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But seek, by means of what God has granted you, the abode of the Hereafter... (Al-Qasas 28:77)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-Qasas (The Narrative)

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وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا
But seek, by means of what God has granted you, the abode of the Hereafter (by spending in alms and other good causes), without forgetting your share (which God has appointed) in this world. (Al-Qasas 28:77)

Some have interpreted this verse as calling people to seek the world or a happy worldly life. However, as those who have some knowledge of Arabic will admit, the verse orders to seek the afterlife. The verb “ibtaghi,” which is translated as “seek,” means to pursue an aim with all one’s being and capacity as well as with all one’s faculties, such as the mind, heart, feelings, consciousness, comprehension, health, wealth, and offspring. The second part of the verse— “without forgetting (or do not forget) your share (which God has appointed) in this world”—balances this “seeking.” That is, we must pursue “the abode of the Hereafter” with all our capacity and faculties; gaining eternal happiness must be our goal in this life, but we should attend to this life as well. We should not beg from others, nor should we live dependent on others. By working and earning in lawful ways, we must meet our essential needs, as well as the needs of those for whose livelihood we are responsible. If we neglect the main order in the verse and understand it as calling us to work only for our worldly life and calling others to worldliness, this will be a great error. Such an understanding also contradicts with the verse, “God has bought from the believers their selves and wealth because Paradise is for them” (At-Tawbah 9:111), and reduces the Qur’ān to a book that contains contradictions.

The verse gives us this criterion: Seek the world in proportion to its value, and seek the Hereafter proportionately to its value. The world is like the “Plain of ‘Arafat” (where the pilgrims stay for some time on the Eve of the Festive Day of Sacrifice) for the people whose souls are content and at rest with the Divine Religion. And the life-span spent in this fleeting world is but like the Eve of the Festive Day spent on the Plain of ‘Arafat. We will, therefore, reach the Festive Day beyond this world. Thus, our criterion must be sound, and we must live this short life-span in this world without wasting even a single minute.

If a pilgrim misses the time of staying on the Plain ‘Arafat on the Eve of the Festive Day, he or she will miss the pilgrimage that year but can compensate for it the next year. But if we waste our worldly life on trivialities or miss living our worldly ‘Arafat—that is, miss the opportunity of living our worldly life in a profitable way—we will not be given a second chance or second life in the world as a means of compensation.

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “What business can I have with the world! I am but a traveler who takes a rest under the shadow of a tree and then goes on his way leaving it.”[1] This hadīth does not mean renouncing the world totally, but it teaches us our position in the world. In another hadīth our Prophet said, “If the world had had as much value in God’s sight as the gnat of a fly, He would not have given an unbeliever even a sip of water from it.”[2]

While it is God Who has created the world with whatever is in it, those who deny God should have no right in benefiting from the world. But purely out of His infinite Mercy, God Almighty allows unbelievers to live in the world and provides for them. However, since there is an eternal realm beyond this world where unbelievers will find no happiness, God does not disturb their enjoyment in this world out of His Mercy.

As Said Nursi states, “A thousands years of happy life of this world is not equal to even one hour of the Hereafter. Likewise, a thousands years of happy life in the Hereafter is not equal to even one minute of seeing the Beauty of God.”[3] Accordingly, we are seeking such a life described above. Thus, how much value can this world have in comparison to the Hereafter so that we can attempt to compare it with Hereafter? We have in average sixty-year lifespan in this world, half of which passes in sleeping. Hence, what value can such a life have? Therefore, to overvalue this world by transgressing the limits of balanced thinking and to compare the world and the Hereafter in equal terms mean a lack of true understanding of the Qur’ān and the essentials of the religion.

In addition, Bediüzzaman Said Nursi has a very meaningful approach to the world, which I have not seen in another. He says that the world has three facets: one looking to the All-Beautiful Names of God, the second looking to the fact that it is the field of the Hereafter, and the third relating to human desires and lusts.[4]

In regard to being a polished mirror of God’s All-Beautiful Names, this world is an invaluable realm. We love it very much in respect of this. It is an arable field to be sown with the seeds of the Hereafter, and we could not have been candidates for the Hereafter if we had not been sent to this fleeting world. The world has an exceptional value in respect to this as well. As for the third aspect of the world, which allures our desires and lusts, it is worse than it seems to be. In other words, if people are caught up in their personal pleasures and forget the afterlife, then this world is despicable and deserving of contempt.

