The Similitude of the Life in this World


What is the similarity of life on this earth?

It is frequently stated in the Qur’an that the life in this world is temporary and the actual and eternal life will be in the Hereafter:

“The similitude of the life of the world is only as water which We send down from the sky, then the earth’s growth of that which men and cattle eat mingleth with it till, when the earth hath taken on her ornaments and is embellished, and her people deem that they are masters of her, Our commandment cometh by night or by day and We make it as reaped corn as if it had not flourished yesterday. Thus do We expound the revelations for people who reflect.” (Yunus 10; 24)

This verse points out that the blessings of this world may seem like adornments but in reality one can unknowingly fall into its trap. Rumi (q.s.) elegantly states this reality in the following lines:

“Worldly wealth is like the spiritual smiles of Allah. It has made us drunken, vainglorious, and threadbare deprived of the means of salvation. O honorable man! Poverty and distress are better for you; for wealth, property, and possessions set up the trap of smile and then make you fall into it.” (Mathnawi, I, verses: 3040-41)[1]

The true face of the life of this world and its temporal ornaments is explained in another verse as follows:

“Set forth to them the similitude of the life of this world: it is like the rain which we send down from the skies: the earth’s vegetation absorbs it, but soon it becomes dry stubble, which the winds do scatter: it is (only) Allah who prevails over all things. Wealth and children are an ornament of life of the world. But the good deeds which endure are better in your Lord’s sight for reward, and better in respect of hope.” (al-Kahf 18; 45-46)

This verse attracts our attention to the importance of being cautious towards the mortal pleasures of this world and making every effort to gain the endless blessings of the Hereafter which is prepared for the believers. In this respect, Hariri states which can also be understood as an interpretation of the verse mentioned above:

“O the one who demands this lousy world! You should know that it is a death trap, and a sea of grief and anxiety. This world is such a place that makes you smile one day and makes you cry the very next day. Even if a rain cloud is seen in its skies, thirsty people do not benefit from it for it is a deception. This world’s troubles are endless. Even though those who become its slaves and sacrifice their honor and their entire wealth, they cannot escape from it. There are many people who commit all kinds of sins and are deceived by this world’s pleasures. Eventually it will turn against these people and attack them with its knife to take its revenge. Therefore be alert all your life and do not let it destroy you. You should stop loving it and cut all your ties with it so that you may attain salvation and richness of heart.” (Maqamat, p. 172)

As a matter of fact, it is not easy to not be deceived by this world and to cut the ties from it; because its love surrounds human beings from all sides. A Qur’anic verse in this respect makes the following statements:

“Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: women and sons; heaped up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded (for blood and excellence); and (wealth of) cattle and well tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world’s life; but in nearness to Allah is the best of the goals (to return to).” (Al-i Imran 3; 14)

Becoming attached to this world and inclining towards its blessings is a characteristic of human nature. Those who do not strengthen and mature themselves through spiritual training will be more susceptible by such influences. Whereas the essential thing to do is to attach the heart to Allah the Almighty and turn the blessings of this world into means to reach Allah’s contentment. Jalal al-Din Rumi (q.s.) nicely depicts this state:

“This world is like a tree, O noble ones: and we are like the half-ripened fruit upon it. The unripe fruits cling fast to the bough, because during their immaturity they are not meet for the palace. When they have ripened and have become sweet—after that, biting their lips, they take but a feeble hold of the boughs. When the mouth has been sweetened by that felicity, the kingdom of the world becomes cold unpleasing to Man. To take a tight hold and to attach one’s self strongly to the world is a sign of immaturity: as long as you are an embryo, your occupation is to suck blood and suffer.” (Mathnawi, III, verses: 1293-97)

This is why our Lord states that “Whoever desires the gain of the Hereafter, We will give him more of that gain; and whoever desires the gain of this world, We give him of it, and in the hereafter he has no portion.” (al-Shura 42; 20) and expresses that purified and disciplined souls desire the eternal blessings of the Hereafter and not the temporal wealth of this world.

Our Prophet (pbuh), who was adorned by the ethics of the Qur’an, always put the Qur’anic perception of this world and the Hereafter forward when training his companions. According to Jabir b. Abdullah’s report, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) happened to walk through a bazaar while coming from the side of ‘Aliya and there were companions with him. There he found a dead lamb with very short ears. He took hold of its ear and said:

“Who amongst you would like to have this for a dirham?”

