The Sea And a Droplet

Hadith Gateway

The Sea and a Droplet

Muhammad Asif Attari Madani

Explaining how this world compares to the Hereafter, the Messenger of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said:

وَاللهِ مَا الدُّنْیَا فِی الْاٰخِرَۃِ اِلَّا مِثْلُ مَا یَجْعَلُ اَحَدُکُمْ اِصْبَعَہٗ ہٰذِہٖ فِیْ الْیَمِّ فَلْیَنْظُرْ بِمَ تَرْجِعُ

“By Allah! The example of the world compared to the Hereafter is like one of you dipping your finger into an ocean. You should then see how much of it you return with.”[1]

The scholar ʿAlī Qārī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه writes:

The blessings of this world and the lifetime spent in it, compared to the eternal blessings and length of the Hereafter, is like someone dipping their finger into the vast ocean and taking it out. How much water is upon the finger when this happens? (The water upon the finger is the world, whilst the ocean is the Hereafter.) This example was given for the sake of explanation. Otherwise, the temporal world does not even bear this significance when compared to the everlasting Hereafter.[2]

The Hereafter is greater than this world

This hadith teaches us how all worldly desires shall soon perish. All the backbreaking effort we put in to accumulate wealth is just for a momentary life. This is why one should neither be made heedless by worldly prosperity nor complain when financially constricted. They should always say لَا عَيْشَ إِلَّا عَيْشُ الْآخِرَةِ – “The real life is that of the Hereafter.” The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم explained this to his Companions رَضِیَ الـلّٰـهُ عَنْھُم during the Battle of the Trench and during his farewell hajj sermon.[3]

Life of this world, living in this world, and living for the world all differ. Yet, living in this world for the Hereafter is a sign of true success.

The famous Sufi Jalāl al-Dīn Rumī رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه said:

آب در کَشتی ہلاکِ کَشتی اَسْت

آب اندر زیرِ کَشتی پُشْتی اَسْت

The boat remains safe as long as it is upon water.

It is destroyed as soon as water enters it.[4]

The Quran also declares the Hereafter to be greater than life in this world:

لَعِبٌ وَّ لَہْوٌ ؕ وَ لَلدَّارُ الْاٰخِرَۃُ  خَیْرٌ لِّلَّذِیْنَ یَتَّقُوْنَ ؕ اَفَلَا تَعْقِلُوْنَ (۳۲) مَا الْحَیٰوۃُ  الدُّنْیَاۤ  اِلَّا  وَ

And the life of this world is merely play and amusement. And indeed, the abode of the Hereafter is better for those who fear. So, do you not understand?[5]

What is meant by “worldly life”?

Muftī Amad Yār Khān رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه explains this hadith as follows:

Living for the world is to pursue carnal desires. Living for the Hereafter is to busy oneself with accumulating provision for it. The latter is considered living in this world but not a worldly life. By extension, the lives of the prophets and the righteous were for Islam. There is clear distinction between the lives of the ignorant and the lives of the pious.[6]

Fitness and sprightliness

A man once passed by the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم. The Companions looked at his spritely gait and good health. “O Messenger of Allah”, they exclaimed, “If only this fitness of his was used in the way of Allah.” The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم declared:

He is out for Allah if he has left his home to fulfil the needs of his small children. He is out for Allah if he has left his home to serve his elderly parents. He is out for Allah if he has left his home to save himself ˹from impermissible actions˺. Yet, if he left with ostentation and vainglory, he is then on the path of Satan.[7]

How much should we strive for the world, and how much for the Hereafter?

Our pious elders highlighted how much effort we must put into our lives in this world and the Hereafter respectively. Here we shall mention a statement from one of these individuals, someone who brought Islam’s empire to unparalleled heights in just over two years: ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه.

اِعْمَلْ لِلدُّنْیَا عَلٰی قَدْرِ مَقَامِکَ فِیْھَا وَاعْمَلْ لِلْاٰخِرَۃِ عَلٰی قَدْرِ مَقَامِکَ فِیْھَا

Strive for the world for as long as you are to live in it, and strive for the Hereafter for as long as you are to live in it.[8]

Implementing what they preached

These righteous individuals implemented what they said. ammād bin Salamah رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَلَيْه would go to the market, sell cloth, and earn a sixth of a dirham in profit. He was so content with this that he would return home without accepting higher offers.[9]

What is the purpose of our struggles?

Two things have been established from what we have discussed thus far. Firstly, the world has no virtue or significance in comparison to the Hereafter. Secondly, our striving for the world should be commensurate with what is required to get by, and we must prepare for the Hereafter wholeheartedly as it is our eternal abode.

[1] aī Muslim: 7197

[2] Mirqāt al-Mafātī: 5156

[3] Ibid

[4] Mirāt al-Manājī, vol. 7, p. 3

[5] Al-Quran, 6:32, Translation from Kanz al-Īmān

[6] Nūr al-ʿIrfān, Sūrah Al-Anʿām, verse 32, p. 208

[7] Al-Muʿjam al-Kabīr: 282

[8] Sīrat wa Manāqib ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (otherwise known as Sīrat Ibn Jawzī), p. 123

[9] ilyat al-Awliyāˈ, vol. 6, p. 270




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