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Seeking This World VS. Seeking the Hereafter (Akhirah)
Question:

How does Islam view the relation between this world and the hereafter (Akhirah)? Does Islam consider them as two completely separate and different matters? How does Islam describe people who only strive for this world in comparison to the people who strive for the hereafter?


Answer:

According to Islamic thoughts, this world and the hereafter are not two distinct and separable realities; in fact, they form an inseparable single unit in which one leads to the other. According to the Islamic teachings, extracted from the Holy Quran and the traditions, statements, and behaviors of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and those of the Infallible Imams (PBUT), striving for the hereafter has always been considered with honor; whereas striving for this world, depending upon the context it is used in, has not always been regarded with honor. 

In general, the view Islam has towards this world can be divided into two separate entities. The first view is when this world becomes the main goal and purpose in life. People who hold this view thus, spend their entire life striving solely for this world. They get so involved with their surroundings that they begin to dedicate all their efforts to achieve and accumulate their worldly materials.  They however, fail to profit the least bit from their worldly materials in the way of reaching perfection and eternal prosperity for the hereafter. Obviously this view contrasts the view Islam holds of the hereafter because with the beginning of the hereafter, this world comes to an end and one would lose all he had gained for this world in a single moment. (1) Islam reproaches this view (2) and describes its followers as deceived people who have lost their investment (their lives) and have not gained anything in exchange (3).

The other view that regards this world as merely a tool as opposed to the goal, can actually help in reaching our final destination. In this view, the world is viewed as a temporary place, not a residence, in which people should prepare for the hereafter (4). The people, who view the world as a merely a tool, consider this world as a farm in which the products of it will be harvested in the hereafter. As long as they make use of this opportunity, eternal success in the hereafter can be obtained. Although such people may possess property, esteemed positions, and other worldly affairs, they however do not regard them as the goal of life.  Rather, they use their opportunities in this world as means that will help them in reaching their final destination: Allah's (SWT) satisfaction. This view is never condemned but as a matter of fact highly praised by Islam. (5) Islam considers this view coherent with seeking the hereafter. Furthermore, the people who hold this view in regards to this world do their best to prepare themselves for the hereafter. They are not considered strivers for only this world, but they are considered as people who seek perfection and prepare themselves for the hereafter (6).

In Islam, "asceticism" is not about depriving oneself from all the matters of this world, rather it is about not considering this world as the ultimate goal.  According to the Islamic teachings, a Muslim must never stand still; in fact he/she must strive and work hard in this life in order to prepare for the hereafter. In other words, the way to eternal success passes through this world, and one cannot achieve success in the hereafter without benefiting correctly from this world. (7)


 
1- Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) said: 'One who seeks this world, then death shall look for him/her till it takes him/her out of this world; and one who seeks the hereafter, then this world shall look for him/her so that he/she can completely take his/her share out of it.' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No.431)
 
2- The following narrations confirm this fact and condemn this first viewpoint about this world:
Imam Sadiq (PBUH) said: 'The head and root of every sin is the tendency toward this world.' (Usool al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 315)
Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) said: 'This world deceives people, hurts them, and then passes. Allah did not want to reward His friends and punish His enemies in this world. People in this world are like a caravan who are called by their leader, as soon as they settle in a place: 'thus migrate'.' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No. 415)
 
3- Imam Ali (PBUH) refers to this fact in the following narration:
'This world decieves people, hurts them, and then passes.…' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No. 415)
 
4- Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) said: 'Anyone who remembers how far his destination is, gets ready for it' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No.280)
In another statement he said: 'Do not be like those who look forward to the hereafter, without having done any deed (for it)....' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No. 150)
Further Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) has said: 'This world is the farm of the hereafter.' (Awali al-Le'ali, vol. 1, p. 267)
 
5- The following narrations from Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) confirm the idea of this world being a tool for the hereafter:
'Certainly this world is the end of the sight of the (mentally) blind. He is incapable of looking at things other than this world. The sight of a looker (who looks with the eye of his mind) pierces through and realizes that the (real) house is beyond this world. The looker therefore wants to get out of it while the blind wants to get into it. The looker collects provision from it (for the next world), while the blind collects provision for this very world.' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Phrases from Sermon No. 133)
'This world is created for another world not for itself.' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No.463)
'O people! Look at this world like those who abstain from it, and turn away from it. By Allah, it would shortly repel its inhabitants and cause grief to the happy and the safe. That which turns and goes away from it never returns and that which is likely to come about is not known or anticipated. Its joy is mingled with grief. Herein men's firmness inclines towards weakness and languidness. The majority of what pleases you here should not mislead you because that which would help you is little.' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Phrases from Sermon No. 103)
'People in this world are divided into two groups. One group becomes engaged with this world. They worry about the poorness of their generations after them and never pay attention to the hereafter. These people spend their lives to benefit others. The other group endeavors in this world for the hereafter and pay their attention to the hereafter. Without being worried about this world, they receive whatever is proper for them from this world. So they will gain both this world and the hereafter and gain respect in the presence of Allah; He will give them whatever they ask Him.' (Nahj al-Balaqah, Kalimat Qisar, No.269)
 
6- The following narration also confirms these facts and considers this world as a place of trade for the lovers of Allah (SWT):
When Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) heard a person condemning this world, he said: '…Certainly, this world is a house of truth for those who really believe in it, an abode of peace and rest for those who understand its ways and moods, and it is the place of satiety for those who take their benefits from it for life in the hereafter. It is a place of taking advice for those who want to take advice, a place of worship for the friends of Allah, a place for descent of revelation, a place of trade for lovers of Allah in which they gain His mercy and blessings, and their benefit will be heaven.' (Nahj al-Balaghah, Kalimat Qisar, No. 131)
7- The following narration further expresses this fact: Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) said: 'Do not be like those who look forward to the hereafter, without having done any deed (for it)....' (Nahj al-Balaqah, Kalimat Qisar, No. 150)
 
7- The following narration further expresses this fact: Amir al-Mu'minin (PBUH) said: ''Do not be like those who look forward to the hereafter, without having done any deed (for it) ...''(Nahj al-Balaqah, Kalimat Qisar, No. 150)