A wayfarer on the Path – may Allah keep him and all our honored traveling companions safe and steadfast wherever they may be – made a profound confession and raised a very relevant question. He said: ‘I have been observing myself and people around me and found that the love of this world is the root cause of every evil. How can someone overcome this love?’
It is quite correct to say that the love of this world is the main cause for many evils, and having actually realized this, is a very good basis for the fight against it, or rather for guarding oneself against its disastrous effects.
Know, that like everything else in our scope of experience, the love of the world is not something that exists without a purpose and reason, and the evil of it is actually not an invariable constant, but it is rather a potential, which can only realize through our failure in dealing with it in the proper adab, or attitude.
The Noble Prophet – ‘alayhi_ssalatu wa_ssalam – said words to the effect: ‘Live in this world, as if it lasted for ever, and live for the akhirah, as if it started tomorrow.’
And in the Generous Book of Allah the prayer for good in this world and in the akhirah is highly commended, in fact, the ayah preceding this recommended du’a, contains the very key to the issue:
…There are people who say: “Our Lord! Give us in this world!” and they will have no portion in the Hereafter
…and others say: “Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and save us from the punishment of the Fire!”
So, if there was nothing lovable at all about this world, it would not have been mentioned in this manner and context.
If we talk about the love of this world, we are actually dealing with two factors that are involved here, and which we need to become clear about, in order not to be confounded by the complex of them.
The one is the world, our life in it and the provisions for it, and the other one is the divine gift of love, its reality and its correct handling.
The most relevant and ‘real’ feature of this world and all that it involves is its ephemerality or transience, i.e. the fact that it last only for a short, limited period in time, particularly what our share in it, or our virtual connectedness with it is concerned. The second, very important aspect of it is that no part of it belongs to us in the sense of us having any real claim to it, but all of it is a utility granted to us to facilitate us in fulfilling our purpose of existence. Once you have understood this, you will also realize that it is rather foolish, and can only bring you pain and regret to put your heart into something that will never be yours, that you will have to part with after a short while, and of which you cannot keep anything other than painful memories ( – the so-called ‘happy’ ones are in the end also painful in the sense that the underlying happiness is no longer a reality, but just a memory…).
So the correct attitude towards it is that you enjoy in gratitude whatever you are presented of it in every passing moment, like a beautiful sunrise, or the smile of a loved one or a refreshing draft of cool water when you are thirsty, and all the other infinite goodness that it holds for you, not to possess, but to relish in gratitude – don’t neglect Gratitude; that is absolutely vital because it is your armor against greed and miserliness! If you conduct your love affair with the world in this manner, then your love of the world becomes halal, and cannot harm you!
The other factor is love. Love in its ultimate realty is unconditional, and thus it is the privilege of the Creator; not only is He the Originator and Author of it, but His holy Being comprises an inexhaustible source and unlimited reservoirs of it. Our access to it is to reflect it, and this is what we need to re-learn, because reflection means to shed – to give – whereas we have been conditioned to mistake love for taking and possessing, the reason for this being that when we come into this world, we experience it in this way, i.e. we receive it, and consume it, and it is really the inward substance and sustenance by which our personality is made to grow – the royal jelly for our soul – Subhana_llah!
Allah Karim says “…I loved to be known, so I created…“ – we are all ‘children of love’ – no one is devoid of it! Anyone who complains, saying he or she did not get their share of love is a liar and a kafir – your very essence is the product of love, of the Real Love, of which all our loves are just a faint reflection! And the adab towards it is to realize it and become a worthy recipient of it, which means a transmitter.
But let me come back to the conditioning. During that first period in the new environment starting with the spirit’s amalgamation with the physical form – the soul’s entry into the fetus, still swimming in the mother’s womb, and then continuing its life in its own separate individual body up to puberty. In infancy and early childhood we are not really capable of giving love in a conscious initiative (i.e. other than emotionally reacting to having received it first), nor are we required to – children, and especially infants and small children are naturally selfish (this is a fact without any moral implication to it), and it is only gradually with the development of the intellect that we can learn to discern between self-interest and love – some people never do, and remain selfish babies all their lives.
So the fulfillment and realization of love lies in giving, and yet, the taking part of it can also be realized without betraying it, and that is by acceptance in unconditional gratitude – ideally with the intent to pass on of it to the creation, what can be passed on – but certainly not by shackling it with claims of ownership! The moment you claim ownership, you are moving out of the embrace of true, i.e. unconditional love.
The most precious feature of any gift is not its material value, but the joy and happiness it engenders in the recipient, hence the (objective) value of anything can be infinitely multiplied, if it is adorned with a gift wrapper over and over again. This is, what is meant in the Book of Allah, where it says:
…those who recite the Book of Allah, establish worship, and spend out of that, which We have provided for them, discretely and publicly, hoping for an unfailing trade.
Allah eradicates all benefit from usury and puts increase into charity; and Allah does not love anyone ungrateful and wicked.
So if you make love to your dunya in this way, it will not destroy you or corrupt you; quite to the contrary, it will make you happy and rich with a happiness and wealth that you will even take with you, when you part from it …
May Allah grant us increase in gratitude and courtesy – Amin.
This article is the updated version of an article first published Oct. 23, 2011.