Kanaat and istigna (Contentedness and being free from want)

Kanaat, or contentedness is to be pleased with what Allah has decreed, to suffice with what is enough, to meet one’s needs with the minimum of standards and to suffice with whatever material wealth one has been given. It is not to covet what others have, thereby eliminating greed.

Human beings have come to this world in order to be tried and tested and thus should not forget the purpose in their creation and become anxious about their provision using all of their opportunities to gain wealth. One should strive to turn the property and opportunities that Allah has bestowed into capital for the hereafter. Because Allah Most High has taken on the responsibility of the provision of all of His creatures upon Himself, and has desired that they be content and free of want. Allah says in the Qur’an:

There is no creature on the earth which is not dependent upon Allah for its provision.’ (Hud, 11:6)

And We put livelihoods in it both for you and for those you do not provide for’ (Hijr, 15:20)

‘How many creatures do not carry their provision with them! Allah provides for them and He will for you. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing’(Al-ankebut, 29:60).

‘So seek your provision from Allah’(Al-Ankebut, 29:17).

This is Our provision which will never run out’ (Sa’d, 38:54).

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) praised contented people as follows:

“Prosperous is the Muslim who has been given sufficient provision and is content with the bounties that Allah has bestowed upon him”.(Muslim, Zakat, 125)

Again the Prophet (pbuh) used to pray:

“O Allah! Make the provision of the family of Muhammad just enough to meet their needs”(Muslim, Zakat, 126)

A rich person who is yet unsatisfied is more restless and suffers more distress than does a poor and needy person. For however much wealth he gains, he is never full, and always wants more. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) has described the state of those who are poor in terms of contentedness as follows:

“Even if mankind were to have a valley full of gold, he would desire another. Nothing will satisfy him other than the dry earth. However, Allah accepts the repentance of the one who repents” (Bukhari, Rikak, 10; Muslim, Zakat 116-119)

Thus one must repent of the sin of dissatisfaction. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised people in this situation as follows:

“Whenever one of you looks at another who is superior to you, let him also turn his glance to those who are below him.”(Bukhari, Rikak, 30)

Luqman Hakim gives the following advice:

“My child! Do not occupy your heart with worries and sorrow. Beware of greed and avarice. Accept what has been decreed for you. Be content with what Allah has provided for you and your life will improve, your heart will become full of joy and you will receive pleasure from life”

However let us not misunderstand contentedness as if Islam recommends abandoning work and being lazy and falling to a position in which one becomes dependent on others. Contentedness is a matter of the heart and of the character. The Muslim should earn his livelihood from what is lawful and pure and perform his financial duty and give out to the needy around him.

Another beautiful virtue is istigna, or being free from want. Istigna means being satisfied, having wealth of the heart, being content with what Allah has provided, not expecting anything from others and not presenting one’s needs to others. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has said:

“The Angel Gabriel came to me and said: “O Muhammad! Live as long as you like, for in the end you will die. Love whatever you like, but in the end you will have to part from whatever it is. Strive for whatever you like, and in the end you will see its result. Know this, that the honour of the believer is in his standing in prayer in the night; his dignity is that his is free from asking from others”.(Hakim, IV, 360-361/7921).

Istigna is a characteristic of the heart of those righteous and sincere people who have freed themselves from their basic nature and have reached perfection. It is wealth of the heart. It is to avoid lowering oneself and coveting what others have and being content with what one does have.

In another hadith, it has been said that: “Contentment is a treasure that never runs out” (Daylami, III, 236/4699). Thus as required by this hadith, istigna is when the heart reaches a state of peace by becoming spiritually wealthy as a result of moving closer to Allah. A heart that has been enriched with istigna and contentedness finds peace from all worldly anxieties and fears. The spirit perceives eternity and for the believer the attraction of fleeting pleasures meets its end. Allah Most High renders him free from want of everything but Himself, through His attribute of ‘Al-Mugni’[1].

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has said:

“Whoever finds himself in need and discloses this need to others, his need will never end. But whoever discloses his need to Allah, it is hoped that Allah will provide for him either immediately or later”.(Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 18/2326; Abu Dawud, Zakat 28/1645)

Istigna is not just about property, wealth and fortune. It is to preserve the heart from being occupied with all creatures and preoccupations that make one ignorant of one’s Lord.

