In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
Abu Hurairah [may Allaah be pleased with him] narrated that the Messenger of Allaah [peace and blessings be upon him], said,
“The worldly life is a prison for the believer [in Allaah and the final Messenger] and a paradise for the disbeliever [in Allaah and the final Messenger]”. [Ref 1]
The Meaning of The Above Hadeeth
Imaam An-Nawawi [may Allaah have mercy be upon him] said:
Every believer is imprisoned and prevented – in the worldly life – from evil and repugnant desires and obligated to perform demanding acts of obedience. But after death, he relaxes and receives what Allaah [The Exalted] promised of permanent bliss and perfect relaxation. As for the disbeliever [in Allaah and the final Messenger], he gets what he receives in the worldly life together with the fact that it is very little and disrupted by distress. And after he dies, he finds himself in permanent punishment and eternal wretchedness. [Ref 2]
Imaam Muhammad Ibn Saaleh Al-Uthaymeen [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said:
Regardless how great the affair of the worldly life is – its good days and its dwelling places (surrounded by beautiful trees, plants, scenery etc), then indeed it is like a prison for the believer, because a believer looks forward to a bliss that is better, more perfect and loftier. As for the disbeliever [in Allaah and the final Messenger], the worldly life is his paradise because he enjoys himself in it [i.e. outside the boundaries of halaal and haraam] and forgets the afterlife, and thus becomes like those about whom Allaah [The Exalted] stated:
وَٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ يَتَمَتَّعُونَ وَيَأۡكُلُونَ كَمَا تَأۡكُلُ ٱلۡأَنۡعَـٰمُ وَٱلنَّارُ مَثۡوً۬ى لَّهُمۡ
Those who disbelieve enjoy themselves and eat as cattle eat, and the Fire will be their abode. [Surah Muhammad Aayah 12]
Therefore, when the disbeliever dies, he does not find anything in front of him except the fire and Allaah’s punishment, and woe to the people of the fire. So that which is found in the worldly life of distress, grief, sadness and sorrow is like a paradise in relation to the state of affairs of the disbeliever [in Allaah and the final Messenger], because he will leave this world to receive Allaah’s punishment.
It has been mentioned about Ibn Hajar Al Asqalaani – the author of Fat’hul Baari – that he used to be the chief of the judges in Egypt in his era, and he used go past the market with an entourage. So, one day a Yahoodi stopped him and said, “Your Prophet said, ‘The worldly life is a prison of the believer and paradise of the disbeliever’, and how can this be the case whilst you are in a state of luxury and joy, and I am in a state of extreme poverty and low status?” So, Ibn Hajr said to him, “If in your view I am in state of joy and that people are at my service, then this state is a prison in comparison to what a believer will receive of bliss in Paradise. As for yourself, even though you are in state of extreme poverty and low status, then it is like paradise in comparison to what a disbeliever will receive in the fire”. So, the Yahoodi was amazed by this statement and then testified that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allaah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah. [Ref 3]
[Re 1:Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2956]
[Ref 2: Sharh Saheeh Muslim 18/74. Daar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyyah. 1st Edition 1421AH (2000)]
[Ref 3: https://binothaimeen.net/content/8835 ]