Imagine entering a contest with a huge group of people, where everyone has to go through the world’s largest labyrinth. It’s definitely tough, yet promised to be doable. There is no time limit- nobody has taken longer than twelve hours before. Everyone will have to overcome obstacles along the way, like climbing stairs, ducking and crawling under surfaces, and even crossing some parts of it by swinging on monkey bars. The prize, though, is what drew everyone in: $1 million, cash, for every person who makes it to the center.
Everyone is told to go to a randomly assigned entrance of the maze, depending on the number they drew out of a bowl. You drew #3, so you join the other contestants in your group at a tall cutout of a bright green hedge, with a large “3” on a sign next to it. The rules are explained once more, echoing throughout the field as the moderator’s voice leaves the massive speakers, and finally, the shrill whistle is blown. One by one, everyone rushes through the entrance, eager to get as far into the maze as possible before sunset.
You walk as quickly as you can through the maze, occasionally running into dead ends, but nothing more serious than that. Then you hit your first obstacle: monkey bars stretching over a 20 foot long mud-filled ditch; you always hated these. You pat your moist palms on your jeans to dry them off, and start swinging. Before you know it, you’re on the other side- not as bad as you’d remembered them to be in second grade. Your confidence keeps building as you continue on in the maze, knocking out one obstacle after the next like it’s no big deal.
After an hour in the maze, you start feeling thirsty as the summer heat gets to you. Those mosquito bites aren’t exactly pleasant, either. You pick up your pace a bit, hoping to make better time, but you trip and scrape your palms on the rough ground beneath you. Another few hours pass by, and your legs are starting to feel the strain of all the stairs you’ve been climbing and descending. Crawling under low hedges is hurting your palms where you scraped them. You try to keep your goal in sight, but the thought passes through your mind, “it’s probably too good to be true, anyway.” A few hours in the maze, surrounded by 15-foot tall hedges, have left you feeling claustrophobic, worn out, and hungry, making it seem like the prize isn’t even worth it anymore- if it’s even real. Just as you start to wonder if you’ll ever make it out, you see a sign: SHORTCUT. You see someone turn the corner where the sign is at, and you follow them in.
Woah. What is this place? You’re standing under a massive canopy of bright orange and red leaves, on a dirt path that’s paved as smooth as a new asphalt road. The half dozen people around you are getting in luxury sports cars that are lined up along the side, and you follow suit. You start driving with the top down, enjoying the refreshing breeze and beautiful scenery around you. The sunset is directly ahead, making the clouds glow a brilliant, deep pink. Your competitors, who are now your companions, drive faster and faster, and you do the same. You talk to each other through your car phones about how sorry you feel for everyone who’s still stuck in the maze, struggling through tiring obstacles. Haven’t they seen the sign for this shortcut? What are they thinking?
You pass by a sign that says you’re only 1000 feet away. So close, yet… You don’t want to leave anymore. This is the life. This feeling is priceless. You don’t want to lose it, especially for a “prize” that probably doesn’t exist. You close your eyes, and feel the wind brushing through your hair.
When look back up, you feel as though you’ve been punched in the gut.
One by one, all of your friends are driving off a cliff. “Are they crazy?!” You slam both of your feet down on the breaks, but the car doesn’t slow down. You pass by one last sign: HOPE YOU ENJOYED YOUR PRIZE. You’re forced off the cliff too, and thrown out of your car through the top you had down. Falling… Falling…
“Know that the worldly life is only a game, and a temporary attraction, and a means of boastfulness among yourselves… In the life hereafter there will be severe torment, or forgiveness and mercy from Allah. The worldly life is only a deceiving enjoyment. Compete with one another to achieve forgiveness from your Master and to reach Paradise, which is as vast as the skies and the earth combined, and is prepared for those who truly believe in Allah and His Messenger. This is the favor of Allah, and He grants it to whomever He wants. The favors of Allah are supreme.” (57:20-21)
“And rush to forgiveness from your Master, and a Garden as large as the skies and the earth, for the people who protected themselves… What an amazing compensation for those who put themselves to work.” (3:133)