The Prophet Muhammad (upon him be peace) said:
نجا أول هذه الأمة باليقين والزهد ويهلك آخرها بالبخل والأمل
“The first generations of this community were saved by their certainty in faith and asceticism. The last generations will be destroyed by their stinginess and expectancy.”
This community’s first generations are the Prophet’s noble companions and those who they taught to righteously follow their way. The early generation had complete conviction in Islām. Their conviction illuminated their hearts and it inspired them to perform pious deeds. They recognized that this temporal world is nothing more than a waystation, a quick stop that is made as one travels onwards to the perpetual abode of the hereafter.
The early generation was distinguished by these virtuous qualities and they renounced blameworthy qualities, like stinginess and expectancy. This was a means to their success and a protection from punishment.
Then, as the end of time nears, the situation will be reversed. Such blameworthy qualities will contribute to man’s destruction and misery. Still, there shall always be a select group who will establish the truth, even as the final hour draws near. Hence, there is no contradiction between this report and the one that says:
أمتي مثل المطر لا يدرى أوله خير أم آخره
“My community is like rain. It is not known if the rain that falls when it starts raining is better or the rainfall that comes later.”
What is intended by “the last generations” is a portion of those who comprise them. Many will fall into this and be afflicted by these blameful traits, but a group who upholds the truth will remain steadfast, even in trying times.
This narration indicates that expectancy (ar. amal) is blameworthy. What is being censored is one letting himself go and becoming excessive, lacking moderation in how he lives in this world. This quality may lead to coveting the dunyā and its adornments. Becoming infatuated by the world’s temporary pleasures will distract one from striving for success in the next.
In some ways, the quality of amal is necessary as through it this world’s affairs are administered and discharged. Ḥasan al-Baṣrī said:
السهو والأمل نعمتان عظيمتان ولولاهما ما مشى الناس في الطريق
“Expectancy and absentmindedness are two great bounties. If it were not for them, people would not even walk down the street.”
Once, the Prophet ʿĪsā (upon him be peace) passed by an old man who was tilling a plot of earth with a spade. ʿĪsā prayed for him and said: “O Allāh! Remove his amal.” After he made this supplication, the man dropped his spade and laid down. Then, ʿĪsā prayed that his amal return. The man stood up and continued to work. ʿĪsā inquired as to why he did this. The man responded: “While I was working, I said to myself: ‘You are an old man, how long will you work?’ With that, I stopped working. Then, I said to myself: ‘I have to eat so long as I am alive.’ With that, I stood up and continued working.”
When it comes to worldly matters, one should limit his expectant hopes. A man’s lifespan is short and everything that one might think he wants to accomplish within it cannot be done. This worldly life is short-lived; one cannot take his material possessions along with him after he dies and travels onward to the hereafter. The righteous deeds that one performs are what will be of benefit there. One should have abundant amal to perform good deeds.
The Prophet (upon him be peace) is reported to have said:
المؤمن لا يشبع من خير حتى يكون منتهاه الجنة
“The believer is not satiated with good deeds until he is in paradise.”
Ibn ʿAllān mentioned that the word ḥattā in this narration may be for ghāyah or taʿlīl. According to the first, it means that one does not stop performing good deeds until he dies. Then, he will enter paradise and receive reward for the good he did during his life. And according to the second, it means that a believer is not content with only a few devotions because he knows that paradise is his destination. His next-worldly expectancies make him strive for it.
And the Prophet (upon him be peace) said:
احرص على ما ينفعك واستعن بالله ولا تعجز
“Strive for that which benefits you. Seek Allāh’s help and make effort.”
This means one should strive to do what is pleasing to Allāh. He should seek Allāh’s help in doing that. As well, one must not lack in his determination and effort to do both these things.
Thus, having amal is not always blameworthy. Having amal for dunyā which consumes one and distracts from priorities or amal that is not coupled with ʿamal is different than having it for righteous deeds, paradise, and striving for Allāh’s pleasure.
Allāh knows best.
(Dalīl al-Fāliḥīn 7:179; Fayḍ al-Qadīr 6:281; Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn 4:454: Qaṣr al-Amal 36)