Amr ibn Awf reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “By Allah, it is not poverty I fear for you, rather I fear you will be given the wealth of the world, just as it was given to those before you. You will compete for it just as they competed for it and it will ruin you just as it ruined them.”
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2988, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2961
Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi (authenticity agreed upon) according to Al-Bukhari and Muslim
The First Similitude
Man in This World
Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “I have no need of worldly comfort. My example in this world is like a rider who took a nap in the shade beneath a tree on a scorching hot day, he rested and then left it”. (al-Bukhari 3098)
“The likeness of this world in comparison to the Hereafter is that of one of you dipping his finger into the sea. So let him look to see what he brings forth”. (Muslim: 2858)
This world is a bridge; therefore, cross it and do not reside on it. (Kitab Dham ad-Dunya 3/215)
The Second Similitude
The Desires of the Worldly life
The Prophet (pbuh) said to Dahhak ibn Sufyan:
“Don’t you receive your food while it has been salted, and seasoned, and then you drink milk and water?
He said: “Certainly O Messenger of Allah.” The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “What becomes of it?” He said: “It becomes as you are aware of O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “For surely Allah, the Exalted, has made an example for this worldly life in what becomes of the food of the son of man”. (Ahmed)
Some of the Salaf would say to their companions, “Let’s go so I may show you the worldly life.” So, he would take them to a garbage dump and say, “Look at its fruits, chickens, honey, and fats.”
The Third Similitude
The Pleasures of the World Distract Its
Inhabitants from the Hereafter
This is similar to a people who boarded a ship that carried them to an island. The navigator of the ship told them to dismount the ship to take care of their needs, while warning them to not linger; and he cautioned them that the ship would move on. Thus, they all went to various parts of the island.
Some of them took care of their needs and hurried back to the ship, where they found empty space. Therefore, they took the most spacious, comfortable areas they desired.
Some of them remained on the island looking at its flowers and amazing lights; and listening to the chirping of its birds, while being impressed by its rocks and stones. Then their soul reminded them that the ship was leaving quickly. They rushed back to the ship, but only found a tight place to sit, so they sat therein.
Some of them remained, enjoying those beautiful rocks and amazing flowers; then they took some things from the island back with them. But when they reached the ship they only found a small tight space. The items they took back with them made it even tighter. Thus, these belongings became heavy and troublesome upon them, but they were not able to discard them. They did not find anyone to take them for them, nor any place on the ship to put them. They put them on their necks and regretted taking them back to the ship, but their regret did not benefit them at all. Then the flowers they took on the ship withered and shriveled; their fragrance changed, and the odor harmed them.
Some of them entered the forest and forgot about the ship. They went far off on their excursion, such that when the captain of the ship called out that the ship was departing, his voice did not reach them due to them being preoccupied with its amusement. They spent some time picking fruits, some time smelling the flowers, and some time enjoying the beautiful trees. In the midst of this, they are fearful a beast of prey will attack them. They are not safe from thorns pricking their clothes and feet. They are not safe from branches poking them in the stomach or box-thorns ripping their clothes or uncovering their private area. They are not safe from frightening sounds terrifying them.
Some of them reached the ship but did not find anywhere to sit, thus they died on the shore. Some of them were distracted with their desires until a wild beast slaughtered them or a viper bit them. Some of them got lost and wandered about until they died.
These are examples of the people and their distraction, their fleeting portion of the worldly life and their forgetting the return and end result of their affair. How evil is the intellect that is distracted by material items which will w ither away! So, this has distracted his mind and disabled him from obtaining safety.
