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Professor A.R. Momin

Discontents of Affluence

Prosperity and affluence does not seem to be an unmixed blessing. It is often accompanied by pride, stress, competitiveness, and low levels of happiness and contentment. In his celebrated work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the eminent German sociologist Max Weber observed that wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. As riches increase, so will pride, anger and love of the world in all its branches. The London-based Henley Centre brought out a report in 2002 called The Pradox of Prosperity, which says that though overall living standards in the West will rise by 35% in the next few years, this will be accompanied by longer working hours as well as growing competitiveness and stress. This is likely to take a heavy toll of people's social and psychological health and well being.

A recent incident vividly brings out the discontents of prosperity. A blue-collar worker in Kentucky, United States, Mack Metcalf and his second wife Merida, won a $ 34 million lottery jackpot in 2000. He bought a large estate and built a mansion overlooking the Ohio river and stocked it with horses and luxury cars. But his happiness proved to be short-lived. Metcalf's first wife sued him for $31000 in unpaid child support. One of his former girl friends cheated him of $ 500,000 while he was drunk. In despair he took to heavy drinking. In 2001 he divorced his wife. Merida got into drugs. One day, her boy friend died of a drug overdose. In 2003, just three years after winning the jackpot, Metcalf died due to alcohol-linked illness at the age of 45. A few days later, Merida's decomposed body was found in her bed.

James Montier, a highly rated global equity strategist from London. Has been studying the psychology of investing for many years. He says that material possessions do not make a person happy. He tells his stockbroker clients that the road to happiness lies not in the pursuit of material wealth, such as limousines, mansions and other trappings of luxury, but through meditation, new experiences, friendships and adventures. He declares that "evidence shows that people who have more materialistic goals are less happy than those who focus on intrinsic values such as relationships and personal growth."

The Holy Quran alludes to the transience of worldly life and the transistoriness of material possessions in a evocative metaphor. It says: "Know that the life of this world is only play, and idle talk, and ostentation, and boasting among you, and competition and rivalry in respect of wealth and children; as the likeness of vegetation after the rain, whereof the growth is pleasing to the farmer, but afterward it dries up and you see it turning yellow, then it is reduced to straw" (57:20). The Prophet is reported to have said: Contentment has nothing to do with the abundance of material possessions. Rather, it comes from within. He is also reported to have said: "Verily, by God! I am not apprehensive about you being faced with poverty and destitution. Rather, I am afraid that the (bounties of the) would be spread out for those who went before you and that you might get too enamored of it the way they did, and that (in consequence of it) it might destroy you they way it destroyed them."

Drinking: Life's bane

Drinking has been a part of everyday life in Western societies for centuries. However, drinking in excess and alcoholism have always been disapproved. With the decline of religion and moral values, the disintegration of social institutions, the prevailing atmosphere of permissiveness and the easy availability of cheap liquor, the old inhibitions and taboos related to excess drinking - binge drinking as it is now known - are disappearing. In fact, binge drinking has become quite fashionable among young boys and girls, and even children, in many Western societies. In the UK, nearly six million people are believed to be binge drinkers. Excess drinking is taking a heavy toll of people, especially youngsters. Since 1997 there has been a 30% rise in hospital admissions due to heavy drinking. In 2004-05, more than 51000 people aged 18 and over were treated in British hospitals for problems related to binge drinking. Around 140 people, including 13 children, are admitted to British hospitals every day for heavy drinking. Alcohol abuse is linked to serious ailments, including cirrhosis of the river, stomach ulcers and damage to esophagus and the brain. More than 20,000 die each year in Britain from alcohol-related causes. Alcohol-related deaths have soared by 20% in Britain in the past five years. Studies show that one in five heavy drinkers develops cirrhosis of the liver.

British girls in a pub
Young female revelers in an English pub.

The latest report about the extent of binge drinking in Britain says that young women are out-drinking men. This has resulted in an early onset of liver disease in women habituated to binge drinking. Professor Moria Plant of Briton's Bristol University points out that there are now young women in their late teens or early 20s developing liver damage that in the past was not seen until the age of 60 or 70. She warned that if young women in Britain continued to drink in this way, they could create problems for the health services in the future.

The earlier view that a little alcohol is beneficial for health is now being reconsidered and doubted. Rod Jackson, a British specialist who led the latest study on the consequences of even modest consumption of alcohol, has pointed out in an article in the British medical journal Lancet that any benefit from light to moderate drinking is probably small and is unlikely to outweigh the harm caused by alcohol.

More than fourteen centuries ago, the Holy Quran forbade the drinking of alcohol, even in the smallest of quantity, declaring that its disadvantages and harmful effects far outweigh its benefits. The celebrated British historian Arnold J. Toynbee one observed that one of the most valuable and lasting gifts of Islam to humanity is the prohibition of alcohol.

The woes of asceticism

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), started by an Indian businessman turned preacher Abhay Chran De in the 1960s, became one of the most popular alternative religious and spiritual movements in Western countries. In now has more than a million followers worldwide, including such notables as the heir of the legendary Ford family and the Beatle George Harrison. In Russia, the society has nearly 100,000 white, Slav members. The members of ISKCON are expected to observe celibacy.

Recently, a US court has ordered the society to pay $9.5 million in damages to about 450 victims of physical and sexual abuse at its boarding schools in the US and India. The society has admitted the abuse. An ISKCON teacher who is one of the accused has directly blamed the requirement of celibacy for his perversions.

Islam disallows celibacy as it considers it unnatural. The Quran says: "It is they who invented monasticism - We did not ordained it for them - only seeking God's pleasure, and they did not observe it (monasticism) according to its requirements" (57:27). The Prophet is reported to have said: "There is no place for asceticism in Islam."

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