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What the Qu'ran teaches: The transitory nature of this life

Published: 13/01/2011 10:31:00 PM GMT
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Published: Jan 13, 2011 22:41 Updated: Jan 13, 2011 22:42

In the name of God, the Lord of Grace, the Ever Merciful Whatever you are given is but for the enjoyment of life in this world, but that which is with God is much better and more enduring. (It shall be given) to those who believe and place their trust in their Lord. (Consultation, Al-Shura, 42: 36)

THIS verse begins a passage in the surah that describes the distinctive qualities of the Muslim community that make it a community apart. Although the surah was revealed in Makkah, long before the establishment of the Muslim state in Madinah, we note that one of these qualities is that its affairs are conducted on the basis of mutual consultation. This suggests that consultation is more deeply ingrained in the life of the Muslim community than its being the basis of its political system. It is, thus, an essential quality of the Muslim community. It then had to be carried further to the state, which is a natural progression from that of Muslim community. Another quality to be noted is that Muslims defend themselves when they come under oppression.

Yet the order given to the Muslims in Makkah was that they should endure with patience and not retaliate. It was only after they migrated to Madinah that a different order was given to them and permission to fight was granted: “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is waged, because they have been wronged. Most certainly, God has the power to grant them victory.” (22: 39) That this quality is mentioned in Makkan verses suggests that self-defense against oppression is a permanent of the Muslim community, while the instruction to remain patient and not to retaliate pertained to an exceptional and particular situation during the early period. The quality is mentioned here because an outline of the essential qualities of the Muslim community is given. Hence, this quality could not be overlooked, even though retaliation in self-defense was not as then permitted.

The fact that these qualities are mentioned in this Makkan surah, long before the Muslim community had assumed practical leadership should be reflected upon. These qualities must be fulfilled by the Muslim community before it is fit to assume practical leadership. What are these qualities, and what value do they have in human life as a whole?

These qualities are: faith, placing our trust in God alone, refraining completely from grave sin and indecency, forgiving when angry, responding to God, attending regularly to prayer, conducting our affairs through proper consultation, giving generously in charity, resisting oppression, forgiving other people, putting things right and remaining patient in adversity. We need to reflect a little on each of these qualities in the order they occur in the surah.

The surah sets before us the divine standard of values, showing us which of these are transitory and which are enduring and inalterable. Muslims will, thus, have a clear vision, one free of confusion. This standard is outlined first as a prelude to the qualities of the Muslim community: “Whatever you are given is but for the enjoyment of life in this world, but that which is with God is much better and more enduring.”

There are plenty of attractive and pleasant things in the life of this world: offspring, wealth, desires and their fulfillment, high social standing, power, as well as other things to enjoy. These are granted by God as part of His bounty that is unattached to people’s behavior in this life, but He adds blessing to those who are obedient to Him, even though their share is little, and denies such blessing to sinners even though their share is great indeed. Yet none of this is permanent or enduring. It is all short-lived; it neither raises nor lowers anyone’s standing. Nothing of it reflects anyone’s position with God, or provides an indication of His pleasure or displeasure with anyone. It is all a fleeting enjoyment. “That which is with God is much better and more enduring.” It is better in essence and longer lasting. Compared to what is with God, all life enjoyments are trifling and short-lived. Its maximum duration is the life of the individual or the life of humanity. Both are no more than a fleeting moment in God’s measure.

Having established this true fact, the surah outlines the qualities of the believers who are destined to enjoy the enduring blessings God has in store for them. The first of these qualities is faith: “That which is with God is much better and more enduring. (It shall be given) to those who believe and place their trust in their Lord.” To believe is to recognize the first and basic truth without which man cannot know for certain anything in the universe.

It is through believing in God that we begin to understand that the universe is created by Him. This is essential so that we know how to deal with the universe and learn about the laws that operate in it. We can then bring our lives into harmony with the universe, so as not to deviate from its laws. Such harmony will impart ease and comfort in our lives. We will then move, together with the universe, in a way that submits to God and seeks His acceptance. This quality is necessary for every human being, but it is most essential for the Muslim community that seeks to lead humanity.

Faith also imparts reassurance and confidence, and dispels doubt, worry, fear and despair. These are necessary throughout our life journey, but they are all the more essential for the leader who charts the way ahead.

What faith gives to man is to free him from the pressures of personal desire, interest and gain.

 With faith, man’s heart looks up to a goal that lies beyond his own soul. He realizes that he has no say in the course the divine message takes; it is, after all, a message from God, while he is simply a worker employed by God. This realization is extremely important to the person who is in a position of leadership so that he does not allow despair to creep in should people turn away from him or should he suffer persecution. This realization also acts as a safeguard so that he does not become arrogant should he gain power. In every situation, he remains no more than a worker.

The first crop of Muslims accepted the faith in a way that remarkably influenced their mentality, morality and behavior. Prior to Islam, the meaning of faith had been greatly weakened so that it no longer influenced people’s morality and behavior. Islam brought about a new model of faith, one that was alive and influential, enabling that community of believers to assume the task of leadership entrusted to it. ¬

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