The Fourth Similitude
Their Deception of the Worldly Life
Indeed, my example, your example and the example of the world is like a people who are going through a dust-covered desert with no water, such that they don’t know if the road they have traveled is more or if what is left to travel is more. They ran out of supplies and fatigue has set in. They are still in the middle of the desert with no supplies and no transport. Thus, they are sure they will die. W hile they were in this condition, suddenly there was a man walking toward them dressed in a garment and his hair was wet. They said, “This person is from the countryside and he could have only come from a nearby place. When he reached them he said, “O people, how are you doing? They responded, “As you see.” The man said, “What do you think if I guide you to fresh water and a green garden, what will you do?” They said, “We will not disobey you at all!” The man said, “Make a covenant and promise, witnessed by Allah.”
They gave him their covenant and promise in the Name of Allah that they would not disobey him. He took them to the fresh water and green garden.
The man remained with them as long as Allah willed and then he said to them, “0 people, let’s move out.” They responded, “Where are we going?” He said, “We are going to water which is not like your water, and to a garden which is not like your garden.” The majority of the people said, “By Allah, we did not find this until after we thought we would never find it; then shall we find a life better than this?!” The minority of the people said, “Didn’t we give this man a promise by Allah, that we would not disobey him? He was true with his initial promise, so by Allah he will be truthful in his other promise.”
The man left with those who followed him while the rest of them remained behind. So the enemy rushed those who remained behind. Some of them were killed while the others became prisoners.
Collected in Az Zuhub by ibn Abi Dunya, Hadith 177
The Fifth Similitude
The Shade of a Tree
I have no need of worldly comfort. My example in this world is like a rider who took a nap in the shade beneath a tree on a scorching hot day; he rested and then left it. (Al Bukhari 3098)
The Sixth Similitude
This World is Detached and Vanishing
The likeness of this world in comparison to the Hereafter is that of one of you dipping his finger into the sea; so let him look to see what he brings forth. (Muslim: 2858)
The Seventh Similitude
A Gluttonous Killer
The Messenger of Allah & stood and addressed the people saying, “By Allah, I do not fear for you, O people, except that which Allah brings out for you from the flowers (adornment) of the world.” A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, does good bring about evil?” The Messenger of Allah & was silent for a while and then he said, “What did you say?” The man said, “I said, O Messenger of Allah, does good bring about evil?” The Messenger of Allah said to him, “Good only brings about good, but is it really good? Every plant that sprouts in the Spring either
kills or nearly kills the grazing animals because of bloat; except the pasture-eating animal which eats until both its hips are full, and then stands in the sun and defecates and urinates and again starts grazing. Whoever takes wealth according to its right will be blessed in it; and whoever takes wealth without its due right then his similitude is like the one who eats and does not get full. (Muslim 1052)
The Eigth Similitude
This World is Green and Sweet
Verily the dunya is sweet and green, so whoever fears Allah in it and rectifies [himself, then he is successful], and if not then he is like the eater who does not become full. The difference between the people in this affair is like two distance stars, one rises in the East and the other sets in the West. (Majmu’ az Zawaid 10/249)
The Ninth Similitude
The Dunya is Insignificant to Allah
I was with the caravan of those who stopped with the Messenger of Allah at a dead lamb. The Messenger of Allah said, “Do you think that this was insignificant to its owners when they threw it
away? They said, “It is because of its insignificance that they threw it away, O Messenger of Allah! He said, “The world is more insignificant to Allah than this to its owners.” ( Jam i’ at-Tirmidhi 2121 )
The Tenth Similitude
A Sea That Must Be Crossed
This world is similar to a sea that all the creation must cross in order to reach the shore that contains their homes and residences. It is not possible to cross it safely without a ship. Thus, Allah sent His messengers to teach their nations how to use their ships and how to board them to safety. This is by obeying Allah and His messengers, worshipping Allah alone, working sincerity for Him, and striving for the Afterlife.
Those who desire the Hereafter and strive for it will board and ride the ship. They will turn away from plunging into the sea because they know you cannot cross the sea by diving into it and
As for the foolish, they will deem the work on the ship as difficult, so they will say, “We will rush the sea and when we get weak we will swim across it.” Most of the people of the world are like this. They dive into it, and when they get weak they swim until they drown.
