Roses have long been been my favorite flower. I’m always struck by how perfect they are—for a moment. But in that moment, and even more so the moments that follow, roses have taught me an invaluable lesson. And I don’t mean a lesson in botany or horticulture.
I mean a lesson in life.
What happens to the rose’s perfectly defined petals even days after it blooms? What becomes of the brilliant red that makes a rose breathtakingly beautiful?
Those petals wither. That brilliant red turns brown. And the rose that was once so full of beauty and life turns into dried up scraps that crumble at the slightest touch. And no matter how hard we try, no matter how many times we change its water or give it food, we cannot keep a rose from withering.
This process, so profound if reflected upon, does not happen without a purpose. Allah tells us in the Qur’an exactly what life lesson we can learn from a rose. He says,
“Know that the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children – like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris. And in the Hereafter is severe punishment and forgiveness from Allah and approval. And what is the worldly life except the enjoyment of delusion.” (57:20)
So the withering of that rose is intended as a sign for us. It is intended to teach us one of the most important, and yet most difficult, realities of this life: that nothing lasts. Everything will pass away—except Allah.
We see beautiful people all around.. We walk past them . But what happens to those beautiful faces after 10, 20, 30 years? They wrinkle, they fade, they die. What happens to the most genius mind 50 years after he or she has made a ground-breaking discovery? Perhaps they lay quietly in a nursing home trying to remember their own name.
But is reflecting on these realities intended to depress us, forcing us into a comfortable heedlessness instead? No.
These realities are designed as a sign and a guidance for us. With the withering of the rose, and with each fallen petal, Allah is reminding us that everything here is passing away. He is reminding us that nothing in this word will remain, except for Allah. These realities are designed not to sadden us, but to wake us up and remind us that our ultimate attachments should never be to these fleeting things. In the Qur’an, Allah reminds us of this reality numerous times. He says, “Everything will be destroyed except His Face.”(28:88)
In another verse, He says:
“Everyone upon it [the earth] will perish, and there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (55:26-27)
These are deeply profound statements intended to shake us to the very core. And there is a surah in the Qur’an, consisting of only three short verses, that sums up the depth of this reality so beautifully. Surat Al-`Asr (Qur’anic chapter 103) begins with Allah making an oath by al-`asr (time). Following that oath, Allah uses the word ‘inna’ (verily) and ‘la’ (indeed), both of which put special emphasis. The use of the oath along with the double emphasis all shows how heavy the statement which follows is: “Indeed mankind is in a state of loss.” (103:2)
But the question is: What is mankind losing? It is the loss of what? Everything.
Loss of time, loss of the people and things we love, loss of health, loss of beauty, loss of fruitless striving. And these things once lost, are lost forever—except for one select group of people: “Those who have faith, and do good works, and counsel one another to follow the truth, and counsel one another to be steadfast.” (Quran, 103:3)
For them, nothing is lost.
So it is only by our faith and our actions that we can take anything away from this withering life. Only by escaping the false dependencies, letting go of our fleeting attachments, and holding on to Allah, can we return with water from the mirage of oceans. Only Allah is lasting. Therefore, only what is done for Him lasts. Only what is loved through Him, returns to us in the End. Everything else, we are in a constant and active state of losing. Everything else is only that withering petal which we fall in love with today, but which crumbles tomorrow.