Hadith 40: Be in the World like a Stranger

On the authority of Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with both of them, who said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) took hold of my shoulder and said, ‘Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along the path.” And ibn Umar would say, “If you survive till late afternoon, do not expect [to be alive in] the morning. If you survive till morning, do not expect [to be alive in] the late afternoon. Take from your health before your sickness and your life before you death.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari)

The Narrator

Abdullah ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, was the eldest son of Umar ibn al-Kattab, one of the most famous companions of the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and one of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (rulers) of the early Muslim community. Abdullah himself was one of the most outstanding younger companions. He, may Allah be pleased with him, was pious, righteous, and was known for his strict imitation of the Prophetic example. He distinguished himself as a narrator of hadith, and was second only to Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, in the number of hadith he narrated from the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. He was known for having tears in his eyes as he narrated hadith.

“Took hold of my shoulder and said…”

The fact that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, took hold of the shoulder of ibn Umar, demonstrates the importance of what the blessed Prophet was about to tell him. He, peace be upon him, wanted to be sure that he had ibn Umar’s full attention, and that he would remember what the Prophet, peace be upon him, was about to say.

“Be in the World…”

This is one of the most beautiful hadith, because it explains to us so profoundly, how the believer should be in respect to this world. This world is referred to in Arabic as al-dunya, which comes from a root meaning both closeness and something despicable or lowly. This world is therefore called dunya for two reasons – firstly because it is closer to us than the Hereafter at this point in time, and secondly, because it is despicable or abased in comparison to the Hereafter.

This shows us a clear sign that for the believer, our aspirations should not be based in this world. This world is not our real home. We are in fact moving towards another destination, the Hereafter, which will be our permanent home and resting place. We should therefore be careful not to plant our hearts and minds too firmly on this earth, but rather our longing and motives should be for the Hereafter.

The lesson for the believer is that if there is anything in this world that they do not get, it should not have a great effect on their emotions. Our Paradise is not in this world. We do not need to strive for the best car, the best house or the best clothes, because these things are just fleeting, with no permanence. Our home in the Hereafter on the other hand, is for eternity. Allah, all praises and glory be to Him, tells us in the Qur’an:

“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition to increase wealth and children. [In reality, it is] like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the disbelievers. When it dries and you see it turn yellow, and then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?” (Surah al-Hadeed:20)

SubhanAllah. “And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion?” Take a moment to reflect on what Allah is telling us. This life is merely amusement and a diversion. It should be of no value to us, except in as much as it is as path to the Hereafter.

In this respect, Allah tells us:

“Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better for you with your Lord and better for [one’s] hope.” (Surah al-Khaf:46)

True value lies in the good deeds that we put forward for the Hereafter. If our goals are for the pleasure of this world, then they are of no benefit to us. In this respect, we should remember that all actions are judged by intention, and that only those acts performed purely for the sake of Allah will be of any benefit to us on Judgement Day, when our eternal abode will be decided.

Lastly, this devastating hadith gives us further pause for reflection. The Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him said:

“By Allah, it is not poverty that I fear for you. But I fear that this world will be spread out for you [and given to you in abundance] as it was spread out for the peoples before you, and then you will compete in it as they competed in it and it will destroy you as it destroyed them.” (Recorded by al-Bukhari and Muslim)

“…as if you were a stranger…”

Adam and Hawa, peace be upon them, were originally placed in Paradise. After they transgressed, they were expelled, but they and their descendants were promised that if they obeyed Allah, all praises and glory be to Him, they would be returned to their original place in Paradise.  Hence the believer’s real home, is Paradise.

Looking to the Hereafter, the believer knows that they are just passing through this world, on their way back to their true home. This hadith shows the believer that they should have one of two attitudes towards this world.

