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This Life is Like Prison, Where is Your Paradise?

It was one of the first hadith I read.

This world is a prison for the believers and a paradise for the disbelievers (Muslim).

I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it. I thought, “does that mean that life for me will be like a prison now that I am a Muslim? Will I be restricted so much as to feel like a prisoner?”

Sadly, without having the correct understanding of the hadith, it soured me on Islam and wrought havoc on my new iman. I looked around and saw, that yes, those who didn’t choose to believe were living pretty good lives, doing whatever their desires directed them to do.

No one voluntarily wants to be a prisoner anywhere. But here I was, according to the hadith, trying to be a prisoner in this life as a Muslim. It was counter-intuitive, I thought. So I began to think about what it means to be a prisoner.

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Being a prisoner you are kept from two things you love the most:

1- Your home, where there is rest and comfort,

2- Your loved ones who give you joy and fulfillment.

So how did this relate to the hadith?


“The worldly body is a prison for the believer, not because this life is miserable for the believing soul, but because that soul yearns to be somewhere greater. It yearns to be Home.

No matter how wonderful this life is for a believer, it is a prison compared to the Perfect life that awaits them. […] But this worldly life is what keeps that soul from returning—for a while. It is the barrier, the prison.” writes Yasmin Mogahed.

I realized that this is the point of the hadith. The one who disbelieves in God and the afterlife considered this to be the only destination. And in thinking this way, the disbeliever tries to make this life their home and paradise.

But this world is imperfect. It is not the soul’s true home. It is a testing ground where the body gets sick, disaster strikes, and where we are constantly disappointed. The disbeliever makes an imperfect heaven in this life, refusing to strive for the perfect one.

It is like trying to make the body satisfied with a bleak and uncomfortable cell not realizing that it is in a prison. The disbeliever spends his or her energy and time trying to make the cell comfortable and lovely to the bodily senses, all while denying the soul’s desire for its true home in the mansion waiting just outside the gates.

But the believer knows that the cell is just temporary and spends his or her time and efforts striving for the real home, knowing with certainty that that mansion is just outside the gates.

In this way the life of this world is a prison for the believer and paradise for the disbelievers. The believer understands the reality of his or her situation.

Loved Ones

Being away from loved ones is perhaps harder on the prisoner than being away from the comfort of home. A home is only a house until it is inhabited by the people or person who will care for you, accept you, and bring joy to you in it.

In this life, those we love disappoint us, they hurt us, they get sick and die. But to the disbeliever the temporary life is all they believe they have and they turn their loved ones into their only chance for acceptance, joy, and requited love.

It is like the person in prison who does not know he is actually in prison or even that it is temporary. This unknowing prisoner takes his cell-mates and fellow prisoners as his only loved ones. Even though, all the time, he has someone outside the prison waiting to give him ultimate care and love, but he refused to believe that being exists.

However, the believer understands that he or she is away from Allah, the owner of love and the true destination in the life of this world. The believer understands that he or she will soon be released from the prison of this life and be reunited with the one whom they strove for. They yearn to meet the most merciful and miss God deeply.

“This soul’s attachment is to God and the true paradise with Him. It wants to be there,” writes Yasmin Mogahed.

This world is a prison for the believers and a paradise for the disbelievers (Muslim).

For a long time, I tried to downplay this hadith or even ignore it, not knowing the true depths of its meaning. But like most things profound and truly significant, it is a paradox.

This life is a prison for the believer because the soul is away from its true home: Paradise and Allah.

Now that I have a better understanding, it brings me comfort. It brings great hope that even though this life can provide comfort and love, it is nothing in comparison to the true paradise. In this way I do feel like a prisoner and I know that my sentence is short so I must make the most of my time.

(From Discovering Islam archive)

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.