THE DANGERS OF THE DUNYA
AND THE NEED FOR STRUGGLE IN IT
- It is the Islamic belief that life in this world in not all there is and there is an afterlife (akhira).
- This means that there is a continuity of existence from the temporal world into the Hereafter.
- Muslims view matters in this world therefore within the context and horizon of the Hereafter and so certain judgments and beliefs they have and evaluations they make cannot properly be understood unless this context is known.
- For example, illnesses are judged to be bad because of the physical and psychological detriment and loss suffered by the person but in the Islamic tradition, the perspective is quite different: there are many narrations (hadiths) from the Prophet that state there absolute good in illness because for one it melts away sins and so illness in this belief context acts as a positive factor for one’s spiritual preparation for the Hereafter by removing the stain of sin and replacing it with Allah’s mercy and forgiveness.
- This will have no meaning on a world view or ideology that has no acknowledgment of God and a Hereafter and thus no acknowledgement that there is a higher place of completion and perfect bliss.
- Worldviews and ideologies such as Communism and Capitalism therefore do not espouse a practical way of life that factors into consideration this horizon of the hereafter and so the temporal world is the only abode that is real, significant and meaningful and one must immerse oneself in it.
- For this reason we see how cultures based on these ideologies are underscored with a maximization of sensual pleasure (satiation, gratification) and material gain (owning property, wealth, etc.) and life’s overall objective is the pursuit of satiating the desires and passions and being insulated by money and material gain.
- For Muslims, this preoccupation is dangerous and detrimental to one’s own spiritual condition and the condition of the umma as a whole because failure to denounce a deep longing and desire for the world means a failure to sacrifice and struggle for a greater religious cause that will enable true spiritual and temporal flourishing.
- If a person is fully immersed into the dunya, then their sense of urgency and struggle for the religion will become blunted and in the end see no need for it. This is its real danger.
- Muslim scholars have discussed in immense detail the dangers related to becoming immersed and preoccupied with worldly pursuits and the dangers they have listed are many such as:
- Heedlessness of Allah (swt).
- False security.
- Lack of shame.
- Spiritual decline.
- Loss of morals.
- The noble scholars of Islam have analysed the various verses of the Qur’an and statements of the Prophet (saw) related to the state of this world (al-dunya) and its value in comparison to the Hereafter and have judged the former to be utterly insignificant when compared to the latter.
- Although the scholars have written extensively about the dangers and trappings of this world and the cures from it at least two key notions can be extracted from their writing:
- The world is not a goal in itself but a means to do actions that will procure salvation.
- There is a need to struggle hard in the world.
- Regarding the first notion, it is the idea that the temporal world is short, fleeting and ephemeral and so it should be used as an arena in which one carries out the actions and commandments of Allah so as to prepare for the Hereafter. Imam Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi summarises this aptly when he said:
واعلم أن مدة حياتك محدودة وانفاسك معدودة فكل نَفَسٍ ينقص به جزءمنك والعمر كله قصيروالباقي منه هواليسيروكل جز منه جوهرةٌ نفيسة لا عدل لها ولا خَلفَ منها فإن بهذه الحياة اليسيرة خلود الابد في النعيم أو العذاب الأليم.
“Know that the extent of your life is limited and each breath is short. Every breath shortens your life. Your whole life is brief and what remains of it is brief. Every part of your life is a precious gem that cannot be replaced. This life is indeed brief and eternal life is in only two outcomes: everlasting bliss or unending torment…”
[s: the dunya then is a means to do good and a forum in which to excel in that. Utilisation of time therefore is extremely important as it is finite and limited and irretrievable. We have the opportunity and time now through Allah’s mercy and so it should be treated as precious].
- It is in this context of becoming dangerously preoccupied with the world and making it a goal in itself that such Prophetic hadith as “By Allah, this world is contemptibly low in Allah’s esteem than this [one] kid of yours” should be understood.
- With regard to the second notion which is ‘struggle’, the noble scholars too have written extensively about this and a perusal of the books of tasawwuf will confirm that.
- There are two forms of struggle: internal and external.
- The internal struggle is that which is directed at one’s own ego-self and its desires with the aim of making it conform to the precepts and rulings of the Shari`a and this is a life-long struggle.
