بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Allah (SWT) says in the Quran:
ِAllah (SWT) starts off this Ayah in Surat Al-Hadid by saying: “Know (اعلموا) that the life of this world”. He is not telling us to think it or ponder it – but know it (اعلموا) in a very emphatic and factual way: know it as a fact.
When we look at this Ayah, the order by which Allah (SWT) lists the descriptions of this life is very note worthy. Allah (SWT) begins this Ayah with play (لعب).
When we reflect on the lifetime of the human being, at every stage of our life, dunya (this world) means something different. This world (dunya) for a child is something, dunya for an adolescent is something else, and dunya for a teenager is something else. The focus of what makes up ‘my’ dunya; the focus of what ‘my’ life revolves around evolves as ‘I’ grow. What is important to ‘me’ changes as ‘I’ grow.
When we are first born, at the beginning of this life, what is our dunya about? Play. To a child, all that really matters is playing. If a child is given a suite for $1000, the child won’ t care – all a child cares about is toys. This is because all that matters at that point, dunya, is all about play.
As the child grows up, at middle school age:
Amusement, or entertainment, becomes the focus (لهو). It is no longer about playing with toys, but now it is about entertainment. In fact, the most common phrase at that age is: “I’m bored”! I can’t not be stimulated. Constantly. Unfortunately for some, this is the world we live in, and some don’t grow out of it.
Then the child gets older, and now they’re in high school. And the most notable thing about high schoolers is that, now at this age, it starts to take hours to get ready in the morning. And if there is a reflection, the hair must be checked, the make-up, or hijab.
And this is the third in order after play and amusement (entertainment): adornment, pomp, or decoration (زينة); looking nice externally. And at this stage, dunya is all about what ‘you’ look like, and what the other person also looks like. Status symbols are very important, so what ‘you’re’ wearing and how ‘you’ look: This is ‘your’ dunya.
After high school, we start applying to different colleges and universities – and this is when the focus changes again. What ‘you’ wear is not as important anymore; something else is more important:
Boasting between one another: تفاخر بينكم.
It’s all about what university did that person get accepted at – showing off and proving oneself to the rest of the world: ‘I’ am doing this and ‘I’ have this degree. There is so much competition at that point to prove ‘yourself’ and to boast of ‘your’ accomplishments.
Then one settles down, gets married and has kids, now what is dunya about? It is no longer relevant what toys one played with at childhood, or the entertainment, or what was worn at high school, or even what university one went to – now it’s about competing with respect to one’s wealth and children.
Now the focus is: what did ‘my’ child do vs. what did ‘your’ child do. What university is ‘your’ child in vs. what university ‘my’ child is in. And how much money did ‘I’ spend on my child vs. how much money ‘you’ spent on your child. How much did ‘my’ house, car, etc, cost vs how much ‘your’ house, car, etc, cost.
It is now a competition in wealth and children: و تكاثر في الاموال و الاولاد.
In essence, we are all at different stages of this timeline. But after all of that, Allah (SWT) gives us a parable. He says: know that the life of this world is these things (play, amusement, etc) in this order. And then:
The parable: it is like a garden, where a farmer becomes very pleased with it. Now if we go back to the beginning of this Ayah – the things that are listed: the toys, entertainment, boasting and competition; they are beautiful for a moment. Like the example of a flower in full bloom, it is almost perfect. But there is a sign of Allah (SWT) in the flower – it is what happens to the flower over time, and it doesn’t take long for it to happen.
It starts to wilt and turn yellow. This is its natural life cycle.
Then it becomes straw-like and crumbles.
Allah (SWT) gives us a parable, and we must pay attention because Allah (SWT) is saying that this world is like that. It is all these things that we run after, at different stages of our life, but at the end what happens? Just like that garden, or that flower, it blooms but then it turns yellow, and then it crumbles away. And at the end:
All that is left is two things: the severe punishment of Allah (SWT), or the forgiveness and pleasure of Allah (SWT).
And what is the life of this world but a deceptive pleasure (متاع الغرور).
When we look at the root of the word (متاع) – Allah (SWT) describes this life as a (متاع) that is deceptive (غرور) – what is a (متاع)? When translated it usually refers to pleasure or enjoyment, but when we look at the root of this word, it is ‘resource’, or ‘tool’. Old Arabs used to refer to a fork as a (متاع); something that we ‘use’.
Now, imagine we are given a box of tools so we can build a house. How many of us will open the box and pick out the hammer, the screwdriver, the nail – and then fall in love with the hammer and forget what we’re supposed to do with it? The shape and beauty of the hammer becomes so distracting that we forget what the purpose of the hammer is.
What we have done in this life, is exactly that.
