Conditions of Enjoying Worldly Life
As we see in the last verse, the Quran encourages Muslims to enjoy the pleasures of their worldly life, but on the other hand, it warns us of squandering and prodigality. So there is a limit to enjoying the pleasures of our worldly life. This limit is reached when we forget the Hereafter —because if you have done that, you have wasted the time of your worldly life without achieving its purpose.
So whatever thing you have been given, it is but [for] enjoyment of the worldly life. But what is with God is better and more lasting for those who have believed and upon their Lord rely. [Sûrah Al-Shûrâh, 42:36]
So the problem is not with enjoying the worldly life, but with preferring it over the Hereafter, or with focusing on it and ignoring the hereafter.
But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring. [Sûrah Al-A’lâ, 87:16-17]
That is exactly what the atheists do. That is why God advised Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) not to waste his time with atheists: whether he warned them or did not, they would not accept his message, because they they had already denied the Hereafter.
So turn away from whomever turns his back on Our message and desires nothing but the life of this world. [Sûrah Al-Najm, 53:29]
Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, on the authority of Abdullah ibn Umar (RA) The Prophet (ﷺ) once held my shoulders and said: “Live in this world as (if you are) a stranger or a wayfarer.” (Saḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî 7/170)
This does not mean to avoid enjoying the worldly life, but to avoid being so attached to it. If you are so attached to the worldly life, you will try to enjoy it even in a sinful way. If you were so attached to your kids, you might even commit suicide if they were to die. If you are so attached to your wife, you might have no problem in sinning to please her. If you were so attached to your parent, you might obey them even if they were to endeavor to make you associate another deity with God.
And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.
But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness. [Sûrah Al-Luqmân, 31:14-15]
If you are so attached to worldly life, even without enjoying any quality of life or human rights, you would accept oppression from others, and you would not try to defend yourself, or to fight for your rights.
Indeed, God has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that which they will have Paradise. They fight in the cause of Allah. [Sûrah Al-Tawbah, 9:111]
It is a sin when you wrong yourself and accept this type of life like animals, so if you are in a weak position and you cannot fight for your life, the Quran encourages you to move to another land where you can have a better life as the human whom God honors.
Indeed, those whom the angels take [in death] while wronging themselves – [the angels] will say, “In what [condition] were you?” They will say, “We were oppressed in the land.” The angels will say, “Was not the earth of God spacious [enough] for you to emigrate therein?” For those, their refuge is Hell —and evil it is as a destination. [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:79]
The pleasures of this worldly life, such as wealth, children and wives, are a trial. If you were so attached to them, they would be your enemies. It is the same with many inmates when they say that they had sold drugs in order to support their families.
O you who have believed, indeed, among your wives and your children are enemies to you, so beware of them. But if you pardon and overlook and forgive, then indeed, God is Forgiving and Merciful.
Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and God has with Him a great reward.
So fear God as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend [in the way of God]; it is better for your selves. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul, it is those who will be the successful. [Sûrah Al-Taghâbun, 64:14-16]
The Quran reminds us that the enjoyment of worldly life is for only awhile —not forever, like the Hereafter.
And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter, that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew. [Sûrah Al-‘Ankabût, 29:64]
The Hereafter is for eternity, so if we have to prefer one life over the other, we should prefer the Hereafter, but God does not ask us to choose just one.
O my people, this worldly life is only [temporary] enjoyment, and indeed, the Hereafter, that is the home of [permanent] settlement. [Sûrah Al-Ghâfir, 40:39]
The Quran warned us of being deluded or deceived by the enjoyments of the worldly life. Yes, enjoy the life but do not let it delude or deceive you.
O mankind fear your Lord and fear a Day when no father will avail his son, nor will a son avail his father at all. Indeed, the promise of God is truth, so let not the worldly life delude you and be not deceived about Allah by the Deceiver. [Sûrah Al-Luqmân, 31:33]
In addition, the Quran warned us of the punishment reserved for those who work very hard to gain the benefits of worldly life while they ignore the Hereafter.
The ones who prefer the worldly life over the Hereafter and avert [people] from the way of God, seeking to make it (seem) deviant. Those are in extreme error. [Sûrah Al-Ibrâhîm, 14:3]
The Quran describes these people as those who buy this worldly life in exchange for the Hereafter.
Those are the ones who have bought the life of this world [in exchange] for the Hereafter, so the punishment will not be lightened for them, nor will they be aided. [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:86]
On the contrary, the Quran does not ask Muslims to buy the Hereafter in exchange for the worldly life. Rather Islam wants human beings to enjoy both lives.
Whoever desires the harvest of the Hereafter, We increase for him in his harvest. And whoever desires the harvest of this world, We give him thereof, but there is not for him in the Hereafter any share. [Sûrah Al-Shûrâh, 42:20]
The Quran describes believers as the people who seek for the good in both lives: the worldly life and the hereafter, not the Hereafter only.
