Chapter 11: Our Present
Having discussed our origin, it is necessary to study our present situation and our future. Now let us turn to the former and the latter will be our topic in the next discussion. In order to certify our goal and practical program to reach that goal, we should know our qualities, capacities, abilities, opportunities and so on.
These are articles of our knowledge about our present. We have studied some of them in the previous chapters such as: good attributes of human beings, the vices attributed to human beings and free-will. Here we just mention some other aspects of our present situation.
In our being (existence) and our life, we are completely dependent on Allah, our Creator. This existence and life is given to us by Him; we are not self-existent. We cannot survive without His will. We are also dependent on material conditions. We cannot exist without water, air, food, light, a certain temperature, and so on.
We cannot have a comfortable life without the help of other members of the society. No one can produce for himself whatever he needs of clothes, shelter (house), furniture, etc. With the progress and development of human societies these needs increase. Thus, we are dependent on our Creator and his blessings in the material universe and in the social universe.
In our knowledge and understanding, we are not needless. With his God-given intellect every human being is able to understand many facts such as the truth of the religion and the.; existence of Allah and to acquire some easy and simple information about the nature and the environment around him. With his God-given conscience, every human being understands the general rules of morality, e.g., justice is good and oppression is bad. This theoretical and practical knowledge is common between men in primitive societies and men in advanced ones.
But what makes us different from those ancient (earliest) people is what we have received from the prophets, especially the Noble Prophet of Islam, the seal of the prophets, whose message is the last and the most perfect message of our life and what we have received from the past generations: these two sources, religion and inherited knowledge, are very important.
They serve as the point of departure for every field in the sciences, arts, literature, technology and positive laws (contracts) which have become very complicated, developed and advanced. For example, today when a chemist starts to work on a project, he uses the results of previous discoveries and inquiries. Many of those achievements have become trivial. Perhaps university students today know more than chemists in the 18th or even 19th century. Or in Islamic sciences, today we use many works on different subjects made by great scholars in the past centuries. Without them we would have to start from the beginning. But we are still on the way. What we know is much less than what we do not know.
Thus, we are completely needful and dependent in our existence, our life and our knowledge. We should not be proud of ourselves. We should not think we are needless or that our knowledge and understanding are perfect.
Mortality Of This Universe
This natural universe (dunya) is not eternal. It has started at a certain time and will reach to its end at a certain time. This earth, the sun, the moon and all stars and planets will be destroyed before the resurrection. This fact is expressed by many verses of the Glorious Qur'an such as the following:
إِذَا الشَّمْسُ كُوِّرَتْ
“When the sun is covered,” (81:1).
وَإِذَا النُّجُومُ انْكَدَرَتْ
“And when the stars darken,” (81:2).
وَإِذَا الْجِبَالُ سُيِّرَتْ
“And when the mountains are made to pass away,” (81:3).
وَإِذَا الْعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتْ
“And when the camels are left untended,” (81:4).
وَإِذَا الْوُحُوشُ حُشِرَتْ
“And when the wild animals are made to go forth,” (81:5).
وَإِذَا الْبِحَارُ سُجِّرَتْ
“And when the seas are set on fire,” (81:6).
وَإِذَا النُّفُوسُ زُوِّجَتْ
“And when souls are united,” (81:7).
Therefore, everything in this universe has a certain end. Our bodies are mortal. Our physical lives, our powers, our youth, fame and beauty are mortal (perishable). Allah is eternal and the spiritual (abstract) universe is also endless. Our spirits belong to the spiritual universe and not to the corporeal universe.
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الرُّوحِ قُلِ الرُّوحُ مِنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّي وَمَا أُوتِيتُمْ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
“And they ask you about the spirit Say: The spirit is from the commands of my Lord, and you are not given ought of knowledge but a little.” (17:85).
And if we notice that our spirits make our personality and reality, we easily come to the conclusion that death is not our end. Death is like a gate to another universe. Not only our spirits but also our characters and acts will be preserved. (In the next chapter we will discuss the embodiment of our actions.)
Thus, we cannot obtain eternity and infinite life or endless pleasure in this world. if we want them, we should know they are due to the relationship with Allah. Because Allah is eternal, everything is related to Him (in a narrow sense), is of His signs, and shows Him and so, must be like Him.
كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍ
“Everyone on it must pass away.” (55:26).
وَيَبْقَىٰ وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ ذُو الْجَلَالِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ
“And there will endure forever the face (wajh) of your Lord, the Lord Of glory and honour.” (55:27).
وَلَا تَدْعُ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَٰهًا آخَرَ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ كُلُّ شَيْءٍ هَالِكٌ إِلَّا وَجْهَهُ لَهُ الْحُكْمُ وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ
“And call not with Allah any other god; there is no god but He; every thing is perishable but His face (wajh); He is the judgement, and to Him you shall be brought back” (28:88).
In Arabic “wajh” is that part of any thing through which you can confront that thing. For example if you confront the foot or hand of a person, you are not confronting and meeting him, but when you confront his face and have a kind of face to face sight, you confront and meet him. This is why in Arabic our face is called “wajh”. In the case of Allah, we know that He has no body, so it is not necessary to look in a special direction to meet Him. In the Glorious Qur'an this fact is expressed in the following verse:
وَلِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ
“And for Allah is the East and the West, therefore, whither you turn, thither is Allah face Surely Allah is Ample-giving, Knowing.” (2:115).
As we can consider and use everything to know Him, to reach Him, so every thing can be called “wajh Allah”. Those things which are considered in this way will never be destroyed as we saw in the verses: (55:26-27) and (28:88). So every action or even intention which you have for His pleasure will be preserved. If you give some money to a poor person, this money will be destroyed but that aspect of this money or in other words that aspect of this action which is “wajh Allah” will be preserved forever.
True Nature Of This Life
This present life in itself is one of the blessings of Allah. It is the only opportunity that we have. If we want to purify ourselves we should utilise it in the best way. Every moment of this life is so precious that no price can be considered for it. There is a famous tradition from the Noble Prophet(S):
من استوى يوماهُ فهو مغبون
“Whoever has not made any improvement in one day has lost.” 1
In many prayers from our Imams we find the request for a long life. On the other hand, the Glorious Qur'an teaches us that unbelievers who do not believe in His religion and the Day of Resurrection are afraid of death. They wish they could live for a thousand years or even more.
وَلَتَجِدَنَّهُمْ أَحْرَصَ النَّاسِ عَلَىٰ حَيَاةٍ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا يَوَدُّ أَحَدُهُمْ لَوْ يُعَمَّرُ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ وَمَا هُوَ بِمُزَحْزِحِهِ مِنَ الْعَذَابِ أَنْ يُعَمَّرَ وَاللَّهُ بَصِيرٌ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ
“And you will most certainly find them the greediest of men for life (greedier) than even those who are polytheists; every one of them loves that he should be granted a lift of a thousand years, and his being granted a long he will in no way remove him further off from the chastisement, and Allah sees what they do.” (2:96).
Thus, both believers and unbelievers like to live, but their reasons and their attitudes towards death and life are completely different. Unbelievers or those who claim to be believers but do not practice the faith enjoy this life because they think that there is no other life or because they have not obeyed Allah and have committed sins or crimes, so they are afraid of His punishment. These people like this universe and this life just themselves. They are engaged in a circular life. They work to earn money, to buy food and clothes and to prepare a shelter for themselves. And if we ask them: Why do you need food and so on? They will Say: “Otherwise, we cannot work; we cannot live.”
But for real believers this universe is precious because they can reach His pleasure, they can worship Him. The only opportunity for human beings to act and to improve themselves is in this life. After death, we cannot perform new acts. Today we can act and there is no judgement (reckoning) and tomorrow there will be judgement (reckoning) and no action. It is possible to do something in this life which will continuously bring His rewards. For example, if a person builds a school or hospital or the like with pure intention or if a person spreads his knowledge through teaching or writing or the like or if he has trained good children he will receive more and more rewards after his death. But it is obvious that even in these cases, there is no chance for acting after death. Therefore, this life is very valuable.
