In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
The view of life from an Islamic perspective has gained more attention lately. Indeed, Islam has significant references in the Quran and Sunnah that warn us against an excessive love of life. In one famous saying of the Prophet ﷺ, which has come to resemble the current condition of Muslims around the world, he declared specifically that the love of life and the hatred of death would be a main cause for turmoil that would invite other nations to bring destruction upon Muslim communities.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
يُوشِكُ الأُمَمُ أَنْ تَدَاعَى عَلَيْكُمْ كَمَا تَدَاعَى الأَكَلَةُ إِلَى قَصْعَتِهَا
The nations will soon call one another to attack you as if they were calling each other to a plate of food.
It was said, “Will we be small in number that day?” The Prophet ﷺ said:
بَلْ أَنْتُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ كَثِيرٌ وَلَكِنَّكُمْ غُثَاءٌ كَغُثَاءِ السَّيْلِ وَلَيَنْزِعَنَّ اللَّهُ مِنْ صُدُورِ عَدُوِّكُمُ الْمَهَابَةَ مِنْكُمْ وَلَيَقْذِفَنَّ اللَّهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمُ الْوَهَنَ
No, rather you will be many in that time but you will be like the froth carried away by the stream. Allah will remove respect for you from the hearts of your enemies and place timidity in your hearts.
It was said, “And what is timidity?” The Prophet ﷺ said:
حُبُّ الدُّنْيَا وَكَرَاهِيَةُ الْمَوْتِ
Love of the world and hatred of death.
Certainly, an excessive love of worldly pleasures and a hatred of sacrifice for a noble purpose is a cause of our humiliation today. However, this hadīth and others are often misinterpreted to be an invitation to love death itself and to hate life entirely. Such an interpretation goes against the whole purpose of the religion, to establish life, protect it, and grow in it:
هُوَ أَنشَأَكُم مِّنَ الْأَرْضِ وَاسْتَعْمَرَكُمْ فِيهَا
He has produced you from the earth and settled you in it,
Surat Hūd 11:61
One cannot effectively engage in building a life and benefiting one’s self and others with it if he or she hates it. In fact, ample evidence in the Quran and Sunnah encourages us to aspire for longevity in life so that it can be filled with good deeds. The Prophet ﷺ said:
مَنْ سَرَّهُ أَنْ يُبْسَطَ لَهُ فِي رِزْقِهِ أَوْ يُنْسَأَ لَهُ فِي أَثَرِهِ فَلْيَصِلْ رَحِمَهُ
Whoever is pleased to have his provision expanded and his life span extended, then he should keep good relations with his family.
The Prophet ﷺ also highlighted the virtues of a long life full of righteousness and charity. It was said to him, “Which of the people are best?” He replied:
مَنْ طَالَ عُمُرُهُ وَحَسُنَ عَمَلُهُ
One whose life is long and his deeds are good.
And it was said, “Which of the people are worst?” He replied:
مَنْ طَالَ عُمُرُهُ وَسَاءَ عَمَلُهُ
One whose life is long and his deeds are evil.
Whether life is good or not depends upon the actions we do with it; life itself is not evil and should not be hated.
Although the Prophet ﷺ warned us about loving life and hating death, there is no similar reference in the Quran and Sunnah that encourage us to hate life and love death. On the contrary, wasting the precious opportunity of life by suicide or self-destruction is a major sin in Islam:
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا وَمَن يَفْعَلْ ذَٰلِكَ عُدْوَانًا وَظُلْمًا فَسَوْفَ نُصْلِيهِ نَارًا
Do not kill yourselves, for Allah is merciful to you. Whoever does that in aggression and injustice, then we will soon burn him in a fire.
Surat al-Nisā 4:29-30
In light of this, the warning against loving life too much requires reflection on the wisdom of such an approach in relation to human nature.
First, one has to contemplate what attitudes Islam requires from us and why. A comprehensive analysis of the forming of attitudes in Islam is based upon the central idea of monotheism; that the eternal medium (Allah) is the only truth. Every other medium or environment or existence is transient and temporary, and therefore cannot represent the truth by itself alone.
In Islam, Allah commands us to take a firm and uncompromising stand against mediums that falsely claim divinity, but to be moderate and lenient to a degree in everything else:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَغْفِرُ أَن يُشْرَكَ بِهِ وَيَغْفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٰلِكَ لِمَن يَشَاءُ ۚ وَمَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدِ افْتَرَىٰ إِثْمًا عَظِيمًا
Verily, Allah does not forgive (idolatrous) association with him, but he forgives what is less than that for whom he wills. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin.
Surat al-Nisā 4:48
Life is a transient medium as it is destined to end, so Allah requires us to handle it with moderation; without building an extreme emotional attachment to it, whether positive of negative, that compromises our ability to do the right thing.
Nevertheless, this matter is addressed in the Quran and Sunnah in a way that resonates with human nature. For the most part, human beings naturally love life and they build emotional attachments to this transient medium. The emphasis on detaching from excessive love for life is for the purpose of guiding us towards the eternal medium, as taking the path towards the Creator involves overcoming the lower parts of our human nature. In this case, the warning pushes us away from our base instinct so that moderation and balance will be restored, so that worldly life would not be loved at the expense of righteousness.
Within this perspective, hating life is also just as bad as loving it too much, as it demonstrates an overreaction to a transient medium. If pain, anger, or hatred causes us to follow a path of self-destruction, it is merely the inverse of the self-destruction caused by worldly indulgence.
The approach of moderation and balance in all things, except for the core tenets of monotheism, is the methodology that the Prophet ﷺ learned from the Quran. Even giving in charity should be done in moderation, so as not to sabotage our livelihood:
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَنفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَلَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَكَانَ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ قَوَامًا
They are those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, moderate.
Surat al-Furqān 25:67
This principle holds true even as the Quran commands us elsewhere in unrestricted terms to spend our wealth in charity:
آمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَأَنفِقُوا مِمَّا جَعَلَكُم مُّسْتَخْلَفِينَ
Have faith in Allah and his messenger and spend in charity from that which he has made you inherit.
Surat al-Hadīd 57:7
Since most people naturally aspire to wealth and richness, the emphasis on spending in charity comes as a balancing force against this lower part of human nature.
A key tenet of monotheism is complete reliance upon Allah, the only eternal truth, and to be moderate in varying degrees with all other transient and temporary phenomena. Yet people have a tendency to become emotionally invested in transient mediums, such as the many aspects of worldly life. The Quran and Sunnah are full of commands and exhortations that balance out our natural biases towards worldly life. For this reason, a true believer is not extreme in his love or hate for life; he does not love or hate it absolutely. Rather, he or she only deals with this life as a means to an end, to meet Allah in the Hereafter with a long record of good deeds.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.