Reflection No. 305 on Q 57:23 – Detachment in Life

لِكَيْلَا تَأْسَوْا عَلَىٰ مَا فَاتَكُمْ وَلَا تَفْرَحُوا بِمَا آتَاكُمْ
Likaylā ta’saw ‘alā mā fātakum walā tafrahū bimā ātākum
So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you
nor be exultant at what He has given you

(Sūratul Hadīd No.57, Āyat 23)

This short verse holds the key to a lot of peace of mind. It also answers many questions. When we wonder why people suffer various difficulties in the world despite there being a Merciful and Gracious God, this verse summarizes the answer – so that human beings may not become the slaves of wealth and comfort, ease and happiness. They may be able to detach themselves and learn to neither be too despondent when things are rough nor be too excited when things are good.

What this verse tells believers is not to lose the real perspective of life by associating too closely with its circumstances. It is very easy to become so immersed in what the world has to offer, to ride its waves and be a prisoner of its ups and downs. This can become an obstacle to growth and perfection for the human being is then vulnerable to circumstances. A true believer is one who detaches from his circumstances, almost looks at them from outside, knowing that these are his temporary companions as he traverses the journey towards the Lord.

This is not an easy state to achieve but it is the goal towards we should strive. The quality described in this verse is zuhd. Imam Ali (a) says: All zuhd is summarized in two sentences of the Quran: God, the Most Exalted, says, ‘So that you may not grieve for what escapes you, nor rejoice in what has come to you’ [Q 57:23]. Whoever does not grieve over what he has lost and does not rejoice over what comes to him has acquired zuhd in both of its aspects (Saying 439, Nahjul Balāgha). Zuhd is normally translated as ‘asceticism’ and ‘abstinence.’ It can also mean detachment, indifference, avoidance, etc. Generally speaking it means not being too affected by either sadness or happiness.  Shahīd Murtadhā Mutahharī describes it as a kind of spiritual and intellectual abstinence: ‘things which are natural objects of desire are not considered the goal and objective by a human being in the course of his struggle for perfection and felicity’ (Selections from Glimpses of the Nahjul Balāgha). In his excellent discussion on this subject, Mutahharī shows how unnecessary wants can become self-imposed needs, making the human being a slave to them. Zuhd sets him free from such chains.

Lady Fātima al-Zahrā, the esteemed daughter of the Holy Prophet (s), was an excellent example of practicing zuhd. One of her titles was Zāhida. In the ziyārat of Sayyida Fātima (a) we read that she was inseparable from piety and asceticism (halīfat al-wara‘ waz-zuhd). She was content to live simply without the glitter of worldly wealth and pleasures. She often went hungry and shared what she had with others. The example of the necklace that she gave away which eventually returned to her, and the wedding dress she gave a poor lady on her wedding night, all show how dis-attached she was. She was also content with difficulties in life. What mattered to her and caused her great grief was the abandoning of the teachings that had been revealed by Allah through her father. She did not care much for status, honor, and publicity. But the only time she spoke openly and conveyed a strong message to the people was when her rights were taken away and she wanted people to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Let this verse remind you to detach yourself from whatever it is you are too attached too. It could be family, wealth, career, and status – anything that means a lot to you. Caring is good but not to the extent of forgetting the real objective of life. Reaching Allah in as perfect a state as possible is the goal and nothing else matters too much.

Amīrul Mu’minīn Ali bin Abu Talib (a), Nahjul Balāgha;
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;
Sh. ‘Abbās Qummī, Mafatīhul Jinān;