The first is that of a stranger in a strange land. It is a place in which the believer feels that they do not belong. Their heart is not tied to this place, rather it is preoccupied with the Hereafter. They do not spend time entrenching themselves deeply in an environment to which they know they do not belong. They spend their wealth and time in ways that gather what they need to journey to their final abode. Their ultimate desire is to be entered among Allah’s pious servants in the everlasting home of Paradise. For this reason they are not happy unless they feel are working towards this goal.

Although the stranger knows things are not permanent in this life, they must also work and sacrifice for the journey. They must perform obligatory and voluntary deeds for the sake of Allah, care for their families, strive to gain knowledge and teach it to others, enjoin the good and forbid the evil and to care for the poor. All of this is done in the hope that it will earn them an eternal position in the highest place in Paradise. Hence the believer is not a stranger in a negative sense, meaning completely detached from everything, rather they contribute to the good of this world, hoping for the Hereafter.

“…or a traveller along the path.” 

In the previous post we discussed the first attitude that a believer may have to this world – that of being a stranger in a strange land. The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, goes on to say ‘or...’ before listing the next option. It is important to note that the ‘or’ here is not the kind representing indecision or doubt, rather it implies a choice that must be made between two options. Some scholars have interpreted this to actually be two levels of choice, the first being living like a stranger, but the superior choice being the latter – that of a traveller along the path. This is because the stranger can settle in the land but the traveller is always moving, knowing that they cannot remain.

The second option that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, gives the believer is to be in the world like a ‘traveller along the path’. This implies that the person is not actually residing anywhere but its always moving towards their final destination. Anything that they do in this world, is targeted towards gathering provisions for the journey to the Hereafter.

We see the most beautiful example in how the the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, lived his life. Ibn Masood, may Allah be pleased with him, narrated that he found the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, lying on a hard mat. When he saw the marks that the mat had left on the Prophet’s body, he began to wipe them, and suggested that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, get something better to sleep on. The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

“What do I have to do with this worldly life? I and this worldly life are but like a traveller who stopped for a little while under a tree to get some shade and then moved on.” (Recorded in Ahmad)

We can see from this that the believer is not concerned with the comforts of this life. In fact the traveller does not want too many possessions because this will slow on them on their journey, or worse – tie their hearts to this dunya. If our hearts are tied to our worldly possessions, when death comes, we don’t want to leave. Reflect on this for a moment. Is your heart tied to the possessions of this world, or does it long for the Hereafter? Are you planning for your future in this life, or the next?

Another important aspect of being a traveller is not to get lost or sidetracked along the way. Our journey may take a long time and there are many distractions in this world. Shaitan waits at every step, seeking ways to lead the believer astray, and he is very patient! He, may Allah curse him, will coax the believer with just a small side step, and make it fair seeming, and then slowly but surely, he will lure them further and further away from the straight path back to Allah. Therefore the believer must continually seek Allah’s guidance and help in keeping them on the Straight Path. Allah has blessed us in making this request ‘Guide us on the Straight Path’ a part of every rakah of prayer – but are we mindful of what we are saying? Are we beseeching Allah sincerely, or do we think we have it all sorted? The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, would continually make the following dua:

“ O Turner of the Hearts, keep my heart firm upon your religion. (Ya muqallib al Quloob, thabbit qalbee alaa deenik)” (Recorded in al-Tirmidhi)

It is important to note that these are the only two options that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, gave to the believer – living as a stranger or as a traveler in this world. We should remember that we are on a journey to our Lord, and we will be questioned about how we lived our lives. If our attitude to the dunya does not represent either of these two attitudes, it means that they are not treating this world in the manner that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, has instructed, and this will be a cause of great regret for us on the Day of Judgement.

“And ibn Umar would say, “If you survive till late afternoon, do not expect [to be alive in] the morning. If you survive till morning, do not expect [to be alive in] the late afternoon.”

It is one of the challenges for the human being is to remember death. Often, we don’t like to think about it until we are very old, or we assume that we will reach old age. But as ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, reminds us here – we may not even survive the day.