The people who boarded the ship were saved just as it saved those who boarded the ship with Nuh, while the inhabitants of the earth drowned. Ponder this example and the condition of the people of this world and it will be clear to you how the similitude agrees with reality.
The Eleventh Similitude
A Vessel Filled with Honey
The similitude of this world is like that of a vessel filled w ith honey. The flies see this vessel and fly toward it. Some of them sit on the edge of the vessel and take from the honey until they satisfy their needs, and then they fly away. Some of them are led by their greed to plunge themselves into the abyss of the honey. Their submersion into the honey prevents them from enjoying it, except for a brief enjoyment, until they perish in the middle of it.
The Twelfth Similitude
Seeds Scattered on the Earth
This world is like seeds scattered on the surface of the ground. All the seeds fall into a snare, and around those seeds are seeds that did not fall into snares. The birds fly in to take the seeds.
Some birds are content with the seeds on the outside and do not put themselves in the middle of the seeds. They take their needs and move on.
Some birds are pushed by their greed to dive into the middle of the seeds. It doesn’t finish collecting the seeds except while screaming from being caught in the snare placed for it.
The Thirteenth Similitude
Moths Rushing the Fire
The likeness of me and you is that of a man who lit a fire and grasshoppers and moths started falling into it, and he tried to push them away. I am seizing your waistbands and trying to pull you away from the Fire but you are slipping away from my grasp. (Muslim 2285 and al-Bukhari 3427)
The Thirteenth Similitude
The Green Valley
The similitude of this world is like that of a people who went out on a journey with their wealth and families, and they passed by a grassy valley with lots of water and fruits. So. they descended into the valley, set up their tents, and built homes and castles. A man passed by them whom they knew for his good advice, honesty and trustworthiness. He said, “I saw with my two eyes an army behind this valley heading toward you, so follow me. I will show you a path to save you from the enemy.”
A small group of them followed him. He yelled at the group: “O people, come to safety, they are coming for you!” The people responded to him saying, “How can we leave this valley when our livestock is here, our Wealth and homes, and we have taken residence here?” He advised them, saying, “Let every individual save himself by taking what is light to carry, if not he will be captured, and his wealth will be annihilated.”
But the wealthy people of position and status found it difficult to leave the bliss and affluence they were experiencing. The foolish people said, “I have family who are remaining here, and they have more wealth and family than me, so what befalls them will befall me along with them.” A small group left with the advisor, so they succeeded and were saved. The army attacked the valley in the morning, killing the people and destroying their wealth.
The Prophet (pbuh) gave this example in the hadith agreed upon by al BukharI and Muslim, from the hadith of Abu Burda, from Abu Musa.
The Prophet (pbuh) said:
“My example and the example of what I have been sent with is that of a man who came to some people and said, “O people! I have seen the enemy’s army with my own eyes, and I am the naked warner; so protect yourselves!” Then a group of his people obeyed him and fled at night, proceeding stealthily until they were safe. While another group of them disbelieved him and stayed at their places until morning when the army came upon them and killed and annihilated them. So, this is the example of the person who obeys me and follows what I have brought, and the example of the one who disobeys me and disbelieves the truth I have brought. (Bukhari 7283)
The Fifteenth Similitude
A Guest and a Loan
‘Abdullah ibn Musud said, “Everyone is a guest in this world, and his possessions are a loan. Thus, the guest will move on and the loan will be given back.”
The Sixteenth Similitude
The one who seeks after the worldly life is like the one who drinks salt water. The more he drinks, the more his thirst increases, until it kills him. (Az Zuhud by ibn Abi Dunya, Hadith 326)
The Seventeenth Similitude
The Companion and the Journey
The similitude of man, his wealth, his actions, and his family is like that of a man with three companions. The man has to take a long, mandatory journey. He calls his three companions and says, “The time has come for me to embark upon this long journey and I am in severe need of you all now.”
