Questioner asks regarding the meaning of a ḥadīth cited by Abū Hurayrah: The Prophet ﷺ said: “The worldly life is the prison of the believer and the Paradise of the disbeliever”
Shaykh Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-ʿUthaymīn:
The meaning of this ḥadīth is that the worldly life – no matter how great its luxuries are, and pleasant its days are, and radiant its dwellings are; to the believer it has the status of prison, because the believer has his sight on luxury that is better, more fulfilling and of a higher enjoyment.
As for what pertains to the disbeliever, then indeed the worldly life is his paradise because he delights in it, and forgets the hereafter. He is as Allah ﷻ describes the disbelievers;
۞ وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا يَتَمَتَّعُونَ وَيَأْكُلُونَ كَمَا تَأْكُلُ الْأَنْعَامُ وَالنَّارُ مَثْوًى لَّهُمْ
“Those who disbelieve enjoy themselves and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode”. (Q 47:12).
When the disbeliever dies, he will not find in front of him except the fire – Allāh’s ﷻ refuge is sought –woe to the people of the fire.
For this reason, the worldly life –with all the hardship, irritation, anxiety, and grief (that one experiences in it), to the disbeliever it is paradise; because he transits from it to the torment of the hell fire –Allah’s ﷻ refuge is sought –thus the worldly life has the status of paradise to him.
It is mentioned about Ibn Ḥajr al-Asqalānī the author of Fatḥ al-Bārī [the explanation of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī]; who was the senior judge of Egypt in his time. He was passing by a market place on a carriage during a procession when a Jewish man stopped him, and said to him: “Your Prophet ﷺ said: “Indeed the worldly life is the prison of the believer and the paradise of the disbeliever”. (But) How can that be, when you live in affluence and festivity?!
The Jew then described himself as living in extreme poverty and inferiority –so how can that be?!
So Ibn Ḥajr replied to him saying: “Even though I live as you see, in festivity with people at my disposal, –the worldly life, in comparison to what the believer attains of bliss in Paradise, is like prison; and what you are experiencing of poverty and humiliation –in comparison to what a disbeliever encounters in hell fire, is paradise.
This speech amazed the Jew and so testified a true testimony saying: “I testify that none is worshipped in truth except Allah, and I bear witness that Muḥammad is the Messenger of Allah”