By Luqman Sadiq
In Islamic theology, Dunya (this worldly life) is limited and measurably short. Excess attention to this temporal existence and its trappings leads to neglecting Akhirah (life in the hereafter). The Quran reminds us to prepare for the eternal life in the hereafter and refers to the Dunya as a test (containing success and failure) that leads to paradise or hell, respectively.
Meaning and Etymology
The word Dunya is derived from the root letters د ن و which means approaching, being close/closeness, or joining two things. It is often used as an adjective in the Quran as “al-hayatud dunya” meaning the life “closest” to the human being. It refers to something of a transient nature, a place of transit, tests, trials, and actions.
In the Quran, Dunya دُنْيا refers to the temporal world, a premeditated state of lasting for humans and other creatures, pertaining to concerns and possessions. However, the literal meaning of Dunya is “closer.” That is why it is used to refer to worldly life, which is closer to us right now compared to life in the hereafter.
There are five conjugations of Dunya (دُنْيا) found in the Quran;
دُنْيا – Worldly Life
أَدۡنَىٰٓ – Closer, Nearer, Lower
دَانٍ – Is near
دَانِيَةٌ – Hanging low, Hanging near
دَنَا – Approach (closer)
Usage in the Quran
The word “Dunya” is often used in the Quran to convey the idea that worldly pursuits and possessions are temporary and ultimately unimportant compared to spiritual matters and the afterlife. The word appears in various verses throughout the Quran and is often translated as “this world” or “worldly life.”
The Reality of Dunya
زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ ٱلشَّهَوَٰتِ مِنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ وَٱلْبَنِينَ وَٱلْقَنَـٰطِيرِ ٱلْمُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ ٱلذَّهَبِ وَٱلْفِضَّةِ وَٱلْخَيْلِ ٱلْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ وَٱلْحَرْثِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا ۖ وَٱللَّهُ عِندَهُۥ حُسْنُ ٱلْمَـَٔابِ
The enjoyment of ˹worldly˺ desires—women, children, treasures of gold and silver, fine horses, cattle, and fertile land—has been made appealing to people. These are the pleasures of this worldly life, but with Allah is the finest destination. [Surah Ali’ Imran 3:14]
Allah created, in His kindness and wisdom, all beneficial things for life in this world, making them appear attractive and worthy of human’s effort to acquire them so that they can be tested.
This is one of Allah’s many acts of wisdom to determine if a human is seduced by the glamor of passing enjoyment, or if they remember or forget the Creator of these things and even themselves.
With this understanding, do we use our blessings to know and adore Allah, or do we get completely engrossed in the love for these temporal things, forgetting all about the true Master and Creator?
Thus, we should seek the good things of life with moderation in accordance with our genuine needs rather than seeking and using them in prohibited ways or indulging in them so excessively that one forgets the reality of Akhirah. In this lies the ultimate good for both worldly life and of that in the hereafter.
ٱللَّهُ يَبْسُطُ ٱلرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَآءُ وَيَقْدِرُ ۚ وَفَرِحُوا۟ بِٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَا فِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعٌۭ
Allah gives abundant or limited provisions to whoever He wills. And the disbelievers become prideful of ˹the pleasures of˺ this worldly life. But the life of this world, compared to the Hereafter, is nothing but a fleeting enjoyment. [Surah Ar-Ra’d 13:26]
Allah alone increases the provisions for whom He wills and decreases it for whom He wills, according to His wisdom and with perfect justice. So, when the disbelievers rejoice with the life in Dunya that was given to them, they don’t know that they are being tested and trialed. Whereas Allah SWT labeled Dunya (this world) compared to the Hereafter as but a brief passing enjoyment.
خَشْيَةًۭ ۚ وَقَالُوا۟ رَبَّنَا لِمَ كَتَبْتَ عَلَيْنَا ٱلْقِتَالَ لَوْلَآ أَخَّرْتَنَآ إِلَىٰٓ أَجَلٍۢ قَرِيبٍۢ ۗ قُلْ مَتَـٰعُ ٱلدُّنْيَا قَلِيلٌۭ وَٱلْـَٔاخِرَةُ خَيْرٌۭ لِّمَنِ ٱتَّقَىٰ وَلَا تُظْلَمُونَ فَتِيلًا
Say, ˹O Prophet,˺ “Short is the enjoyment of this world, whereas the Hereafter is far better for those mindful ˹of Allah˺. And none of you will be wronged ˹even by the width of˺ the thread of a date stone. [Al-Nisa 4:77]
كُلُّ نَفْسٍۢ ذَآئِقَةُ ٱلْمَوْتِ ۗ وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ ۖ فَمَن زُحْزِحَ عَنِ ٱلنَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ ٱلْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ ۗ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ
Every soul will taste death. And you will only receive your full reward on the Day of Judgment. Whoever is spared from the Fire and is admitted into Paradise will ˹indeed˺ triumph, whereas the life of this world is no more than the delusion of enjoyment. [Surah Ali’ Imran 3:185]
These verses focus on the ultimate reality of things in a scenario where some come to enjoy ascendency or luxury in one form or another whereas others may cope with hardships, challenges, and a scarcity of worldly resources. There is nothing surprising about it, and certainly not a reason to be sad as grief and happiness in this world are both part of life. Therefore, worrying about the Dunya, the short-lived cycle of comfort and discomfort, should not become a chronic concern for a Muslim.
