By Muhiyy ad-Din Ibn 'Arabi

This world is a place of preparation where one is given many lessons and poses many tests. Choose less over more in it. Be satisfied with what you have, even if it is less than what others have. In fact, prefer to have less.

This world is not bad - on the contrary, it is the field of the hereafter. What you plant here, you will reap there. This world is the way to eternal bliss and so is good - worthy to be cherished and to be praised.

What is bad is what you do with the world when you become blind to truth and totally consumed by your desires, lust, and ambition for it. Our master the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), in whom wisdom was as clear a crystal, was asked, "What is worldliness?" He answered, "Everything that makes you heedless and causes you to forget your Lord." Therefore the goods of this world are not harmful in themselves, but only when you let them render you forgetful, disobedient, and unaware of the Lord who has generously offered them to you. It is your sense of the world, your relationship to it, your preference of it over the One who gave it to you, that makes you insensitive and causes you to break your connection with divine truth.

The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Whoever prefers the world over the Hereafter is made to suffer three things: an unbearable load that is never lightened; a poverty that never becomes richer, and an ambition, a hunger, that is never satisfied."

Therefore the one who lives for this world alone is bound to bear its pains and difficulties - trying to resolve its problems by himself, being totally dependent on it like a beggar, trying to obtain the needs of his flesh and his ego from it. That flesh, that ego whose appetite never knows satiation, whose ambitions are endless, is always wanting, always hungry, always dissatisfied. These are the rewards of the world to those who make the world their lord, forgetting the Lord of all the Universes.

This does not mean that you should abandon the world, not do your duties in it or participate in its affairs - retiring to a corner, making no effort, doing no work. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) says, "Allah likes to see the believer working at his profession." "Indeed Allah likes the one who has a craft." "The one who earns his sustenance lawfully through his efforts is beloved of Allah." These sayings mean that Allah's beneficence encompasses all who work hard in a craft or business in this world. It is for this reason that all the prophets worked for their sustenance.

It is related that one day Hadrat 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) met a group of people who were sitting around lazily doing nothing. He asked them who they were. "We are of those who put their affairs in the hands of Allah, and we trust in Him," they replied.

"Indeed you do not!" he angrily responded. "You are nothing but freeloaders, parasites upon other people's efforts! For someone who truly trusts in Allah first plants the seed in the belly of this earth, then hopes and expects and puts his affairs in the hand of the Sustainer!"

Some true theologians come close to claiming work - in the professions, crafts, and businesses that are lawful according to divine law - as a condition of faith. They have claimed that certainty of faith is defined by the carrying out of religious obligations, and that work is one of these. They based this on the verse:

But when the prayer is ended, disperse abroad in the land and seek of Allah's grace, and remember Allah much that you may be successful. (Jum'ah, 10)

Thus to leave the worldly and the world does not mean not to do your duties in it.

Perhaps what is meant by being worldly is giving yourself up solely to gathering the world's benefits. The worldly person identifies with what he has gathered and is proud of it. Full of ambition, he devotes himself to amassing the goods of this world without any consideration of whether they are lawful or unlawful, his rightful portion or the portion of others. Worse still is not to see any wrong in all this, to think that it is the right way, the only way.

When the love of the world fills your heart totally, it leaves no space for the remembrance of Allah. Forgetting the hereafter, you prefer this temporal world. All that you need from the world is something lawful to satisfy your hunger, something with which to cover yourself, and a roof over your head. Let these be the only things you ask from this world, nothing more. Don't be envious of the apparent temporal abundance the world-bound seem to enjoy, nor wish for the riches they have gathered without any consideration of right or wrong, of lawful or unlawful. How long does one stay in this world?

Someone who chooses this temporal world over the true good of the eternal Hereafter will never reach his goal, either here or there. For the ambition of one who is ambitious for this world will never be satisfied. Don't you see that the Maker of Destiny decides your lot in this world, and that you receive neither more nor less than what you are destined to receive? Whether you care or not, what Allah has set forth does not change. Whether we want more or not, we can only attain that which is reflected in the mirror of our destiny. Allah says:

We portion out among them their livelihood in the life of this world. (Zukhruf, 32)

But people who take this world as their god have endless wants, and those wants of theirs that are not appointed to them, they will never receive. Thus they will be dissatisfied and unhappy all of their lives and in the Hereafter they will have to face the wrath of Allah.

The desires of this world are like sea water. The more you drink of them, the more you thirst. The Messenger of Allah likened this world to a garbage heap in order to tell you to keep your distance from it. Be satisfied with the portion of it that Allah has included in your fate. Whether you like it or not, that will be your lot. Allah advised and warned the prophet Moses (peace be upon him), "O son of Adam, if you are satisfied with what I have apportioned to you, I will set your heart at rest and you are worthy of praise. But if you are not satisfied with what I have apportioned to you, I will grant the world power over you. You will race in it as a wild beast races in the desert. And by My power and majesty, you will not receive from it anything but what I have apportioned to you, and you will be worthy of blame!"

This means that man will attain peace of heart and the level of Allah's praise and grace if he accepts and is content with his lot in accordance with Allah's divine apportionment. On the other hand, if you do not accept the lot that is your fate, Allah will render the world, which you so desire, your enemy. The world will become like a desert to a hungry animal. You will run and run and tire yourself without being able to find anything in it. Allah vows for the world-bound that no matter how they run after the world, they will receive nothing more than their lot The only things they will receive beyond that are fatigue, dissatisfaction, and disgrace.

Let us suppose that Allah has bestowed upon you all the goods of this world, all the material properties of which you may conceive - how much can you use besides the food and drink your stomach can take, the clothing that will cover your body, and a place to live? The humble of this world have no less, yet they are much better off. For they are at peace, without worry, in this world; and certainly in the hereafter they have less to account for.

Do not exchange your spiritual peace and the possibility of eternal bliss for the temporal, decaying goods of this world. No matter how grand and secure they look, they will die when you die. Death may come in your next step upon this earth, and all your dreams of this world will evaporate.

As the world-bound are sons of this world, there are also people bound for the hereafter, sons of the hereafter. As the Messenger of Allah advised, "be sons of the hereafter, bound for eternity, not temporal sons of the earth who will return to the earth." Read these words of your Lord and abide by them:

Whoever desires this world's life and its finery, We repay them their deeds therein and they are not made to suffer loss in it. These are they for whom there is nothing but fire in the hereafter. And what they work therein is fruitless, and their deeds are vain. (Hud, 15-16)

Whoso desires the harvest of the hereafter we give him increase in his harvest, and whoso desires the harvest of this world, We give him thereof, and he has no portion in the hereafter.   (Shura, 20)

* * * * * *

Part 11