According to Islamic traditions, one of the first questions on the day of the resurrection is about the life, as another question is about youth2. It shows the special importance of this period of life. To see a clear picture of the Islamic attitude towards life, it's nice to consider this prayer of the fourth Imam (‘a):
وَ عَمِّرْنِي مَا كَانَ عُمُرِي بِذْلَةً فِي طَاعَتِكَ ، فَإِذَا كَانَ عُمُرِي مَرْتَعاً لِلشَّيْطَانِ فَاقْبِضْنِي إِلَيْكَ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَسْبِقَ مَقْتُكَ إِلَيَّ ، أَوْ يَسْتَحْكِمَ غَضَبُكَ عَلَيَّ .
“And Let me live as long as my life is a free gift in obeying You, but if my life should become a pasture for Satan, seize me to Yourself before Your hatred overtakes me or Your wrath against me becomes firm!”3
And to get a clear picture of the ordinary attitude towards life, one may consider this verse of the Glorious Qur'an:
اعْلَمُوا أَنَّمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌ وَلَهْوٌ وَزِينَةٌ وَتَفَاخُرٌ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌ فِي الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَوْلَادِ كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ الْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَاهُ مُصْفَرًّا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَامًا وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَرِضْوَانٌ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
“Know that this world's life is only play and amusement and adornment and boasting among yourselves, and a rivalry in the multiplication of wealth and children, like the rain, whose causing the vegetation to grow, pleases the husband men then it withers away so that you will see it become yellow, then it becomes dried up and broken down; and in the hereafter is a severe chastisement and (also) forgiveness from Allah and [His] pleasure; and this world's life is naught but means of deception.”(57:20).
Without faith, this life can be divided into five parts. Some scholars consider these five parts in a chronological order, so they are five succeeding phases. During the childhood the main activity is playing 'la'ib'. Then it is the turn of 'lahw', including all the activities a person does just to enjoy himself in his free time or, in other words, just to make himself busy, like listening to music or watching movies or solving puzzles or collecting things or reading novels without any purpose or aim. Then when a person becomes young and ready for marriage, he or she takes care of his or her body and hair and generally his or her beauty.
He or she spends much time in front of mirrors or in the barber shops or in the cloth-shops. This is the period of adornment, 'zinah'. Then when he or she becomes graduated and finds a job and gets married, starts to exalt himself or herself over others and to be proud of himself or herself. This is the period of 'tafakhur'. And finally after trying his best and working for many years he or she thinks about the results of his or her life: children, money, property and fame. He wishes to be the best. This is the period of 'takathur'. This verse shows that we should not forget our happiness in the Hereafter and we should not allow ordinary affairs deceive us and capture our attention. Otherwise we will be lost in the chain of trivial wants and activities such as playing and so on. This part of our discussion will conclude with a phrase from Imam Ali (‘a) about the God-wary, 'muttaqin':
صَبَرُوا أَيَّاماً قَصِيرَةً أَعْقَبَتْهُمْ رَاحَةً طَوِيلَةً، تِجَارَةٌ مَرْبِحَةٌ، يَسَّرَهَا لَهُمْ رَبُّهُم. أَرَادَتْهُمُ الْدُّنْيَا وَلَمْ يُرِيدُوهَا، وَأَسَرَتْهُمْ فَفَدَوْا أُنْفُسَهُمْ مِنْهَا.
“They endured (hardship) for a short while and in consequence they secured comfort for a long time. It is a beneficial transaction that Allah made easy for them. The world aimed at them but they did not aim at it. It captured them but they were freed from it by ransom.”4
- 1. The same idea is also narrated from Imam Ali (‘a) and from Imam Sadiq (‘a). See Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 71, p. 173 and Vol. 77, p. 378.
- 2. See Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 7, p. 258.
- 3. As-Sahifa Al-Kamilah As-Sajjadiyya (The Perfect Book of al-Sajjad), Supplication n. 20, His Supplication on Noble Moral Traits and Acts Pleasing to God. Online at: https://www.al-islam.org/sahifa-al-kamilah-al-sajjadiyya-imam-ali-zayn-a...
- 4. Nahj Al-Balaghah, Sermon 193 or Khutbah Al-Muttaqin, online at: https://www.al-islam.org/nahjul-balagha-part-1-sermons/sermon-193-now-th...