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Discourse 32: The World is a Storehouse of Treasures

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللٌّهِ بْنِ عَبَّاس قَالَ: سَمِعْتُ رَسولَ اللٌّهِ يَقُولُ: أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ، بَسْطُ الأَمَلِ مُتَقَدِّمُ حُلُولِ الأَجَلِ، وَ الْمَعَادُ مِضْمَارُ الْعَمَلِ، فَمُغْتَبِطٌ بِمَا احْتَقَبَ غَانِمٌ، وَ مُتَيَسِّرٌ بِمَافَاتِهِ نَادِمٌ. اَيُّهَا النَّاسُ، إِنَّ الطَّمَعَ فَقْرٌ، وَ الْيَأْسَ غَنِيٌ وَ الْقَنَاعَةَ رَاحَةٌ، وَ الْعُزْلَةَ عِبَادَةٌ، وَ الْعَمَلَ كَنْزٌ، وَ الدُّنْيَا مَعْدِنٌ… فَبَادِرُوا الْعَمَلَ وَ أَنْـتُمْ فِي مَهْلِ الأََنْفَاسِ، وَ جِدَّةِ الإِحْلاَسِ، قَبْلَ أَنْ تُأْخَذُوا بِالْكَظْمِ، فَلاَ يَنْفَعُ النَّدَمُ.

It has been narrated from Abdullah b. 'Abbas: “I heard the Messenger of Allah (S) say: 'O' Mankind!  Before death comes to a person, all sorts of wishes and desires are placed in front of him and surely the Resurrection Day is a field of trial and a competition. (On this day, people will be in one of two groups) The (poor) person will possess (the good form) of envy (Al-Ghibtah). In that same amount as the wealth which he gives (in the way of Allah), will he be successful and dignified. The other type of person is that rich person who possessed things however did not make use of his wealth and did not spend it in the way of Allah and thus, he will be in grief and upset.

O' People!  Surely greed is (actually) poverty, and disregarding (that which other people have) is richness, and contentment (with what one possesses) is comfort and distancing ones' self (from people) is worship, and (righteous) actions are a treasure, and this world is the mine (of treasures) … Thus while you have the opportunity, strive to perform good deeds even if the time remaining for you (on this Earth) is as much as the time between two breaths or the time it takes to mount upon your saddle, before the way of breathing is taken (away from you) at which time any remorse will be of no use.'”1
 
The Noble Prophet (S) brought forth two points in this tradition:
A)  Before the time of parting (from this world) and one's death, all of the wishes and desires (which a person possesses) will be presented in front of him.
This part of the tradition may point to the fact that as a person gets older, his (material) desires also increase - and these also become spiritually devoid and less logical as times goes on.2
Thus, this is the danger bell to that person - no matter how old one is, the desires for material things increase. It is this same thing that will prevent a person from making the best of this world in order to prepare oneself to have a better life in the next world.

B) The Resurrection Day is the field and area of actions. The reason why the 'Arabs refer to the competition ground as a مضمار” “ is due to the fact that before they would start a horseback riding competition, they would first look to find an open area to practice in and there they would try to get their horses to run as much as they could and it is through this act that they would accomplish two things:
1.       The horses would get more training and experience.
2.       The horses would get thinner and fitter.

The word مضمار” is also in the meaning of becoming thinner and thus, in the 24th khutbah recorded in Nahjul Balagha it is mentioned that, “Today is the day of the competition ground.” 

This world which we are in is the training ground and the competition is the next life. From this expression, we can deduce that sometimes the area of competition - the competition ground - is also referred to as the “مضمار” since it is there that the horses will run and will get thinner and fitter.

In any case, according to this commandment from the Noble Prophet (S), the Resurrection Day is the competition ground for actions. We should not think that a person will be able to reach any status in life with long desires and hopes. At that place (on the Day of Resurrection) it is the actions of each person which will compete with one another, and the person who had more good deeds will be the winner of this competition and whoever had less good deeds and was polluted (with evil and sin) will be the loser.

This world tries to keep everyone busy with long desires whereas in the market of the Resurrection, these desires will serve absolutely no purpose - rather, it is only those actions which produce benefits which will be of use for us.