Only Allah knows what time of death is allocated to us, and it could be much sooner than we think. In many ways, we live like we will go on forever, and begin to think of this world as our permanent abode. When this happens, our deeds become the deeds of this world rather than for the Hereafter.

One of the best ways to overcome this disease is to remind ourselves that we may not survive to see the next day. Writing and updating our will reminds us of our coming end, as does thinking of sleep as a small form of death. Instead of focusing on dreams for the life of this world that are far off in the future, we should remember that at any moment, our journey may end. We should set our hopes on the Hereafter, and plan for that future, because that future will definitely come to pass.

In another hadith, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, gave us a graphic account of this dilemma. Anas narrated that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, drew some lines in the sand and pointing at them, he said,

“This is man, these are the dreams and this is the appointed time. When he is like that [heading towards his dreams], the closer line comes.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari)

This displays the stark, futile reality of the dreams and aspirations of this worldly life. If we pin our hopes on these aspirations, we will be greatly disappointed. If we pin our hopes on the Hereafter, we will not leave performing acts of obedience and good deeds. In fact, if there are good deeds that can be done in the morning, we will not leave them until the evening, and visa versa.We will take advantage of every minute that we have at our disposal. If you want your prayer to be of benefit to you, say to yourself ‘I may not live until the next one’. If we do not live this way, there will come a time when we despair at the time that passed us by without earning good rewards.

“Take from your health before your sickness and your life before you death.”

Ibn Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, advises us that we should take advantage of our health to perform good deeds before sickness and old age overcome us with weakness. At that time, we no longer have the strength to perform good deeds. Similarly, we to strive to perform good deeds before our death comes upon us, because we do not know whether we will live to see tomorrow.

This part of the hadith reminds us of the more famous hadith:

“Take advantage of five before [another] five occur: Your life before death, your health before your illness, your free time before your preoccupation, your youth before your old age and your wealth before you poverty.” (Recorded in Al-Haakim)

This is a beautiful reminder of the fact that Allah, all praises and glory be to Him, has given us ample ability and opportunity to perform good deeds, it’s up to us whether we take advantage of them. We are also reminded that the things that we have at our disposal now, will not be with us forever.

Each of these five resources can also be a trial for human beings. Indeed, the trial of bounties can be harder than the trial of hardships. When we have a hardship we turn to Allah, but when we have bounties, we tend to forget who gave them to us. In fact, if you think about it, even the eyes we are using to read this message, are  a bounty from Allah. When was the last time you thanked Allah for the gift of sight?

The other challenge, when bounties are bestowed on us, is staying away from forbidden things, because everything is laid out for us. In this case, the believer must work harder to restrain themselves, and only partake in that which is permissible and good. Let us look at each os these trials in detail:

Wealth There is no doubt that wealth is one of the greatest trials facing man. Allah, all praises and glory be to Him, tells us in the Qur’an:

“Know that your wealth and your children are not but a trial for you and that Allah has with Him a great reward” (Surah al-Anfaal:28)

Similarly the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, advised us:

“Verily, for every nation there is a fitnah (trial and temptation). And the fitnah of my nation is wealth.” (Recorded in al-Tirmidhi)

One of the greatest trials of wealth, both earning it and spending it, is that it diverts us from the most important thing in life, the remembrance of Allah, all praises and glory be to Him. Allah tells us:

O you who believe, let not your wealth and children divert you from the remembrance of Allah. And whoever does that, then they are the losers.” (Surah al-Munaafiqoon:9)

The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, advised us in a hadith recorded in Sahih al-Bukhari, that the ones with the most wealth, will have the least on the Day of Resurrection, except those who say, ‘This is for that, this is for that and this is for that’. In other words, they give their wealth away for good causes. Using wealth in a good way is one of the greatest ways in which we can earn Allah’s pleasure. Allah tells us:

“And spend [in the way of Allah] from what We have provided you before death approaches one of you and he says, ‘My Lord, if only You would delay me for a brief term so I would give charity and be among the righteous.’ But never will Allah delay a soul when its time has come. And Allah is acquainted with what you do.” (Surah al-Munaafiqoon:10-11)

Free Time Free time is amongst one of the important bounties that Allah gives mankind. When we have time that is uninterrupted, we can devote it to study, memorising the Qur’an , helping the poor and needy and other good deeds. If we have time available to us, we have no excuse if we do not use it for the pleasure of Allah. This time will be a proof against us on the Day of Judgement.

