[Ash-Shuuraa 42:36] Putting Life in Perspective

فَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّن شَىۡءٍ۬ فَمَتَـٰعُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا‌ۖ وَمَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ خَيۡرٌ۬ وَأَبۡقَىٰ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَعَلَىٰ رَبِّہِمۡ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ
So whatever you have been given is but (a passing) enjoyment for this worldly life, but that which is with Allah is better & more lasting
for those who believe & put their trust in their Rabb.
[Ash-Shuraa 42:36]

The Culmination of Life Experiences
فَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّن شَىۡءٍ۬ فَمَتَـٰعُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا‌
So whatever you have been given is but (a passing) enjoyment for this worldly life 

  1. The word “maa” suggests openness i.e. anything & everything that we have been given is but a passing enjoyment for this worldly life.
  1. فَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّن شَىۡءٍ refers to every single thing, i.e. any physical objects (eg. our clothes, car, etc.) AND life experiences (eg. youth, opportunities, friends, etc that were given to us).
  1. The word أُوتِيتُم (“you’ve been given” – passive form) means that none of the things that we think we own, nor the experiences we went through, are actually ours. They were given to us, they were all doors which were opened by Allah s.w.t. to us. He s.w.t. opens all chapters in our lives, from one adventure & to the next & then the next.
  1. Thus فَمَآ أُوتِيتُم مِّن شَىۡءٍ۬ فَمَتَـٰعُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا is the culmination of all of our life experiences.

What is مَتَـٰع

  1. It means something that we utilize, but not necessarily enjoy eg. a spoon or a shovel. Nobody shows off their spoons or shovels 🙂 Literally in the Arabic language, it also means reaching maturity, refined & ready to be used. Anything that reaches mataa’ is something that (1) reaches its most maturity level it possibly can & (2) can be benefited from & (3) put to use. 
  1. Thus what it means is that all our experiences that we go through, whether we perceive them as good or bad, are to mature us. It is part of our growth. There are some things that we are proud of, and some things that we aren’t, but all of them are parts of our maturation process. That pang of regret when we look back in life is a gift from Allah because it may be the means that brings us back or closer to Allah. Remember the story of the man with 2 gardens in Surah Al-Kahf, whom lost all of his beautiful gardens but at the end of that tragic, he said: “Would that I had ascribed no partners to my Lord.” [Al-Kahf 18:42] That regret is a happy ending to that story because he turned back to Allah s.w.t.
  1. Secondly, every experience in life is something that we can benefit from. Usually we are unable to recognize it at face value at that point of time, when that experience hits us. But no matter how frustrating it may be, it is something that we can benefit from, something that will be useful immediately, or later in the future.
  1. Thirdly, every single thing that we own & every single experience we go through are to be utilized. Moments of both adversity & good times are all parts of something greater. Those who understand what mataa’ means will look at their past experiences of failures & tragedies as something that make them STRONGER. They think: Maybe I can help a million of other people that also go through these experiences & help them see in a positive light!
  1. Also part of the definition of mataa’ is something that will come to end – it will not last nor be used forever. That shovel will break eventually, or won’t be able to be used as good as it used to. This mataa’ is not staying, our entire life is passing us by. We have to be cautious that time is leaving us very quickly.

Making the Akhirah Big & Making the Dunya Small
وَمَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ خَيۡرٌ۬ وَأَبۡقَىٰ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَعَلَىٰ رَبِّہِمۡ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ
That which is with Allah is better & more lasting for those who believe & put their trust in their Rabb.

  1. We make a 5, 10, 15-years plan to accomplish certain goals in life eg. in terms of career, or how much to make in terms of wealth, etc & there is nothing wrong with that. But if we internalize this ayah, we’ll learn to put those plans in one compartment in our head, and in the other compartment is the realization that all of those MEAN NOTHING if I’m not building for my akhirah – they are worthless, meaningless, not any kind of accomplishment AT ALL, if they don’t take me closer in becoming a better slave of Allah s.w.t.
  2. Allah s.w.t. says in the next part of the ayah: But that which is with Allah is better and more lasting. One must be thinking that this must be referring to Jannah, but Allah s.w.t. uses “maa” again to indicate openness – anything and everything that which is with Allah is better & more lasting.
  3. There are 2 comparisons that we must constantly make if we want to survive in this world & those are: Whatever that Allah has is (1) better & (2) lasts longer. So every experience in life, we need to remind ourselves to compare it to something else that Allah has, and what He has MUST be better. It’s just a small reminder to do, but will put our entire life in perspective. or example, when buying new clothes, just remind ourselves: وَمَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ خَيۡرٌ۬ وَأَبۡقَىٰ لِلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ – the clothing that Allah will give me in the Hereafter will be MUCH better.  If we do this constantly, then the akhirah will no longer be like a cliché thing that we bring up, but it becomes a part of our life, something that we think about all the time. If we are able to develop this attitude, then any worldly gain or loss will become easier to deal with.
  4. This ayah is about making akhirah big, and making dunya small. One day will come where an announcement will be made during a congregational prayer that there is a janazah, and it’s going to be mine, and it’s going to be yours. It’s going to happen. We’ll be gone. Quite a bit of our life has already passed us by.  So the sooner that we internalize that what Allah s.w.t. has is better, we’re only doing ourselves a favor.
  5. So learn to utilize our time the right way. We make a 10 or 15-year plan for our worldly pursuits, but what about the akhirah? How do we practically plan for the akhirah? We don’t make a 10 year plan! We make a DAILY plan. It all boils down to: How do I spend my time today? What am I going to do afterwards? How am I going to spend tomorrow? What am I going to do with my free time? When am I going to stop watching so much TV? When am I going to hold myself at a higher standard if not now?
  6. Our “free time” is not free! We may not be paying it now, but we will be paying for it with Allah later – there is a price & it’s all on record. You know how people feel relaxed when they’re off the clock or punch out of the office? We are constantly on the clock with these angels. Make serious commitment to ourselves to live our day differently. You yourself are your worst critic when it comes to this.
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