The Dunyā [الدنيا]: this word would have to list very high on words that are both emotionally charged and misunderstood by Muslims. This is partially due to its ambiguity, its meaning depending on the context: to be or draw close to something; to be vile or base; and of course, its common understanding [which is valid] to be that of this world or mundane, temporal life. Without a doubt, Dunyā is a location, a place, and yet the nuanced perspective that the Qur’ān has on This Life seldom gets articulated.
While coming across an online article today, I was reminded of how the Qur’ān speaks to mankind’s deep-seated desires: we love beautiful homes and many of us fantasize about “dream homes”. I have been privy to such conversations where people have been reproached for their apparent materialism, and yet, something about that desire speaks to a core characteristic of Banī Adam. The Qur’ānic passage came to mind my immediately:
وجوه يومئذ ناعمة لسعيها راضية في جنة عالية لا تسمع فيها لغية فيها عين جارية فيها سرر مرفوعة وأكواب موضوعة ونمارق مصفوفة وزرابي مبثوثة
“Faces on That Day will be radiant, happy with their efforts, in a elevated garden, within they will hear no harsh speech. Inside is a gushing spring, raised couches, set goblets, lined cushions, and spread out carpets.” [Qur’ān, 88: 8-16]
How funny it is that God would speak to the human being about rugs, couches, and goblets? As to whether the designers were trying to accomplish this, I cannot say, but it did remind [ذكر] me about The Next Life [الآخرة], where our deep-rooted human desires can be fulfilled. It also reminds me that the Dunya is filled with opportunity. Opportunity for us to strive towards seeking God’s pleasure, God’s reward, and endeavoring to extrapolate what reminders of The Life To Come as we can from This Existence.
Our conversations about this life must embrace the nuance and richness of the Qur’ānic narrative:
فمن الناس من يقول ربنا ءاتنا في الدنيا وما له في الآخرة من خلق
“And from amongst men are those who say, ‘O’ our Lord, give us good in this life’. They will have no share in the Next Life.” [Qur’ān, 2: 200]
If the above āyah were read in and of its self, we would be short changing ourselves of the big picture:
ومنهم من يقول ربنا ءاتنا في الدنيا حسنة وفي الآخرة حسنة وقنا عذاب النار ألئك لهم نصيب مما كسبوا والله سريع الحساب
“And from them are those who say, ‘O our Lord, give us good in This Life and The Next, and save us from the torment of the Fire’. For them is a just share fromwhat they have hearned. God is Swift in Reckoning.” [Qur’ān, 2: 201-202]
The Dunyā is where we can seek God’s bounty, God’s mercy, God’s favor. It is where we build the foundation for our proverbial castles in the sky. It is where we put our mettle to the test. It is where we enjoin the good, forbid the evil, make our pilgrimages, our friendships. It is where we acquire the correct knowledge, master the correct deeds. It is our layover, our way-station towards, God willing, a better, a purer, a more real existence. So for now, I will look and dream at “dream houses”. Not as a materialist, coveting the illusory nature of this world, but in wonder and amazement: if this is what man can do, I stand in awe and inticipation of what the Creator of the seven heavens has in store for me.