And when you have completed your rites, remember Allah like your [previous] remembrance of your fathers or with [much] greater remembrance. And among the people is he who says, “Our Lord, give us in this world,” and he will have in the Hereafter no share.
But among them is he who says, “Our Lord, give us in this world [that which is] good and in the Hereafter [that which is] good, and protect us from the punishment of the Fire.”
Those will have a share of what they have earned, and Allah is swift in accounting. [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:200-202]
Balance in Life
Islam does not separate the worldly life from the Hereafter.
Say, “Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for God, Lord of the Worlds. [Sûrah Al-An’âm, 6:162]
Actually, Islam challenges us to maintain balance in life, as in the three above-quoted authentic hadith, and as in this quote that is attributed to Prophet Muhammad in popular literature:
“Work for this life as though you are going to live forever, and work for the hereafter as though you will die tomorrow.”
The following is similarly attributed to the close Companion ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib:
“Do for this life as if you live forever; do for the afterlife as if you die tomorrow.”
So, how can we do that? If I know that I will live forever I will go to try to get more educational degrees, work more, save as much money as I can, buy a nice house and car, and have more kids. On the other hand, if I know that I will die tomorrow, I will donate all my wealth and everything I own as charity and spend all my time in prayer and worship. The Quran gives us good instructions so as to gain good in both lives.
But seek, through that which God has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet] do not forget your share of the world. And do good as God has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corrupters.” [Sûrah Al-Qaṣaṣ, 28:77]
This instruction is to do your worldly deeds, intend them for God, and avoid any sin. As we know, the meaning of worship in Islam is to intend your deeds for God.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
I heard Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) saying,
“The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise.” (i.e., None can enter Paradise through his good deeds [alone].) They (the Prophet’s Companions) said, ‘Not even you, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)?’ He said, “Not even myself, unless Allah bestows His Grace and mercy on me. So be moderate in your religious deeds and do the deeds that are within your ability: and none of you should wish for death, for if he is a good doer, he may increase his good deeds, and if he is an evil doer, he may repent to Allah.” (Saḥîḥ Al-Bukhârî 5673)
So then, will we enter Paradise because of our good deeds or because of God’s mercy? In fact, there is no conflict: although our deeds in and of themselves are not good enough to deserve Paradise, our good intentions might deserve God’s mercy and forgiveness. In addition, we will not be able to do any good deeds without God’s mercy.
As a brief comparison:
- In Christianity, you have to accept Jesus as your savior if you want to be saved [from Hell] in the afterlife. So you may conclude that you do not need good deeds. But in Islam, your belief in God will not save you. Your belief is a beginning point in your worldly life.You need to have good deeds to complete that worldly life if you want to achieve a successful afterlife.
- So in Christianity your statement of belief during yor worldly life saves you from God’s punishment in the afterlife, but in Islam your statement of belief in this life is not enough to be saved in the afterlife.
- In a nutshell, Jesus himself saves his followers who accept him, but in Islam, God will not save His professed believers if they do not actuate good deeds. So, every Muslim, in effect, saves himself by doing good deeds.
But We shall save those who have guarded themselves against evil… [Sûrah Maryam, 19:72]
That does not mean we have any doubt about God’s love or mercy. We believe God keeps His promise, but if we take paradise for granted, we are not likely to take responsibility for our actions or be committed to the straight path until the last minute. God did not promise his heavenly garden to all who claim to be believers. He told Muslims, in the Quran, that entering the gardens is not by virtue of their wishes, or the wishes of Christians and Jews, but rather on two conditions: belief and good deeds.
But the ones who believe and do righteous deeds, We will admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. [It is] the promise of God, [which is] truth, and who is more truthful than God in statement. Paradise is not [obtained] by your wishful thinking nor by that of the People of the Scripture. Whoever does a wrong will be recompensed for it, and he will not find besides God a protector or a helper. And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed. [Sûrah Al-Nisâ’, 4:122-124]
Why is Paradise only for those who believe AND do good deeds?
Good deeds only are not good enough for the atheist or for the complacent believer who denies that life is a testing ground because logically, we cannot graduate to a place we deny exists, or to a place we believe has no entrance requirements. We will not go to a school if we deny there is a school or whose entrance requirements we ignore. Likewise, we cannot enter paradise if we deny it exists or neglect to pay the entrance fee by making good choices in this world.
On the other hand, belief only is not good enough because Paradise in the Hereafter will be for those who try to make the Worldly Life as a paradise on the earth, by improving it and helping others. That is the essence of good deeds.
And that is why, in Figure 1, I put attention to the Worldly Life, together with attention to the Hereafter, at the north pole of the compass: to represent —jointly— what is the ticket to a successful life, in accord with Islam.