Sometimes we get caught up in this world. We run towards finish lines that keep moving further away. Entranced by the false glamor of the world, we lose sight of our true direction, our eternal destination.
We’re anxious about our futures, but we limit those concerns to this worldly life, to the dinner, meeting, or vacation that’s coming up. We procrastinate our spiritual development until “tomorrow,” forgetting that one day there will be no tomorrow.
Allah SWT addresses this misdirected mindset in the 45th verse of Surah Kahf using a powerful metaphor:
وَاضْرِبْ لَهُمْ مَثَلَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ فَأَصْبَحَ هَشِيمًا تَذْرُوهُ الرِّيَاحُ
“And strike to them the example of the life of this world as some water which We send down from the sky, and the vegetation of the earth mingles with it and then it becomes dry remnants, scattered by the winds…”
In this Ayah, Allah SWT reduces the importance of the world that we’re furiously scurrying about to pursue, by breaking it into two belittling stages.
At first, water comes down from the sky creating a muddy slush, from which scattered vegetation begins to sprout. Then, all of a sudden, it becomes dry, lifeless stubble so that even a gentle breeze could scatter its remnants far and wide.
Looking at this metaphor, an obvious question comes to mind. What about the stage of fruitfulness and growth that should be in the middle? The stage where the flowers bloom beautifully, and the trees tower majestically over lush gardens? Why would something so essential to the chronology of this metaphor be left out?
The answer is simple. Allah SWT intentionally omits this middle stage to imply how quickly the Dunya passes. As quickly as it came into being, it dried up, and withered away. The “gardens” and “flowers” of this world, metaphors for worldly distractions, are so temporary that Allah SWT doesn’t even bother to mention them.
In Surah Taha, Allah SWT continues along these lines, notably using floral imagery as well, as he reminds us not to strain our eyes towards this temporary life, this test:
وَلَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيْنَيْكَ إِلَىٰ مَا مَتَّعْنَا بِهِ أَزْوَاجًا مِنْهُمْ زَهْرَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا لِنَفْتِنَهُمْ فِيهِ ۚ وَرِزْقُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَىٰ
And strain not your eyes toward that which We cause so many others of them to enjoy, it is but the flower of the life of the world, that We may test them with, and The provision of your Lord is better and more lasting.
The appearances we’re stressing over, the paychecks we’re unhappy with, and the new cars we’re clamoring for, engulf our thoughts, and by doing so, threaten our inner tranquility.
These “flowers” are, in fact, Venus Fly Traps. They’re fine to admire, but once we throw ourselves into them, they consume us. If we were wise, we’d dedicate our lives towards provisions and hopes that last eternally instead of mere stubble, as the verse which immediately follows 18:45 beautifully declares:
وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا
“Good, lasting things are greater with your lord, and a far better source of hope.”
If we direct our hopes and our struggles towards what lasts, instead of deceptively withering “flowers, ” we will enjoy fulfilling lives in the Dunya, and meet Allah SWT without regrets on the Day of Judgment.