In the name of Allah, the Inspirer of truth.
One Shaykh Mustafa Sadiq al-Rifa’i of Egypt writes in his book ‘The Destitute’:
“As long as there is matter in this world, or material need, either real or imagined, there will be poverty in the world. As long as people have desires for which they compete or which they elevate by means of their rivalries, there will be envy. As long as in the unseen there are days and there are hopes, and in the physical world there is destitution and there is envy, then there will be longing”.
What are the challenges we face when it comes to our wealth? Often when we speak to others or try to give a sermon or advice we try to emotionally create a feeling in the hearts of people to make them generous and openhearted, mentioning stories of orphans, those struck by calamities and the like. However, if we lived in a world in which people were truly considerate to others, who gave without being asked and did not have this sense we see of violence and enmity towards others, then maybe we would already live in a world where we would have been able to alleviate poverty. Despite the fact that our religion enshrines the fair distribution of wealth, religion is only as good as the manner in which people adhere to its teachings. We learn and are affected much more by the practices of the people around us than what they say or what they claim to believe – what we assimilate and do and practice is based on what we see others doing. If we see a world of limited compassion and giving, we will regard this as normal and set this as a benchmark for our behaviour. When we see someone else having purchased a new bag, a new suit, a new operating system or a new car, then we develop the idea in our minds that this is also something that we desire and should aim to acquire. We emulate one another, and very few people actually think for themselves in this regard.
Israf is spending beyond what is required, beyond what is needed from our religious injunctions and from human decency, while on the other hand there is taqtir, not spending at all and not spending properly when it is required. These are both extremes that need to be analysed and understood.
Sakha (generosity) and jud (openhandedness) are described by ‘Allama Nahlawi as malakatun fi al-nafs, a faculty within the self of the human being, a natural human trait and inner calling within us that encourages us to spend what has been given to us by Allah, and to give more than that which is necessary to give. This may be accompanied by various intentions, whether to gain reward or perhaps to be known as a generous person. The latter can often be seen amongst famous people when they wish to renew their standing amongst the populace, to be seen as philanthropic and compassionate. The Arabs would compete fiercely in this kind of generosity, slaughtering their biggest, most prized animals for their guests and leaving their lights on at night to inform of their hospitality and welcome to travellers who needed to take rest somewhere at night – some would even try to build their houses on high hills to make their houses as lighthouses for those travelling. To want this attribute in oneself is not necessarily a bad thing, as wanting to be generous can simply be for oneself to know that one has this noble characteristic and to strive for this attribute, and it does not necessarily mean that one is trying to show off. Another intention for which one may give of their wealth is to purify the nafs and to rid oneself of bukhl (miserliness), which is a trait that can only be removed by giving.
We aim to make small changes in our character, so to spend a lot in the way of Allah at one time is a very effective way to break this trait. However, when we start to give, we must take into consideration that we do not go to the other extreme, of spending extravagantly and becoming of those who are taken advantage of due to our foolish and careless open-handedness to anyone and everyone. Allah most High says: “Indeed the wasteful are brothers of the devils” (Qur’an 17:27). The people referred to in the ayah who do tabdheer (excessive spending) are those who squander their wealth, buy extravagant things and use their money foolishly without proper consideration. Many people in this day and age are compelled to buy the newest and latest things, however we find that the satisfaction of the purchase is very short-lived. We enjoy the new item for a matter of minutes before the novelty wears off and are drawn to something else. Even this temporal enjoyment fades and becomes weaker with each purchase as our means to buy and spend keeps growing, and as everything we see around us constantly bombards us with the message to buy this and to buy that.
