The previous verse affirmed that if dunyā were to function in accordance with the tenets of dīn, balance and harmony would prevail in this world. The outcome of this balance, as stipulated in this verse, is a better quality of life for humanity, both individually and collectively.
Despite great technical advances the quest for an enriched quality of life for all humankind is an ongoing pursuit and remains somewhat elusive. How one defines ‘quality of life’ is also contested as people seek to strike what they consider a harmonious balance between the spiritual and temporal. In attaining this balance, the combination of the words ʿibād (servants) and Allah show the way. In Arabic grammar this construct is known as an iḍāfa: an annexation of two nouns forming a possessive construction. In this instance, the first noun is ibād which is grammatically known as the muḍāf (possessed), while the second noun, Allah, is the muḍāf ilaihi (possessor). Thus, through the use of a simple grammatical construct, the author indicates that in order to lead a pleasant and fulfilling life, we first need to identify ourselves as Allah’s servants, place ourselves in His possession.
Affiliation with the Creator is the primary element of self-identity and paradoxically, it is this collective association that preserves one’s identity. The trials and hardships of this world have caused many to lose sight of themselves, especially if their sense of identity is anchored in ideals and principles that in themselves are transient and fleeting. Therefore, for man to be truly able to realise his purpose in this world and prevent himself from deviating from this objective, he needs to affiliate himself to the One who is omnipresent and by virtue of which to eternal values and traditions. Most importantly, this defining relationship with the Creator also enables him to exist after he moves from this realm to the next. Thus, it is this one true and enduring identity that allows man to enjoy a purposeful and fulfilling life in this world.
The second prerequisite for humankind to lead a comfortable life can be gleaned in the use of the plural: ʿibād (servants). In order to lead a comfortable life, man needs to be part of larger society, with all its members sharing a common purpose. Fatimi philosophy holds that a life of solitude and recluse is an unhappy one. For man to lead a fulfilling life he is required to benefit from a range of crafts and vocations. However, the sheer number of crafts and vocations combined with man’s limited lifespan renders it impossible for any single individual to master them all. It is because of these two factors that in each city or village a sizable number of persons reside in symbiosis, each one ideally being of benefit to one another. Divine wisdom has ordained that some will be craftsmen, while others will be traders, builders, civil servants or educators along with those discharging clerical or labour tasks. Their relationship is familial; they are all brothers of one father, held in equal esteem and engaged in helping each other in their daily activities with each one focused on their respective task. Further to this, the measures, weights, fees and charges upon which they have agreed serve as a means to motivate them to expend their efforts so that they receive a remuneration that justifies their efforts and dedication to their task. In the same manner, one is also dependent upon his pure and sincere brethren to attain salvation from this world and ascend to his heavenly abode.
Thirdly, the term ibād Allah (Allah’s servants) alludes to the traits and characteristics embodied by them. The Quran describes Allah’s servants:
The servants of the al-Raḥmān (the Compassionate) are those who walk on the earth with humility, and when the foolish address them [improperly], they [only] respond with salaam.
These and other Quranic verses outline the principles that ibād Allah adhere to, principles that are self-evidently essential to lead a meaningful life in this world.
In line with these traits and characteristics, Fatimi philosophy contains numerous directives that outline the means to attain a comfortable and enriched life. When asked about the Quranic assurance of ḥayā ṭayyiba (pure life), one which is bestowed upon those men and women who carry out gracious acts, Maulana Ali bin Abi Talib AS replied, that a ‘pure life’ is one of contentment. Likewise, it has been said that to lead a life of contentment is to be a king. It has also been stated that, ‘a comfortable and simple life is to be found when and where peace and stability prevail,’ a notion further explored in the subsequent verse. Some other priceless counsels include:
- ‘Reduce your debt and you will live free,’
- ‘There is no meaningful life for he who has no skill and know-how,’ and
- ‘Be sure to maintain a balance in all your endeavours for it is the best means to lead a better life.’
The verse also includes a metaphor of a garden which can be interpreted to indicate that another key element of a comfortable and happy life is one that is led in accordance with fiṭra, in accordance with the tenets of sharia, as mentioned in the previous verse. Only a purposeful existence can be described as an evergreen and plush garden. An alternative viewpoint is offered by the wise men of Hind in a parable they narrated of a blind person and his lame companion who were given refuge in a garden by the gardener who felt sorrow for their plight. Initially they were grateful and adhered to the rules that were stipulated. They were provided with whatever they wished of the garden’s fruit but were instructed not to attempt to obtain it themselves as it would cause havoc. In due time, however, their initial sentiment of gratitude was overcome by lust for more and they transgressed their bounds causing ruin to the garden and eventually their eviction from it. In this parable, the garden is this world, while the gardener is the intellect which guides both the body and the soul, i.e. the blind and the lame, towards all that is fruitful, and warns them to desist from all that is fruitless. Identifying with Allah and aligning ourselves with His purpose in Creation allows us to dwell blissfully in the garden of this world, taking advantage of the beneficial while disdaining the detrimental.