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Religion and the Material World

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Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi

It has been narrated by Abi Sa'id al-Khudri that he said, "When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) was returning back from [the Battle of] Uhud, and while he was in a state of leaning upon Talhah with throngs of people around them both, I heard him say, 'O mankind! Engage in those actions which form your primary responsibility for the improvement of your next life, and turn away from (do not keep yourself busy about) all of those things which have been guaranteed for you for the life of this world (your sustenance), and do not make use of the body parts which have been given to you as a blessing in the way of sins and against the laws (of Allah), and make your primary task (in this world) that of seeking the forgiveness (from Allah for your sins)." (Bihar al-Anwar)

As we know, any narration which we examine has been spoken at a specific instance in time, and the depth of the meaning of the narrations is also different when we keep in mind the various instances (in which they were spoken).

The situation after the Battle of Uhud was an exclusive instance in time. The Muslims had lost many of their dear ones, such as Hamza, the Leader of the Martyrs. The Prophet himself had many injuries on his body, and even his blessed teeth had been shattered. And according to a hadith from Imam Ali (peace be upon him), the Prophet had over ninety injuries on his body!

In summary, the situation at that time was very tense and critical, and thus, the Prophet not only had to give the people a sense of hope (for the future), but he also had to calm and settle them down. In addition to all of this, he also had to strengthen their spiritual foundations and prepare them to compensate for this loss which they had just suffered.

In such a sensitive time, he gave them four commandments which would not only act as a source of tranquility to their hearts and lives, but they would also make clear for them the path to removing the tension for the losses which they suffered at Uhud and which would lead to their victory in the future.

The essence of the words spoken by the Prophet which have been contained in these commandments is in relation to the religion and this material world:

"Perform those things which are your primary and principal responsibilities."

As we know, people have one set of responsibilities which are their primary responsibilities; however, they also have others which are their secondary duties. The primary responsibility of the person is the correction and reformation of himself for the next life, while the secondary program in one's life is that of this material world which has been guaranteed by Allah.

In relation to this fact, the Noble Qur'an tells us:

"There is no moving creature on Earth but its sustenance depends on Allah, and He knows the time and place of its resting and its temporary repository (of goods): all this is in a manifest Book." (11:6)

In relation to the next life, we do not have a single verse of the Qur'an which has given us such a guarantee such that (through that verse) all people would be assured of entering into Paradise!

From one point of view, Islam tells us that we should not busy ourselves too much with the life of this world, and in reality, we are commanded that we must spend most of our time in the remembrance of the next life, since naturally, within the self of the person, there is something which pulls him towards the material world, and we know that the various spiritual dimensions which seek to pull him towards the next life are weak within the person. It is for this fact that in relation to this material world, people are just like machines who are chasing something (of this material life), while in relation to the next life, they are like the machine that is moving fast and rapidly around them (which they cannot catch up with).

Thus, the issue of not paying attention to the material world does not mean that Islam wants people to be lazy, poor, and not to be prosperous in the economic spheres of life. No, it is definitely not like this! The nature and instinct of man is that he gravitates towards the material world, and thus, we see that the greatest teacher of humanity, the Noble Prophet of Islam, has ordered that there must be a balance in life.

After this commandment, the Noble Prophet then brings forth a very affectionate commandment and states that, "Are you not ashamed that you are making use of the blessings of Allah and are performing sins with these things which He has granted you?"

In other words, you eat the salt, but you end up breaking the salt-shaker! Is it not something very indecent and rude that, for example, you go to someone's house, eat from the food he has provided at his table for you, and then you get up and start to insult that very same host?!

Without doubt, if at the time when a person was moving close to sinning, if he were to remember the statement "All power and ability lies solely with Allah", he would definitely stop in the face of committing sins.

In conclusion, the Prophet then states that, "Seek forgiveness from Allah, and struggle to attain closeness to the obedience of Allah, and expend all of your ambitions in this regards so that you are able to become His servant."

Author of this article: Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi
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