They said: “We do not like to have it even for less than that as it is of no use to us.” He said:

“Do you wish to have it free of any cost?” They said:

“By Allah, even if it were alive we would not have liked to possess it, for there is defect in it as its ear is very short; now it is dead, too. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said:

“By Allah, this world is more insignificant in the eye of Allah as this dead lamb is in your eye.” (Muslim, Zuhd, 2)

In another saying of the Prophet (pbuh), it is stated that:

“If this world had any value even as much as the wing of a mosquito, He would not even let unbelievers drink a sip of water in this world.” Thus, he pointed out how insignificant this world and its entire wealth is in the eyes of Allah the Almighty. In this saying we are also taught not to admire the worldly possessions in the hands of the unbelievers. The warning of the following verse comprises the same meaning: “Nor strain your eyes in longing for the things we have given for enjoyment to parties Of them, the splendor Of the life of this world, through which we test them: But the provision of the Lord is better and more enduring.” (Taha 20; 131) In another saying of the Prophet (pbuh), it is expressed that those who are deceived by the mortal pleasures of this world will be disappointed in the Hereafter:

“Whoever is worried about the Hereafter, Allah the Almighty places richness in his/her heart, saves his/her works from disorder and this world comes to him/her in obedience. On the other hand whoever is worried about this world, Allah the Almighty places its poverty before his/her eyes; he/she will not be able to make two ends meet; and he/she will only get whatever his/her share from this world is.” (Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 30) Rumi (q.s.) states:

“He who lacks the love for Allah and seeks the wealth of this world is the mere picture of poverty. Such a person does not have a spiritual life. He is not worthy of Divine bounty. Do not throw bread to the picture of a dog! He wants a morsel of food, he does not want Allah. Do not set dishes before a lifeless body! The dervish that wants bread is a land-fish: he has the form of a fish, but he is fleeing from the sea. He is a domestic fowl, not the bird of Zumrudu Anka which is on the mountain of closeness to Allah. He swallows sweet morsels of food, drinks tasty sherbets but he does not eat from the morsels of Allah. He loves Allah for the sake of food and drinks. His soul is not in love with Allah’s excellence and beauty of His face.” (Mathnawi, I, verses: 2752-56)

The following example nicely depicts the loss of those who incline towards worldly blessings and turn away from the Hereafter.

During the period of Umayyads, the Muslim army under the command of Abdurrahman b. Walid set out for an expedition to conquer Istanbul in order to attain the compliments and prophecy of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (r.a.) was in the army. While the Byzantines were fighting, an Ansari rode his horse towards them. When the believers saw this, they thought about the verse “…make not your own hands contribute to your destruction…” (al-Baqarah 2; 195) They said in amusement:

“There is no god but Allah! Look at this man! He knowingly throws himself into danger.” Upon this Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (r.a.) told them:

“O believers! (Do not misunderstand me!) This verse was revealed about the community of Ansar. When Allah the Almighty bestowed His help upon us and made us victorious, we told ourselves: “From now on we can stay with our possessions and occupy ourselves with them.” Upon this Allah the Almighty revealed the following verse to His Messenger (pbuh):

“And spend in the way of Allah and cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands, and do good (to others); surely Allah loves the doers of good.” (al-Baqarah 2; 195) In this verse, what is meant by “cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands” is that do not engross yourselves into worldly property such as looking after gardens and forget to strive in the path of Allah.”

Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (r.a.), who sincerely followed this divine admonition, never inclined to the adornments and comfort of this world. He always strived for the sake of Allah, and finally he was martyred during that expedition and buried next to the walls of Istanbul.” (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 23; Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 2)

The following is another noteworthy anecdote in this regard.

During the Battle of Uhud Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) placed a few swordsmen on a hill and ordered them not to leave their places. Unfortunately some of them disobeyed his orders, left their positions, and rushed towards the booty. Allah the Almighty warned those who left their positions by saying: “Some of you desired the world,” while praising the martyrs saying “some of you desired the Hereafter.” (Al-i Imran 3; 152)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) pointed out the attractive side of this world saying: “This world is enjoyable and its scene is pleasant.” In the rest of the tradition, he stated that the world is just a means of a test: “Allah’s Apostle ascended to the pulpit and said, “Nothing worries me as to what will happen to you after me, except the temptation of worldly blessings which will be conferred on you.” (Bukhari, Jihad, 37) In this and in other similar traditions, the Prophet (pbuh) expressed his concerns about how the Muslim ummah was going to incline towards this world in the future, forget the Hereafter, and for this reason they were going to fail the test. In fact, on the one hand, he was making the following admonitions:

“Nothing worries me as to what will happen to you after me, except the temptation of worldly blessings which will be conferred on you.” (Bukhari, Jihad, 37) On the other hand, he stated in another hadith that this world is a place where humans are being tested:

“Every nation has (is tested by) a fitnah (mischief). And my ummah’s fitnah is worldly possessions.”[2]

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Be cautious! Do not let your hopes and desires become strong and make you forget your end! Otherwise your hearts will get hardened. Be vigilant! Those which will come (i.e. death and afterlife) are soon coming…” (Ibn Majah, Muqaddimah, 7) Thus, he warned believers about the thoughts and concerns which keep the human mind busy and harden the heart.

