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The Riddle of Life by Dr. Ragheb El-Sergani


Translated by: Mohammad Elshinawy

I have pondered a great deal over the rise of nations, and this lead me to notice something truly marvelous – namely that the preparatory phase would always take a very long time, sometimes decades, while the phase of establishment is short and would sometimes hardly exceed a few years!

For instance, the Muslims exerted tremendous effort, for a duration of over 80 years, in preparing an army to face the Crusaders in Palestine. Among these preparations were god-fearing scholars and distinguished commanders, perhaps the most famous of them being Imâduddin Zengi, Nooruddin Zengi, and Salahuddin al-Ayubi (may Allah bestow mercy upon them all). These Muslims were victorious in Hitteen, and then liberated Jerusalem and a large number of the occupied cities. By that, the Muslims had reached establishment and enjoyed a large unified nation-state. However – as astonishing as this may be – that establishment only continued for six years. Then, things fell apart with the death of Salahuddin, and the large nation fragmented between his sons and brothers. In fact, of them were those who surrendered Jerusalem, almost for free, to the Crusaders!

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I used to be amazed by this, until I realized the tradition, and understood the riddle…
The actual purpose of our existence in this life is not being established in the earth and leading theworld, even though this is one of the aims a Muslim must strive to accomplish. But the actual purpose for our existence is the service of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). The Most High said, “And I have not created the jinn or human except to worship Me [alone].” [adh-Dhariyat: 56]

And since we are closer to correctly worshipping Allah during the times of problems and adversity, and during the ages of trials and difficulty, much more than during the times of victory and establishment – it was from the mercy of Allah with us that He extends the periods of trials and tribulations upon us. This way, we remain close to Him and are ultimately saved. Conversely, whenever we are established in theearth, we forget about worship, presume that we are inherently capable of doing things, become distracted with the glitter of this world, and fall prey to other similar diseases of establishment. The Most High said, “It is He who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are in ships and they sail with them by a good wind and they rejoice therein, there comes a storm wind and the waves come upon them from everywhere and they assume that they are surrounded, supplicating Allah, sincere to Him in religion, ‘If You should save us from this, we will surely be among the thankful.’ But when He saves them, at once they commit injustice upon the earth without right. O mankind, your injustice is only against yourselves, [being merely] the enjoyment of worldly life. Then to Us is your return, and We will inform you of what you used to do.” [Yoonus: 22-23]

Every sensible person knows that this worship is not just praying and fasting. Rather, it is actually a way of life. This worship embodies being genuinely devoted to Allah, sincerely intending Him, properly relying on Him, acknowledging your poverty before Him, loving to serve Him, being afraid to become distant from Him, strongly hoping in Him, and always fearing Him. This worship manifests in being where Allah orders you to be, living as Allah wishes you to live, loving for Allah, hating for Allah, upholding certain relationships for Allah, and severing others for Allah. It is a lofty spiritual state wherein this worldly life shrinks to being less than a drop in a river, more insignificant than the wing of a mosquito, and more worthless than the carcass of a maimed goat.

How many people reached this incredible state during the age of establishment?

Certainly, it was only the fewest of the few. How? Didn’t our beloved (saws) frighten us from the surplusof wealth, and from abundant possessions, and from the opportunities of this world?
Didn’t he (saws) warn us by saying, “By Allah, it isn’t poverty that I fear for you. Rather, I fear that this world will be expanded for you like it was expanded for those before you – and then you compete in it as they competed in it, and [then] it destroys you as it destroyed them!

Don’t we sit together, eat together, think together… but when one of us reaches a seat of authority, or some position of rulership, he forgets the weak people that he once knew, and distances himself fromthe “laymen” who were once his brothers and loved ones? Didn’t our beloved (saws) warn us from this common phenomenon by saying, “Whomever Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, makes responsible for an affair of the Muslims, but he veils himself from their needs, complaints, and poverty – then Allah will veil Himself from his needs, complaints, and poverty.”

Does the poor, or the weak, or the homeless veil himself? No, only those established on the earth veilthemselves. The rich veil themselves, and the rulers veil themselves.

Once these people attain their aims, most of them disconnect from the rest of the people. And whomever is like this, Allah veils Himself from them, and then on the Day of Resurrection, they will realize that – had they died before becoming established – it would have been safer and more prosperous. But for them, there will be no return to this world, for the window of acting has closed, and now it is time for judgment.

