Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and contentment. And what is the worldly life except the chattels of deception.
In this verse from Sura Hadeed, Allah summarizes the things that most human beings chase after. He says, You better know that the life of this world amounts to nothing more then play and amusment…’
Everybody has needs and wants. But when children are born all that they require are needs. The need to be fed, the need for milk, the need to poop, the need to sleep, the need to be washed etc.
First Phase: Play
As they get bigger a want comes into play, so a child of nine months or a year really wants to play. A baby wants to be held, tickled; they don’t just sit there and eat their food and go to sleep; they want to play hide and seek and other games.
So the most important thing at that age or phase is play and more play. Leave kids on their own and they will play for the whole day the whole day and the night or until they drop.
Second Phase: Entertainment
After that another phase starts and that’s the amusement or entertainment phase. The Arabic word for this is LAHW. These are things which are not forbidden but they have no positive benefit or outcome. They get your mind off other things like work. So now our children don’t just want to play but they want entertainment they want to hear stories, they want to watch cartoons or TV shows. So that’s another thing added to the arsenal or menu.
The marketing men and software engineers have combined these two things; play and entertainment to come up with really captivating video games combining stories and skill and the biggest consumers of these games are children. A lot of children are spending more time playing computer games than they do learning. Even Muslim children are also buying games way above their level like Grand Theft.
Third Phase: Zeenah
After this phase a new obsession starts and that is described by Allah as zeenah or beautification. So now we are concerned with looks and with image. This usually starts at puberty or the teenage years so you become obsessed with how you look or how you appear to others.
When you were nine or ten you didn’t care about your looks; whether your shoes matched or how you got dressed or how anyone else dressed or whether your cousin was wearing better clothes then you. But now that you are thirteen you spend forty minutes in front of the mirror or in the bathroom fixing your hair making sure that each single hair is in its place. Your mum or dad maybe shouting or banging on the door but you are not going to get out until that hair is fixed.
So you may be slapping your head again and again to fix that hair. And if it doesn’t go down you down it with a gel or a spray. And if it doesn’t go down you pluck it out.
For boys they are worried about growing facial hair so they stand in front of the mirror and see whether one is coming out or not.On their way to the shops or masjid they stop and check themselves out in every cars reflection end its so entertaining especially when they don’t know that there’s someone in the car.
So beauty becomes a desire at this stage. Now you are all concerned with the image of yourself of your house or your car.
If your dad has a car like an FX or a Mehran or worse still a bike which he will take to the grave with him, so you ask him to drop you two blocks away from the school. You would rather walk then be seen in that thing because you are obsessed with fashion with clothes with looks. Others are concerned with fashion or with iphones. They are not concerned so much with the specifications but with how the phone looks and want to get a jazzy cover for it. And then this phase passes too and a new one sets in.
The Fourth Phase: Competition
Now you are in college or university and no you are no longer so worried about looks. If you see college or university students you would see you their hair are all over the place.
They go to college with un-ironed or torn jeans and sometimes in their pajamas. It seems as if they just came straight out of their bed to college. So they no longer care so much about their looks instead they are concerned about something else; their marks or GPA or grades.
Why? Because a new desire has appeared. This doesn’t mean that the old desires are finished. They have taken a back seat.
Now this new desire is more important.
So what were the previous desires is in order 1. Play 2. Entertainment 3. Beauty, and now competition and rivalry or showing off, competing with each other takes center stage. In this phase you want to show your position and status in front of others.
Someone asks you directions for the Convention Center and you say, ‘Yeah and I study at NUST or I am a chemical engineer actually.’ The guy says, ‘Hey I only asked you for the way to Convention Center not your bio-data. I remember in a parents meeting, ‘I had a couple who came in to see me about their son in Grade 3. The first thing he said was, I’m so and so, I’m a doctor, my wife here she’s a doctor too, her father is a doctor, my grandfather is a doctor etc. The ironic thing was that his son was one of the lousiest pupils in class.
You get a job in a prestigious company and you are itching to tell everyone about it and you are proud to wear the company’s dog collar. You get admission in a university in the UK or Australia you make sure that everyone knows this. You get citizenship of Canada or the US you make sure that this comes up in any conversation you have with anyone, even though you may be washing dishes or driving a taxi over there.
