“Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler.” —Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
This saying, often quoted in sermons and picturesque posts on the Internet, is one that really hit home for my family recently. It is a narration from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a famous book of Hadith called Bukhari that advises Muslims on how they should behave in and look at this world. Like travelers merely passing through a certain location, we too need to live in this world knowing our stay is temporary.
Death is the most poignant reminder of this life’s fleeting reality. When a loved one passes, whether suddenly or after a lengthy illness, the sadness is always accompanied with a reality check—our time on this earth will end too. This past month, my uncle passed away. He was in his seventies and suffered from various health issues. But each time anyone remembers him, they have two words they associate with him: Hadith and hasi (Urdu for laughter). He was a person known to share Islamic knowledge with all those around him, and of course, his quirky sense of humor.
A few months back when his health began to deteriorate, my sister and I went to visit him with my dad. My dad informed us that his older brother had already “checked out,” and he would not be very enthusiastic to communicate. Certainly, that did seem to be the case when we saw him. It seemed he was very much aware of the only guarantee in this life: that it will end.
My uncle spent his life teaching the Quran to others and sharing stories about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He lived a humble lifestyle, was modest in both his wealth and demeanor, and emulated the Prophet (peace be upon him) as much as he could. My memories of him consist of seeing him walk to the mosque, playfully pretending his hand was a spider as he made it crawl toward his grandchildren, and quoting various verses from the Quran. Many people attended his funeral that my family had never even seen before. They came up to my dad to give their condolences, saying that my uncle taught their children Quran years ago. By the grace of God, many would describe his time on earth as well spent. I pray God accepts his good deeds and multiplies his reward infinitely.
In Islam, there is a great emphasis placed on the next life over this current world we live in. We are in a temporary realm that ends for each of us with our respective deaths, and our permanent abode is the Hereafter. In Islam, this is referred to as the Akhirah. Due to the fleeting nature of this world, God reminds us to invest our time in good deeds that will benefit us later. This includes engaging in worship, yes, but also treating others with kindness, giving in charity, and focusing our efforts on things other than material goods.
However, it becomes very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day rush in this life. We work, we eat, we sleep, and we work again. We spend our free time often in non-beneficial activities and end up wasting our youth and health. We tend to want the latest fashion and technology trends and accumulate things we do not need. Even worse, we become attached to them. But these shiny objects and activities we invest so much time and money in are often distractions from that which really matters—again, the Hereafter.
God says in the Quran, “Are you satisfied with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But what is the enjoyment of worldly life compared to the Hereafter except a [very] little” (Q. 9:38).
This is but one example of God’s reminder about the fleeting nature of this world and the lasting permanence of the Hereafter. When one lives life in a way that follows God’s command, like that of a traveler, he will God-willing have a pleasant abode in the Hereafter.