Speaking of the misguided deniers of Truth, the Quran says:
Those who took their religion as amusement and play and whom this world's life deluded… (7:51)
As is true of every Divine utterance, this is a very comprehensive Quranic statement. Syntactically it can also be rendered as 'those who took amusement and play as their religion and whom this world's life deluded.' In effect both renderings mean the same for practically 'religion is recreation' is the same as 'recreation is religion'. The origin of this fatal confusion lies in the fact that the misguided deniers of Truth consider this world's life as the be-all and end-all of their existence. This determines their attitude, their thinking and action in all spheres of life so much so that the contours and directions of their scholarly and scientific endeavours are also decided by this. In the cryptic Quranic description again:
That (this world) is the ultimate reach of their knowledge. (53:29)
We may use euphemistic terms like Humanism, Positivism or Secular vision to describe this world-view, but the reality remains unchanged.
Inevitably therefore in a this-worldly way of life recreation become the ultimate ideal to realize. Look at the importance attached to entertainment – music, dance and sport – in modern civilization as well as the this-worldly civilizations that have preceded it in history and you will realize the depths of the above-quoted Quranic statements.
It is to be borne in mind that the Quran does not, in any way, imply that recreation has no place in life. What it says is that life is a serious business and not mere recreation. Nor is the world, on the Quranic view, to be abandoned or neglected; it is to be meaningfully used to realise the higher purposes of life – spiritual upliftment, moral purification and achievement of Allah's pleasure through dedicated service of mankind according to Divine guidance. Every part of the Quran instructs us how to live such a life – fulfilling all our biological needs legitimately and for higher ends. This is beautifully reflected in the following aayat of surah al-Baqarah:
And amongst people are those who say, 'Lord, grant us (the bounties of) this world only and for them there is no share in the Hereafter. And amongst them are those who say, 'Lord, grant us the good of this world and good of the Hereafter and save us from the torment of Fire.' (2:200-201)
The two prayers symbolise two distinct ways of life. Those who live for this world only may not be believers and may not raise any prayer but they are living embodiments of this world-view. The other category believes, prays and uses this life as a means of eternal salvation.