What is this 'world' that we live in? Is it Earth? Is it buildings and towers? Is it rivers and seas? Or maybe it is television, food, or even cars?
It is ironic that we all affirm that we exist in this 'world', yet many cannot even describe this world. It is like saying "I know I live at home, but I have no idea what my home is." If we have the wrong idea about our 'home', then we will fall into many traps and pitfalls. It is equally dangerous, if not more, when we have no idea. So, where can we obtain information about this 'world'?
Surely, the best and most pure source of information is from the creator of this world, Allah, who has conveyed it to us through the Prophet, and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). So, how do the Prophet and his Progeny teach us to view this world?
Imam Ali (peace be upon him) says, "Dunya (the world) is a passageway, and the Hereafter is the destination. Take [what you need] from your passageway to your destination." (Nahjul Balagha)
The Imam emphasizes that this world contains items that we absolutely need for the Hereafter. If Dunya was only a negative place that is no good, then we couldn't take anything from it.
The natural question that follows is: what can we take from this world that is of use to us later on? Allah answers that when He says, "Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one's] hope." (18:46) In another verse, Allah says, "And the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for recourse." (19:76) Allah also says, "And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is God-consciousness." (2:197)
So clearly, this world offers the chance to do good, to help, and to be pious. There are many opportunities to help the injured, the orphans, and the needy. There are opportunities to spread knowledge. This world has all that and more.
The Prophet says, "Dunya is the farm of the Hereafter." (Awali Al La'ali)
This view also shows the good face of Dunya, and it is very similar to the 'passageway' view with one main difference: the benefits of this world depend on solid foundations and continuous monitoring.
If someone wants to build a farm, they will choose the best land. They will make sure they prepare the land and the soil. They will build a fence around it to protect it. They will choose the clean and healthy seeds and will continuously monitor the progress of this farm. If plants get spoiled in a farm, the farmer will extract it and search for the cause and, God willing, eliminate it. If all is done right, and with the blessings of Allah, this farm will produce healthy products. Allah mentions this idea about farms when He says, "Each of the two gardens produced its fruit and did not fall short thereof in anything." (18:33)
This world is the same. If we protect it with a fence of firm beliefs, then it will stand strong against the tides of doubt and disbelief. If we continue planting good deeds everywhere we go in this world, then this farm will yield healthy and beautiful produce.
For example, the Prophet says, "If a human dies, then his good deeds stop except for three: a Sadaqa Jariah (continuous charity), a beneficial knowledge, and a righteous child who prays for him". (Bihar al-Anwar) This narration shows three important seeds that will continue to grow and give fruit even after we depart from this world.
Despite the previous two views showing a good side of this world, the Ahlul Bayt also warned against a more dangerous aspect. In the second part of this article, we will examine the traditions and teachings of our Infallibles regarding the negative aspects of this world.