The sick person spends most of his time near to Allah, and the healthy person defiantly challenges Allah using that health.

The person faced with an ordeal, and the person locked in a prison, and the person who is exiled from his home, and the person who is oppressed by a tyrant, and the person who lived in the age ofsubjugation – all of these are near to Allah. And once their desires are attained, and the oppression is lifted from upon them, they forget Allah – except for those whom Allah has mercy on, and how few they are.

Does that mean we should strive for weakness, poverty, disease, and death?

Of course not. This is not the point, for we were ordered to amass strength, pursue affluence, seek medical treatment, and preserve human life. The point is to understand the purpose of life: servitude, and then servitude, and then servitude!

From that angle, there remains no grounds for despair in the age of weakness, nor any room for losing hope when establishment is absent, nor any room for grief or depression when poverty, sickness, or pain befall us. In these situations – although Allah commanded us to pursue relief – we are more capable of servitude, more obedient to Allah, and more hopeful of Allah. And in their opposites, we are weaker in our servitude, and more distant from Allah. We don’t seek the former, but we are “content” with it. We don’t pursue these, but we are “patient” through them.

The time which passes until we actualize this establishment is not lost time. Rather, it is the very opposite; it is our opportunity to understand the purpose of life, and it is the era wherein we truly and correctly worship Allah – for once we reach our aims, this purpose becomes blurry, and we begin worshipping Allah as “we want,” and not as “He wants.” In other words, you can say: that is when we begin worshipping Allah according to our desires. Or, to be even more precise, say: that is when we begin worshipping our desires! The Most High said, “Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him?” [al-Furqan: 43]

Due to all that, Allah – the Most Wise – who wishes for us to understand the objective of creation, andthe Most Merciful who wishes for us to prosper and succeed, chose to lengthen for us the phase ofpreparation, hardships, and difficulty, and chose to shorten for us the phase of establishment and strength. As for us, we have no choice but to accept this, rather to be pleased with His choice, for He only does this out of His love for us, and only set this tradition out of mercy for us.

My brothers and sisters, reflect with me on the fluctuation of human history…

How many years did Nuh (peace be upon him) live calling to Allah, enduring exhaustion patiently, and how many years did he live established after the flood?

Where is the story of Hood, or Salih, or Shu‘ayb (peace be upon them) after establishment?! We know nothing of their story except their peoples belying them, the adversity of the believers, and then a quick passing victory, and a conclusion that appears abrupt to us.

Why did our Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) live for 21 years preparing for victory and establishment, and then didn’t live to enjoy his establishment except for two years or a little more?

Where is the establishment in the life of Musa and ‘Eesa (peace be upon them)? Where is it in the life of Ibraheem, the father of the Prophets (peace be upon them)?!

Indeed, these Prophetic examples are what will reoccur in the history of the earth, and these are the best of those who ever worshipped Allah (the Exalted), “So from their guidance, take an example.” [al-An‘am: 90]

Now, after you have understood the riddle, perhaps you can realize why ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdil-‘Azeez lived only two and a half years after becoming established, and why Imaduddin Zengi was killed only two years after conquering ar-Raha (Edessa). Likewise, you now grasp why Qutuz was killed after less than a year from his epic victory against the Mongols in ‘Ayn Jaloot. Likewise, you now understand why Alp Arsalan was killed after less than two years from his historical victory at Manzikert. Now you know why Salahuddin didn’t “enjoy” the fruit of his victory at Hitteen except for less than a year, then Acre fell again in the hands of the Crusaders. Now you know why Abdallah ibn Yasin, the founder of the Murabit (Moravid) Dynasty, didn’t see establishment to begin with, and why Abu Ya‘qoob Yoosuf al-Mansoor –the best man of the Muwahhid (Mohad) Caliphate – died after less than four years from his spectacular victory in the Battle of Arak.

These incidents are innumerable, and all allude to the fact that Allah wished for these “worshippers” to seal their lives while atop their loftiest states of servitude, before their worship gets polluted with this worldly life, and before they are afflicted with the diseases of establishment.

