“The dunya is like a shadow. If you try to catch it, you will never be able to do so. But if you turn your back to it, it has no choice but to follow.” (Ibn al-Qayyim)
This quote was made by the famous Imam, the doctor of the spiritual heart, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah. It is a quote that most of our readers would have read somewhere. And it is profound, and timeless in its power and legacy. But, have we pondered over it a bit further? Why did the Imam for example compare the dunya (worldly life) to a shadow?
What is a Shadow?
When light falls on an object, the shadow is that which one sees behind it. In short, the shadow is something that is not real, it is a fake imagery.
That is the first lesson from a shadow- that the dunya is in and of itself fake. It is not the real deal. It is only a shadow, and for us to be chasing dunya (this worldly life) while disregarding the hereafter is like chasing after a shadow instead of a person.
The second lesson that we can think of from a shadow is that it indicates that something real exists. The existence of a shadow means that a real body exists. The existence of the dunya is a necessary indicator that a hereafter exists. The dunya is not complete in and of itself.
The third lesson that a shadow can teach us is that it is temporary. The shadow is only there sometimes, but the body remains whether there is a shadow or not. Similarly while the hereafter is permanent, the dunya is temporary. It is something that is meant to perish.
The fourth lesson is that the shadow is of little value and benefit. Yes there are times that a shadow can be of benefit, but usually it is not really something we pay too much heed to. Similarly the dunya is like that, it has its benefits but it is just like the shadow, negligible compared to the real deal which is the akhirah (hereafter).
That is four lessons just from the comparison of a shadow to the dunya. But that is not really the full deal with the quote itself. So let us get back to the quote. Ibn al-Qayyim says that the dunya follows the one who turns his back towards it, and that actually is true.
Allah has made many promises in the Quran. And among them is this:
And if you are thankful, then I will increase you. (Quran 14:7)
Rather than running after that which we so desperately seek, if we turn our back to it and are thankful for what we have, then Allah will increase it. So the next time, rather than complain about the lack of money, we should be thankful for the little money that Allah has given us, and He will increase. It does not mean we do nothing. But that in our pursuit, we remember to thank Allah for what He has already given, and in thanking Him the dunya will follow on its own.
Another promise that Allah has made is that charity increases in wealth. And usually it is very difficult to understand that. But I often ask the question: “Have you ever seen a charitable person who is poor?” And I have never heard a yes yet. When we give in charity we say no to the dunya and turn our backs to it, and give it to someone who is in need rather than fulfill our desires.
Turn Your Back to Dunya
The dunya is a tool. It is about how we use it and how our attitude towards it is. When we turn our backs to it, we do not stop utilizing it for what it is. We just do not make it a matter of our concerns.
We keep our primary concern to be the hereafter. We do not let our work make us miss out on prayer. We do not make friends be a reason that we sin. In trying to make a living, we do not forget to live. It is about keeping Allah at the forefront of our lives, and Allah then enriches.
The companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would say that they ran away from the dunya but the dunya ran after them. Many of the great companions who were great worshipers were very very rich in terms of their wealth. That is because they turned their backs, and Allah enriched them because they utilized the money properly.
We end with a powerful hadith from our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who said:
Whoever makes the Hereafter his goal, Allah makes his heart rich, and organizes his affairs, and the world comes to him whether it wants to or not. And whoever makes the world his goal, Allah puts his poverty right before his eyes, and disorganizes his affairs, and the world does not come to him, except what has been decreed for him. (At-Tirmidhi)
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)