What does Islam say about the worldly life or Dunya in the Quran? We have all been sent to this world for a purpose and many a time we forget that purpose. The verses discussed below explain the reality of the worldly life, especially in comparison with the Hereafter and what the outcome of choosing this world over the next is.
The article covers the following topics:
- Characteristics of the Dunya in the Quran
- The Dunya in the Quran is a Means for Attaining the Hereafter
- Preferring the Dunya in the Quran over the Hereafter
- Selling the Hereafter for the Dunya in the Quran
- Dunya in the Quran and Asking for the Best
- The Attractions of the Dunya in the Quran
- The Parable of the Dunya in the Quran
- The Adornments of the Dunya in the Quran are Lawful
- The Dunya in the Quran is Incomparable to the Hereafter
- The Outcome of Those Who Desire the Dunya in the Quran
- The Hereafter is More Lasting than the Dunya in the Quran
- Conclusion from the Verses of Dunya in the Quran
Characteristics of the Dunya in the Quran
The verses of the Quran provide us with certain characteristics for the dunya (دنیا) or the material world. We will discuss some of these below.
The Transience of Dunya in the Quran
اللَّـهُ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَقْدِرُ ۚ وَفَرِحُوا بِالْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا مَتَاعٌ ﴿26﴾
Allah expands the provision for whomever He wishes, and tightens it. They boast of the life of this world, but compared with the Hereafter the life of this world is but a [trifling] enjoyment. 1
The verse attributes the vastness and scarcity of sustenance to Allah. However, it is obvious that God’s actions are based on wisdom and the welfare of people. Some of the reasons for this difference could be due to:
- Our sins; which have an effect on our sustenance
- Because we are being tested
- Because we deprive others of their rights
- Sometimes it is due to our negligence of orphans
The Ups and Downs of the Dunya
Whatever the case may be, the important thing is that we must not be overly happy when we are provided with more Rizq; such that we forget everything including God. And neither should we despair when it is constricted as God’s system is a wise one and based on testing people.
In short, the world is transient and we should not get attached to it 2 or upset due to its ups and downs.
The Deception of Dunya in the Quran
كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ ۗ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۖ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ ﴿185﴾
لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ…
Every soul shall taste death, and you will indeed be paid your full rewards on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is delivered from the Fire and admitted to paradise has certainly succeeded. The life of this world is nothing but the wares of delusion. You will surely be tested in your possessions and your souls… 3
The world is very deceptive and appears attractive from a distance. However, when one gets close to it, he observes that it is empty. The pleasures of this world also seem to be pure but the reality of these pleasures is that they are all mixed with different types of pains and discomfort.
Human beings also usually do not pay attention to its transience. However, we soon realize just how finite it and all that is in it is. 4
Dunya in the Quran and Being Tested
The world is a place for being tested and we must all prepare ourselves to face and deal with difficult and unpleasant events and circumstances. 5
Dunya in the Quran is a Diversion and Play
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 مِّنَ اللَّـهِ وَرِضْوَانٌ ۚ وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ ﴿20﴾
Know that the life of this world is mere diversion and play, glamour and mutual vainglory among you and rivalry for wealth and children—like rain, whose growth impresses the farmer. Then it withers and you see it turn yellow, then it becomes chaff. Whereas in the Hereafter there is forgiveness from Allah and His approval and a severe punishment. The life of this world is nothing but the wares of delusion. 6
There are five attributes mentioned for the world in this verse: it is diversion, play, glamour, boasting to one another, and rivalry for wealth and children. They are all illusions to which we become attached and they are all things that are imaginary and transient and will not remain and neither will they help us attain spiritual perfection and true good. 7
The Real Life is that of the Hereafter
وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿64﴾
The life of this world is nothing but diversion and play, but the abode of the Hereafter is indeed Life (itself), had they known! 8
According to this verse, the real life is only life in the Hereafter. 9 That which has been criticized and described as play is anything that does not have a higher and divine purpose alongside it and is contrast to religious criteria. Otherwise, if the world and its blessings are used within their limits and to achieve a higher purpose, they are means to achieve the Hereafter. 10
The Dunya in the Quran is a Means for Attaining the Hereafter
وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّـهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَأَحْسِن كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللَّـهُ إِلَيْكَ ۖ وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ ﴿77﴾
Seek the abode of the Hereafter by means of what Allah has given you, while not forgetting your share of this world. Be good [to others] just as Allah has been good to you, and do not try to cause corruption in the land. Indeed Allah does not like the agents of corruption. 11
We should seek the Hereafter in the sustenance that God has given us in this world and use it to prepare and build our Hereafter by spending it in God’s way and for His pleasure.