Conversely, ithar is the highest level of generosity. This is when we spend and give preference to others even out of the wealth that we have need for. A verse was revealed concerning a particular Sahabi (Companion) who demonstrated this deep level of sakha (generosity) and reliance upon Allah most High: “They give [others] preference over themselves, even if they too are poor” (Qur’an 59:9). This Sahabi offered to feed a guest of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) despite the fact that he knew he did not have enough even for his family. He instructed his wife to set the children to bed and sat to eat with the guest. However he asked his wife to turn out the light so that he could give the little food he had to his guest and sat in the dark without eating himself, so that the guest was unaware of the situation and believed him to be eating with him.
This companion was in such a situation that he could demonstrate this highest level of sakha. However for us, it is highly unlikely that we will find anyone living in such a state that they do not even have the few morsels they would need to feed their family for the day. When we speak of charity and generosity, we are talking about giving only out of a small section of our surplus wealth. Particularly in the West, we find ourselves engrossed in a mentality of having to save for our retirement. We find ourselves fretting about our finances despite the fact that we have over fifty times what we essentially need for our daily bread. We earn as if we are worried that we will suffer some calamity and will never be able to work again, thus needing to be able to live from what we have amassed so far for the rest of our lives. We have very little reliance on Allah and are drawn to constantly invest in this dunya. However, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) has clearly told us that the way of reliance is best: “If you were to rely upon Allah with the reliance He is due, you would be given provision like the birds: They go out hungry in the morning and come back with full bellies in the evening” (Tirmidhi). Allah most High is well aware of us and has the absolute ability to help us, provided we rely upon Him with the correct understanding of what this reliance involves.
When we look to the third world, we see a much greater disparity between the life of the rich and the poor. In India for example, large swathes of the population subsist on a very simple, hand-to-mouth kind of lifestyle. Despite our lives of luxury compared to this, Allah most High has given us the tools to live with patience and gratitude wherever in the world we are, whatever situation we are in, whomsoever we are surrounded by, and we need to demonstrate these noble attributes in all situations. It is narrated from ‘A’isha that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The friend of Allah (wali) has been predisposed to two things: generosity and good character” (Abu al-Shaykh). These two are requirements for anyone seeking wilaya with Allah. One can only be generous if he has reliance on Allah. We love our wealth and we don’t want to let it go as we do not have that kind of reliance. This may be the very thing that is holding us back and preventing us reaching the level of wilaya with Allah most High.
How do we get rid of this bukhl and miserliness? The scholars suggest to us to read the books of hadith about the consequences and punishments of greed and miserliness, to ponder over them and to instill in ourselves a sense of fear and shame. Furthermore, we can read about and long for the rewards of those who are generous and spend in the way of Allah. We can also try thinking about someone who we see to be more miserly than ourselves. Think about how you regard their attitude, how their behaviour and actions make you feel – this kind of character is held in contempt by us and leaves us with a negative feeling. Through self-reflection we realise that we too will be seen like this by others and do not wish to have these traits within us, thus we need to actively get rid of them. To this end, we should try to give on a regular basis – perhaps weekly. Maybe if this is difficult and you will forget, you can easily set up a direct debit for £30 or £50 where money will automatically come out of your account to a set charity, but we should also try to physically give with our own hand from time to time. It is mentioned in various hadiths that spending in the way of Allah removes a bad death, and removes poverty – how amazing is the promise of Allah!
As well as bukhl towards others, we also have to address the issue of israf (wastefulness) and tabdheer (extravagance) upon ourselves. We are forbidden to spend money on things such as gambling, haram items and the like. However even in those things which are permissible, we should also take care not to spend beyond what is deemed as socially acceptable, for example, buying excessive food which will go to waste. Furthermore, an even worse form of stinginess is to not even spend on yourself, due to the love of your money and wish to hoard it, which prevents us from things such as going for ‘umrah due to a desire to amass this wealth. We must aim for i’tidal, the way of moderation and balance between these extremes. Indeed in the Qur’an Allah most High states: “And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly] moderate” (Qur’an 25:67).
May Allah give us tawfiq and open our hearts to follow these advices, and to actively go out and spend in the way of Allah.
Transcribed by Zahira Omar
Edited by Mirina Paananen