The Lure of Worldly Goods
Throughout life, we have particular goals to achieve: wealth, possessions, and better status, and a spouse and children. These are among the common goals shared by almost everyone. All planning and effort are designed to meet these goals. In spite of the sole incontrovertible fact that everything is inclined to age and extinction, people cannot keep themselves from becoming deeply attached to things. One day a brand-new car becomes old-fashioned; due to natural causes, rich farmland becomes barren; a beautiful person loses all her looks when she ages. Above all, every human being on earth dies, leaving everything he owned behind. Yet despite all these irrefutable facts, man shows an unfathomable devotion to possessions.
Those who spend their lives devoted blindly to worldly goods, will realise that they consumed all their lives chasing illusions. They will realise their ridiculous situation after they die. Only then will the ultimate purpose of life, to be a sincere servant of Allah, be clear to them.
Allah in the Qur'an gives a considerable account of this "deep attachment" in the following verse:
Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: women and sons; heaped-up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded (for blood and excellence); and (wealth of) cattle and well-tilled land. Such are the possessions of this world's life; but in nearness to Allah is the best of the goals (to return to). (Surah Ali-'Imran: 14)
All the matters of this world – wealth, spouses, children and commerce – keep many a person busy in this life. However, if they could acknowledge the power and greatness of Allah, they would know that all the things granted to man are merely means of obtaining His good pleasure. This way, they would also comprehend that the main aim of man is to be His servant. Yet, those who do not have true faith and trust in Allah have blurred vision and a poor understanding of their existence due to their worldly ambitions. They expect great things from this flawed life.
It is surprising that man forgets all about the Hereafter, which is a perfect and infinitely superior residence for him, and is satisfied with this world. If someone does not have complete faith, even the existence of a slight "probability" of the Hereafter should make him, at least, assume a more cautious attitude.
Believers, on the other hand, are fully aware that this is, by no means, a "probability" but a reality. That is why their lives serve the purpose of eradicating the slightest possibility of being sent to hell; their efforts are entirely designed to attain paradise. They know clearly that the disappointment felt in the Hereafter after a life spent on vain desires will be bitter. They are well aware that accumulated wealth, such as an overflowing bank account, luxury cars or mansions, will not be accepted as a ransom from eternal punishment. Furthermore, neither family nor one's dearest friends will be present to save one from eternal grief. On the contrary, every soul will try to save itself. Yet despite all this, most people assume that this life does not continue on to the hereafter, and greedily embrace this world. Allah states this in the verse below:
Mutual rivalry for piling up (the good things of this world) diverts you (from the more serious things), until you visit the graves. (Surat at-Takathur: 1-2)
Attraction towards worldly possessions is, no doubt, the secret of the test. Allah creates all things that He bestows upon man with great sophistication, yet they are also of short duration. This is only to make people think and compare the things given to them in this world with the Hereafter. This is the "secret" of which we are talking. Life in the world is indeed magnificent; it is quite colourful and attractive revealing the glory of Allah's creation. To lead a good life and take pleasure in it is, no doubt, something desirable and man, surely, prays to Allah to lead such a life. Yet this can never be the ultimate purpose, since such a goal in life is not more important than attaining the good pleasure of Allah and paradise. Therefore, man should never forget his main purpose, while enjoying the benefit of these favours. Allah warns man about this issue in the verse below:
The (material) things which you are given are but the conveniences of this life and the glitter thereof; but that which is with Allah is better and more enduring: will you not then be wise? (Surat al-Qasas: 60)
This great fondness for worldly things is one of the reasons why man forgets the Hereafter. There is another point to remember: man never finds true happiness in any of the worldly things he greedily embraces or in any provision that he toils to possess. That is because keen desires are hard to satisfy. No matter how much it may possess, the desires of the ego never end. Typically, it always seeks for more and for better. This is why the human being cannot find peace or satisfaction in the world.
Does Real Wealth Exist in this World?
A majority of people assume they can turn their life into a perfect one once they determine to do so. Furthermore, they simply assume that achieving a high quality of life is possible through having more money, better living standards, a happy family, and an admirable status in society. Yet, those people who devote all their time to securing such things are clearly admitting to an error. First, they only struggle to attain peace and happiness in this world and forget all about the Hereafter. Despite the fact that their main purpose is to be servants of Allah in this world and to be grateful for what He gives, they spend life fulfilling their own vain desires.
