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Allah says: “Know well that the life of this world is merely sport, diversion, adornment, an object of your boasting with one another, and a rivalry in the multiplication of riches and children. Its likeness is that of rain: When it produces vegetation it delights the farmers. But, then it withers and you see it turn yellow, and then it crumbles away. In the Hereafter there is (either) severe chastisement (or) forgiveness from Allah and (His) good pleasure. The life of this world is nothing but delusion.” [57 Al-Hadid:20]
To understand this theme fully one should keep the following verses of the Qur’an in mind: Chapter 3, Al-I’Imran, verses 14-15, Allah says: “Men are naturally tempted by the lure of women, children, treasures of gold and silver, horses of character, cattle and plantations. These are the enjoyments in the life of this world. However, with Allah lies a goodly abode to return to. Say: 'Shall I tell you of things better than these? For the God-fearing there are, with their Lord, gardens beneath which rivers flow. There they will abide forever. They will have spouses of stainless purity as companions and will enjoy the good pleasure of Allah. Allah thoroughly observes his servants.”
The Qur'anic text has the Arabic word azwaj which means 'spouses' or 'couples', and embraces both husband and wife. The husband is the zawj of his wife, and vice versa. In the Next World, however, this relationship of spouses will be qualified by purity. If a man has been virtuous in this world, while his wife has not, their relationship in the Next World will be cut apart. The man will receive another spouse, who will be pure and virtuous. On the other hand, if a virtuous woman has had an evil husband she will be tied in companionship with a virtuous man. Where husband and wife have both been virtuous their relationship will become everlasting.
Chapter 10, Younus, verses 24-25, Allah says: “The example of the life of this world (which has tempted you into becoming heedless to Our signs) is that of water that We sent down from the heaven, which causes the vegetation of the earth, which sustains men and cattle, to grow splendidly. But, when the earth took on its golden garment and became well decorated, and the owners had full control over their lands, Our command came upon them by night or by day, and We gathered it into stubble, as though it had not blossomed yesterday. Thus, do We expound the signs for a people who reflect. (You are being lured by this short-lived world) although Allah calls you to the abode of peace and guides whomsoever He wills to a straight way.”
Allah invites to the way that leads to the abode of peace in the Hereafter. “The abode of peace” here means Paradise. Where there will be no fear, whatsoever, of any loss, calamity, sorrow, pain and trouble.
Chapter 14, Ibrahim, verse 18, Allah says: “This is the example of those who disbelieve in their Lord. Their works are like ashes, upon which, the wind blows fiercely on a wild, stormy day. They shall find no reward for their deeds. That, indeed, is the farthest point in straying.”
This means, that those who were deceitful, faithless, and disobedient to the Divine message, and refused to adopt that way to which the Messengers invited, will find, in the end, that all the deeds and earnings of their lives were as worthless as a heap of ashes. Just, as each and every particle of a high mound of ashes, formed during a long course of years, is scattered by the wind on a stormy day. Likewise all their grand works will prove, on the stormy doomsday, to be no more than a mound of ashes.
Their dazzling culture, their grand civilization, their wonderful kingdoms and states, their magnificent universities, their sciences and their literatures, nay, even their hypocritical worship, and so called virtuous deeds, their charitable, and reformative works of which they were very proud in the worldly life, shall prove to be as worthless as a heap of ashes, and will be scattered by the storm of the Day of Resurrection. So much so, that there shall not remain a single particle, of their works, worthy of being placed on the Divine scale, on that Day, in their favor.
Chapter 18, Al-Kahf, verses 45-46, Allah says: “(O Prophet), propose to them the moral story of the present life. It is like the vegetation of the earth, which flourished luxuriantly when it mingled with the water, that We sent down from the sky. However, after that the same vegetation turned into stubble, which the winds blew about. Allah alone has the power over all things. Wealth and children are an adornment of the life of the world. But the deeds of lasting righteousness are the best in the sight of your Lord, in reward, and far better a source of hope.”
Allah has power over everything. He gives life and also death. He causes the rise and the downfall. It is by His command that the seasons change. Therefore, O disbelievers, if you are enjoying prosperity today, you should be under no delusion that this condition will remain forever, nor that Allah, by Whose command these things have been bestowed on you, has the power to snatch away all this by another command.
Chapter 24, An-Noor, verse 39, Allah says: “But for those who deny the Truth, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty supposes to be water, until he comes to it, only to find that it was nothing. He found instead that Allah was with Him and He paid his account in full. Allah is swift in settling the account.”