We should not leave the sustenance that God has provided for us in this world for others to spend after us. Rather we should spend it for our Hereafter because the reality of each person’s benefit and share of this world is what he/she has done for the Hereafter as what remain are only our actions. 12
Preferring the Dunya in the Quran over the Hereafter
الَّذِينَ يَسْتَحِبُّونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا عَلَى الْآخِرَةِ وَيَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ وَيَبْغُونَهَا عِوَجًا ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ بَعِيدٍ ﴿3﴾
—those who prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter, and bar [others] from the way of Allah, and seek to make it crooked. They are in extreme error. 13
This verse is describing the disbelievers and mentions three of their attributes:
- They prefer the lowly life of this world over the Hereafter. It is due to this that they sacrifice faith, truth, justice, honor, and freedom that are the attributes of those who love the life of the Hereafter for their lowly passions, desires, and benefits.
- They not only are deviated themselves but also seek to lead others astray
- In order to do this, they not only create obstacles in the path of God but show it to be different from what it actually is.
It is by having these attributes and actions that they are greatly deviated. 14
Selling the Hereafter for the Dunya in the Quran
أُولَـٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ اشْتَرَوُا الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا بِالْآخِرَةِ ۖ فَلَا يُخَفَّفُ عَنْهُمُ الْعَذَابُ وَلَا هُمْ يُنصَرُونَ ﴿86﴾
They are the ones who bought the life of this world for the Hereafter; so their punishment shall not be lightened, nor will they be helped. 15
The verse previous to this explains that the Jews would act on some of the teachings of the Torah but not on others. And that verse is a warning against doing so. Muslims who act on some of the rules and are indifferent to others will also face the same fate, i.e., intense punishment.
This verse, however, explains why the Jews committed the actions mentioned in the previous verse like murder, etc. The reason was that they sought the life of this world and would act only the laws that would provide their benefits and be indifferent to those that would harm their worldly benefits. 16
Dunya in the Quran and Asking for the Best
…فَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا وَمَا لَهُ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنْ خَلَاقٍ ﴿200﴾
﴾ وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَقُولُ رَبَّنَا آتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الْآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النّ ﴿201﴾
… Among the people there are those who say, ‘Our Lord, give us in this world,’ but for such there is no share in the Hereafter. And among them there are those who say, ‘Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and save us from the punishment of the Fire.’ 17
These verses describe the prayers of two groups of people:
- The disbelievers who seek this world and care not for the Hereafter
- The believers who seek what is the good in God’s eyes
The reason why the word ḥasana (حسنة) is not used in the disbelievers’ prayer is because those who seek worldly affairs don’t care whether those things are good in God’s eyes or not. They want only the world which is all good in their eyes because material things are the means for their worldly life and are compatible with their base desires.
In contrast, those who seek God’s pleasure consider that which is in the world and in the Hereafter to be different. There is good and bad and they seek only that which is good. 18
The Attractions of the Dunya in the Quran
زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ وَالْبَنِينَ وَالْقَنَاطِيرِ الْمُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالْفِضَّةِ وَالْخَيْلِ الْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ وَالْحَرْثِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَاللَّـهُ عِندَهُ حُسْنُ الْمَآبِ ﴿14﴾
The love of [worldly] allures, including women and children, accumulated piles of gold and silver, horses of mark, livestock, and farms has been made to seem decorous to mankind. Those are the wares of the life of this world, but the goodness of one’s ultimate destination lies near Allah. 19
The instances of the manifestations of the world that have been mentioned in the verse are in keeping with the time it was revealed and can have new instances in every age.
Why the Criticism for the Attractions of the Dunya in the Quran?
Despite the fact that the following verse: Wealth and children are an adornment of the life of the world, but lasting righteous deeds are better with your Lord in reward and better in hope 20 , acknowledges wealth and children are the adornments of the worldly life, why is the verse under discussion (3: 14) critical?
The fact that something is an adornment is different from being attached to it. The verse criticizes attachment which is indicated by the words love of [wordly] allures.
The Parable of the Dunya in the Quran
وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ فَأَصْبَحَ هَشِيمًا تَذْرُوهُ الرِّيَاحُ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّـهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُّقْتَدِرًا ﴿ ﴿45﴾
Draw for them the parable of the life of this world: [It is] like the water We send down from the sky. Then the earth’s vegetation mingles with it. Then it becomes chaff, scattered by the wind. And Allah has power over all things. 21
Water forms a part of vegetation and when it rains, the earth is filled with flowers, plants, and vegetation. Then autumn comes and they all wither and dry and the wind scatters them.
And such also is the life of this world. For a short period a person lives a life of vigor and vivacity but then is overtaken by death. 22 And just as easily and quickly the seasons and conditions change, the life of this world is also transient.
The Adornments of the Dunya in the Quran are Lawful
قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ ۚ قُلْ هِيَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا خَالِصَةً يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْلَمُونَ ﴿32﴾
Say, ‘Who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has brought forth for His servants, and the good things of [His] provision?’ Say, ‘These are for the faithful in the life of this world, and exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection.’ Thus do We elaborate the signs for a people who have knowledge. 23
The verse considers the adornments and comforts of this world lawful for human beings. For example, one of the verses of the Quran considers God’s blessing to be the adornment of the sky with stars for them to be observed by us.
