How Do We Draw a Line Between Seeking This World and Seeking Allah?
Answered by Shaykh Salim Ahmad Mauladdawila
Question: Assalamu alaykum
I believe we have been ordered to seek Allah over this world.
When we seek to get married, to have kids and a good job is it seeking this world over Allah? How do we draw a line between seeking this world and seeking Allah?
Answer: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
The religious law has five different categories for rulings: obligatory, praying the five daily prayers; recommended, like giving charity; offensive, an example being drinking while standing; unlawful, like theft; and permissible, which is the ruling most actions fall under, like walking, sitting, or eating.
The Prophet SAW said in a well-known hadith, “Verily actions are but by their intentions, and verily a person will only be awarded according to his intention. So whosoever emigrated for God and His Messenger, his emigration will be for God and His Messenger. And whosoever emigrated to attain something of this world, or to marry a woman, his emigration will be for what he emigrated for”. This demonstrates that a single outward act can have different realities according to one’s motivation for performing it. One may perform an act, in this case the permitted act of migration, and be rewarded for it by God, while another may perform the same act, like the Companion who migrated to marry a woman, and receive no such reward. Another still could have performed the same outward act of migration but harboured ill intentions, and for this person their migration would be unlawful.
Imam al-Ghazali in his magnum opus Ihya Ulum al-Deen expounds on this concept and how it relates to Hajj. Using the example of one who sets out for Hajj while also intending to conduct some trade, he states that this person’s Hajj is insha’Allah accepted, but he is only rewarded according to how pure his motivation is. If his motivation for travel is 70% worship, say, and 30% trade, he receives a 70% reward of Hajj. God says in the Quran, “So whosoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whosoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it” [100:7-8]. We can understand from this verse that whatever good or ill intention we have in an act, God will award us accordingly.
Looking at the specific example of marriage, the scholars say, for most intents and purposes, that it is a Sunna, or recommended act. The one getting married, however, is only rewarded for performing this Sunna if following the Sunna of the Prophet SAW was their intention in marrying. If, for example, they married for some other devious purpose, then for them getting married would be unlawful.
Likewise, working and earning a living can be understood in the same manner. One may work their 9-5 with the intention of attaining Halal provision, providing food, a home, and an education for their family, and establishing a secure future for their children to the best of their abilities. If this is their intention, then there is no doubt that working their job, they are rewarded by God as if they are performing an act of worship. Another may work the same job but indulge in unlawful practices, intend to spend their wealth in unlegislated ways, and not spend what is obligatory upon them to provide for their family. This person’s work is undoubtedly taking them further from God and incurring His wrath.
It is thus that the pious strove so sincerely in perfecting their actions such that they would be completely for God, and it is also why so many abstained from indulging in ephemeral desires. If working for the ephemeral takes one further from God, then abstaining from it completely could then only bring them closer to their Creator and make them more worthy of His pleasure.
As for God’s words, “Whosoever should desire the immediate – We hasten for him from it what We will to whom We intend. Then We have made for him Hell, which he will [enter to] burn, censured and banished” [17:18], Imam al-Haddad provides excellent commentary in his Treatise on Discipline in the Path of the Seeker. The Imam explains that merely seeking worldly things in and of themselves is not unlawful, saying that “whosoever should desire the immediate” here refers to one whose “desire for the earthly life is so powerful that it makes him neglect and deny the Hereafter until he does not believe in it, or he believes but does not strive for it”. Thus we see that the world itself is not unlawful for us, but that its true reality is that it is to serve the believer in attaining a greater portion of the next life.
The Prophet SAW said in a hadith narrated by Imam al-Tirmidhi, “The world and all it contains is accursed, except for the remembrance of God, that which pleases God, religious scholars, and seekers of religious knowledge”. The key part for us here is “that which pleases God”. Here lies for us the possibility of transforming our acts which are merely permitted into acts which near us to God. It is thus that the importance of forming a sound and whole intention can be understood, and the role of intentions in our actions appreciated.
[Shaykh] Salim Ahmad Mauladdawila