The hopes and desires, mentioned in this hadith, infer to those which usually surround the lives of people and which make them get caught up in this world without making the necessary preparations for the Hereafter. Many people get even more attached to this world when they get older. In fact, the Prophet (pbuh) stated this issue in one of his sayings: “The heart of an old man remains young in two respects, i.e., his love for the world (its wealth, amusements and luxuries) and his incessant hope.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 5) Ghazali expresses that ignorance and love of this world are the reasons for falling victim to one’s desires and hopes. He explains that in order to be saved from all these is to do as follows:

“Getting rid of ignorance can be achieved by listening to the words of righteous and sincere wise men. The only way to take the love of this world out of the hearts is to have faith in the Hereafter and the rewards awaiting there. When this faith reaches the level of certainty, the love for this world begins to move slowly away from the heart. Because loving the more significant one makes the less significant leave the heart.”

Allah the Almighty distributed the worldly blessings among His servants differently. Therefore, some servants are in the position of serving and others are in the position of being served. In other words, there is no equality in respect to possessing the blessings and opportunities. As a matter of fact this is stated in the Qur’an as follows:

“Is it they who apportion their Lord’s mercy? We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labor from others; and the mercy of your Lord is better than (the wealth) that they amass.” (al-Zuhruf 43; 32) Allah’s Messenger talked about resigning one’s self to what is preordained as follows:

“Look at those who stand at a lower level than you but do not look at those who stand at a higher level than you, for this would make the favors conferred upon you by Allah insignificant in your eyes.” (Muslim, Zuhd, 9)

The following sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) show his perspective about this world and the Hereafter:

“Asceticism in this world means neither making the lawful unlawful nor losing the property and possessions, but it means to trust more what is in the hands of Allah than what is in your hands. And it also means that when something bad happens to you and as long as it continues, you should hope to get its rewards.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 29)

“By Allah, this world (is so insignificant in comparison) to the Hereafter that if one of you should dip his finger in the ocean and then he should see as to what has stuck to it.” (Muslim, Jannah, 55)

“The damage done by two hungry wolves set loose in a herd is not bigger than the damage done by a man who loves wealth and rank to his religion.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 43)

[1] Right after Marmara earthquake on August 17th 1999, an old man was standing in front of his devastated house and looking around absentmindedly. His following answer to the question whether the devastated building belonged to him or not is very significant: “I thought so…”

[2] Another story related to this issue is as follows: Once there was a slave named Ayaz. One day he was purchased by Sultan Mahmud. The Sultan loved this slave for his dignified character. He gained the Sultan’s respect so much that he was appointed as the State Treasurer and was entrusted with the most valuable jewelry. The household of the palace started to get jealous. They did everything they could to have him lose the Sultan’s favor. One day they said to each other in the presence of the Sultan: “Did you know that Ayaz, the slave, frequently goes to the treasury? He goes there every day, even when he is on vacation. He goes there and stays there for hours. I am sure he steals our jewelry.” The Sultan could not believe what he had just heard. He thought that “I should go and see what is really happening.” He had a small hole opened in the treasury’s wall and began to peek inside. Ayaz quietly entered into the room, locked the door, and came closer to the jewelry chest. He kneeled down in front of the chest and opened it. He took something out of it. It was a small package. He kissed the package and then opened it. In it there were his shabby clothes from the slavery days. He took of his palace suit and put on these old clothes. Then he stood in front of a mirror and said to himself:

“Do you remember who you were when you were in these clothes? You were nothing. You were just a slave to be sold. Through the hands of your Sultan, Allah the Merciful bestowed upon you endless blessings which you do not deserve. O Ayaz! You are here now but never forget who you were and where you came from. Because property and possessions can make you forget and be heedless. Do not be arrogant towards those who are below you and remember your previous state!” Then he closed and locked the chest, and walked quietly towards the door. When he was leaving the room, he suddenly met the Sultan. Tears were flowing down the Sultan’s face and he could barely speak:

“Ayaz! Until now you were the treasurer of my possessions but now you are the treasurer of my heart. You have taught me that I am nothing and how I should behave in the presence of my Sultan.” (Muhyiddin Shakur, p. 114)

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality