Hadith: “The World is the Believers Prison
and the Disbeliever’s Paradise”
Allah’s beloved, our Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said as narrated from Sayyiduna Abu Hurayra (ra) and others:
الدنيا سجن المؤمن وجنة الكافر
“The world is the believer’s person and the disbeliever’s paradise.”
الدنيا: meaning the ‘life of this world’ (hayat al-dunya).
سجن: meaning ‘prison’, ‘jail’, ‘restraint’.
Imam al-Qurtubi writes in Qam` al-Hirsi bi ’l-Zuhdi wa ’l-Qana`a: “The world is a prison because in it the mu’min is fettered by the restrictions imposed by the divinely legislated obligations. He thus has no freedom of movement or stillness save in so far as the law makes him room for that…”
Imam al-Nawawi comments: “…and its meaning is that a believer is imprisoned in the world being prevented from following his unlawful and reprehensible desires and is legally responsible for doing difficult acts of worship. Thus, when he dies, he is free from this and moves to the eternal and everlasting abode of repose prepared for him by Allah free from all mortal distress and agony. As for the disbeliever, he has for himself little in of distress and agony so when he dies he is taken to the abode of eternal damnation, punishment and torment.”
معناه أن المؤمن مسجون فيها ممنوع عن الشهوات المحرمة والمكروهة ومكلف بفعل الطاعات الشاقة فإذا مات استراح من هذا أو انقلب إلى ما أعد الله له من النعيم الدائم والراحة الخالصة من المنغصات وأما الكافر فإنما له من ذلك ما حصل في الدنيا مع قلته وتكديره بالمنغصات فإذا مات انقلب إلى العذاب الدائم وشقاوة الأبد.
Imam al-Munawi gives as one of the meanings: “The world is the believer’s prison with respect to what Allah has prepared for him in the Hereafter of eternal bliss whereas it is the disbeliever’s paradise in what awaits him of eternal punishment…”
الدنيا سجن المؤمن بالنسبة لما أعد له في الآخرة من النعيم المقيم، وجنة الكافر بالنسبة لما أمامه من عذاب الجحيم
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim remarks: “It is that the believer’s belief (iman) restricts him from prohibited things whereas the disbeliever has free reign to do what he wants…”
أنَّ المؤمِنَ قيَّده إيمانُه عن المحظورات، والكافِرُ مُطلقُ التَّصرُّفِ
Thus, the believer is ‘imprisoned’ by the rules of the Shariah he has to follow which rules out any possibility of following one’s whims, desires, caprices or relative predilection and values. In this way, the personal freedoms of belief, ownership, speech and other personal freedoms are contrary to Islamic doctrines and precepts. The criterion of a Muslim’s actions is obeying Allah’s commands and avoiding His prohibitions, i.e. the halal and the haram. In doing this, it may be difficult, hard, against the public opinion and common practice of a society and culture.
with Allah is all success.
 For a takhrij of this hadith, see https://daralnicosia.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/hadith-the-world-is-the-believers-prison-2/
 The Secrets of Asceticism, p.71 (tr. al-Adani).
 As cited by Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti in his al-Daybaj `ala Sahih Muslim, 6:273 (#2954).
 al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, 2:729 (#4275).
 Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Bada’i` al-Fawa’id, 3:151.