al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,
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.
Indeed, the Qur’an itself speaks of happiness as being one of the rewards of those whom Allah chooses to admit to Paradise. He says of the martyrs in Aal-’Imraan, verse 170,
فَرِحِينَ بِمَا آَتَاهُمُ اللَّهُ مِنْ فَضْلِهِ
They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounty
And of the reward of the pious believers [al-Insaan, verse 11],
فَوَقَاهُمُ اللَّهُ شَرَّ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَقَّاهُمْ نَضْرَةً وَسُرُورًا
So, Allah saved them from the evil of that Day and gave them a light of beauty and joy.
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: فَرِحِينَ fariheena, which is conjugated from the noun فَرَح farah, and سُرُور suroor, and this is prevalent throughout the Qur’an. This is because there are two very different types of happiness being referred to.
فَرَح farah generally refers to transitory delights or pleasures, as is the case in bodily or worldly pleasure. For this reason, most times that فَرَح farah appears in the Qur’an, it is being censured, as in the story of Qarun [al-Qasas, verse 76],
إِنَّ اللهَ لا يُحِبُّ الَفِرحِينَ
Indeed, Allaah does not like the fariheen
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. Whereas 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 – س ر seen raa’ – the same root as the word سرّ sirr, or 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 نضرة nadrah is on their faces, and the سرور suroor is in their hearts.”
Such distinctions exemplify yet another example in which the translation fails and the original prevails.