin whom you could play with and who would play with you?” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim] The recreation that these brothers were referring to was either foot racing or archery. This we can understand from the verse: “We went off to compete with each other.” [Sûrah Yûsuf: 17]

`A’ishah relates the following about her husband, the Prophet (peace be upon him):

I swear by Allah that I saw Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) standing at the door of my room while the Abyssinians were engaged in spear play in the mosque of Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him). He screened me with his cloak so I could watch them perform. He stood there for my sake until I decided that I had had enough. Now just imagine how much time a young girl eager for entertainment would stand there watching. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

At the end of this story, she relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The Jews know that in the world there is time for rest. And I have been sent with the true and pure religion.”

Qarazah b. Ka`b and Abû Sa`ûd al-Ansârî both said: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) permitted us to engage in recreation during weddings.” [Sunan al-Nasâ’î]

In the Sunnah, we see the Companions participating in many different forms of lawful entertainment and play. They engaged in sports like footraces, horseracing, wrestling, and archery. They spent time in telling jokes and in lighthearted conversation.

Salmân al-Fârisî said to Abû al-Dardâ’: “Your own self has a right over you, your Lord has a right over you, your guest has a right over you, and your family has a right over you. So give everyone his due.” When the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard about what Salmân had said, he approved of it, saying: “Salmân has spoken the truth.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sunan al-Tirmidhî]

The scholars of Islam have attested to the importance of lawful recreation to the healthy development of a person’s character. Al-Ghazâli writes:

After completing his bookwork, a child should be allowed to play in a nice manner so that he can relax from the fatigue of his studies. His play should not tire him out. If the child is forbidden to engage in play and forced to spend his time in perpetual study, this will result in his heart dying, his intelligence waning, and his manner of living becoming so wretched that he will seek from it any escape he can find.

Ibn Miskawayh writes:

A child should be permitted on occasion to engage in nice play so that he can relax from the fatigue of his proper upbringing. His play should neither cause injury nor be very tiring.

Ibn Jamâ`ah observes:

There is nothing wrong with the student resting himself, his heart, his mind, and his eyes – if any of these grows tired or languid – with play and recreation. This will return him to his proper state so that his time will not be wasted. There is nothing wrong with it being strenuous and exercising his body, for it has been said that this refreshes the metabolism, rids the system of excess toxins, and revitalizes the body.

Though recreation and entertainment is essentially lawful in Islam, it is necessary for us to keep the following in mind:

1. Time is precious. We must always be acutely aware of how valuable the time is that we have been given in our brief lives on Earth. Islam teaches us to place a premium on our time and to get as much out of it as we can, defining for us the various ways we can employ it.

Allah says: “It is He who has made the night and the day in succession for whoever desires to remember or show gratitude.” [Sûrah al-Furqân: 62]

Our lives should be spent in the remembrance of Allah and in thanks to Him. Indeed, Allah says: “I created neither humanity nor the jinn except to worship Me.” [Sûrah al-Dhâriyât: 56]

This is the ultimate purpose of life, and it should be what preoccupies our time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) speaks to us about how much we lose when we waste our time, saying: “There are two blessings that many people squander: health and time.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî]

He also says as a warning to us: “Allah leaves no more excuses for a person once he has given him sixty years to live.”

We all know that we will be standing before Allah and questioned about how we spent our time. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “No one will be permitted to turn his two feet away on the Day of Resurrection until he is questioned about four matters: about his life, how he spent it; his youth, how he employed it; his work, what he did with it; and his wealth, how he earned it and spent it.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî]

2. Our work and our efforts are important in Islam, and as Muslims, we are encouraged to be industrious. Allah says: “Say: Work, for Allah will see your deeds as will His Messenger and the believers.” [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 105]

Allah makes clear to us the effect that our works have on our recompense in the Hereafter. He says: “Are you recompensed except for the work that you used to do?” [Sûrah al-Naml: 90]

He also says: “Is the recompense for goodness anything but goodness?” [Sûrah al-Rahmân: 60]

There are many verses in the Qur’ân that mention good works in conjunction with faith. Moreover, the importance of diligence and being responsible in our work is specifically emphasized. Allah says: “O John, take the scripture with determination.” [Sûrah Maryam: 12]

He also says: “Take what We have given you with determination.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 63]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The believer who is strong is better and more beloved to Allah than the believer who is weak.” [Sahîh Muslim]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: “Allah loves that when you engage in some work, you do so with proficiency.” [al-Bayhaqî, Shu`ab al-Imân]

He also emphasized the importance of continuing with our deeds throughout the duration of our lives, saying: “If the Final Hour arrives and one of you has a sapling in his hand, if he can finish planting it before standing up, then he should do so.” [al-Bukhârî, al-Adab al-Mufrid]

A Muslim alternates from his worldly work to his work for the Hereafter, being equally diligent in both. Allah says: “Therefore, when you are free from your immediate task, still labor hard. And strive to please your Lord.” [Sûrah al-Sharh: 7-8]

3. Islam stresses the importance of striving to reap benefits for both this world and the next. The life of this world is the harvesting ground for the Hereafter. It is but a passing phase and the life to come is the eternal abode. A Muslim, therefore, should expend his efforts for the sake of the Hereafter and at the same time bring about benefits in this world. He should excel in cultivating and developing the Earth while gearing his efforts towards achieving felicity in the Hereafter.

Allah says: “And He has made of service unto you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the Earth; it is all from Him. Lo! Herein are signs for a people who reflect.” [Sûrah al-Jâthiyah: 13]

Allah says: “He it is who has made the Earth subservient unto you, so traverse its paths and partake of His providence.” [Sûrah al-Mulk: 15]

The Muslim world today is behind everyone else in knowledge, enterprise, and productivity. One of the reasons for this is that Muslims are not making productive use of their time and generally do not have a positive work ethic. We must resolve to stop wasting time, to stop falling short in our work, and to put an end to our unproductive habits.

In light of all of this, we can place recreation and entertainment in the proper context: We must observe the following guidelines:

1. Recreation must never cause us to neglect our obligatory worship and our obedience to Allah.

2. Recreation and entertainment should not take up too much of our time. We should not engage in it to the point where it ceases to be beneficial.

3. It should not become our habit to perpetually seek recreation and diversion.

4. Recreation should not keep us from activities that will benefit us in our worldly or spiritual lives.

5. Our means of recreation and our entertainments must be completely free from anything that is unlawful in Islam.