One of them said, “I was your brother up until this situation, but from now on I am not your brother or your companion. And this is all I have for you.” Thus, he replied to him, “You will not benefit me at all.”
He said to the second one, “What do you have?” He said, “I was your brother and your companion up until this point. I will be with you until I prepare you for travel and you mount your riding
beast, but from there on I will not accompany you.” He said to him, “I need you to accompany me on my journey.” He replied, “There is no way I can do that for you.” He said to him, “You will not benefit me at all.”
He said to the third one, “What do you have for me?” He replied, “I was your companion in health and sickness, and I am your companion now. I am your companion as you prepare for your journey and during your travel. If you move, I move with you; if you descend I descend with you. When you arrive at your destination, I will be your companion and I will never leave you.” He said to him, “You were the most insignificant of my companions to me and I used to prefer the other two companions over you. If only I would have known your rights and virtue over the other two.”
The first companion is his wealth; the second companion is his relatives, family and friends; and the third companion is his actions.
There is a hadith attributed to the Prophet (pbuh) with this exact example, but it is not authentic. It has been collected by Abu Ja’far in the book, “ Weak Narrations” from the hadith of Ibn Shuhab, from ‘Urwa, from ‘A’lsha. The hadith narrated from Ibn al-Musayib, from ‘A’isha, is connected to the Prophet (pbuh) and it is an authentic example that coincides with reality.
The Eighteenth Similitude
The Call of the Dunya
This is from the best similitudes. A king built a home. Those who see did not see, and those who hear did not hear of a home better than this home, or more spacious than this home, or of a home containing more delights of the soul than this home. A path leading to this home was prepared, and a caller was sent out to call the people to it.
There was a beautiful woman sitting on the path. She was adorned with assorted types of adornments and she wore various types of jewelry. All the people had to pass by her. She had helpers and servants at her disposal. The woman and her helpers had provisions
for those walking on the path toward the king.
The king said to the woman and her helpers, “Whoever lowers their gaze from you, does not allow you to distract them from me, and seeks provisions from you that will allow them to reach me, then serve him and give him provisions. Don’t hinder him from his travel to me; rather, assist him with everything that will allow him to complete his journey.
But whoever turns his eyes toward you, is pleased with you, prefers you over me, and desires to reach you, then impose upon him an evil punishment and humiliation. Make him chase behind you with a pursuit of loneliness. Whoever eats from you, then lead him astray with it for a while, then snatch all of it away from him.
Take mastery over all those who follow and serve you. The more he increases his love for you, exalts and honors you, then reciprocate him with alienation, distance and belittlement until he is disconnected from you with misery.”
Thus, ponder this similitude and the condition of the call of the worldly life and the call of the Afterlife. And with Allah’s aid is sought.
This example is extracted from the narration narrated from Allah, the Exalted
O Dunya; serve whoever serves Me, and cause fatigue and trouble O Dunya to whoever serves you. (Knowledge of the Science of Hadith by al-Hakim, Hadith 207)
The Nineteenth Similitude
A king designs a city in the best place, with the freshest air and the most water. He plows rivers and plants trees. He says to his citizens, “Race to the best places in the city; and whatever place you reach, it belongs to you. Whoever lags behind, then the people will beat him to the city, take all the homes and take residence therein; and he will remain in misery and regret.”
The king gave them an arena for the race and placed in the arena large trees with extended shade. Beneath the trees there was fresh running w ater and the trees yielded every type of fruit. On the tree branches were birds with amazing voices.
The king said to them, “Do not be deceived by these trees and shade. For soon, the trees will be uprooted, the shade will recline, its fruits will cease, and its birds will die. As for the city of the king; its food is continuous, its shade is extended, and its bliss is unending. It contains that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no man has ever imagined.”