From the following sentence in the hadith, we understand that people are of two types:

One group is those who are envious (good envy) of others or مغتبط, whereas the second group is those who are content or متيسر. Some people have stated that the first word actually means one who is happy or joyous however according to our opinion, it refers to a poor person who is envious and jealous of others and in the same amount that he spends his wealth in the way of Allah (SwT), in that same amount he will attain happiness and success.

There are some people who possess everything (materialistically speaking) however since they are not able to make use of their wealth, they are always upset and discontent.

In the next sentence, there are six points which have been mentioned:

1) & 2) The wealth and poverty of a person are related to the inside (spiritual aspects) of a person and are not related to his apparent aspects. If a person who possesses a lot was to own everything that is in the world, he would still be poor - and the opposite of this is true as well that if a person who does not pay attention to the material world did not possess anything, he will still be rich. It is the soul which must be full (of spiritual blessings) and which must remain self-sufficient and needless (of others) since the best wealth of a person is his internal and spiritual wealth. Thus, one who possesses everything (materialistically) is actually poor, and one who disregards wealth and material pleasures of this world is the truly wealthy person:

إِنَّ الطَّمَعَ فَقْرٌ، وَ الْيَأْسَ غِنَىً.

“Surely coveteousness is poverty while contentment is richness.”

3) A person is in need of rest and relaxation, and if he wishes to find this rest and relaxation, then he must do so by searching deep within oneself since it is through contentment that a person finds ease and comfort:

وَ الْقِنَاعَةُ رَاحَةُ.

“Contentment breeds comfort.”
and it is due to greed that a person is often put through difficulties and challenges.

4) In order for a person to continuously be in the worship and servitude of Allah (SwT), one must sit in a quiet and tranquil area. By this, we do not mean that one distances oneself entirely from the people. Rather, we mean that during the 24 hour period, one must put aside some time for himself to be with his soul and his Allah. The best time to engage in this contemplation is the last part of the night just before the rising of the sun when normally, most people are asleep. The worship and prayer with full attention and presence of the heart in the middle of the night gives the heart and soul of a person spiritual energy:

وَ الْعُزْلَةُ عِبَادَةٌ.

“…distancing ones' self (from people) is worship…”

5) & 6) The treasures and riches of a person are his actions, and this world is the quarry (where these treasures can be extracted). Therea are various explanations and similitudes in relation to the world that have been given. For example it has been said that this world is the planting ground for the next life or that this life is a house of admonition and a bridge to cross (to the next life), however it is only in this tradition that it has been mentioned that this world is a quarry, and this is the only place where this similitude has been given. This world is a mine out of which treasures are extracted.

Thus in summary, for that person who makes use of this world (for the next life), this world is not such a bad place.

From these sentences we can deduce that in reality, the world is not something despised and despicable, rather, it is us who have made this world something reviled:

وَ الْعَمَلَ كَنْزٌ وَ الدُّنْـيَا مَعْدِنٌ.

“…and (righteous) actions are a treasure, and this world is the mine (of treasures)…”
In closing, the Prophet (S) has ended his dialogue with a discussion on the end of the life of a person and has stated that, “Of those issues which are hidden from people is that of the end of his life. Not a single person knows exactly when or where one will die.”
In the Qur`an, we read the following:

مَــا تَدْرِي نَفْسٌ مَاذَا تَكْسِبُ غَداً وَ مَا تَدْرِي نَفْسٌ بِأَيِّ أَرْضٍ تَمُوتُ

“And no soul knows that which it will earn tomorrow and no soul knows in which land it shall die.”3

Thus, it is from the wisdom of Allah (SwT) that  a person is kept unaware of the time when one will die and keeping this hidden has two benefits which have been mentioned in the book, Tawhid al-Mufaddhal. If man knew the time span of his life, then his existence on this Earth would not fall out of the following two scopes:

1. If he knew he had a long life, then in this scenario, negligence would overtake him and he would reassure himself that, “I have 10, 20 or 50 years left to live and thus, the need to ask forgiveness for my sins can be delayed and it is not necessary to make haste in asking for forgiveness.”  Thus, a person will continue to perform sins and pollute himself with negligence and fall into carelessness.

2. If a person knew that he will live for one more hour, one day, one month or even one more year, then life will have no meaning for him as he will say to himself, “I am only going to live one more month, so then why should I go through all of this struggle?”  Thus, the pleasure and enjoyment from life would be gone and a person would fall into despair.