Allah informs man about the insignificance and deceptive allure of the world in the Qur'an:
Know you (all), that the life of this world is but play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting and multiplying (in rivalry) among yourselves, riches and children. Here is a similitude: how rain and the growth which it brings forth delight (the hearts of) the tillers; soon it withers; you will see it grow yellow; then it becomes dry and crumbles away. But in the Hereafter is a penalty severe (for the devotees of wrong). And forgiveness from Allah and (His) good pleasure (for the devotees of Allah). And what is the life of this world, but goods and chattels of deception? (Surat al-Hadid: 20)
Not believing in the Hereafter or seeing it as a remote possibility is the many people's fundamental mistake. They believe that they will never lose their wealth. Pride makes them avoid submission to Allah and turn their faces against His promise. The ends of such people are related as follows:
Those who rest not their hope on their meeting with Us, but are pleased and satisfied with the life of the present, and those who heed not Our signs: Their abode is hell, because of the (evil) they earned. (Surah Yunus: 7-8)
History has witnessed many such people. Kings, emperors, and pharaohs thought they could secure immortality through their fabulous wealth; the thought that there is something more valuable than wealth and power may never even have occurred to them. This flawed mentality misled their peoples, who were greatly impressed by their wealth and power. However, all these disbelievers faced a terrible end. In the Qur'an, Allah informs us about them:
Do they think that because We have granted them abundance of wealth and sons, We would hasten them on in every good? Nay, they do not understand. (Surat al-Muminun: 55- 56)
Let not their wealth nor their (following in) sons dazzle you: in reality Allah's plan is to punish them with these things in this life, and that their souls may perish in their (very) denial of Allah. (Surat at-Tawbah: 55)
These people actually disregard a crucial point. All wealth and everything deemed important, belong to Allah. Allah, the actual Owner of wealth, allocates His endless possessions among those whom He wills. In return, man is expected to show his gratefulness to Allah and be a loyal servant to Him. It should be remembered that nobody can limit one's possessions once Allah bestows them. Likewise, once somebody is deprived of affluence, nobody except Allah has the power to sustain him. In this way, Allah puts His people to test. However, those who forget their Creator and the day of judgement pay no heed to this:
Allah enlarges, or grants by (strict) measure, the sustenance (which He gives) to whomsoever He pleases. (The worldly) rejoice in the life of this world. But the life of this world is but little comfort in the Hereafter. (Surat ar-Ra'd: 26)
Are Wealth and Status in the World Important?
Most people believe that a perfectly peaceful life is attainable in this world. This mentality suggests that one can find true happiness and earn the respect of others by becoming wealthy. The same mentality believes that once this contentment is fulfilled, it will last until the end of the world. Yet, the truth is otherwise. Man can never achieve the life of his dreams by forgetting his Creator and the day of judgement. That is because by the time he realises one goal, he sets his mind on others. Not content with earning a lot, he goes into new businesses. He does not take any pleasure from his new flat once he sees his neighbour's more artfully decorated house, or else, because the fact that his house is decorated in last year's style, which is no longer in fashion, prompts him to redecorate it. Similarly, since fashions and tastes change dramatically, he dreams of a more sophisticated wardrobe because he is not satisfied with what he already has. The psychology of disbelievers is clearly explained in the following verse:
Leave Me alone, (to deal) with the (creature) whom I created (bare and) alone! To whom I granted resources in abundance, sons dwelling in his presence to whom I made (life) smooth and comfortable! Yet is he greedy that I should add (yet more). (Surat al-Muddaththir: 11-15)
A person of sound mind and clear understanding should acknowledge that those who possess mansions with more rooms than inhabitants, luxury cars or fabulous wardrobes are only able to use a limited part of those possessions. If you had the biggest mansion in the world, would it be possible to enjoy the comfort of each room at the same time? Alternatively, if you had a wardrobe of highly fashionable clothes, how many of your suits could you wear in a day? The owner of a mansion with dozens of rooms, as an entity limited in terms of time and space can only stay in a single room at any one time. If you are offered all the delicious dishes of a famous cuisine, your stomach would take no more than a few of them; if you attempt to bolt down more, the result will be torture rather than pleasure.