- The Prophet (saw) mentioned a hadith that is sound: “The true mujahid is the one who combats his soul” (al-mujahid man jahada nafsahu – المجاهد من جاهد نفسه).
- Abu Bakr al-Tuhistani remarked:
أعظم حجاب بينك و بين ربك موافقة نفسك…
“The greatest barrier between you and your Lord is acquiescing to your ego-soul’s desires”.
- Battling one’s nafs can be achieved through many means such as:
a) Living an austere life (al-zuhd),
b) Reciting the Qur’an,
c) Reminders of death,
d) Fear of Allah’s punishment and withdrawal of mercy,
f) Extra fasting,
g) Extra prayers,
h) Keeping good company,
i) Periodic withdrawals (`uzla). etc.
- The external struggle can also take many forms two of which are: jihad (actual engaged combat in the path of Allah [qital]) and intellectual struggle (al-sira` al-fikri).
- This last point of intellectual struggle is worth elaborating on as it has a direct connection with the notion of the dunya and struggling in it. There are two points of consideration here:
The first point: scholars have detailed how the world and worldliness can distract a person from their priorities and even make them lose sight of their plight and condition leading to heedlessness of Allah and His commands. This will have an effect on the believers and the way they approach their life. It may be that this immersion in the world with all its entertainments takes them away from religious duties like:
- Commanding right and forbidding wrong (al-amr bi’l-ma`ruf wa’l-nahy `an al-munkar).
- Accounting the rulers.
- Speaking out against injustice.
- Hastening to do good deeds.
- The second point: there is always a context to an external struggle. For example, in the time of the noble Imam al-Ghazzali (Allah have mercy on him), the context of the external struggle that needed to be addressed was the intrusion and the influence of peripatetic (Aristotelian) philosophy and the need was to respond accordingly in order ensure people were aware of the truth of the Islamic `aqida.
- Today, the context of the struggle is not Aristotelian but ideological: between the belief system of those who want to attack and undermine the thoughts, ideas, values and laws of Islam with those who are attempting to restore Islam’s political authority which is the Khilafah.
 See for example, Bukhari, Sahih (#6241) and Abu Dawud, Sunan (#3086).
 Ibn Qudama, al-Wasiyya, p.33 (Arabic) and p.24 (English, trans. A. Bewley, London: Turath Publications, 2008).
 This point is beautifully captured in an anecdote of one of the early devotees, renowned admonisher and jurists of Kufa Abu Usama Ibrahim ibn Yazid al-Taymi (Allah have mercy on him) who is reported to have had a dialogue with his nafs (‘ego-soul’) where he said:
وقال ابن عيينة : قال ابراهيم التيمي مثلت نفسي في الجنة آكل من ثمارها وأعانق ثنا أبكارها ثم مثلت نفسي في النار آكل من زقومها وأشرب من صديدها وأعالج سلاسلها وأغلالها فقلت لنفسي أي شئ تريدين قالت أريد أن أراد إلى الدنيا فأعمل صالحا قال فقلت فأنت في الأمنية فاعملي!
“Ibn `Uyayna said: Ibrahim al-Taymi said: I imagined myself in Paradise eating from its fruits and embracing (u`aniqu) the paradisal virgins. Then I imagined myself in the Fire eating from its poisonous and bitter fruits as well as drinking from its molten hot water bound by its chains and burning iron collars. So I asked Myself: ‘what is it you desire?’ It replied: ‘I desire what i desired in the world which is to do good actions.’ [Ibrahim al-Taymi] said: I said [to Myself]: you have what you wish. So act!” [Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, al-Takhwif min al-Nar, p.47].
 See Imam al-Qurtubi, The Secrets of Asceticism, pp.64-65.
 Narrated by al-Tirmidhi in his Sunan (#1621) and Ibn Hibban in his Sahih. See also al-Haythami, Majma` al-Zawa’id, vol.3, p.271.
 See al-Sha`rani, Anwar al-Qudsiyya fi Ma`rifat Qawa`id al-Sufiyya, p.42.
 Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Kitab al-Fawa’id, pp.124-127.