The Deception of Balancing Deen and Dunya


The following article is a summary of a lesson from my teacher, Ustadh Huzaifa Noori al-Qasmi, alongside some comments and additions from my side.

“Should life be a perfect balance between deen and dunya?” When quizzed by our Ustadh with this question, most of us responded in the affirmative. However, little did we know how problematic the mantra of balancing deen and dunya is, which has become deeply ingrained in the religious psyche of Muslims.

Defining Deen and Dunya:

The word dunya (الدنيا) comes from the root دنئ, which translates to something lowly and ignoble. Dunya refers to the material world and the life that is spent upon it. In the context of this article, dunya refers to the so-called mundane things, viz. secular education, employment, material possessions, etc.

On the other hand, the word deen, technically, refers to the Shariah of Allah (swt), as revealed to His beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw). It comprises ʿaqīdah (beliefs), ‘ibādah (ways of worship), mu’amlaat (dealings with other humans), mu’ashrat (societal affairs and guidelines), and akhlaqiyat (ethics or personal behavior). These branches, taken together, encompass every aspect of human life.

The Secular View of Religion:

In the secular worldview, religion, however, is restricted to beliefs and rituals of worship. To earn sustenance for oneself and family, to pursue non-religious education, or to partake in cultural affairs like marriage ceremonies, etc., are matters beyond the purview of deen, and rather come under the affairs of dunya. This understanding gives rise to the notion of balancing deen and dunya. Thus, in the secular psyche, a person of deen is someone who is confined to the boundaries of the mosques and is largely aloof from the affairs of earthly life.

Balancing Deen and Dunya: A Call Away from Islam

Today, many Muslims believe that the pinnacle of religiosity, while balancing the dunya, is to pray five times a day and observe fasts during Ramadan. It is interesting to note that people who often preach this balance to those inclined towards deen rarely preach the same balance to those who are heavily inclined towards dunya. Thus, the call to balance is merely a devious method to discourage religiosity. Secularism has limited religion to being a personal affair, and it becomes politically incorrect to give any religious advice, or, by and large, enjoin any good or forbid any evil.

Short-term Consequences:

If a person, who is focusing on deen, is constantly reminded of the dunya, but not vice versa, it is perhaps likely that the person will start neglecting his religious obligations for the most trivial worldly reasons, and in the worst case, abandon them altogether. Unfortunately, some of the advisors of balance would have no issues with it.

An un-Islamic Normativity:

The narrative of balance engenders an un-Islamic normativity, where those who regularly skip their prayers and other obligations in favor of worldly exigencies, are considered to be following the middle path of balance. The people on the practising end of the spectrum are pejoratively termed “mullahs,” whose lives and thoughts are confined to the masjid. Such a perspective leads to many of the problems of the modern Muslim world. The prevalence of haram relationships, consuming riba (interest), neglecting haya (modesty) and gheerah (protective jealousy), leaders who compromise Islamic values—all stem from the distorted narrative of balance, where these sins become necessary components to “balance” modern life and Islam. Consequently, the people become disconnected from the traditional scholars, who are perceived to be unfit and unbalanced for today’s world and are replaced with heretical modernists.

Long-term Consequences:

Long-term exposure to such a narrative of balance inculcates two interconnected ideas into our psyche. First, it is the notion that religious devotion is akin to unbalance. Those who do not ascribe to their version of the middle path of balance are extremists—either an ascetic or a militant. Second, it implants the idea that the deen of Islam is not complete in itself, and that many aspects of our lifestyle need to be guided by secular worldviews. Owing to these ideas, people keep drifting away from Islamic values and succumb to their desires.

Today, three categories of people have emerged:

The first group of people is the modernists, who promulgate un-Islamic values with their ideas. For them, traditional Islamic values are outdated. To make Islam palatable to the modern secular mind, they dilute the Shariah under the guise of reforming or reinterpreting it.

The second group comprises full-fledged heretics and apostates, who publicly oppose Islam, directly or indirectly, in favor of other worldviews. Like the first group, they too perceive Islamic values to be incomplete and outdated; however, unlike the first group, they fiercely and vocally oppose Islam altogether and do not attempt any religious justification for their desire-worship. 

The third group consists of laymen who are either fully or partially absorbed in various un-Islamic practices. They justify their misdeeds in various ways and are subconsciously influenced by the ideas pushed by both of the above groups. For example, belittling the ulema, downplaying the role of wearing hijab for modesty, justifying haram relationships with the excuse of marrying later, approving same-sex relationships, not keeping a beard, etc.  

Islam is the Balance Itself:

Islam does not need to be balanced by incorporating the blameworthy dunya into it. Islam does not hinder you from earning sustenance to feed your family; on the contrary, a man will be rewarded for earning Halal and abstaining from Haram. Various traditions highlight the high stature of the honest businessman and his glory on the Day of Judgment. Further, a Just Ruler will be from the seven whom Allah will shade in His Shade on the Day when there is no shade except His Shade. Likewise, Islam does not stop you from studying any worldly science that is beneficial. Islam neither stops you from purchasing houses, vehicles, or fine clothing, nor does it command you to occupy the mosques all day and renounce the dunya. Rather, Islam is the guide for navigating the dunya.

However, Islam does hinder you from obeying your desires unrestrictedly. It warns you against pursuing that which is harmful to you and society—the harm of which has been informed by the Creator and is also rationally discernible. The religion of Islam perfectly aligns with sound intellect and possesses a rational basis for its commandments. And Allah (swt) knows best.

All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, and peace be upon His Prophetﷺ, his Companions and his Family.

  1. Habeeb Ur Rahman says

    Subhan’allah, Nicely explained 👍

  2. Muhammad Fasih says

    سُبْحَانَ ٱللَّٰهِ, May ﷲ سبحانه وتعالى bless the author/s of this article, very well put together view that brings light to Islam being the way of life.

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