Once while describing an aspect of man’s fundamental nature, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that the son of Adam becomes old with senility, but yet two things remain with him intact: greed and hope (Sahih Al-Bukhari).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also taught that when the latter two become unrestrained, taking over a person’s total being, he with his actions and decision making, in turn, becomes uncontrollable.
He stops at nothing in order to try to satisfy his raging impulses. No action, or word, that comes from such a person should be seen as a surprise.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) thus said that if the son of Adam possessed two valleys of gold, he would long for a third one;
“and nothing would fill (satiate) the stomach – or the mouth — of the son of Adam but dust (that is, after he dies)” (Sahih Muslim)
Man can easily become a world of paradoxes. Under the pressure of his recurring misjudgments, his inborn disposition and a myriad of external factors and forces, man can easily give in to the advances of his perennial anxieties, unfounded optimism and profligacy, relegating the transcendent power of his reason (intellect or ‘aql), as well as his primordial nature (instinct or fitrah), to the backseat.
One moment he can think and act like an angel; the next he can be like a devil.
The similar thing Satan (Iblis) had in mind when he plotted to deceive Adam and his wife Eve (Hawa) and drive them out from the Garden of Eden. He whispered to them, coaxing them:
Shall I lead you to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that never decays? (20: 120).
Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you should become angels or such beings as live forever (immortals). (7: 20).
Why is man intrinsically unsatisfied and greedy, and is that a bad thing in itself?
Man has been created for the splendid purpose of vicegerency (khilafah) on earth.
As the pinnacle of Almighty God’s act of creation — whom God had created and fashioned with His Own Hands (38: 75) and in His Own Image (Sahih Muslim) – man signifies both the essence of the creation phenomenon and its microcosm, as much physically as metaphysically.
Man exists in order to recognize the truth, embrace it and live it in every undertaking of his. This could be interpreted as being equivalent to knowledge, in which case man would have been created to know; or to productivity, in which case man would have been created to work and be productive as well as beneficial to himself and his animate and inanimate surroundings, generating cultures and civilizations in the process; or to moral integrity, in which case man would have been created in order to possess an internally consistent framework of values and principles that would ensure moral consistency in the external world of actions, decisions, methods, measures and codes.
Almighty God terms this as follows:
I have only created jinns and men that they may serve (worship) Me. (51: 56).
This implies, firstly, man’s cognition of the existence of his Creator and Master, and, secondly, man’s conforming of his existence to whatever he may perceive of the divine Will and Plan.
That also means that each creature is given the chance of development and progress towards the Goal, which is Allah.
“Allah is the source and center of all power and all goodness, and our progress depends upon our putting ourselves into accord with His Will. This is His service. It is not of any benefit to Him; it is for our own benefit” (Abdullah Yusuf Ali).
Moreover, every living reality in the heavens and on the earth has been subjected to man and his noble existential mission. Everything partially exists only due to the existence of man, serving him and facilitating the fulfillment of his extraordinary assignments.
Consequently, God has conferred dignity on man, honoring him greatly and favoring him far above the rest of creation (17: 70).
Man — both the believer and non believer — easily comprehends his superior status and position, and what he has gotten. He swiftly develops a deep affection for the favors and possessions.
Seeing how perfectly meaningful and beneficial they are for his subsistence, man naturally starts craving for as much of those gifts, kindnesses and provisions as possible.
In addition, seeing that he is entirely dependent on them and that no segment of his physical, intellectual and spiritual life could be extricated from and lived in isolation from the matrix of those benefits, provisions and gifts, just a thought of losing any of them, or of being unable to fully delight in them, fills man with dread.
That is why man is most terrified of the notions of death and the permanent loss of any of the granted benefits. Though death, as the destroyer of all pleasures and dreams, is unavoidable, man will never stop fantasizing about an immortal world.
As an illustration of one of the biggest paradoxes in man, man will even try to undertake some vain steps towards the actualization of such an imaginary world.
However, those feelings are natural and fully consistent with the inherent nature of man. In principle, there is nothing wrong with them. Man has been tested thereby, and the problem is not the test itself, but how man copes with it and performs.
The question is how man prioritizes his yearnings and needs, and how he adjusts them to his life undertakings.
It is completely ordinary that man wants to possess as much as possible, and that he wants neither his possessions, nor himself, to perish or “die”.
However, death is as real and undeniable as man’s fear of it and his pining for immortality. That there is no way for any sort of reconciliation between the two extremes would be unfair. There must be a way out for man to satisfy his cravings. But what is it? And what is actually meant by being rich, wanting more, wishing for immortality, etc.?
Man is a dual being, consisting of a physical and spiritual dimension. The two are to be integrated in such a way that the latter is to be regarded as a goal and the former a means.
Furthermore, the latter’s existence is at once real and ultimate, whereas the former’s is conditional and relative, existing only because of the existence of the soul and serving as its carrier.
The soul, it follows, is to be of a primary, and the body of a secondary, concern to man. The body and its requisites are to always play second fiddle to the soul and its own requisites. The soul is eternal, while the body perishes.
Thus, man’s inborn and everlasting insatiability and hopes are to be directed towards that which is also everlasting, absolute and innately appealing to the former, that is, the absolute truth and everything that goes with it. Only then will man truly feel happy and satisfied, because the two are meant for each other.
The solution is that man turns his full attention to the real and permanent truth inside and around himself, cultivating it and reaping its benefits for the good of this world and the Hereafter, leaving the perishable to the perishable to perish, lest he gets contaminated with its unfavorable repercussions and effects. Man should avail himself of the impermanent only as much as necessary for the attainment of the permanent.