That means, they refused to sincerely accept the Divine message, which was brought by the Prophets, and which, at that time was being given by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). These verses clearly show that only the truthful and righteous believers can benefit from Allah’s Light. In contrast to them, the state of those people is being described here, who refused to believe and obey the Prophet (PBUH), who was the real and sole means of gaining the Light of Allah.
This moral story describes the condition of those people, who, in spite of disbelief and hypocrisy, practiced some good deeds and also believe, among other things, in the life after death. In the hope that their good deeds will be of some help to them, in the Hereafter. Even if they did not believe and follow the Prophet (PBUH), and, lacked the qualities of true believers.
In this parable they are being told that their expectations of reaping benefits of their conspicuous deeds of virtue, in the Hereafter, are no more than a mirage. Just as a traveler in the desert takes the glittering sands for a surging pool of water, and runs towards it for quenching his thirst, so are these people traveling on the road to death, cherishing false hopes on account of their good deeds.
But, just as the one running towards a mirage does not find anything there to quench his thirst, so will these people find nothing to avail them when they enter the state of death. On the contrary, they will find Allah there, Who will require them to account for their disbelief, hypocrisy and misdeeds, which they committed along with their flashy deeds of virtue, and will deal with them in full justice.
In all these verses the truth that has been impressed on the mind is: The life of this world is a temporary life. Its spring, as well as, its autumn is temporary. There is much here to attract man. But this, in fact, consists of base, insignificant things, which man, because of his shallowness of mind, regards as great and splendid, and is deluded into thinking, that in gaining them lies supreme success.
The truth, however, is, that the highest benefits, means of pleasure and enjoyment that one can possibly gain in the world, are indeed short, insignificant and confined to a few years of temporary life. They can be destroyed by just one turn of fate. Contrary to this, the life in the Hereafter is a splendid and eternal life. Its benefits are great and permanent. Its losses too are great and permanent.
The one who gains Allah’s forgiveness and His goodwill, will indeed have gained the everlasting bliss, beside which, the entire wealth of the world, and its kingdom become pale and insignificant. The one who is seized in Allah’s torment will come to know, that he had made a bad bargain even if he had gained all that he regarded as great and splendid in the world.
Allah says: “So compete with one another, in seeking to gain your Lord's forgiveness and a Garden whose width is as the width of the heaven and the earth. One which has been prepared for those who believe in Allah and His Messengers. That is Allah's bounty which He bestows upon those whom He pleases. Allah is the Lord of abounding bounty.” [57 Al-Hadid:21]
The meaning of chapter 57 verse 21 is: Give up your rivalries with one another for amassing wealth, pleasures, and benefits of the world. Instead, make the forgiveness of your Lord and Paradise the object of your struggle and rivalries.
Some commentators have taken the Arabic word ‘ard’, in the sense of breadth, but actually this word has been used here in the meaning of spaciousness and extensiveness. In Arabic, the word ‘ard’ is not only used for breadth, as a counterpart of length, but also for spaciousness. Besides, one should also understand that the object here is not to foretell the area or extent of Paradise but to give an idea of its vastness and extensiveness.
Here its vastness has been described as the vastness of the heaven and earth, and in Surah Al-I’Imran Allah says: “Hasten to the forgiveness of your Lord and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the God-fearing.” [3 Al-I’Imran: 133] When both these verses are read together, one gets the idea that the gardens and palaces man will receive in Paradise will only serve as his dwellingplace, but the entire universe will be his home.
He will not be restricted to one place, as he is in this world, where just for reaching the moon, his nearest neighbor in space, he has had to struggle hard for years and expend excessive resources only to overcome the difficulties of a short journey. There the whole universe will be accessible to him. He will be able to see whatever he would desire from his station and be able to visit whichever place he would like easily.
The life of this world is a thing that deceives. It helps create false impressions that deceive one about the ultimate results of deeds and misdeeds. One may thus be misled to take apparent prosperity or adversity as the criterion of Truth or falsehood.
If one is apparently prosperous in this life, it is wrong to conclude that that one is on the right side and high in Allah's favor. On the other hand, if another is suffering from misfortunes and is a victim of adversity, it does not necessarily mean that that one is on the wrong side and brings upon oneself the disfavor of Allah. For often the results in this world are just the opposite of those, which are to be met with in the Next World.
Allah says: “Tell them: The death from which you flee will certainly overtake you. Then you will be returned to Him Who fully knows what is hidden and what is manifest. Thereupon He will let you know all that you used to do.” [62 Al-Jumua:8]