“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?—To die,—to sleep,—
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to,—’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. ”
The speech above is an extract from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”; a soliloquy by Hamlet. An embattled Hamlet asks whether to live or not to live, then asks whether it is nobler to endure and bear the sufferings of this life (the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune), or to bring an end to them?. Comparing death to sleep that may end our tears, pains, sufferings, and woes (the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks), he is faced with a paradox that stems from a religious perspective – the uncertainty of the afterlife. Perchance, the grave or the afterlife is not silently silent but silently noisy.
After pondering over life’s misery, misadventure, calamity, ranging from heartbreaks (the pangs of despis’d love) to the proud man’s contumely, to political oppression, he asks himself if anyone would choose to bear these miseries if they could just bring all to an end with a knife (when he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin?). Again, he replies himself logically that none would want to bear life’s misadventures except that life after death might be much more wretched and undesirous (the dread of something after death). Thus, Hamlet’s opinion is in consonance with my long-held philosophy that “were all men convinced that death is a permanent sleep, we would have more suicide rate than birth rate with the majority being Nihilists and/or Absurdists”. Hamlet concludes, “conscience does make cowards of us all . . . thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”
Over 2,000 years ago, Claudius Aelianius in his book, “De Natura Animalium” (On the Nature of Animals) wrote about animal suicide where he cited 21 attempts by animals to take their lives. Animal suicide has been a subject of discourse since the 19th Century to this day. A Psychiatrist, William Lindsay, attributed animal deaths to suicidal melancholia while another Psychiatrist, Antonia Preti, from the University of Cagliari, Italy, looked at many instances that were published over 40 years to include more than 1,000 studies that have no evidence of animals KNOWINGLY attempting suicide in the wild. The reader might wonder what the nexus is between animal suicide and a musing on the thousand natural shocks but Petri will lead us to what will lead us to a premise on which I will base my thought on what Islam says about our miseries and misadventures.
Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, in his book, “An Oration On The Dignity Of Man”, argues,
“Imagine! The great generosity of God! The happiness of man! To man it is allowed to be whatever he chooses to be! As soon as an animal is born, it brings out of its mother’s womb all that it will ever possess. Spiritual beings from the beginning become what they are to be for all eternity. Man, when he entered life, the Father gave the seeds of every kind and every way of life possible. Whatever seeds each man sows and cultivates will grow and bear him their proper fruit. If these seeds are vegetative, he will be like a plant. If these seeds are sensitive, he will be like an animal. If these seeds are intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God. And if, satisfied with no created thing, he removes himself to the center of his own unity, his spiritual soul, united with God, alone in the darkness of God, who is above all things, he will surpass every created thing. Who could not help but admire this great shape-shifter? In fact, how could one admire anything else?…
Who would not admire man, who is called by Moses and the Gospels “all flesh” and “every creature,” because he fashions and transforms himself into any fleshly form and assumes the character of any creature whatsoever? For this reason, Euanthes the Persian in his description of Chaldaean theology, writes that man has no inborn, proper form, but that many things that humans resemble are outside and foreign to them, from which arises the Chaldaean saying: “Hanorish tharah sharinas“: “Man is multitudinous, varied, and ever-changing.” Why do I emphasize this? Considering that we are born with this condition, that is, that we can become whatever we choose to become, we need to understand that we must take earnest care about this, so that it will never be said to our disadvantage that we were born to a privileged position but failed to realize it and became animals and senseless beasts.”
According to Mirandola, Man is an autonomous creation compared to other animals. Man can learn and relearn, act like a beast or like an angel, he is conscious and aware. This argument of man having a higher intellect than other animals in that he can REASON refutes the idea of likening animal suicide to Man’s. It has not been proven that an animal can contemplate as Hamlet did or nurture the idea of a Valhalla, Sheol, Hades, Jannah, or Jahannam. Shall we not, unlike animals, come to reason?.
If a man has intellect and can reason, would it not rather profit him to take advantage of this privilege, and think deeply before he takes his own life or even drown in life’s misery?
The Qur’an, in several verses, discussed our misery, why they happen and how to deal will them. I consider the Qur’an to be a superior authority and should make it the premise for my arguments.
THE THOUSAND NATURAL SHOCKS
In Maggie Smith’s, “Good Bones”, she wrote, “…the world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate…”.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 4.8% of adults age 18 and older in the United States had serious thoughts about suicide in 2019. Indeed, life is sweet and life is bitter. Believer or not, no one is safe from the pains, tragedy, and sorrow of life. It feels right to me to discuss the purpose of our own existence before looking at how to cope with this miserably sweet world.
“What is our purpose in life?” is an age-long question asked for centuries and man’s continuous search for this purpose will not go out of fashion. It is however important that we note the complacency of the Nihilists and Absurdists to life’s purpose – school of thoughts stemming from life’s anguish, tragedy, and confusion.
Against other philosophies, the Qur’an in Chapter 51 verse 56 says,
“I did not create the jinn and mankind but to worship Me alone.”
Having established in several other verses in its passages the certainty of life after death, the Qur’an answers the question of all time, “What is our purpose?”. The Qur’an says the real purpose of man’s creation is that he dedicates his life to the worship of Allah. Without coming to terms with this purpose, all may be lost.
In Qur’an Chapter 2 verse 155, the Qur’an says,
“We shall certainly test you by afflicting you with fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings, then, to those who remain patient”
Here, the Qur’an confirms that our world is not necessarily a place of total rest. Calamities, mishaps, misery, etc. are bound to occur. In Surah Hadid verses 22-23, the Qur’an says,
“No disaster strikes upon the earth or among yourselves except that it is in a register before We bring it into being – indeed that, for Allah, is easy – in order that you not despair over what has eluded you and not exult [in pride] over what He has given you. And Allah does not like everyone self-deluded and boastful”
Humans have built stadia, cinemas, invented music and other means of happiness, yet, man is in despair and never truly happy. How many have run to the undiscovered country, to flee from the ills of the earth to that of a more perilous reality?
When life hits hard, man hopes to find peace in death…to end it all…to rest…to sleep…
Death is the end of a beginning and the beginning of an end…
Bashir Lucas Samson Lukman