Amusement and Diversion
ٱعْلَمُوٓا۟ أَنَّمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَا لَعِبٌۭ وَلَهْوٌۭ وَزِينَةٌۭ وَتَفَاخُرٌۢ بَيْنَكُمْ وَتَكَاثُرٌۭ فِى ٱلْأَمْوَٰلِ وَٱلْأَوْلَـٰدِ ۖ كَمَثَلِ غَيْثٍ أَعْجَبَ ٱلْكُفَّارَ نَبَاتُهُۥ ثُمَّ يَهِيجُ فَتَرَىٰهُ مُصْفَرًّۭا ثُمَّ يَكُونُ حُطَـٰمًۭاحُطَـٰمًۭا ۖ وَفِى ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةِ عَذَابٌۭ شَدِيدٌۭ وَمَغْفِرَةٌۭ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَرِضْوَٰنٌۭ ۚ وَمَا ٱلْحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنْيَآ إِلَّا مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْغُرُورِ ۖ
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 – 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. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allāh and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion. [Surah Al-Hadid 57:20]
The life of Dunya is temporary: its spring as well as the autumn is temporary to allure man. This comprises low and trivial things that man, due to his limited knowledge, perceives as magnificent and splendid and is led to believe that achieving them will result in success.
The fact is that the greatest pleasure and delight that one may potentially have in this world are truly brief and inconsequential, restricted to a few years of transient existence, and can be destroyed by a single turn of fate.
The one who obtains Allah’s forgiveness and goodwill there would have gained eternal joy, in comparison to which the entire wealth of the world and its realm become pale and tiny. And the one who is seized in God’s torment there, will come to know that he had made a bad bargain even if he had attained all that he regarded as the great and splendid in the world.
وَٱبْتَغِ فِيمَآ ءَاتَىٰكَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلدَّارَ ٱلْـَٔاخِرَةَ ۖ وَلَا تَنسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ ٱلدُّنْيَا ۖ وَأَحْسِن كَمَآ أَحْسَنَ ٱللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ ۖ
“Rather, seek the ˹reward˺ of the Hereafter by means of what Allah has granted you, without forgetting your share of this world. And be good ˹to others˺ as Allah has been good to you. Do not seek to spread corruption in the land, for Allah certainly does not like the corruptors.” [Al-Qasas 28:77]
“Share in this word” refers to the life in Dunya (this world). The blessings that have been gifted (life, wealth, health, strength, etc.) should be used to gather what will be helpful in the hereafter, while balancing needs in this world.
Striving in Dunya For Akhirah
The dimensions of life in this world and the hereafter will be the continuation of each other. What is experienced in the first (Dunya) will also be in the later, that is, in the hereafter (its consequences or reflections). This is the totality of life just like oneness of the soul. In terms of humans, one (nearer life/Dunya) is dependent on the other’s existence (eternal life/Akhirah), and one is the continuation and inseparable part of the other.
The concept of life offered by the Quran itself is the comprehensive perspective of existence that arises in connection with man’s conscious acts. The Quran indicates in several passages that those who believe and do good actions in this world will have a good end in the Hereafter, and those who deny and do evil deeds in this life will likewise have a disappointing end in the Hereafter.
The concept that the Qur’an provides to be a successful human being is Taqwa, or God-consciousness. It arises from a holistic understanding of life and it keeps the individual who has this approach continually aware and prevents him from evil deeds, making his activities appear to be good ones to Allah.
However, this does not imply that you should abandon your worldly living (Dunya). In fact, Islam prevents you from isolating yourself from the world and your worldly obligations, instead encourages you to engage and interact with society and reap the benefits it has to provide, within a set of boundaries created by Allah.
We sometimes misunderstand the reality that the Quran simplifies rather than complicates our responsibilities.
أُخَرَ ۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِكُمُ ٱلْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ ٱلْعُسْرَ
Allah intends ease for you, not hardship. (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:185)
Prophet Muhammad PBUH said, “The life of the present world, compared to the Hereafter, is just like when one of you inserts his finger (pointed with the index finger) in the sea, so let him contemplate how much of it will it carry. (Sahih Muslim)
When one takes Dunya as the goal and purpose of attaining worldly outcomes, it becomes a means of deviation and deception. However, if we consider it as a place where we plant our deeds to see their fruit in the Hereafter and a prelude to attaining perfection, then its blessings are constructive and valuable. Therefore, a group of human beings use this (worldly) life as a source of attaining Allah’s mercy, love and forgiveness; whereas another uses it to attain their undoing.
What do you think? Share your reflections below!