However, the point to keep in mind is that the attachment to these adornments should not lead to our destruction and our use of them should be controlled and moderate. Therefore, the Quran, for example, does not allow women to show their beauty and adornments to any man except their husbands and their mahrams. 24
Staying Away from the Pleasures of the Dunya in Hadith
Asim b. Ziyad decided to stay away from the pleasures of the world that God has made lawful. Ali b. Abi Talib (peace be on him) denounced such thought.
When Asim asked him why he then lived such a simple life, he replied: I am the leader of the society and God had made it incumbent on the leaders to keep their standard of living at the level of the weak in society and share in the pain of others. 25
The Dunya in the Quran is Incomparable to the Hereafter
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَا لَكُمْ إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمُ انفِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ اثَّاقَلْتُمْ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ ۚ أَرَضِيتُم بِالْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مِنَ الْآخِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ ﴿38﴾
O you who have faith! What is the matter with you that when you are told: ‘Go forth in the way of Allah,’ you sink heavily to the ground? Are you pleased with the life of this world instead of the Hereafter? But the wares of the life of this world compared with the Hereafter are but insignificant. 26
The life of this world and the Hereafter has been considered equal by the believers addressed in this verse. However, they are not of the same rank and the life of this world is lower in rank than that of the Hereafter.
The believers in this verse have become satisfied with the life of this world over that of the next and the verse is admonishing them for this. 27
The Outcome of Those Who Desire the Dunya in the Quran
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا وَزِينَتَهَا نُوَفِّ إِلَيْهِمْ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فِيهَا وَهُمْ فِيهَا لَا يُبْخَسُونَ ﴿15﴾
As for those who desire the life of this world and its glitter, We will recompense them fully for their works therein, and they shall not be underpaid in it. 28
This verse is a warning for those who did not accept the Quran. It warns them that even though their efforts would be successful in the world, they would face punishment and Hell in the Hereafter.
Even though the verse is a warning, it also explains a part of the system of life in this world that being that a person’s efforts and actions in this world have beneficial consequences and results.
If a person is a believer, he will receive the results of his actions both in this world and the next. However, if he is a disbeliever, he will only be successful in this world. 29
The Hereafter is More Lasting than the Dunya in the Quran
بَلْ تُؤْثِرُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا ﴿16﴾
وَالْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَىٰ ﴿17﴾
But you prefer the life of this world, while the Hereafter is better and more lasting. 30
Success and deliverance is in purifying ourselves and remembering our Lord’ however, many of us do not seek to purify ourselves and instead prefer the life of the world over the Hereafter.
The reality, however, is that the life of the next world is better and more lasting than the life of this world. 31 This doesn’t mean the world is bad; what is being criticized it giving priority and preference to it over the Hereafter. 32
Conclusion from the Verses of Dunya in the Quran
Perhaps the conclusion one can make from the verses regarding the life of the world in the Quran is that whenever we take the world as the goal and purpose of life, the world becomes a means of our deviation and deception.
However, if we consider the world as a place where we plant our deeds to see their fruit in the Hereafter and a means and prelude to attaining perfection, then the world and its blessings are valuable and constructive.
Therefore, a group of people use this very worldly life in such a way that they attain God’s forgiveness and pleasure; whereas another group uses it in a way that they attain punishment. 33
- [13: 26]. Qarai
- Tafsir Nur. Commentary of Surah al-Raʿd. verse 26
- [3: 185-186]. Qarai
- Tafsir Namuna. Vol. 3, p. 202
- Ibid. p. 204
- [57: 20]. Qarai
- Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan. Vol. 19, p. 289
- [29: 64]. Qarai
- Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan. Vol. 16, p. 225
- Tafsir Nur. Commentary of Surah al-Ankabut. Verse 64
- [28: 77]. Qarai
- Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan. Vol. 16, p. 111
- [14: 3]. Qarai
- Tafsir Namuna. Vol. 10, pp. 264-5
- [2: 86]. Qarai
- Tafsir Nur. Commentary of Surah al-Baqarah. Verse 85 & verse 86
- [2: 200-201]. Qarai
- Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan. Vol. 2, pp. 119-120
- [3: 14]. Qarai
- [18: 46]. Qarai
- [18: 45]. Qarai
- Qarashi, A. A. Tafsir Ahsan al-Hadith. Bethat Foundation. Vol. 6, p. 223
- [7: 32]. Qarai
- Tafsir Nur. Commentary of Surah al-Aʿraaf. Verse 32
- [9: 38]. Qarai
- Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan. Vol. 9, pp. 373-4
- [11: 15]. Qarai
- Qarashi, A. A. Tafsir Ahsan al-Hadith. Bethat Foundation. Vol. 4, p. 469
- [87: 16-17]. Qarai
- Translation of Tafsir al-Mizan. Vol. 20, pp. 449 & 450
- Tafsir Nur. Commentary of Surah al-Aʿlaa. Verses 16-19
- Ibid. Commentary of Surah al-Hadid. Verse 20