Allah (SWT) has given us a box of tools (متاع), and the purpose of those tools is for us to build our home in Jannah (paradise). But what we do is, we take out the hammer, we take out the nail, and we fall in love with the tool and forget the purpose. We fall in love with the money, and we forget the purpose. We fall in love with the people in our life, and we forget the purpose. We fall in love with status, we fall in love with wealth, power – and we forget that all of these things are just tools.
We have a destination. This life is just a vehicle.
But so many of us got in the vehicle, fell in love with the leather seats and steering wheel to the point where we forgot to even turn the car on. And dunya is like that. We are so distracted with this world that we are not moving anywhere, because we forget that it is just a means: our money, our job, our education, our relationships. We get lost in those things that we don’t actually move.
Ali (RA) said a powerful statement that relates to the concept of dunya – as opposed to many others when discussing the issues of detachment, they take extremes to the extent of social isolation and not having anything in this life. But this is not the detachment (زهد) that we are taught by the Prophet (PBUH).
Ali (RA) said: “(زهد) is not that you do not own anything, but that nothing owns you.”
It’s okay to own money, but the problem is when the money owns you. It’s okay to have these things and be involved in these things, as the Prophet (PBUH) said that he gets married, he sleeps some, he prays some, he eats some and fasts some. But the heart of the Prophet (PBUH) was not attached to worldly things.
There is a very beautiful story of Abu Hanifa (RA) that illustrates this. He was a man who owned property, and once while he was teaching, some people came to him and told him that his ships had sunk (or some portion of his ships had sunk). This is the equivalent of someone finding out that they have lost a lot of money. Abu Hanifa (RA) paused for a moment and said: “Elhamdullilah”, and continued teaching.
A while later, they went back to him and told him that they were mistaken and that it wasn’t his ships that sunk, his ships were fine. Again, Abu Hanifa (RA) paused and said: “Elhamdullilah”, and continued teaching.
When he was asked about that, he explained that when he was first told that his ships had sunk, he paused to examine his heart. He found it unmoved by the loss, so he said “Elhamdullilah”. And then again, when he was told that his ships were fine, he paused and examined his heart. Again, he found it unmoved by the gain, so he said “Elhamdullilah”.
His “Elhamdullilah” wasn’t about the gain or the loss. His “Elhamdullilah” was about the fact that his heart was not attached to the gain or the loss.
And this is our problem, it is not that we own or we don’t own money, it isn’t that we’re involved and or not involved, it isn’t that we are in or not in relationships; it is that those things own us.
There are two places that we can hold a gift – all these things are gifts from Allah (SWT), Allah gives us wealth, youth, health, intellect, family – we can hold our gifts in the hand, or we can hold our gifts in the heart. And our problem is when we receive the gifts, we hold them in our heart. There is nothing wrong with having the gift as long as it stays in our hand. So, as long as the money is in our hand, as long as the status is in our hand, as long as the relationships with the creation are in our hand, then we’re fine. The problem is when they are in our heart, because the only thing that is supposed to be in our heart is Allah (SWT).
Sometimes people get confused, they think that we’re supposed to love our families, etc – it’s okay to love these things but when the heart is referred to, it is not in the context of love. It is about absolute dependency and attachment. Essentially, it is about worship.
The problem is that we take the gifts of Allah (SWT) and we love them more than the giver. And this is a fact: we love the gift more than the giver. We love the money more than the giver. We love the spouse more than the giver. We love the children more than the giver. And when we do that, something very painful happens.
Anything that we love more than Allah (SWT), becomes the cause of our greatest pain. And that is how we’ll know.
Looking back at the story of Abu Hanifa (RA), his heart was unmoved by the gain or loss of his wealth. But had his heart been attached to those ships, then finding out that they had sunk, would have devastated him. This is the problem with having these false attachments and loving these things as we should only love Allah (SWT); they start to control us.
If it is a person, this person starts to control us. If they are pleased with us, if they praise us, then we are good. And if they are not, then we are unable to continue and we break. This is called the orbit of the creation. It is an orbit that has a currency. One’s life can revolve around the creation, or one’s life can revolve around the creator. And each has its own currency.
The currency of the orbit of creation is praise, and losing that is criticism. That’s why we start to covet these things, because that’s the currency. And it feels so good in the moment. This is the way of human praise – but what can you buy with that? Or if the people are criticizing you – what have you really lost? But if Allah (SWT) is pleased with you, then what have you lost? And if all the people in the world are praising you, but Allah (SWT) is not pleased with you – what have you gained?
How do we know if we are holding the gift in the heart, instead of the hand? There are certain indications by which we can know:
– What do you think about all day?
– What occupies your mind most of the day?
– What do you think about while praying?
– What is distracting you while praying?
– What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
– And what is the last thing you think about when you sleep?
– What keeps you awake at night?
– What makes you cry?