Unfortunately, our societies seem to be dedicated to entertainment, enjoyment, pleasure and sensual gratification, rather than spending time contemplating the purpose of our existence and our relationship with our Creator. Television, movies, sports, music, art and alcohol are all temptations to sidetrack us from our true purpose in life. The loss of our free time in these is a devastating loss that we will come to regret on the Day of Judgement.

Health Sickness is a great barrier to performing good deeds, as most good deeds require some type of effort to be exerted. If we become ill, even temporarily, we will not find the means to perform these deeds. By Allah’s infinite mercy, if a person was doing good deeds, then became ill preventing them from doing the deeds, Allah will reward them as if they had been able to perform them. But if a person was not performing good deeds, and then got ill, they will not get any extra reward.

Youth Youth is one of the most important times in a persons’ life, because they have strength, energy, zeal and more free time. Sadly, it is not unusual for people to consider youth a time for fun and enjoyment. However, this is not the correct Islamic approach. According to Islamic law, when a person reaches puberty, they are fully responsible for their deeds. All training of our youth should therefore be complete before this age.
As we mentioned in previous hadith, it was the young Companions to whom the Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, gave the most profound advice. If they had reached puberty, the young Companions took part in battles, some even leading armies at the tender age of eighteen.

Life Every Muslim must realise that this life is a trial. Allah has given us this life to see how we will use it. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

“Blessed is He in whose hands is the dominion, and He is powerful over all things. [He] who created death and life to test you as to which of you is best in deed. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving.” (Surah al-Mulk:1-2)

Our lives will soon come to an end, and if we spent all our time chasing after our own desires – what will we have to show for our time in this world? The Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, advised us:

“Three things follow the deceased [to his grave], two of them return and one remains will him: His family, wealth and deeds follow him while his family and wealth return and only his deeds remain with him.” (Recorded in al-Bukhari)

Only the good deeds that we perform in this life, for the sake of Allah, will be of benefit to us in the Hereafter. So take the time to get your priorities in order before death overcomes you, as it inevitably will.

Extracted from Commentary on the Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi (Vol 3) [Previously published in 3 Volumes] by Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo Pages 1527-1562

6 Responses to Hadith 40: Be in the World like a Stranger

  1. Assalamualikum warahmatullahi wabarkatuh

    Ma sha Allah, what a great post.

    May Allah have mercy on you by the wasila of Rasulullah s.a.w. & ‘Abdullah ibn Umar ibn Al-khattab r.a.a.

    Fe-amanillahi wa-rasul salawatullahi wasalamun alaihi


  2. Naved says:

    JazakAllah, JazakAllah, JazakAllah for this post! I needed to read this post. I feel I have gotten too attached to material possessions in this world; inshaAllah I will strive to change that in the coming days and be successful (please do keep me in your prayers; inshaAllah I will keep you in mine).

    Alhamdulillah I found your blog.


  3. knaixx says:

    Thanks for this post. Really arrived at perfect timing. Barakallah.


  4. Imran Jazuli says:

    Jazakallahu khair ..May Allah keep us steadfast on his religion..ameen


  5. Goran Omar Bockman says:

    Barakullahu fiy kum! The words of your blessed article went straight to work in my heart akhiy. May Allaah (swt) reward you with Jannah for your work fi sibiyl illaah! ‘amiyn


  6. Mikial Ibrahim says:

    Jazaku’allah kir. Allah(swt) guided me to this may you get the hasanat. Amin


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