Reflection No. 140 on Q 23:113 – The shortness of life
قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ فَاسْأَلِ الْعَادِّينَ
Qālū labithnā yawman aw ba‘da yawmin fas-alil-‘āddīn
They will say: We stayed a day or part of a day; ask those who enumerate (Sūratul Mu’minūn, No. 23, Āyat 113)
The above verse is the reply of people in the Hereafter when they will be asked about their period of stay in the world. It will seem so short that they will declare they spent only a day or part of it in the world. Once the veils are lifted, and the eternity of the Hereafter is understood, life of this world will be seen for what it really is, a short lived period comparable to a transit stop. Like the Messenger of Allah (s) has said: we are like travelers who rest in the shade for a while and then move on to continue the journey.
The realization of the shortness of life in this world will unfortunately come too late. The world will be over, and understanding its fleeting transience in the other world will not help any more. We need to understand this reality now, and realize the urgency of making the most of it while it’s there.
Reminding ourselves of this verse and the truth it alludes to helps in:
1) Accepting that circumstances of life, whether happy or unhappy, we are only here for a very short time. Everything will pass, and so there is no need to fret too much. This acceptance creates a calmness of spirit where nothing seems too disturbing. As the Holy Qur’an reminds us aptly: So that you may not despair over what escapes you, nor exult [in pride] what comes your way (Sūratul Hadīd, 57:23)
2) Realizing the need to act fast for the (other) world that will last eternally. The short and limited life of this world can be used to gain eternal happiness. So know that the hours of this world are very valuable. Each day needs to be filled with as much good as possible, and the challenge to do that, and do better each day, makes life meaningful and exciting. It is a race against time and there is no time for boredom or apathy. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says: Work for each day with what is in it, you will be rightly guided. (MH, H.13907)
3) Be focused in your line – avoiding the many distractions the world has to offer. Human beings have a myriad of choices in what they can do in the world. Wrong choices can have serious repercussions, as valuable hours are squandered in acts which have no lasting benefit. Amīrul Mu’minīn Ali (a) says: Occupation of the self with that which will not accompany it after death is one of the biggest losses. (MH, H.13909)
The verse is a wake-up call to keep things in the right perspective and act fast. The life in this world is not going to last long, so let us do what we can while we are in it.
Sources: Aytaullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazī (ed.), Tafsīr Namūne;
Muhammadī Rayshahrī, Mizānul Hikmah.