The list could be further extended, yet the most striking fact is that man is destined to a quite limited period of life in which he can enjoy the luxury his wealth brings. Man rapidly proceeds towards his end, yet he hardly acknowledges this during his life and assumes that his wealth will bring him eternal happiness, as the verse suggests:
Thinking that his wealth would make him last forever! (Surat al-Humazah: 3)
Man is so blindly fascinated with the power of his wealth that when he faces the awful end on the day of judgement, he will still struggle to escape from punishment by giving away his wealth:
Though they will be put in sight of each other, - the wrongdoer's desire will be: Would that he could redeem himself from the penalty of that day by (sacrificing) his children, wife and his brother, kindred who sheltered him, all that is on earth so it could deliver him: by no means! For it would be the fire of hell! (Surat al-Ma'arij: 11-15)
Yet, some people are aware that wealth, prosperity and great fortune are under the control of Allah. Hence, they are well aware that rank and status are ridiculous. Only these people truly understand that these possessions will not save them in the hereafter. Therefore, they do not dare to chase after the valuables of this world. Showing arrogance is not a trait you can expect from such modest people. Never forgetting the existence of Almighty Allah makes them feel grateful for everything He gives them. In return for such conduct, Allah promises an honourable and comfortable life to them. The people who trust in Allah and make their servanthood to Allah the ultimate purpose of their lives are aware that they can only benefit from worldly goods for a limited period of time and that worldly goods are worthless next to the eternal abundance promised. Wealth never makes such people become deeply attached to this life. On the contrary, it makes them more grateful and closer to Allah. They deal justly with everyone and every issue, and try, with what Allah gives them, to attain His good pleasure. Rather than taking pleasure from wealth in this world, they aim to acquire the Qur'anic values expected from them, fully aware that real status and praise in the presence of Allah matter. The prophet Sulayman set an example to all people as an honourable believer who showed such traits in his life. Possessing a great wealth and sovereignty, Sulayman clearly stated why he pursued this wealth:
Truly do I love the love of good, with a view to the glory of my Lord. (Surah Sad: 32)
Failure to acknowledge why worldly goods are created in this world leads people to forget that they will only be able to use these possessions for a period of 60-70 years, if they are destined to live that long, and then leave their mansions, cars and children behind. They do not think that they will be buried alone in their graves. All through their lives they long for the affluence they will never be able to enjoy.
Yet, those who consider wealth a saviour and neglect the existence of their Creator suffer bitter grief both in this world and the hereafter:
Those who reject faith, neither their possessions nor their (numerous) progeny will avail them aught against Allah: They are themselves but fuel for hell. (Surah Ali-'Imran: 10)
The Qur'an heralds the end of those who demonstrate insatiable greed for possessions:
Who heaps up wealth and lay it by,
True wealth belongs to those believers who never show an inner interest in possessions in this world and truly believe that only Allah gives everything to man. These are actually the really wealthy people in this world; they do not limit their lives to a mere 50-60 years. Believers engage in the best trade by obtaining paradise in exchange for this life. They prefer permanent instead of temporary wealth. Allah informs us about this in the following verse:
Allah has purchased from the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Tawrah, the Gospel, and the Qur'an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which you have concluded: that is the achievement supreme. (Surat at-Tawbah: 111)
Disregarding these facts, those who "cling to" this world will soon understand clearly who is on the path of right action.
Marriage is considered an important turning point in one's life. Every young girl or boy looks forward to meeting the person of her or his dreams. A good mate is a major goal in life and young people are almost "indoctrinated" with the importance of finding one, which is certainly a natural wish. However, relations between man and woman are fundamentally based on unsound grounds in ignorant societies, namely societies in which people do not accept the Qur'anic way of life: "friendships" are solely romantic relationships in which both sexes seek emotional satisfaction. Yet, marriages are usually based on mutual material benefits. Many women try to find a "prosperous man" in expectation of a high standard of living. For such a purpose, a young girl may easily accept to be the life-long spouse of someone for whom she has no affection. On the other hand, what a man seeks in a woman is very often "good looks".
