The following ayah (verse) in the Qur’an is one of the most powerful antidotes to the poison that has impacted many of us in today’s hedonistic world. Allah SWT says:
“Know that this worldly life is no more than play and amusement, and adornment, and mutual boasting, and competition in the increase of wealth and children. This is like rain that causes plants to grow, to the delight of the planters. But later the plants dry up and you see them wither, then they are reduced to debris. And in the Hereafter, there will be either severe punishment or forgiveness and pleasure of Allah, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment” (57:20).
Play and amusement, adornment, competition, and boasting — these are mentioned in the verse above. And these are all, in the ultimate scheme of things, superficial aspects of life. They also relate to phases of human development. A child likes to play and amuse himself. Then he or she reaches young adulthood and seeks adornment (whether physical or educational or material) so as to attract a mate. Then he settles down and pursues his career, competing to gain wealth and show off his attainments. But human beings who are deceived by this dunya too often don’t grow beyond these more immature and superficial phases of development and so continue to seek play and amusement; to adorn themselves with evidence of affluence — tailored suits, fine jewelry, a big house, an expensive car; and they continue to compete and boast throughout life. Only those who cultivate God-consciousness will rise above these more superficial pursuits and seek the pleasure of Allah SWT and the reward of the Hereafter.
Wasting Precious Time
Never before has mankind experienced access to countless forms of entertainment and the temptations to waste one’s time/life with useless and trivial games, movies, and social media. Additionally, much of the entertainment in the world today does not even benefit people with regards to this life, let alone the afterlife. Playing a sport, at least, is beneficial and a form of exercise and, if one has the intention and awareness, it is a form of worship; while watching hundreds or thousands of hours of sports may not benefit one at all with regards to this life nor the afterlife.
Playing a board game with family members or friends for the sake of bonding may be beneficial and rewarding as an act of worship, while playing online role-playing games that require thousands of hours to “skill up” levels is frankly an alarming example of draining one’s remaining life hours with clicks of a mouse and keyboard strokes.
Watching reality television shows has consumed many people in the world, and yet most shows are inappropriate or outright forbidden for the Muslim to view, and even from a secular perspective are a complete waste of one’s time as one mindlessly watches the lives of other human beings play out, often with much melodrama and conflict. Similarly, following “influencers” on social media who bring no benefit or education to followers is an example of killing time watching people live their dreams (at least, perceptions of dreams) while neglecting one’s own dreams and ambitions for a meaningful life that is connected to an afterlife.
How much time is wasted in youth and adulthood on such matters of play and distraction? How much time and energy are wasted in adulthood in pursuing financial goals for the conscious or sometimes subconscious sake of competing with others and seeking to adorn oneself and one’s family with a slightly bigger house, a richer neighborhood, a fancier car, brand name purses and apparel, and social prestige?
Any ideology or movement that emphasizes “you only live once” as its core maxim is a failed ideology that has fallen for the trap of the devil and delusion of this life mentioned in the above ayah. Hedonism, notably, is a prime example of what it means to be deluded by one’s desires, pursuit of instant gratification, and the world of this life, while neglecting that which is eternal, meaningful, and rewarding with Allah SWT.
Like a Rainfall: The Parable of This Life
The above ayah, 57:20, includes a parable of rain that comes down and the farmers are pleased with the vegetation they observe growing in the aftermath of rain. Similarly, in this parable, the disbelievers are pleased with this life, attached to it with a strong attachment, and will do whatever it takes to get more of this life without any end in mind.
Afterwards, however, the vegetation dries up, turns yellow in color, and becomes dust and dirt. This, Allah SWT informs us, is the parable of the worldly life. It starts young and is watered and cultivated, it matures and grows old and feeble, and everything within it perishes, including human beings. We begin this life young, grow, experience youthfulness and strength for a time in most cases, and slowly age and begin losing physical strength in many ways. Then, extremely old age sets in for those who live long, moving physically becomes less easy, and capacity becomes limited.
What should one do once they realize that this verse is a powerful antidote to worldly attachments? No doubt, the reminder here is for the attentive heart to awaken and follow through with sincere effort in pursuing the eternal life of bliss, and to recognize that the Hereafter contains both severe punishment for some, as well as the forgiveness and pleasure of Allah SWT for others. Therefore, if one claims to want the forgiveness and pleasure of the Creator, then one must prioritize with wisdom the efforts that lead to such a beautiful result.
Allah the Exalted said, “And the life of this world is only a delusion of enjoyment” (57:20). This means that the worldly life we all experience today is only a form of enjoyment that deceives people, and specifically those whose hearts are inclining to the instant gratification it offers while ignoring the eternal life of reward and bliss. This category of people includes atheists, agnostics, and followers of other philosophies and worldviews that reject belief in the afterlife.
The Hotel Room Analogy
Imagine entering a hotel room with a traveling companion for a two-night trip and hearing him observe the room with excitement because of how wonderful it is. Thereafter, your friend suggests purchasing some new furniture for the hotel room, rearranging some aspects of it, and renovating the bathroom. You would think such an idea is ridiculous as the room is a temporary stay of two nights and renovating the room or purchasing new furniture would seem to imply that it’s one’s home and that one would be living there for a lengthy period of time. This world, in comparison to the eternal afterlife, is shorter than that two-night stay in the hotel.
This does not mean that one should not purchase furniture for their homes or renovate when needed, but rather that there is a necessary balance and a reasonable state of organizing one’s life without going to extremes and forgetting about the afterlife, and without becoming overly attached to this life and forgetting how temporary it is and how abruptly we shall all depart from it and return to our Lord.
This life can be deceiving with all its beauty and distractions. This life can be tempting with its promise of fulfillment that is closer to us than that of the afterlife, an instant versus delayed gratification. But Allah SWT warns us that this life is filled with play and distraction, and that the afterlife “is better for those who are God-conscious” (6:32). Referring to disbelievers, Allah SWT says: “Allah gives abundant or limited provisions to whomever He wills. And they rejoice in the life of the world. But the life of this world, compared to the Hereafter, is nothing but a fleeting enjoyment” (13:26).
Of great note in verse 57:20 are the descriptions of the worldly life, in comparison to the afterlife. Out of His Mercy, in order to liberate us from being shackled by the dunya and attached to its deception, Allah describes the way of this world as mere play, amusement, competition, and boasting, and ultimately a temporary and paltry return on investment compared to the Hereafter.
Whoever takes this ayah seriously will find inner peace and true success. Whoever takes this ayah seriously will find a path of light, for himself or herself and others. It is a liberation from worldly shackles and illusory philosophies. Whoever takes this ayah seriously will find an increase in gratitude, a decrease in looking at those who have more of material wealth, and a tranquility and purpose that cannot be taken away by others.