Have We Weaned Ourselves from the Dunya?
The idea of weaning the soul away from the world, even as a child is weaned off the breast, is a cornerstone of Islam’s teachings. But most hearts are absorbed in this world; are captive to its vanities; and nurse intense love for its appetites. Beautified for people is the love of desires: for women, children, hoarded heaps of gold and silver, branded horses, cattle and fields. Such are the comforts of the present life; but with God – with Him is the most excellent place of return. [3:14]
True piety, then, is not about what we profess outwardly; it is what we are and aspire to inwardly. Whoever aspires to the harvest of the Hereafter, We increase his harvest; and whoever aspires to the harvest of this world, We will grant him something thereof; but in the Hereafter he shall have no share. [42:20]
How may we know if our souls have been weaned off the world or not? We only have to ask ourselves: ‘What do I really desire?’, ‘What do I most hunger for?’ For no matter what you offer it, or put into its hand, the unweaned child cries for the breast! Nothing can quiet it until it is laid to the breast. Thus, what is it that stills our mind or quenches our desire? If it is worldly pleasures and comforts, fame or status, or the constant urge to take a comfort trip to the local shopping mall, then our souls have yet to be weaned away from worldliness. Al-Busiri, the poet, reminds us: wa’l-nafsu ka’l-tifli in tuhmilhu shabba ‘ala hubbi’l-rada‘i wa in taftimhu yanfatimi – ‘The ego is like a child; ignore it and it will grow still suckling. But if you wean it, it will soon lose its desire for the breast.’
The things of the world are beautified for mankind since they can and must be used to live in this world. Yet they are only a means to an end; they can never be made an end in themselves. Man must never lose sight of his final destination or his ultimate goal: ‘But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which God has given you, and do not forget your portion of the world; and be kind, even as God has been kind to you.’ [28:77] Weaning isn’t, therefore, to be without the world. It is possible to have things of the world and yet be weaned from the world. Ibn Taymiyyah was once asked as to the proper relationship the believer should have with wealth and other material goods. He offered this timely piece of advice: ‘We must view wealth much as we do the toilet, in that we resort to it whenever needed, but it has no place in our hearts.’1
Of course, weaning is something of a gradual process. If a suckling child is weaned off the breast too suddenly, without a suitable substitute, it can cause great distress; haste can seriously harm. Likewise, weaning ourselves from the world (dunya) must be done by degrees. In respect to the degrees of worldly detachment, or zuhd, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal said:
‘Zuhd is of three degrees: Firstly, leaving what is prohibited (haram); this is the zuhd of the masses. Secondly, leaving what is uncalled for of the lawful (al-fudul min al-halal); this is the zuhd of the elite. Thirdly, leaving whatever distracts you from God; which is the zuhd of the gnostics (‘arifin).’2 The first level is an obligation on each Muslim; the second, highly desirable; the third, the sought after goal.
I’ll conclude with what Shaykh Jalil Ahmad Akhoon, a contemporary shaykh of suluk or spiritual wayfaring, said about detachment by degrees:
As one begins to fill their hearts with love of God and His remembrance, love of dunya is gradually driven away. Imagine it to be a plane journey, he said. If, while the plane is still on the tarmac, one peers out of the cabin window, other airplanes and the airport buildings look large and imposing. But when the plane takes off and gradually climbs upwards, those very same objects appear to look smaller and smaller; until they seem insignificant and just disappear. Likewise, as we make a serious effort to fill our heart with love of God, and as the heart soars higher and higher in its journey to Him, dunya becomes tinier and tinier in its estimation, until it dwindles or disappears. And God is the Granter of grace.
1. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 10:663.
2. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, Madarij al-Salikin (Riyadh: Dar Tayyibah, 2008), 2:181.
mashallah, what a beautiful blog….
‘We must view wealth much as we do the toilet, in that we resort to it whenever needed but it has no place in our hearts.’
Ya Rabb help us fill our hearts with love for you….
Amin! That is the goal of goals in this life – everything else is just a footnote.
Thank you for this much needed reminder. Beautifully explained, especially Sheikh Jalil’s analogy at the end.
We must not lose sight of our purpose and ultimate goal….
“Absorbed in this world, you’ve made it your burden.
Rise above this world. There is another vision.
All your life you’ve paid attention to your experiences, but never to your Self.
Are you searching for your Soul? Then come out of your prison.
Leave the stream and join the river that flows into the Ocean.
It will not lead you astray.
Let the beauty you seek be what you do.”
“Let the beauty you seek be what you do.” Subhanallah! Thank you for that piece of Rumi inspiration.
Barakallahu fikum for your comment.
Shaykh Jalil’s analogy was expressed far better (in Urdu) than I have been able to depict it. His words, bi’idhnillah, pierced many a heedless heart in that blessed gathering.
Jesus said – the world is a bridge. Cross it, but build no house upon it. The world endures but for an hour. Spend it in devotion. The rest is unseen…Inscription on the Victory Gate at the Fathepur Sikri Mosque
My travel by land made me understand this Duniya like a stop over before reaching my destination. It’s as if I was in transit and for sure none of us make ‘stop overs or rest areas or transits’ as if we were to stay there for good…then why should I consider this Duniya as if it is my destination. I need to handle this truth about this Duniya as my ‘transit/rest area’.
After reading this article I will be looking at my ‘flying travel’ from a different angle too….InshaAllah
A very inspiring and thought provoking piece. Food for thought for us all, not just during Ramadan; but for the entire year.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. May Allah grant us the grace to responsibly wean ourselves from our consumerist/materialist addictions, so as to make space in our souls for Allah and the akhirah.