Yet the rationale behind the viewpoint of an ignorant society neglects a crucial fact: all these materialistic values are eventually doomed to perish; Allah can take back the fortune of a man in a moment. Similarly, it takes but a few seconds to lose good looks; as city dwellers, for instance, our daily commuting to and from work can at any time be thwarted by an accident that may leave hideous and permanent scars on the face. Time, meanwhile, deals irrecoverable damage to our health, strength and beauty. Under such unpredictable conditions, what consequences are there in a system based on purely materialistic values? For instance, think of a man who only marries a woman because he is impressed by her good looks. What would he think if her face is badly injured in an accident? Would he leave her when wrinkles start to appear on her face? The answers no doubt reveal the unreasonable basis of materialistic thinking.
A marriage becomes precious when it is intended purely to obtain the good pleasure of Allah. Otherwise, it becomes a burden both in this world and the next. If not in this world, man will ultimately understand in the hereafter that this is an improper way for the human soul. Yet, this will be too late; on the day of judgement, he would hold his wife, to whom he felt so close in this world, a ransom for his own salvation. The terror of that day will render all relations in this world meaningless. Allah gives a detailed account of the relationships between immediate family members on the day of judgement in the following verse:
Though they will be put in sight of each other, the wrongdoer's desire will be: would that he could redeem himself from the penalty of that Day by (sacrificing) his children, wife and his brother, kindred who sheltered him... (Surat al-Ma'arij: 11-13)
It is evident from the verses that people will no longer attach any importance to women, friends, brothers or sisters on the day of judgement. In their desperate efforts to be saved, everybody will be willing to pay their immediate family or relatives as a ransom for their own personal salvation. Furthermore, these people will curse each other since they never warned each other against such a terrible end. In the Qur'an, the case of Abu Lahab who deserved eternal punishment in hell and his wife is recounted:
The power of Abu Lahab will perish, and he will perish. His wealth and gains will not exempt him. He will be plunged in flaming fire, and his wife, the wood-carrier, will have upon her neck a halter of palm-fibre. (Surat al-Masad: 1-5)
The type of marriage acceptable in the presence of Allah is, however, based on totally different criteria. Contrary to the marriages common in an ignorant society, where people are heedless about earning the good pleasure of Allah, the criteria is not money, fame or beauty but a marriage intended to gain His good pleasure. For believers, the only criterion is taqwa, in other words, 'the avoidance of all that is prohibited, the fulfilment of all that is commanded, and the fear of Allah. Consequently, a believer can only marry someone who displays a deep loyalty to Allah. People find peace and happiness in this marriage. The relevant verse follows:
And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. (Surat ar-Rum: 21)
Taqwa being the sole bond, believers will surely meet a pleasant life in the Hereafter. As they remind each other righteousness and guide one another to the paradise all through their lives, they will also remain close friends for all eternity. Their relations are described as follows:
The believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is exalted in power, Wise. (Surat at-Tawbah: 71)
A major ambition of mankind is to leave behind sons who will carry the family name into the future. However, if not intended seeking the good pleasure of Allah, this ambition well may be a factor taking man from the path of Allah. A person is tested in his children; in this sense, what is expected from him is to treat them in a way that will gain the good pleasure of Allah.
Your wealth and your children are only a trial, whereas Allah! With Him is an immense reward. (Surat at-Taghabun: 15)
In the verse, the use of the word 'trial' is of great significance. For many people, having children is one of the most important goals in life. Yet in the Qur'anic sense, a believer only wants children in order to gain the good pleasure of Allah. Otherwise, just for the sake of satisfying one's own desire for a child, having a baby would only mean ascribing partners to Allah. The example of those who forget their real purpose and make their children the "ultimate goal in life" is given in the Qur'an:
He it is Who did create you from a single soul, and therefrom did make his mate that he might take rest in her. And when he covered her she bore a light burden, and she passed (unnoticed) with it, but when it became heavy they cried to Allah, their Lord, saying: "If you give to us a goodly child, we vow we shall be of the thankful." When He gave to them a goodly child, they ascribed to Him partners in respect of that which He had given them. High is He exalted above all that they associate (with Him). Do they indeed ascribe to Him as partners things that can create nothing, but are themselves created? (Surat al-A'raf: 189-191)
Believers ask for children from Allah only for His good pleasure. When asking for children, the prophets cited in the Qur'an only intended to attain the good pleasure of Allah. An example is the wife of 'Imran:
When the wife of 'Imran said: "My Lord! Surely I vow to You what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Your service); accept therefore from me, surely You are the Hearing, the Knowing." (Surat Ali-'Imran 35)
The prayer of the prophet Ibrahim, also sets an example to all believers:
Our Lord! Make of us Muslims, bowing to Your (Will), and of our progeny a people Muslim, bowing to Your (will); and show us our place for the celebration of (due) rites; and turn unto us (in Mercy); for You are the Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. (Surat al-Baqarah: 128)
In the expression of the verse, having children, if intended to seek Allah's favour, is a way of worshipping Allah. However, when the real intention is something other than attaining the blessing of Allah, then a person may suffer grave consequences both in this world and the next. Believers acknowledge their children as individuals entrusted to them by Allah. Therefore, they do not take a personal pride in their children's appearance, success or intelligence, knowing that Allah granted those traits to that child. Such pride is simply an act of going astray.
