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IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, THE BENEFICENT, THE MERCIFUL
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"O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with the truthful." [Noble Quran 9:119]

"If you obeyed most of those on earth they would mislead you far from Allah's way." [Noble Quran 6:116]

Return to the QURAN only - the complete and final STAND-ALONE Divine Message which also contains the authentic sunnah of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAAW)

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I bear witness that NONE is worthy of worship except ALLAH, He has NO partner nor partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the slave and Final Messenger of Allah.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Is Optimism a Good Thing?

A simple question but needs a very thoughtful answer.   Optimism can be categorized in two groups.
1)  Optimism that ensues from Faith in God Almighty.
2)  Optimism of secular minds.

Secular Optimism
Secular optimism has a very narrow gap between itself and self-pride.  It's often based on blind self-confidence ignoring logic, realism and the bounds of nature consisting of human limitations.  Such optimism invariably has a dead-end at some point.  You keep traveling as long as your self-confidence holds you and then eventually to bang against that dead-end, finding it impossible to stand upon your feet again.  For instance, if an optimistic person with a secular mindset is diagnosed with a serious illness, their response might be along the following lines:
-  "I will fight it and win"
-  "I've always been a fighter and I've never lost"
- "I'm always a winner"   and so on.


But no!  It might not be up to you to fight beyond a certain limit and that may not be enough.  So, why do people make such blind promises to themselves and their loved ones when it's not within their capacity to guarantee their claims?  Obviously because it's emotionally comforting, but that's another matter, similar to being on denial of what's beyond human control.  Or, let's call it, optimism based on imagination and boast leaving no margin for conceding defeat.  It can also be described as the fear of realism or the fear of the ultimate, that is, death.  Instead of accepting it as a part of life along with the nicer possibilities, you simply become evasive about what you see as the unavoidable downside of earthly life.

Furthermore, it can be difficult for a depressed or despondent person to interact or even connect with someone who is unrealistically optimistic.  Unreal optimism frequently tends to bring an element of insensitivity which diminishes one's capacity to understand the human nature in a practical sense.  An overly optimistic advise to a distraught person might often consist of 'preaching what cannot be practiced' kind of talk.  More often than not, zealously optimistic suggestions can arouse feelings of guilt within an already distraught person, making them feel still more distressed. 

Faith Based Optimism
Optimism that arises out of one's understanding and unshakable faith in the Divine Power is a very different aspect.  It perceives the issues of life through a different prism - a prism that consists of a vivid picture of the reality.  And when reality is confronted with courage and acceptance, it cannot intimidate you any longer.  It helps you to understand that boasting of your strength is neither necessary nor a guarantee for success.  Subsequently it helps to clear up confusions and accept human limitations with a down-to-earth spirit.  In other words, it helps you to accept the possibility of the inevitable without a sense of defeat or loss.  

The optimism of a faith based person is intertwined with the Will of God Almighty concerning the ordainment of fate.  It contains one's readiness to accept the outcome chosen by the Creator, whatever that might be (good or tough), with a humble and unhesitating acknowledgement.  Such an optimism also carries the awareness that the Creator's decisions have specific and vital reasons.  Though sometimes these reasons might elude the human mind because of its limitations, that surely doesn't mean  those reasons don't exist.  This is in truth the perception of realism and sensibility which are the primary factors that balance one's sense of optimism with faith in Allah Almighty. 

Concept of Optimism in the Glorious Quran
There are some Muslims who equate lack of optimism with disbelief.  How thoughtless and wrong!  The Noble Quran asserts the importance of saying "InshAllah." 

"And say not of anything: Lo! I shall do that tomorrow, Except if Allah will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest, and say: It may be that my Lord guideth me unto a nearer way of truth than this."  (18:23-24)  Surah Al-Kahf.

Try to reflect carefully.  The verses indicate we are not to take the happening of anything for granted, good news or bad news, except by the Will of Allah.  This concept very clearly elucidates that nothing is within our control unless Allah agrees.  Certainly this is realism and a confirmed rejection of blind optimism.  

Interpreting lack of optimism or despair as Haram arises in the minds of some Muslims through their misunderstanding of Verse 60:13 of Surah Al-Mumtahanah.

"O ye who believe! Be not friendly with a folk with whom Allah is wroth, (a folk) who have despaired of the Hereafter as the disbelievers despair of those who are in the graves."  (60:13)

The words "despaired" and "despair" mentioned in the above Verse in context with the disbelievers make several of us misunderstand these terms as Haram because we associate them with disbelief.  What we overlook is that "despair" and "despaired" do not refer to the usual listless, sluggish feeling a person may experience during despondency or sadness or grief caused by the ups and downs of life.  Despairing of the Hereafter simply means not believing in the Hereafter.  Similarly, to despair of those in the graves means not believing in the Resurrection of the dead.   Thus, the term "despair" in the Quran carries a very different connotation compared to how it has been construed and given the Haram connection by our scholars. 

Concept of Optimism in Psychology
It's interesting to note that psychologists too have been candid enough about the huge disadvantages of optimism on exactly the same lines as detailed above.  The two categories of optimism in modern psycholoy are:

1)  false optimism
2)  rational optimism

False optimism harbors the same characteristics as blind secular optimism while rational optimism is based on a similar approach as Faith-based optimism.

"Don't worry or be concerned.  All will be fine." - That's false optimism.

"Things look difficult and threatening.  But if we handle them carefully, one step at a time, it's likely we'll succeed."  - That's rational optimism.

Thirdly, psychologists also admit that in many inevitable situations neither false nor rational optimism would work.  At such times what's necessary is simply the realistic acceptance of the inevitable without any twists or turns. 

Quoting from Psychology Today is a very fine excerpt.   

QUOTE:
'X' suffered from what could be called "blinding optimism." He focused exclusively on the bright side of life, on all the good events. By sweeping harsh realities under the rug, he was often taken by surprise when unmistakably negative circumstances arose. He was often off guard and unprepared due to his ever-present rose-colored glasses. 

But there is a big difference between healthy optimism and the Pollyanna pop psychology version of positive thinking. Giddy positivism advises us to look on the bright side at all times. These trite pep talks often tend to backfire ..  People who play the "everything-will-be-terrific" game not only overlook real problems and issues that need to be addressed, but they prevent others from expressing grief, pain, anger, loneliness, or fears. It is difficult if not impossible to air your true feelings in the presence of one of these ever-positive thinkers. They often make others feel guilty for harboring bad feelings.  Realistic optimists do not talk about how wonderful things are, how terrific everything will turn out, when faced with genuinely bad or unfortunate events.  

Those who believe if you smile in the face of tragedies, if you keep on chanting that everything will turn out wonderfully, often end up with even bigger problems.

Small problems, when ignored, glossed over or denied, have a way of spreading and growing into big problems. 

It is also important to realize that in some circumstances change cannot be achieved, and it is acceptance, not optimism or wishful thinking, that will prevent depression or endless frustration.
UNQUOTE:

Conclusion
In the light of the above discourse, merely the term "optimism" is a very broad or general expression.  To specify and determine it as something negative or positive, it needs to be analysed.  It could either lead to sensibility or stupidity, depending on how each individual reads it.  If you balance your optimism with the spirit of Truth of both realms - this life and the Hereafter - it could be a wonderful thing for you.  But if you embellish it with fantasy discarding the negative possibilities of life, that would be closer to deception than optimism, raising the possibility of greater disappointment in the future and leaving you more vulnerable.

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