This competition thing has gone crazy in Pakistan especially in education. In my days in the 1980’s if you did three A-Levels your were considered a top student. Very rarely did anyone do more than three and if they did four they were considered a genius or a nerd. Now we had a guy in Pakistan who did 20 or so A levels; a world record a few years back. We were all proud and amazed. He was interviewed by the BBC and got scholarships from Cambridge University etc. But then after him two or three others have broken even that.
So competing with others becomes the new desire the new goal and the new mission. You get a picture with a famous person and you hang it up in your office or home so that everyone can see it.
So you want to get ahead of others. You wanna be the gold medalist you want to live in the better locality in Defence or Clifton or Bahria Town and you make sure that whoever knows you knows that. For young people it’s the car. They want to be in a better and faster car then their mates.
So now this desire of competing is added to the play, the games, the entertainment & beauty. But then even this stage passes you get married and you have kids.
Stage 5 Money and Kids
So now what becomes most uppermost in your mind? Yes it’s the kids and life revolves around fulfilling their wants and needs. So questions like do we have enough groceries for tomorrow?, what about their lunch and their water bottles?, are their uniforms ready? who is going to drop them at the tuition centre? become part of the daily conversation. The school fees, the costumes for the school functions, the joggers or football boots occupy more of your mind. The apartment starts to shrink so the need for a bigger house appears.
A house is one of the things that everybody wants at this stage no matter where you are and what religion you belong to, only when you get a house do you feel that you have accomplished something. Ask a person who doesn’t have a house what they most wanted, and they will say, ‘I wish I owned a property.’ If they happen to live in an apartment and they drive by a house they are likely to say to themselves, ‘Man I wish I had that, it would be so nice. The mind can’t help but wonder about it.
They are going to move to another city in a year or so but the whole family start looking for houses on the net. So it is just a natural desire.
So now there’s a mutually shared concern about making money and stabilizing yourself and your family. So you are constantly checking the bank account. You have the SMS alerts and you are on the look for any withdrawals, ‘Oh no the installment for the car I forgot about that.’ So now Allah stays that people are concerned with the urge to have stability in money and children and you are worried about the future pensions savings weddings and so on.
By the way if you talk to young people about savings and pensions and houses, what are they likely to say?
‘Oh I don’t care about savings, what are you talking about, I’ll never be like my parents, I don’t care about a house or a pension.’
But if you talk to this very guy in twenty years time he will be concerned about the very same things as his parents. The cycle will repeat itself in generation after generation after generation.
Allah summarizes the things we think will make us happy; all of them.
A child things toys and play will make him happy.
An older boy or girl thinks games and playstation will make him or her happy.
A teenager thinks looking good will bring him happiness.
A young man seeks happiness in high grades or in university or in cars.
As an adult they think they will be happy when they have financial stability.
The Second Half
But so far this is only one side of the coin. This is the first part of the verse I quoted at the beginning.
In this half Allah describes the things you and I are running after.
In the second part Allah compares all these things to something.
He compares it to a rain expected by a farmer.. This is where the guidance of Allah about these pursuit of happiness is, so please listen carefully.
He says human pursuit of all the above mentioned things is like rain. It is like heavy rain. The normal Arabic word for rain is matar. But here Allah uses the word gaith. this means perfect rain or the most appropriate rain just right for the crops. If rain is not of the right kind it could spell destruction for the crops or even people. The word for farmer is in Arabic is kafir (pl. kuffar). Kuffar means literally people who bury seeds in the ground.So the example of people who run after worldly things is like the farmer waiting for the rain.
Let us imagine the image which Allah uses. We have a farmer. A farmer has to do a lot of things but what is the most important? The first thing he has to do is to plant the seed, then he has to water it then spray it and protect it from pests etc.
All of these things are important but the first and hardest part is when the farmer plants the seed because at that time he doesn’t know whether he will get anything from the seed.
Maybe it’s an infected seed, maybe the weather may turn out bad, maybe a pest epidemic may occur. So you just don’t know whether you will get any return from this seed and for your labor.
Salaried get paid weekly or monthly but a farmer gets paid when? After one whole year and even that’s not certain.
