بَادِرُوا بِالأعْمَال فتناً كقطَعِ اللَّيْلِ المُظْلِمِ ، يُصْبحُ الرَّجُلُ مُؤْمِناً وَيُمْسِي كَافِراً ، وَيُمْسِي مُؤمِناً ويُصبحُ كَافِراً ، يَبيعُ دِينَهُ بعَرَضٍ مِنَ الدُّنيا
“Race to do good deeds against seven things. What are you waiting for? A poverty that makes you forget, or prosperity that makes you transgress, or illness that disables, or senility that destroys, or death that comes without warning, or the Dajjāl (False Messiah) so that hidden evil is what is awaited, or the Hour? For the Hour is most grievous and most bitter.”
[Related on the authority of Abū Hurayrah in Tirmidhī #2228 and al-Bayhaqī’s Shu‘b al-Ῑmān. According to the late Shaykh Bin Bāz, it is an authentic narration.]
This general Prophetic advice is of immense relevance to our times and consists of seven items with universal implications. These seven items may be viewed from two varying perspectives—warnings and predictions. At face value, they represent a warning against seven universal dangers which surround and threaten the lives of all human beings. These matters potentially affect each of our lives in a major way and can decrease our opportunities for doing good. Hence the advice to increase our individual efforts towards good. From another perspective, however, they can represent predictions of matters that will increase in the world with the passage of time, and hence, they are a call to societies and communities to take heed and increase towards good. These seven mortal dangers are:
- Poverty that makes you forget
- Prosperity that makes you transgress
- Debilitating illness
- Senility that will destroy you
- Sudden Death
- The Hour
Of these seven, four matters—poverty, illness, senility and death, are universal human fears and drive the behavior of most human beings on this planet. The majority of us are engaged in a desperate and bitter struggle to escape these four threats. To these, the Prophet out of his wisdom added a fifth which is not so universally recognized as a danger—wealth. Finally, the last two things represent matters about which most people are in denial—the end of times and the Day of Judgment. The point to be noted is that the Prophet was warning about these seven items in their extreme forms and overwhelming states.
Poverty and wealth are a converse pair of states that all human beings vacillate between to some degree, but the Prophet was referring here specifically to extreme poverty and extreme wealth. Poverty is mentioned first because of its widespread and destructive effects, which need no reminders to anyone who lives in the real world. The description of poverty causing forgetfulness is a reminder that although poverty can be a humbling force, in its overwhelming forms it can also make one forgetful of many things for obvious reasons. Those who are in a desperate struggle for survival tend to have less concern for the rules, regulations and moral parameters of normalcy. For this reason, societies plagued by extreme poverty, including Muslim ones, are also simultaneously plagued by other evils such as drug abuse, prostitution, robbery and other forms of crime.
Extreme wealth is a more hidden danger not easily recognized by people, but Islam repeatedly warns against the corrupting influence of wealth. Often people are humbler in times of need and closer to worshiping God, but in prosperity they often tend to forget God and become arrogant and begin transgressing the rights of others. The Qur’ān affirms, Yet man behaves arrogantly, because he thinks himself self-sufficient. But truly all will return to your Lord [96:6-8].
Both of these tribulations, overwhelming poverty and prosperity, have increased in human society with the passage of time. Consider these facts. The highest quantifiable classification of wealth is the designation of a billionaire, while the most extreme measurable form of poverty is a state of malnourishment. In the year 2000, the number of billionaires in the world was 306 while the number of undernourished 857 million. Ten years later, in 2010, the number of billionaires increased three-fold to 1,011, while the number of undernourished also increased to 925 million. [Time, Dec 6, 2010] When you look at the current economic disaster around the globe, as well as the wars, a major causative factor are the massive multinational corporations and their drive for greater wealth. It is painfully obvious to the world today that wealth, in its extreme forms, indeed causes people to violate the rights of others. How relevant was the Prophet’s warning and how truthful his prediction!
The third warning has to do with illness in its extreme forms, i.e. debilitating diseases that lead to disability. These illnesses destroy a person’s quality of life. In health a person is a free spirit, interacting with others and with the world, so full of activity and aspirations and plans. Yet in debilitating disease the situation for the same person can become so constrained that one becomes preoccupied with one’s own state, unable to appreciate any reality beyond the self. At the same time, there are more handicapped people today than any other time in human history. The World Health Organization estimated in 2004 that out of 6.5 billion people in the world, nearly 100 million were at least moderately disabled.
The fourth warning and prediction is senility in its extreme form, that is, a state of old age that destroys one’s mind and memory, formally called dementia. The Qur’ān refers to this state in the verse, It is Allah who creates you and takes your souls at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age, so that they know nothing after having known (much): for Allah is All-Knowing, All-Powerful. [16:70]. Alzheimers disease is the most common cause of dementia and an estimated 5.3 million people have it in the US, making it the 7th leading cause of death, with $172 billion in annual costs.
The fifth warning is death in its worst manifestation, one that comes unexpectedly and all of a sudden. Although death is always a painful experience, other forms allow for preparation, closure, repayment of debts and the chance to make amends with God and with others. Sudden forms of death are increasing with time and can affect one at any age, including a form known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Out of the top ten leading causes of death worldwide as estimated by the WHO in 2004, six are forms of sudden death.
The last two warnings are of a slightly different character and represent matters of faith. The first has to do with the death of the world as we know it and the second with what happens beyond that. As people of faith we are taught that the world will come to an end just as our lives do, and that this will occur through a painful and difficult process containing great tribulation and turmoil. The Prophet mentioned from this turmoil its most terrible manifestation, which is the False Messiah Dajjāl¸ commonly known as the Anti-Christ. His description in our traditions, in terms of global deception, great power, widespread violence and turmoil, and the world coming closer like a village, contains great lessons for believers and reminders that this time is indeed coming.
The final mention is the greatest calamity of all, the Day of Judgement. With this item, the Prophet added the description, And how grievious and bitter will that be! The placing of this item last makes sense not just from a chronological perspective, but also from the fact that this final danger is inevitable (a person may possibly avoid the first six pitfalls, but no one can escape the seventh) and also the most important for human beings. The belief in the Hereafter is the single greatest factor that can ameliorate the problems of today’s worlds. This is the reason this message represented the bulk of every Prophet’s teaching, and this should be our message today. To all the oppressed of the earth, a time is coming when justice will be served for sure. And to all the tyrants and troublemakers, your time is coming as well.