Like many other people, I very often ask myself, what is this life really about? Why are we here? How to be a successful one? And so on. In looking for this answer, I am very grateful that I am in touch with Al-Qur’an, the only book which consists of literal word of God possessed by human being nowadays. In surah (chapter) Al-Hadid ayah (verse) 20, Allah swt summarized this worldly life in five words. The verse read:
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children..”
I’ve read this verse many many times before, but I didn’t really catch the meaning and get the sense of it. Only now, thanks to a good Android app called Qamus alAthar, I can get the meaning of five Arabic words that Allah used in that verse. Arabic is such a beautiful, detail, comprehensive, and deep in meaning language; no wonder why Allah swt chose it as the language of the final revelation. In my experience, merely relying on the ‘common’ translation that we read in our Qur’an will result in lost in meaning as well as lack of understanding. In Qur’an, Allah swt repeatedly asked us to think deeply, over and over again on the ayah of the Qur’an. Only through this exercise we will realize how powerful the Qur’an’s message is. Without further ado, here are the words.
First is la’ibun. The root letter for this word is la-‘a-ba; which means: “played/sported/gamed/jested/joked, pastime (in an unserious thing), engage in idle sport without meaning of purpose, slaver/drivel, stupid/fool.” Looking at this meaning, I internalize the word la’ibun as engaging in something that is not meaningful or purposeful. By internalizing it like this, I personally can see the connection between this word and the reality of life that I observe. In academic world, for example, I’ve seen many people engage in research, which can take almost his entire career, in something that is not meaningful or have no meaning. In Economics for example, we usually try to model human behavior in a very complex mathematical model. Many people have spent most of their career in this field; but then suddenly, when the financial crisis come, unfortunately, these people came to an obvious conclusion, that we can’t model human behavior as a mathematical equation. The reason? Simple. Because we’re human; we’re not an apple who will subject to gravity force when it falls from the tree. Sorry for making it too Economics; but many Economists, they spent most of their life working on this mathematical model which then result in the state of Economics field whereby a good economist is not someone who can provide the most wisdom; rather, it’s the one who can produce the most sophisticated mathematical modelling regardless its relevance to the real world. Again, the point is engaging in something that is not meaningful or purposeful. I believe this phenomenon could be found in other branches of science or other life setting.
Second is lahwun. The root letter for this word is la-ha-wa; which means: “Become diverted from it as to forget it, to preoccupy, beguile, distract, sport/play/amusement, divert, diversion, forget, delight/cheer, turn away, what is thrown, unmindful/careless.” My personal take on this word is that this worldly life is something that will distract, divert, and preoccupy us from worshipping Allah. This is entirely true. We are a living witness of how we and many people are heavily occupied with our daily activities and ambition that we forget our obligation to Allah. Even many Muslim do not observe the five daily prayers, which is basically the minimum standard that we should abide to.
Third is zinatun. The root letter for this word is za-ya-na; which means: “To adorn, deck. Adorn, grace, honor. Adorned, ornamented, decorated, decked, beautified. A grace, a beauty, a comely quality, a physical/intellectual adornment, an honor or a credit, and anything that is the pride or glory of a person or a thing. It [states] are three kinds: Mental: such as knowledge/science and good tenants. Bodily: strength, tallness of stature, beauty of aspect. Extrinsic: wealth, rank or station, dignity.” As we can see, this is a very rich word; and amazingly, it describe vividly the life that we are seeing in our environment. We clearly witness how people around us, or even ourselves, are obsessed with adornment or beauty. The cosmetic, fashion, fitness, etc. are a massive industry. Many people are so obsessed with how they look that they even risk their life for plastic surgery, pay USD 500 just for a branded slipper, and so on. Alhamdulillah that Allah guides us that this is not the right way to go. Again, I should mention a caveat here. This does not mean that Islam wants us to look ugly, dirty, and smell. No. Allah mentioned that what we have in this world, such as pearl, gold, silk, fur, etc. are bounty from Allah. Islam teaches us to look good, smell well, clean, etc.; but what Islam strongly forbid us is to be excessive in doing this. I saw a (branded) slipper priced at USD 500 in Singapore Takashimaya mall. Without a doubt, this brand-worshipper behavior is what we shouldn’t be trapped in.