They used to “worship” Allah genuinely during the age of preparation and difficulty, so our Lord “rewarded” them by removing them from this world before they were tempted by its glitter.
Someone always asks, “But did history ever witness a righteous king that lived for long without being tempted?” I say to you, yes, there are those who experienced this in their lives, but they are so few I can almost count them due to how rare they are! For instance, we don’t find this amidst the Prophets except with Dawud and Sulayman (peace be upon them). As for Yoosuf (peace be upon him) his story is tragic and heart-wrenching from its beginning until shortly before its end, and we hardly know anything about his post-establishment days.

As for the leaders, kings, and generals, you may not find more than a handful that don’t exceed the fingers of your two hands – such as Harun ar-Rashid, ‘Abdur-Rahman an-Nasir, Malik-Shah, and a few with them.

Therefore, this exception does not break our principle. Furthermore, Allah – the Mighty and Majestic – mentioned this in His Book by saying, “And indeed, many associates oppress one another, except for those who believe and do righteous deeds – and few are they.” [Sad: 24] Hence, those who patiently endure these trials are few by the very declaration of the Qur’an. In fact, when Allah – the Exalted – wishes to destroy one of the nations, He increases its establishment! The Most High said, “So when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We opened to them the doors of every [good] thing until, when they rejoiced in that which they were given, We seized them suddenly, and they were [then] in despair.” [al-An‘am: 44]

After I understood this purpose, it caused me to realize the correct interpretation to many astonishing events in history. I understood why ‘Utbah ibn Ghazwan begged ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with them) to pardon him from the governance of Basrah! I understood why Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq (may Allah be pleased with him) spent all his wealth for the sake of Allah. I understood why ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (may Allah be pleased with him) prepared the army of al-‘Usrah by himself, without asking the others to help carry their share of the responsibility. I understood why Khalid ibn al-Waleed (may Allah be pleased with him) stepped down from the leadership of a victorious army. I understood why Abu ‘Ubaydah ibn al-Jarrah did not enjoy his rulership over an enormous province like Sham. I understood why Talha ibn ‘Ubaydillah became sad when 700,000 dirham were brought to him in a single night. I understood why his sadness transformed into joy when he “rid himself” of this worldly gain by distributing it among the poor on the same night!

I understood all of this now. Rather, I understood why the generation of the Companions was the bestof humanity. This was not just because they lived with the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Rather, it was because they best understood the purpose of life. Or, we can say: they were those who best worshipped Allah, the Exalted and Majestic. This is why they were so keen to avoid this material world, its wealth, leadership, and authority. For this same reason, you don’t find misery in their lives when they become sick, nor depression when they are tortured, nor despair when they are oppressed, nor regret when they become poor. To them, these were all “opportunities to worship” that were eased their way, so they took advantage of them, and by that, they became the best people ever.

The person who understands matters as they did becomes as cheerful as they were, even if they live inthe age of weakness! And the person who misses the point which they were privy to is miserable and lost, even if he owns this entire world.

I direct this article to those who consider themselves “victims of misfortune” for being deprived ofwealth, or authority, or security, or health, or a loved one. I say to you all: Rejoice, for Allah has granted you an “opportunity to worship,” so take advantage of it before the tribulation is uplifted, and before relief arrives, and before you forget Allah, and how could you forget Him…

The Most High said, “And when affliction touches man, he calls upon Us, whether lying on his side or sitting or standing; but when We remove from him his affliction, he continues [in disobedience] as if he had never called upon Us to [remove] an affliction that touched him. Thus is made pleasing to thetransgressors that which they have been doing.” [Yoonus: 12]

We ask Allah grant us insight regarding His traditions, and we ask Allah to empower Islam and the Muslims.


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Graduate of English Literature; Translator for IIPH, AMJA, and Mishkah; Da'wah Director @ Muslims Giving Back; Student @ Mishkah University. More blessed than I know, and more than I deserve.



  1. John Smith

    March 23, 2015 at 12:59 PM

    Actually the quote from [al-Furqan: 43] where “god” is written with smaller case “g” is correct since it is the translation of “ilah” which can refer to anything a person might worship, including in this case their desires (which makes it even more appropriate to use lowercase “g”). Even many Quran translations like Saheeh-International and Muhsin Khan use lowercase “g” for that ayat. Look it up.

  2. John Smith

    March 23, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    ““…before their worship gets polluted with this worldly life, and before they are afflicted with the diseases of establishment.”