– What are you most afraid of losing?
– What makes you most angry?
– And what causes you the most pain in your life?
Upon examination, we realise that the answer to all these questions is the same thing, or it is related to the same thing: my job, or my children, or my spouse, or what people think of me, etc. These questions tell us what is really filling our heart.
So many of us say with our tongues that we love Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (PBUH) most, but the truth is, when we love something, when we are in love, we are always thinking about what we love. It is impossible to be in love with something and not think about it. Thus, we have to re-examine our claim of love towards Allah (SWT).
Allah (SWT) warns us in the Quran:
He says: Say, if your fathers, or your sons, or your spouses, or your business that you fear decline, or your dwellings that you rejoice in – and Allah lists a number of things that are all halal and in fact, we are supposed to love these things, (our parents, our spouses, our children, our houses, our business).
If any of these things are more beloved to us more than our love towards Allah (SWT) and his Prophet (PBUH), then just wait.
This is a frightful concept because the punishment is not specific: ‘just wait and see what happens’. If we love any of these things, that are all halal to love, more than we love Allah (SWT), His Messenger (PBUH), and striving in His cause; just wait and see. Because the pain of that love will come in this life before the next life, guaranteed. And it will be that very thing that we love, as we should only love Allah (SWT), that will be the cause of our greatest pain.
So when the questions were asked, what do we think about most all day, what makes us cry, what’s the greatest cause of our pain, anxiety or fear – it’s all that same thing that we love as we should only love Allah (SWT): our job, our money, our spouse, our children, etc.
So, what is the solution?
When a child sees an advertisement of a toy Ferrari, the child falls in love with that toy Ferrari. And everyday, that child asks his parents to buy him that toy Ferrari. If eventually he gets the toy Ferrari that he desires, he will not want to let it go. And it will not be easy taking that toy away from the child either.
As the child grows up, imagine that he sees a real Ferrari, what happens to his love for the toy Ferrari? It is now much easier to take away that toy Ferrari because he sees the real thing.
Why is it that we are so attached to this life? We are so attached to the toy car because we haven’t seen the real car. Our problem is that we love this life so much, and are not willing to sacrifice even a little bit, because we haven’t seen the real car. And we are so attached to the creation because we haven’t seen the creator.
We have not measured, or estimated, Allah (SWT), His true measure or estimation. We don’t really know Allah (SWT). If we really knew who Allah (SWT) is, if we really read His words and reflected upon them, if we really talked to Allah (SWT) everyday, like we talk to our friends, or spouses or children; then there would be no competition.
It’s is like going to meet a king. How much effort will you exert in impressing the servant, seeking his help, seeking his praise and love, that you forget about the king? We don’t do that because we know who has the power, and that we are on our way to meet the king. So, the servant is treated respectfully but the focus is on the king. And we are all servants on our way to meet the same king.
So, unless we see the real car, we won’t let go of the toy.
When Allah (SWT) talks about the hereafter, he asks a very important question:
Do you prefer the life of this world, when the hereafter is better (خير) and more lasting (ابقى)? There is dunya, that is the lesser life – the toy car, the means, the vehicle, the box of tools – and there is a higher life. And Allah (SWT) asks us, do you prefer this life, when the hereafter is better and more lasting?
What is it about this life that hurts us? Two things:
1) It is never perfect – no matter what we do, we can never make it perfect. No matter how much money we have, or status, or power, or beauty, or wealth – it can never be made perfect.
2) It does not last – no matter how much money we have, or plastic surgery we pay for, we will never make it last forever. No matter what we do, we can never make the rose not wilt eventually.
So, how can we prefer this life when the hereafter is better and more lasting? It is better in quality; it is perfect. And it is better in quantity; it lasts forever, it doesn’t end. We don’t have to worry about getting old, we don’t have to worry from the two things that people suffer from most in this life: fear and grief (sadness).
The two most widespread ailments that people suffer from in this life are anxiety and depression. And it is those two things that Allah (SWT) says when describing Jannah (paradise) – there is no fear and there is no sadness.
Yet, we still hold on to the toy car.
When Allah (SWT) describes the hereafter, He says that it is not just (حياة); this dunya is (حياة), the lesser life but the hereafter is the real thing. Allah is telling us, there is the lesser life (dunya), and there is the real thing – that which is higher, and that is the hereafter (الآخرة).
We need to start focusing and seeing the real thing, and when we do that it becomes easy to let go of the toy car. It will become easier to give up the haram, it will be easier to hold on to Fajr prayer on time, to pray qiyyam, to read Quran – because we see the real thing. And we will know our destination – so we won’t just sit in the vehicle and forget to turn it on.
Finally, Allah tells us:
Allah says, O mankind, you are toiling, ever painfully toiling, towards your Lord, but you shall meet Him.