Nursi also says that the world should be renounced at heart, not by way of working and earning one’s life.[5] If we approach the world from these viewpoints of Nursi, we will have no problem with the world. One who deals with the world and has relations with it from these perspectives can work, earn as much money as possible in the lawful ways, and become rich. For such people can donate all their earnings in God’s cause and for the needy. Among the Companions of God’s Messenger, ‘Abdur-Rahman ibn ‘Awf was very wealthy. Once he spent in charity seven hundred camels’ load of wealth. God’s Messenger said nothing negative to him because of his richness; he only warned him to carry out what fell to him as a duty in return for it and encouraged him to spend a good portion out of his wealth in God’s cause and for the needy by giving him the glad tidings of Paradise in return.[6]

As recorded in some books on the merits of Prophets and other virtuous, saintly people, angels once said to God: “Our Lord! You are calling Prophet Abraham ‘My Close Friend.’ How can he prove worthy of such a position despite his wealth?” God Almighty sent a few angels to test Abraham. The angels came to Abraham pretending to be long-road travelers in shabby clothes and messy looking, and they told him that they were hungry. Abraham, upon him be peace, immediately slaughtered a sheep, cooked it, and served his guests. Before starting to eat, the angels said the supplication particular to them: “All-Glorified and All-Holy, the Lord of the angels and the Spirit” instead of saying “In the name of God.” This supplication fascinated the pure soul of Abraham to the extent that he begged them to repeat it, saying: “Take one-fourth of my sheep, please repeat what you said.” When the angels repeated the supplication, Abraham requested them to repeat once more, saying: “Take half of my sheep, please one more time.” Finally, he gave all of his sheep to the angels in return for this supplication. This means that that great Messenger of God, upon him be peace, renounced the world at heart, not by way of working and earning his living.

Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, said nothing condemning richness and earning. Even though some hadīths imply this, they are concerning particular cases. If it is asked why he did not become rich, the answer will be as follows: he descended from a poor family. Besides, if he had become rich, since he was the chief representative of a lofty cause, there might be some speculations about both his wealth and his cause. For this reason, God’s Messenger preferred remaining poor knowingly and intentionally. We should also view scholars, saints, and saintly scholars who have preferred poverty in the footsteps of God’s Messenger from the same perspective.

In consequence, we should remember once more that what is essential in the religion is renouncing the world at heart, not by way of working to earn one’s life. The world should have no place in our hearts and should not cause us to forget the Hereafter. Otherwise, the world will dominate us, and all the seconds of our life lived for the sake of a “better” worldly life will go in vain. In order to be able to be protected against such an end, we should have recourse to the dynamics which will increase our will-power. For example, accurate and sound knowledge of God reinforces our willpower and faith. If you desire and make plans to live an easy, luxurious life and begin making efforts to raise your standard of life, knowledge of God comes to your aid at just this point. One of our friends visited a house. As he was sitting up in the balcony which oversees the sea, a desire to live in such a lovely house arose in his heart. That friend, who felt a desire to live a long, easy life, immediately left the house. The thought coming from knowledge of God that even a thousand years of life in Paradise would not be equal to a minute’s view of God’s Beauty saved him from that ambition and caused him to leave the house.

In short, understanding the part of the verse, “without forgetting your share in this world,” as a call to the world is not a true understanding based on the Qur’ān. In my opinion, a human being can desire a long life so long as they live it like Bediüzzaman without wasting even a minute of it. One should desire life in order to make others live and strive for the guidance and perfection of humanity. One should desire wealth to spend it in God’s cause and for the wellbeing of others and live life in the direction of gaining the eternal happiness. This direction should urge one to earn in lawful ways and spend for lawful goals and licit pleasures. Earning in unlawful ways and spending for illicit pleasures bring pain upon pain.

Let me conclude this discussion with a saying of the pride of humankind, upon him be peace and blessings: “Everyone should reserve something from his own self for his own self, from his world for his afterlife, from his youth for his old age, and from his life for his death. I swear by God in Whose hand is my life that no excuse will be accepted after death, and no place will exist except Paradise and Hell after this world.”[7]

May God bestow blessings and peace on him and his brothers from among the Messengers and Prophets, and on the angels near-stationed to God, and on God’s good, righteous servants.

[1] Tirmidhī, Zuhd, 44; Ibn Mājah, Zuhd, 2; Musnad Ahmad, 1/201.
[2] Tirmidhī, Zuhd, 13; Ibn Mājah, Zuhd, 3.
[3] Nursi, The Words (Trans.), 2010, p. 663.
[4] Ibid, 2010, pp. 366, 640–641.
[5] Nursi, al-Mathnawi an-Nuri (Trans.), 2007, p. 178.
[6] Ibnu’l-Athīr, Usdu’l-Ghābah, 3/276–381.
[7] Al-Qurtubī, al-Jāmiu li Ahkami’l-Qur’ān, 18/116.