    Most of them actually lived to see their “establishments” in their prime…”

    Yes they did actually see establishment in their prime, but it wasn’t for the majority of their life. And they died in their prime, not while in their decline.
    Furthermore the article already mentions the examples of Dawud a.s. and Sulayman a.s.

    “For instance, we don’t find this amidst the Prophets except with Dawud and Sulayman (peace be upon them).”

  3. John Smith

    March 23, 2015 at 1:27 PM

    “Most of them actually lived to see their “establishments” in their prime…”
    yes, but they were not afflicted by the diseases resulting from establishment.

    And those two examples were mentioned in the article.

    “For instance, we don’t find this amidst the Prophets except with Dawud and Sulayman (peace be upon them).”

  4. M. Mahmud

    March 24, 2015 at 12:35 AM

    Bang on..I feel like this thought was somewhat in my mind recently actually.

    I am always annoyed when Muslims talk about past inventions, when Muslims were great and this and that…for God’s sake, does that even matter??? What matters is the akhirah and whether we are saved or thrown into the fire…those discussions are the most pointless and stupid to have. Who cares if some great Muslim founded Algebra or another developed history? What matters is the future! What is especially troubling is the lamenting and despair. It SOUNDS like “wow we were so great on the earth then we became sinners and now this” but what it really is is ingratitude.

    • Amel

      March 24, 2015 at 12:19 PM

      As-salamu Alaykum,

      I have not read the entirety of the above article but will return to it when I have time, Insha’Allah.

      Regarding algebra and other scientific achievements, I do think they are important to remember and discuss. Many people in the modern world shun religion because they think that religion and science are incompatible. Historically, scientists, intellectuals, and other creative thinkers were often branded as heretics and put to death by the Church. As Muslims, we have a rich intellectual tradition that we should learn about and aspire to in the present-day. Understanding how early Muslim intellectuals lived and understood their faith may help the Muslims of today build a better future for humankind.

      • M.Mahmud

        March 26, 2015 at 1:58 PM

        What I am talking about is not looking at past examples to face challanges today but instead the people who whine and moan “oh look we were so great but because of this/this/this we are not now

        Addressing the disbelievers who mock us and Muslims who are in doubt for our lack of learning and benefiting humanity in the modern era is necessary. But we must avoid the trap people before us fell into, imagining fake golden ages because Muslims were raised in the dunya.

  5. Doa Islam dan Cerita Islam

    March 24, 2015 at 1:58 AM

    Thanks sudah berbagi. ;)

  6. Mohammad Yusha

    March 24, 2015 at 6:07 AM

    MM keeps deleting my comment because I pointed out how authors on this blog are using their own understanding and presenting opinions as facts, laced with errors. Everyone is a scholar these days.

    In this particular article, if Allah was so concerned about pious people “polluting” their souls due to their “establishemnts” he would have lifted them all right after it. And if he chose to take the souls of some and not the others, he still gave those people time to enjoy seeing the results of their success, so it proves that your theories are false.

    This comment will be deleted too, in a matter of time.

    • Aly Balagamwala

      March 24, 2015 at 6:34 AM

      Actually MM keeps deleting your comments for link spam. Stop advertising your website and Facebook pages, comply with our Comments Policy, and your comments will be allowed.

      Aly Balagamwala
      Comments Team Lead

    • M.Mahmud

      March 26, 2015 at 1:59 PM

      One must be cautious when speaking about Allah.

  7. dr ikram

    March 30, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    Very well explained article especially for people in a seemingly hopeless situation,where it is very easy to loose sight of purpose of life.especially true for modern day muslims who either are lamenting over the glorious past or due bad present day experiences are very anxious about future. Many muslims are loosing their imaan also due lack of belief in qadr of allah or akhirah or both.

  8. Shahedolla Molla

    December 29, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    Mash’Allah very unique perspective from historic events and how they relate to the evidences from Qur’aan and Hadith. May Allah help us succeeding in understanding such gems from His book. The reminders in this article reminds us of how important it is to often read and ponder on the Ayats of the Qur’aan and purify our hearts and pray to Allah to save ourselves from falling into trials of having “much”. May Allah bless Sh Elshinawy and protect his knowledge.


    September 8, 2016 at 11:03 AM


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