This issue has other benefits to it which make a person lean towards the two states at any given time - meaning that he is constantly in a state of fear and hope.

From one point of view, he does not stop stretching forth his hand and at the same time, he does not come close to committing sins since he does not know if he is going to live another hour. In the Islamic narrations this issue has been mentioned quite frequently.

In this tradition, two topics have been mentioned in the following way: In that time period that we have been given respite and are still breathing, we must work - this wording may allude to the fact that in between each breath that a person takes (when he breathes in and then exhales out), the time period between this cycle is something very short. Incidentally, it has also been mentioned that between the beats of the heart of a person, there is a short time period of rest which is referred to as the “respite of the heart” and thus in summary, we see that even in between the breaths which a person takes, there is also a respite between each one and this is the shortest period of time that a person is able to imagine.

The Prophet (S) then stated, “…just as you are given the respite to live, during the time when you are inhaling and exhaling each breath, in that same amount of time, you should not have hope of living in this life for a long period as it is possible that when you exhale you may never inhale again.”  Therefore, in this short period of time, you must work towards righteous actions:

فَبَادِرُوا الْعَمَلَ وَ أَنْتُمْ فِي مَهْلِ الأَنْفاسِ.

“Thus while you have the opportunity, strive to perform good deeds even if the time remaining for you (on this Earth) is as much as the time between two breaths…”

In the past, it was common that when a noble person mounted his steed, he would place a cloth or some material on the horse (and then mount it) and thus, the Prophet (S) said, “If you have been given respite during your life even for that period that it would take to put on and take off a cloth from your house - meaning such a short period of time - then you must work towards righteous actions since it is very likely that in the next instant, your life would come to a close.”

وَجِدَّةِ الإِحْلاسِ.

“…or the time it takes to mount upon your saddle…”
Before the time that you breathe your next breath and do some action that you will later feel guilty about and which willhave no benefit for you after and no turning back, you should perform righteous deeds.

If a person has even a small amount of knowledge in relation to the laws of universe, then he would know how close death is to him. In the body of a person, we see two important organs which can easily stop working: the heart and the brain. There are a series of thin veins which are responsible for the nutrients going to the heart and if these thin veins were to break, then a part of the heart would stop working and a person would end up having a heart attack.

Within the brain of a person even, there are various capillary veins and if even one of these was to lose its power, then the brain would stop working - and how tragic it would be if that part of the brain that stopped working happened to be the control centre and this could even happen if the heart was working properly and was healthy but it is the brain which commands the heart in its activities.

Or can we imagine if one of the veins which controls actions of one side of the body was to lose it ability to function causing that side of the person's body to become paralyzed. Or if due to an impact on one of the veins, a person was to develop a blood clot, then in this event too, a person would lose the faculty of movement.

We see that when we are eating food and are swallowing our morsels, this small tongue that we have which is inside the mouth actually covers over the air pipe which is in our throat. If this act was to take place with even the slightest delay, then we know that if a small amount of food was to get caught in our wind pipe, and if through coughing, we could not release this food, then without doubt, our death would be sealed.

Thus in summary, if a person does even a small amount of contemplation on the creation and at his own life, then slowly one would definitely develop thoughts in his own mind that tonight when one goes to sleep, there is a possibility that one will not wake up in the morning!

In any case, these events that take place both within us and outside of our bodies are numerous.

If we take for example these travels that we endeavour which is now a part of everyone's life we see that our journeys that we go on are full of dangers, even if a person is careful and vigilant - however it is possible that others may not have this same vigilance.

Thus, while we are able to and as long as we have the strength and energy, we must go forth to perform righteous actions and leave the accountability with Allah (SwT).

Can we truly say that all of the actions that we have performed were sincerely for Allah (SwT) and that no amount of insincerity or material gain were involved in them?

We must seek refuge with Allah (SwT) because when a person will enter into the presence of the Most High and see his hands empty (of good deeds) and when he is given his book of records in his hand, he will scream out, just as it has been mentioned in the Qur`an:

يَا وَيْلَتَنَا مَالِ هٌذَا الْكِتَابِ لاَ يُغَادِرُ صَغِيـرَةً وَ لاَ كَبِيـرَةً إِلاَّ أَحْصٌيهَا وَ وَجَدُوا مَا عَمِلُوا حَاضِراً

“Ah!  Woe to us!  What a book is this!  It leaves out nothing small or great but takes account thereof!  They will find all that they did placed before them…” !