So a farmer puts in weeks or months of effort and then he goes to sleep anxiously and is waiting for the rain and then it rains and it’s gaith, the perfect rain.
Is he happy or not? You bet he is. He is elated then he starts seeing little dots of green in a feeling of brown.
They are not fully grown alarms but even they are making him super happy then Allah say’s the plant reaches maturity, so what is the logical next step? To harvest the crops but surprisingly Allah doesn’t say that the farmer harvests but instead he say’s, ‘The farmer he sees his crops turn yellow!’
Now in farming you are supposed to harvest before your crops turn yellow, because once they turn yellow they become useless they, they become a chaff unusable or inedible. The Arabic word for this is HUTAMUN. So instead of reaping his crops for which he had put in so much effort and for which he had waited anxiously, he sees it turn yellow right in front of him.
So let’s recap and go back to the beginning. What was the first desire? Play. Let us suppose you take your child to a toy shop and you buy him the Barbie doll or the Xbox which he or she has been asking you for weeks. And he’s in the car with his toy which he is not allowed to open until he gets home. How is he likely to be feeling? Like the farmer who sees the rain. He is super happy.He can’t wait to open it and play with it. These 20-30 minutes are likely to be the most exciting most happiest moments he is going to have with that toy. Because once he opens it and plays with it for two to three hours, how is he going to feel?His excitement is likely to go down, ‘Oh, it wasn’t that great the other one was much better.’ After a week or two the toy is abandoned under the bed and he’s asking or searching for another one.
Allah say’s that the farmer before the harvest has similar feelings.
Your son’s been asking for Grand Theft Auto, he made prayers in the masjid and he promised to read the Quran or do the morning prayer in the Masjid on the weekend then he got it, and he beat it. What happened then? He lost interest in it.
And he dumped it in his drawer where it got scratched by the nail cutter.
There are people who wait hours and hours in queues to watch the latest movies, once they see it that feeling of joy, of excitement vanishes, ‘Oh it wasn’t so great, the special effects weren’t so good, I expected more, boo!’
The car you crave for, the latest model, when you get it and after a year down the line a newer model is released with slanted headlights, what happened to yours which you craved for?
It turned yellow. It became unattractive.
Your house when you first bought it, you gave everybody a tour of it even of the bathrooms the store and the roof, even though people weren’t interested to see the bathroom or the roof but you gave them a tour because you were excited. But what happened when you visited a few of the neighbors houses which had a bigger living room and imported furniture and the latest Italian kitchen. Your house turned yellow.
Some peoples marriages turn yellow. In the first few weeks of marriage, you are walking on the street and your new wife trips what do you say? Are you okay? I don’t want anything ever to happen to you.’ It’s a brand new wife after all! But ten years go by and you are walking on the same street and she trips again. What do you do? You keep walking and keep walking, then you look back and say, ‘Pick yourself up woman what’s happening to you I can’t even take you out in to the public nowadays.’ So marriage can turn yellow.
Allah says, all of the things we want so badly, we will end up losing interest in them. And he says in the concluding remark of this verse,
‘And In The Hereafter There Will Be A Severe Punishment and Forgiveness From Allah and Incredible Contentment.’
So at the end is eternal and intense punishment. And that is one thing you will not get used to. You may get used to things the other things in this world, but you will not get used the punishment of Jahannum.
The desires and pain of this world you can get used to it but the pain of hell you will not get used to it.
Then He say’s, ‘Forgivenes from Allah, that is permanent and Ridwaan. This which means incredible or total contentment. You will not need to look for the next iphone, or car or whatever to satisfy your thirst, you will get contentment there.
In this world whatever it is that you are running after, it will never satisfy you until your bellies are filled with sand. But in Jannah you will be in peace and satisfaction.
In this Sura Allah says, ‘What is the life of this world but mere play and amusement. Meaning that worldy life is nothing but a means of deception for people. Because they think they can find happiness here. But they like the crops for the farmer will see the things like, toys, games, gadgets, entertainment, beauty and money etc. which they were so excited about, turn yellow, and they will feel as empty as before. The only way out of this vicious circle is to turn to Allah and his deen. ‘For truly in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace’
May Allah help us recognize what true happiness really is and help us reach it through real faith in Him.