So important is the concept of ‘happiness’ in our lives that many people – even dating back to the days of the Greek philosophers – considered its pursuit to be the very purpose of existence.

The Qur’an speaks of happiness as being one of the rewards of those whom Allah chooses to admit to Paradise.

Allah says of the martyrs:

They rejoice (Fariheena) in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounty. (Aal-‘Imraan, verse 170)

And for the pious believers He says:

“So Allah saved them from the evil of that Day, and gave them Nadratan (a light of beauty) and joy.” (Qur’an, 76:11)

What becomes immediately apparent upon reading the Arabic text (but once again obscured in the translation) is that two very different words have been used to convey the idea of happiness: ‘Fariheena’, which is conjugated from the noun ‘Farah’, and ‘Suroor’, and this is prevalent throughout the Qur’an. This is because there are two very different types of happiness being referred to.

‘Farah’ generally refers to transitory delights or pleasures, as is the case in bodily or worldly pleasure. For this reason, most times that ‘Farah’ appears in the Qur’an, it is being censured, as in the story of Qaroon:

“…Verily! Allah likes not those who are glad (with ungratefulness to Allah’s Favors).” (Qur’an, 28:76)

But when the source of the ‘Farah’ is specified in the Qur’an, as in the verse from Aal-‘Imraan mentioned above, the meaning becomes restricted (Muqayyad) and it is no longer censured.

But perhaps a greater distinction between the two lies in the manifestation of the happiness. The expression of ‘Farah’ is external and with clear outward signs. ‘Suroor’ refers to the expansion of one’s heart with delight or pleasure wherein is quiet or tranquility, and as such it has no external sign. This is indicated by the root from which the word stems – ‘Seen’ and ‘Raa’ – the same root as the word ‘Sirr’, which means secret. So ‘Suroor’ is a secret happiness, known to one’s heart but not always seen by others, as Ibn ‘Abbas said in reference to the above verse from Al-Insaan, “The Nadrah is on their faces, and the ‘Suroor’ is in their hearts.”

Such distinctions exemplify yet another example in which the translation fails and the original prevails.

– By Ola Shoubaki – has a Masters in Arabic linguistics from the International Islamic University, Malaysia