The people heard about it, so they rushed out in pursuit of it. They passed by these trees while they were tired, hot and thirsty; so all of them rested beneath the trees. They took from their shade, tasted the sweetness of their fruits and listened to the chirping of their birds.
It was said to them, “You only sat beneath the trees for shelter and to reenergize yourself for the race, so prepare yourself to return to the race and be on guard. When the horn is sounded return to the race track.”
Most of them said, “How can we abandon this shade and easily accessible water, fresh fruits, and easy living for a race in a hot, dusty arena of weariness and a long journey? How can we leave this for a thirsty desert that will bring us hunger? How can we sell these commodities which are present for a far-off distant commodity? Shall we abandon what we see for that which we don’t see? A kernel received in the hand is better than a promise tomorrow. Take what you see and leave what you heard about. We are the children of today and this present life. How can we abandon this for an unseen life in a far-off land when we don’t know when we will arrive there?”
From every one thousand people, one person stood up and said, “By Allah this place of ours is in shade that will rescind, beneath trees whose fruits will cease and whose birds will die. Will we abandon the race toward the shade of all shades, that will never rescind, and delightful provision that will never cease? No one does this except for the weakest of the weak. Is it befitting for a traveler who rests beneath shade to pitch his tent beneath it and take up residence there fearing the heat or cold? Would anyone do this except for the most foolish person?”
A group of them rushed back to the race, and they did not feel alienated by the small number of friends with them. They marched on with strong determination. They did not allow the criticism of the blamers to affect their journey, while those who stayed behind were beneath the tree sleeping.
It wasn’t long before the twigs wrinkled, the leaves fell off, the fruits ceased to blossom, the branches dried, and the tree was uprooted. Those who were beneath the tree were now exposed to the heat and hot wind. Because the shade was no longer protecting them, all their provisions burned. They were surrounded by fire and none of them were able to escape. They said, “Where are those who were with us beneath the shade, and then they left and abandoned the shade?”
It was said to them, “Turn your eyes upward and you will see their homes.” So they looked up and saw them in castles far away in the city of the king. They were enjoyed assorted kinds of delights. This caused those who remained behind to increase in their misery, regretting not being amongst them. Now there was a barrier between them and what they desired. It was said to them, “This is the recompense of those who lag behind.” And We wronged them not, but they used to
wrong themselves. (Nahl: 118)
The Twentieth Similitude
The Torn Garment
The similitude of this worldly life is the example of a garment tom from the top of it to the bottom of it. It remains hanging on by its last thread. And that thread is about to break.
(Narrated from al-Fadl ibn Ja’far from Wahb ibn Hamad from Yahya ibn Said al Qahtan from Abu Said Khalaf ibn Habib from ’Anas ibn Malik)
The Twenty First Similitude
A Small Portion from A Small Portion
‘Abdullah ibn Masud said, “Verily Allah, the Exalted, has made all this world brief and that which remains of it is short-lived from that which was already brief. Nothing remains of it except a small portion from a small portion, similar to what remains of a puddle that the elite drank from and left a mud hole.
This worldly life resembles sleeping; living in it resembles a dream, and death resembles waking up.
This world is a farm; actions in this life are the seeds, and the harvest is on the Day of Judgment.
This world is like a home with two doors; one for the people to enter and one for them to exit.
This world is like a snake; soft to the touch, with a beautiful color, but its bite is deadly.
This world is like the most hideous woman; she veils her face while revealing her eyes by which she seduces the people. She invites the people to her home. If they accept her invitation, she reveals herself, slaughters them with her knife and throws them into a hole. She gains mastery over her lovers and does this to them time and time again. Amazingly, her lovers see their slain brothers who have fallen victim, yet they compete for the same thing their brothers have fallen victim to.
“And you lived in the dwellings of men who wronged themselves, and it was clear to you how We dealt with them. And We put forth (many) parables for you“. (Surah Ibrahim 14:45)
Sufficient as examples of this world are the parables Allah has given for it in the Qur’an.