What Is Meant by Detachment from the Dunya?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch


Scholars and students of knowledge alike criticize the attachment to the duniya to the point one might consider that they must become a hermit to live up to these expectations. They say worrying about the duniya is bad, trying to live a good life is bad, and spending leisure time is also wrong. These people are highly practicing Muslims, so an average Muslim can’t keep up with them.

They use the “origin is pagan” or “the Salafs didn’t do it” as an excuse to criticize our actions and declare everything haram. They bury every khilaf that goes against them as their way is the only way, and others are deviated. They criticize everything from moving to a non-Muslim country to having non-Muslim friends.

How should we approach this?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.

Detachment (zuhd) is defined as leaving that which one can attain of worldly things out of a desire for that which is more beloved (i.e., higher levels of Paradise, or better yet, Allah Most High himself). [Ghazali, Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din]

Leaving, however, is an act of the heart, not of the hand (metaphorically speaking). This means that although one may possess material things, one’s heart is not attached to those things such that they distract them from Allah Most High or from any religious opportunity, be it obligatory, necessary, sunna, etc. [Ibid.]

Good Intentions is From Detachment

Having material possessions does not mean a person is attached to the world, just as not having possession does not mean one is detached from the world. The distinguishing factor is the heart. Regarding the heart, there are three levels of worldly detachment. [Ibid.]

The Three Levels of Zuhd

The first level is a state in which one actively strives to keep their heart from inclining to material possessions for some inherent value of appreciation towards that thing. In such a state, one may dislike such possessions to prevent the heart from any inclination. [Ibid.]

This person has not yet achieved the station of zuhd; they are merely aspiring towards it.

The second level is a state in which one naturally dislikes material possessions due to their inherent deficient nature. At this level, one begins to be constant in their recognition that this world and everything in it is temporary and will eventually cease at death. Therefore, they incline more to that which is permanent and will remain in the Hereafter: acts of worship and anything that reminds them of or brings them nearer to Allah Most High. [Ibid.]

This person is an ascetic (zahid) since they naturally disincline from worldliness. [Ibid.]

The Highest Level: Indifference

The third level is a state in which one does not care for worldly things such that they have no inclination or dislike. They are entirely indifferent to material possessions. This is the highest level of detachment. [Ibid.]

Our Mother ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) was once given thousands of coins. Throughout the day, she gave the entire sum out to charity. Her servant asked her why she didn’t keep at least one coin so they could buy food to break their fast. Her reply was, “If only you reminded me, I would have kept it.” [Ibid.]

Notice her indifference, neither scolding the servant for desiring worldly things nor keeping the wealth for herself of her own accord. This is the highest level. In this state, one may have much outward possession, yet not have any inclination or attachment to it. There are many examples of the righteous at this level. [Ibid.]

Be Weary of The Self-Righteous

After understanding what detachment from worldliness means, it is better understood that asceticism is not being a hermit, nor is it monasticism which is prohibited in Islam. It is instead the freeing up of the heart from anything that distracts one from Allah Most High and giving preference to that which has eternal value (the Hereafter) over that which is temporary. [Ibid.]

Be wary of anyone who claims guidance for themselves to the exclusion of everyone else. Remember that zuhd also relates to the love of status which comes from the ego. A clear sign of this is the claim to be the sole champion(s) of righteousness and guidance.

Living Simple – Introduction to Asceticism (Zuhd)
Living Simple: Practicing Zuhd in Complex Times (Course)
Zuhd Archives

Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Quran and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Quranic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.