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Does religion make Muslims happy?

Published:Wednesday | January 6, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Contributor

The festive season with its focus on family gatherings and celebrations compels one to think about the true meaning of happiness. In fact, the season which combines Christmas and New Year has been immortalised in song as the happiest time of the year.

Jamaica last year ranked highly on the global happiness index, snagging the number three spot. The ranking started a huge debate about what really is happiness. Many suggested that, with crime at an all-time high and so many Jamaicans cowering in fear, this was not an accurate reading of the national scale of well-being.

The happy planet index (HPI) is an index of human well-being and environmental impact that was introduced by the London-based New Economics Foundation (NEF) in July 2006. The index is designed to challenge well-established indices of countries' development, such as gross domestic product and the human development index, which are seen as not taking sustainability into account. The people behind HPI believe the idea of sustainable development requires a measure of the environmental costs of pursuing those goals.

Happiness index formula

So they came up with the following formula: life satisfaction x life expectancy divided by ecological footprint = happiness index. In other words, the HPI measures how efficiently a country converts the finite resources of our planet into the well-being of its citizens. And Jamaica ranked number three behind Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Seems there is something to be said for the tropical life amid cool ocean breezes capped by generous doses of humour.

Over the years many philosophers who have tackled the subject of happiness and the quest for happiness have sought to make a link between religion and happiness. Some argue that religion provides a buffer against disappointments and trauma and the belief that God is looking after their interests have left people feeling rather happy.

Even though Jamaica is reputed to have more churches per kilometre than any other country, it would be a stretch to describe Jamaica as a religious country. But one wonders why Muslim countries, where believers are required to pray five times per day, have never really figured highly on the happiness index. The exception is Bhutan, where, in 1972, the king of that Himalayan country decided he would measure his country's progress by gross domestic happiness instead of gross domestic product. The government developed a master plan on four pillars: sustainable economic development, environmental conser-vation, promotion of national culture and good governance, which they say is the prescription for happiness.

Few can disagree that happiness is worth pursuing and essential to man's existence. True happiness means different things to different people. In western culture, there is a perception that happiness is achieved when one becomes rich and powerful. But happiness means different things to different people. For example, sunshine could make many people happy but others may crave rain to nourish their crops and provide food. For others, happiness is found in simple things - a hummingbird buzzing around a bloom in the garden, a favourite song, a stunning sunset or a cascading waterfall.

Wondering about islam

So, when the news broke that a Muslim man from Nigeria tried to blow up an international airline on Christmas Day, I wondered about the Islam religion. Why have they targeted innocents on airlines for their evil acts of terrorism? And Christmas Day? Is this what makes Muslims happy? What would make someone so angry to slaughter people who are attending a simple volleyball match in pursuit of their happiness?

When the new religion Islam was founded in the Arabian Desert more than 1,400 years ago, historians say the intention was to bring people together. The mandatory prayer got people out of their tents into communal tents and, eventually, into the imposing mosques which have come to symbolise Islam.

In many non-Muslim countries where Muslims live, they have the freedom and liberty to practise their faith. Many Muslims are well educated and have achieved material success in their adopted homelands. Success has eluded many people of different faiths. They have been persecuted and wronged but they do not light fires of distress to make other people unhappy. If religion makes people contented and happy, it is unbelievable that it could lead them to wreak so much misery.