Fourth is tafaakhurun. The root letter is fa-kha-ra; which means: “Self-glorification/magnification, boast, to disdain/scorn, proud/haughty, long/tall/great, excellent quality, baked pottery/clay, earthen vessel.” This is again very commonly found in our life, isn’t it? A good example for this can be found in Qur’an surah Al-Kahfi ayah 32 to 43. Please take a look.
Fifth is takaatsurun. The root letter is ka-tsa-ra; which means: “To surpass in number in quantity, increase, multiply, happen often, copious, richness; to be much, many, numerous, a man whose ancestors are many or whose good deeds are many. A man possessing much good, river in paradise from which other rivers flow, talkative person.” As we can see, this word does not necessarily imply a negative thing, but what make it negative is what follows in the ayah, i.e. takaatsurun fil amwali wal aulaad; which means surpassing each other in terms of wealth and children. Again, this is very true and easy to spot in our life. Regardless whether it is a President or a gardener, human tends to surpass each other in terms of the quantity of their wealth as well as the (quantity and) quality of their children.
We should be really grateful to Allah swt for showing us things that we should be mindful of in this life. Allah swt then continue the ayah with an even more amazing lesson. Take a look to the continuation of the ayah below.
“…like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris.”
Allah swt then beautifully give parable for this worldly life. Allah said this worldly life is like a plant which grows due to rain; but then the plant won’t stay beautiful and strong forever. Slowly but surely, unstoppable, the plant will someday turn yellow; and what remains? It just scatters as debris. Subhanallah. This is a very deep lesson for us. No matter how beautiful we are, no matter how smart, strong, wealthy, etc., at some point in time, we’ll just like a plant, we’ll get old and dies. But, unlike plant, our life does not stop here; in fact, the real life has just begun. Prophet Muhammad saw once said, when a human is brought to his grave, three things follow him; but two will go back and one remains. The three things are his family, his property, and his deeds. Family and property will go back, while his deeds will remain with him. This is should be a very strong reminder for us to increase our good deeds before it’s too late.
Allah swt conclude the ayah with the following.
“And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.”
That’s basically conclude this deep and powerful ayah. This life is nothing but a delusionary enjoyment. It may seems enjoyable, but it’s just a delusion. What is true or real is the life in the hereafter. It will be a constant punishment for the disbeliever and an eternal mercy for the believers. May we are among those winners.
Finally, this verse gives many insight to us. To be a successful person in this life and in the hereafter, we better watch out not to fall into the trap of this five words. In doing so, I think we must not:
- Engage in un-meaningful and un-purposeful activities. Let’s always ask ourselves before doing something; is this activity really meaningful and purposeful? If so, what’s the purpose?
- Being preoccupied with something such that we are diverted or distracted from worshipping Allah swt. This obviously does not mean we can’t do our work, have a career, and then be in Masjid for the whole day. No, it’s quite the contrary, actually. Islam ask us to spread in the earth, looking for Allah’s bounty; but, there is a key principle here, that is we do it only for Allah’s sake and we are continuously aware of Allah’s presence.
- Being obsessed to be adorned, either mentally, physically, and extrinsically.
- Being boastful.
- Surpassing with each other in terms of wealth and children. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy and have a lot of smart children; again, what is highlighted here is being obsessed with and preoccupied to achieve whether we are in the list of 100 richest people in community.
To conclude, I hope from this moment on, whenever we see a blossoming flower, we would be reminded that this world is just like this flower; like it or not, it will come to an end; and the real life will then begin. Wallau’alam bisshawab.