Such an approach has detrimental consequences in the hereafter. On the day of judgement, one would be more than willing to pay one's sons, spouse and other immediate family members as ransom for eternal salvation. One's desire to avoid the awful punishment makes one immediately forsake beloved ones. Yet on the day of judgement there will be no hope of escaping eternal punishment by such an act.
For the people of an ignorant society, children become the source of many problems not only in the hereafter but also in this world. From birth onwards, rearing a child entails burdensome responsibilities for parents. It is an especially difficult experience for the pregnant mother. First, the day she receives the news of a baby, she has to change her life-style entirely. She has to reorder her priorities. In this respect the needs of the baby in her womb always come first; her eating habits, the way she sleeps, in brief, her whole personal life changes entirely. Towards the end of the period of pregnancy, doing daily work and most simple bodily movements become impossible for the mother. Yet, the major difficulties start after birth. The mother spends all her time taking care of the baby. The baby usually leaves its mother very little time for her personal needs and tasks. Therefore, the mother looks forward to the time when her baby grows old enough to take care of its own needs. In the meantime, the mother does not recognise how quickly the years pass. If done for the good pleasure of Allah, such a long time can be considered as a way of worship. Yet for the members of an ignorant society, these years are nothing more than pointless trouble.
Parents in an ignorant society usually feel disappointment when they raise their family. Raised as a member of an ignorant society, the child generally develops a self-centred personality. Under the misguidance of selfish drives and motives, he shows interest in the needs of his parents only if it serves him to do so. His parents, now old and experiencing age-related problems, only understand this fact late in life. However in the early years of parenthood, they imagine that when their children grow up they would be major supports in times of unexpected trouble, but contrary to this expectation, they may even find themselves in rest-homes.
Allah in the Qur'an presents man with a framework, according to which believers must conduct themselves responsibly towards their parents. Allah requires respect and mercy towards parents, especially those in old age:
Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your lifetime, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: "My Lord! Bestow on them your mercy even as they cherished me in childhood." (Surat al-Isra: 23-24)
As we understand from the verses, rearing a child in the light of Qur'anic values is something honourable for believers to do. Yet, if unbelieving people who force the children to adopt the mentality of an ignorant society rear them, then this is a vain effort both in this world and the next. Furthermore, believers still attain the good pleasure of Allah even if the child does not adopt the Qur'anic teaching he is given. Parents are only held responsible to give the Qur'anic teaching to their children and then put their trust in Allah. Besides Allah, people have no other protector or helper.
Those who seek worldly benefits from their children will receive no help from them either in this world or in the next.
When the Deafening Blast comes, the Day a man will flee from his brother and his mother and his father, and his wife and his children: on that Day every man among them will have concerns enough of his own. (Surah 'Abasa: 33-37)
As stated earlier, man is only created to serve his Creator. Everything surrounding him, all his life only exists to test him. After death, a person will only be judged according to his deeds. In return for his deeds, he will be rewarded with paradise or punished in hell. In brief, wealth, beauty or sons are not worthwhile, but taqwa, the "Fear of Allah" is worthwhile.
It is neither your wealth nor your sons that will bring you nearer to Us in degree: but only those who believe and work right actions, these are the ones for whom there is a multiplied reward for their deeds, while secure they (reside) in the dwellings on high! (Surah Saba: 37)
Those who reject faith, neither their possessions nor their (numerous) progeny will avail them aught against Allah: they will be companions of hell, dwelling therein (forever). (Surah Ali-'Imran: 116)
Of no profit whatever to them, against Allah, will be their riches or their sons: they will be companions of hell, to dwell therein (for aye)! (Surat al-Mujadilah: 17)