We live in a unique era. Our lifestyle today is not what it was for people who lived a century ago. Now, our daily lives are filled with so many preoccupations that when we complete one task we immediately are thrown into another. We have so many commitments, appointments, responsibilities, priorities and tasks that our lives are revolving around the struggle to give each commitment, each responsibility, each priority its due. We struggle to find the balance in our lives because of our work, school, family, spouses, friends and our selves pulling at us from different directions. As if this wasn’t enough, due to technology such as Facebook, Twitter, and email we are constantly fed an overflow of information, some of it important, but a lot of it useless.
In such a reality, it becomes very easy for us to get caught up in a rat race and forget the reality of who we are, why we are here and what we are meant to do in our relationship with Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). We are constantly moving from one stage in our life to another. We were once kids, carefree, and life was easy. We then moved on to school and eventually made it to and through college. We started our careers, we entered into marriage and eventually parenthood and so on. All of these are stages of our lives; some we might have experienced, some we might be experiencing, and some we might have yet to enter. Allah (swt) alludes to this constant movement from stage to stage in the Qur’an: “[…] you will surely experience state after state,” (84:19).
What are we doing if not experiencing one state and then another and another constantly? Our busy lives cause us to forget to take a step back and evaluate the reality of our situation and where we stand in our relationship with Allah. It is very important that in the midst of everything, we engage in self-reflection so as to evaluate ourselves and our standing with God through the lens of the Qur’an. This will help us to see our lives according the Qur’anic reality and we will be able to prioritize our days by seeing through the Divine perspective given to us in the Qur’an. It is very easy for us, as flawed and imperfect human beings, to overlook the reality of our lives and incorrectly assess our situations thus leading us to give importance to secondary matters while neglecting more important ones such as our relationship with God, our families, our parents and our children.
In another place in the Qur’an, Allah (swt) gives a description of the life of this world:
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?” (Qur’an, 57:20)
This is one of the most amazing verses of the Qur’an. In it, Allah (swt) defines the human experience—from Adam `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send his peace and blessings on him) to us. If we were to examine the different descriptions given to the ‘life of this world’ in the verse, we can see that each very clearly defines certain periods in our lives. We are always in one of these states no matter how old we are or how young. There was a time when we were children that our main concern was amusement—we wanted to have fun and we sought to spend our days playing with toys, games and cartoons. Eventually we grew out of that and moved into our high school and college years where we started noticing the opposite gender and were distracted by our studies. After this, we began to think about our careers and marriage and we focused completely on seeking them. We then proceeded to buy a house, move into a new place, begin our new lives and seek to build a family. We moved ahead to building our family and speaking to each other about how we secured a promotion, or bought a new car, or how our son or daughter spoke their first words. Finally we reach our final state that stays with us to the end where we begin to compete with our peers in our wealth and kids; the time when we tell our kids, “His daughter got into Harvard, you need to get into Harvard as well!” or “He just got a raise to six figures, I have to get that too!”
Allah (swt) draws a profound parallel between these states of our lives and the yearly cycle a farmer experiences. A farmer plants the seed, waits for the rain or waters it constantly, cares for it as it grows and blossoms into a plant, reaps the benefit from it and eventually the plant grows old, turns yellow, dies and turns to dust. Is it not the case that we do this in our life? Don’t we plant the seed for something we desire so it becomes a reality? And then we tend to it and preoccupy ourselves with it so as to enjoy the blessings it offers until eventually it grows old and turns yellow and is no longer valuable—and we look forward to the next big thing. Isn’t this exactly how our lives are passing us by? We buy the latest model car or iPhone and we love it until next year when the new model comes, and this model that was so new and amazing just yesterday ‘turns yellow’ and looses value.
Immediately after micro-assessing our life and eloquently summing it up for us, Allah (swt) forces us to see it in the perspective of the Hereafter, the way He sees it, and the way the Qur’an wants us to understand it. In the same verse, He says, “And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?” (Qur’an, 57:20).
There are many subtle things happening here that we can easily overlook at first glance. The first is that Allah (swt) mentions punishment first, and second His forgiveness and approval. It’s as if to say that if we were to allow ourselves to forget about the Hereafter and our relationship with Allah (swt), then we are liable for the punishment in the Hereafter because we have strayed from the purpose of our creation. The second very profound thing is that out of His Mercy, Allah (swt) does not couple punishment with Himself but instead couples Himself with His Mercy and His Pleasure. It is as though He is telling us, that He does not desire to punish us so He does not even mention Himself with punishment in His Speech. By distancing Himself from punishment, He is asking us to do the same by taking heed of His warnings. Allah (swt) says in another place in the Qur’an, “Allah wants to accept your repentance […]” (Qur’an, 4:27). Finally, the question comes in a rhetorical fashion, concluding for us the reality of this life as a deluded sense of enjoyment when compared to the Hereafter. This reminds us that the Hereafter is very close to us and that we only need to view our lives through the perspective of its relation to the Hereafter so as to understand its reality. It is narrated by `Abdullah radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) that the Messenger ﷺ said, “Paradise is nearer to any of you than the strap on his shoe, and so is the (Hell) Fire.”1
Allah (swt) then changes the conversation slightly, saying:
“Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth, prepared for those who believed in Allah and His Messengers.
That is the bounty of Allah which He gives to whom He wills, and Allah is the possessor of great bounty.” (Qur’an 57:21)
We are told to race towards Allah’s forgiveness and Paradise as opposed to running towards this life. As humans we always need something to look forward to, a goal—it gives us hope and allows us to see past difficulties and tough times. Allah (swt) knows this about us and because of this, He gives us His forgiveness and Paradise as the ultimate goal worth seeking, thereby allowing us to see our temporal problems and difficulties as just that: temporary. It does not mean that we let go of our numerous responsibilities and commitments and isolate ourselves, but it means that we see them as a means towards something greater and that we work towards Allah (swt) with moderation and establish a balance between what our lives demand from us and what Allah (swt) requires from us. We do not make this life the goal, but rather the means towards the higher objective—the forgiveness of Allah (swt) and Paradise.
Abu Hurayra (ra) narrated that the Messenger ﷺ said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise).”2
We seek Paradise by utilizing our busy lives and doing good deeds sincerely and moderately as a means towards the Mercy of Allah (swt) and His pleasure. Allah (swt) asks us to see past the temporal nature of this life and see it for what it is and what it was always meant to be—a means towards Him and Paradise.
The verse goes on to give us a description of Paradise, not what is within it as in other places in the Qur’an, but rather of its size and vastness. This is interesting because firstly we cannot quantify in our minds the width that is being spoken of; and secondly, if we take a look at the previous verse—keeping in mind our context—we see a subtle comparison between the constricted nature of this life and this world to the vast expanse and pleasure of the Hereafter. Allah (swt) wants us to know that Paradise is huge, much greater and much longer lasting than anything we think is great in this life. He wants us to keep that in mind so that we don’t get disillusioned and so entrenched in our daily lives that we forget of the Home that is waiting for those who believe in Allah (swt) and His Messengers. This allows us to view our daily problems, challenges and responsibilities as the path towards Him and the everlasting Home. “[…] the Hereafter is better and more enduring,” (Qur’an, 87:17).
The verse concludes with a reminder that, in the end, the blessing of Paradise belongs in its entirety to Allah (swt). He is the Owner of everything and the blessings we get are from Him. He has invited us to Paradise, so the question we need to ask ourselves is: Do we accept the invitation and work to enter the Home of Peace?