It is often said that duniya (world) is like a shadow. If you chase it, it moves further away. If you turn your back against it, it will follow you. An Islamic tradition attributed to Prophet Jesus states, “The world is a bridge; so pass over it to the next world, but do not try to build on it.”
The word duniya has a negative connotation in Islam. One of the root meanings of the Arabic word is to reach out for something you can never grasp, indicating the illusionary nature of this world. Humanity is part of the alam (cosmos), and the alim (intellectual) is one with knowledge of the true nature of God’s universe. At the same time, Muslims are prohibited from vilification of the world, for the Prophet said, “Do not curse the world for God created it and it is a means of reaching him.” Although love of the world is considered blameworthy, it does not include wanting things that free from burdening others with the needs of oneself or that of one’s family or community. Acquiring wealth or position to help the needy, or desiring provisions for the purpose of attaining the best in the hereafter do not fall in the sphere of duniya alone.
The idea that people are prone to ghaflah (heedlessness), forgetting that they will be held accountable for their actions is a central theme of the Quran. Alluding to the spiritually diseased heart and lack of the “inner eye”, it describes the heedless as, “those with hearts but do not understand with them, those with eyes but cannot see, those with ears but cannot hear”. These are people who do not recognise the signs of God in the universe and are deluded by this world, forgetting its transitory nature. Reminding that there are no exit strategies with God, Prophet Muhammad said, “Take yourself to account before you are taken into account.”
Constantly polishing the heart with the dhikr (remembrance of God), being in a state of awareness and self-reflection is the remedy that allows for the actualisation of our innate nature. To lose touch with God is to lose touch with one’s own reality. Allah says in the Quran, “Remember me and I shall remember you.” Forgetting God causes the painful chastisement of him forgetting the one who does not remember him.
According to Islam human beings are not corrupt by nature. They are not born with “the original sin”, but in state of fitrah (an inclination towards faith) with an intuitive awareness of divine purpose. As children grow older, their innate nature gets filled with the debris of duniya distorting their natural disposition. Physically, we all may be different, but each one of us is born with a blueprint of divine laws, which if untarnished allows us to recognise the reality of one God.
Imam Ali, the cousin and son in law of Prophet Muhammad said, “God has distinguished the human race by the diversity of its limitations and appearances. He has manifested this creation in the wisest of forms, and given to its original nature in accordance with what he intended and innovated.”...