  • 1. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 74, pg. 183
  • 2. Without doubt, wishes and desires - or in the language of the `Arabs, Aml (امل) - is the thing which keeps the wheels of life of a person in constant motion, and if this quality was to be removed from the hearts of the people for even one day, then surely the entire system of organization and harmony of the people would be disrupted and very few people would have any reason to stay strive and struggle towards a purpose.
    However if this same characteristic and trait transgresses the boundaries and turns into those 'long desires that are far from reach', then this will lead to the worst of traits including being led astry and bad fortune for a person. This can be compared to the water of life which rains down from the skies - however, if this rain was to pour down in large amounts, then this could lead to the destruction and ultimate drowning of a person.
    These long desires are the same ones which have been mentioned in verses 1 to 5 of Suratul Hijr (15) in the Noble Qur’an and it is stated that this is the same thing which leads to negligence of Allah (SwT), the truth and the realities around Him:

    اَلَرَ. تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ وَقُرْآنٍ مُبِينٍ. رُبَمَا يَوَدُّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا لَوْ كَانُوا مُسْلِمِينَ. ذَرْهُمْ يَأْكُلُوا وَيَتَمَتَّعُوا وَيُلْهِهِمْ الأَمَلُ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ. وَمَا أَهْلَكْنَا مِنْ قَرْيَةٍ إِلاَّ وَلَهَا كِتَابٌ مَعْلُومٌ. مَا تَسْبِقُ مِنْ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلَهَا وَمَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ

    “Alif. Lam. Ra. (1) These are the verses of Revelation of a Qur’an which makes things clear (2) Again and again will those who disbelieve wish that they had bowed (to Allah's will) in Islam  (3) Leave them alone to enjoy (the good things of this life) and to please themselves: let (false) hope amuse the,  soon will knowledge (make them understand)  (4) Never did We destroy a population that had not a term decreed and assigned beforehand  (5) Neither can people anticipate its term, nor delay it.”
    Thus, these long desires and wishes that one can not attain or reach to usually keep a person so busy and preoccupied that one drowns oneself in the world of imagination and fantasy. Therefore, a person removes oneself completely from the realities of life and becomes a stranger to this life and neglects the ultimate aims and purposes of why we are here.
    In a well known tradition which has been narrated in Nahj al-Balagha (speech 42) from `Ali b. Abi Talib (as) which also speaks about the reality of this issue, it has been mentioned that:

    أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ، إِنَّ أَخْوَفَ مَا أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمُ اثْنَانِ: إِتِّبَاعُ الْهَوى وَ طُولُ الأََمَلِ. فَأَمَّا إِتِّبَاعُ الْهَوى فَيَصُدُّ عَنِ الْحَقِّ وَ أَمَّا طُولُ الأَمَلِ فَيُنْسِي الآخِرَةَ

    “O' people!  Surely the most frightening of things which I warn you about are two: Following the lower passions and having long desires. As for following your lower passions, this will distract you from the Truth and as for having long desires, this will cause you to forget the next life.”
    Truly how many people who possessed great abilities, talents and the capacity (to achieve great things in this life) were transformed and changed into weak individuals due to the negative effects of having long desires and wishes. In such a state, the person is no longer any worth or benefit to the society - in fact, he even tramples upon his own self worth and greatness and distances himself from any form of perfection, just as we read in the Supplication of Kumayl:

    وَحَـبَسَني عَنْ نَفْعِي بُعْدُ أَمَلِي

    Principally, those desires which go beyond limits always keep a person preoccupied, and thus we see that day and night one must strive and struggle - thinking to himself that he is working towards his own happiness, welfare and well-being whereas we see that actually, he is going towards nothing except loss, failure and discontent. It is these sorts of people who normally - because of the state they end up in end their lives through suicide, and it is their painful and sorrowful life and example which can be used by others who have the spiritual eyes to see (the realities) and the spiritual ears (to hear and understand the truth) as a source of inspiration and learning. (Tafsir-e-Namuna, vol. 11, pg. 119)

  • 3. Surat Luqman (31), Verse 34

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