Scenes of Virtue

From time to time the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), who was the most content of people, would make his Companions promise not to ask for anything from anyone. Sawban  narrates:

“One time the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Whoever promises me that he will not ask for anything from people, I will guarantee him Paradise”

I then said to him:

“I promise”

Sawban (r.a), the Companion who narrated this hadith says that after that he never asked for anything from anyone his entire life. (Abu Dawud, Zakat, 27/1643)

This hadith expresses the virtue of being able to remain independent of other people. Maruf-i Karhi has said, indicating the great sensitivity of tasawwuf on the matter of contentedness and istigna as follows:

Tasawwuf is to receive the truth and to abandon one’s desire for what other people have”

***

The following event narrated by Awf ibn Malik (r.a), is noteworthy in terms of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) teaching his Companions about contentedness and istigna:

“A group of seven or eight of us were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He asked us:

“Are you not going to make a pact with the Messenger of Allah?” Whereas we had just recently made a pact. We said:

“O Messenger of Allah! We already made a pact with you”. Then he asked again:

“Will none of you make a pact with the Messenger of Allah?” Again we replied:

“O Messenger of Allah! We already made a pact with you”. The Prophet repeated his question:

Will you not make a pact with the Messenger of Allah?”. This time we held out our hands and said:

“O Messenger of Allah! We already made a pact with you. Now what is it that you wish us to make a pact about?” The Prophet replied:

“Pledge that you will worship Allah and not associate any partners with Him, that you will pray five times a day, that you will obey, and –then lowering his voice, he said– that you will never ask for anything from anyone”. I swear that I saw some people from this group who, if their whip fell while they were astride their horse, they would not ask anyone to give it to them”. (Muslim, Zakat, 108)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) repeated his words three times and lowered his voice, thus indicating the importance of the matter.

***

Whenever Abu Bakr (r.a) used to drop the reigns of his camel, he would immediately stop his camel to fetch them himself. Those around him would say:

“Had you commanded us to we would have gotten it for you”.

Abu Bakr (r.a) gave the following reply:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) ordered me never to ask for anything from anyone” (Ahmad, I, 11).

***

Amr ibn Taglib (r.a) narrates:

“Booty – or slaves – were once brought to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). From these he gave to some and did not give to others. However when word reached him of the talk of those who were not given anything, he praised Allah and then he said:

“I swear by Allah that I give to some and I do not give to others. In actual fact, those to whom I do not give are more pleasing to me than those to whom I do give. I gave to some people in whose hearts I saw impatience and greed. And I left to themselves those in whose hearts I saw contentedness and goodness. Amr ibn Taglib is one of those”.

Amr ibn Taglib (r.a) then said:

“I swear by Allah that these words that the Prophet spoke about me were more precious to me than the whole world” (Bukhari, Jum’a 29, Humus 19, Tawheed 49).

***

Umar (r.a) narrates:

“From time to time, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would give me a salary for having served in battle and I would say to him:

“Could you not give this to someone needier than me”. Allah’s Messenger would reply:

Take this. You can take money that is given to you without you having coveted or desired it. Obtain money for yourself and if you so wish you can then give it away. However, do not seek money that is otherwise”(Bukhari, Zakat, 51).

***

When the tribe of Bani Tujib wished to return to their country after visiting the Prophet, he was more generous in his offerings to them than to the other tribes and he asked them:

Is there anyone left amongst you who has not received anything”

“Yes, we left behind a youth who is the youngest of us to look after our mounts”, they replied. Allah’s Messenger said to them:

Send him here”. When they returned to their mounts they said to the youth:

“Go to the Messenger of Allah and receive your gift. We have taken ours and farewelled him”. When the youth arrived next to the Prophet, he said to him:

“O Messenger of Allah. I am from the tribe of the sons of Abza. I am from the group that was just with you, for whom you granted their wish. Would you grant my wish too?” The Prophet replied:

“What do you wish?”

“O Messenger of Allah. My wish is not like that of my friends. I want you to pray for me that Allah forgives me, that he deals with me mercifully, and that he enriches my heart”

The Prophet then said:

O Allah. Forgive him, deal with him mercifully. Enrich his heart!” Then he commanded that he also be given a gift just like the others.

The tribe of Bani Tujib returned to their country. A group from this community met with the Prophet at Mina during the season of Hajj. They said to him:

“We are from the tribe of the sons of Abza”. The Prophet, who was a model of loyalty asked them:

What is that youth that came with you last year doing?”

“O Messenger of Allah. We have never seen someone more content with the provision that Allah gave him. If people were to divide the world amongst themselves that youth would not even condescend to it”, they replied. The Prophet listened to these words with pleasure, praised Allah and prayed for good for the youth.

With his behaviour this youth became a model of virtue amongst his people. He continued to live his life as a servant of Allah, who gave no value to this world and who was fully content with the provision that Allah gave him. After the Prophet (pbuh) died, he was foremost in reminding the people of Yemen who had turned back from Islam about Allah and their religion. Because of him there was not one person from his tribe who turned back from their religion. After that Abu Bakr  was to investigate that youth. He asked about him and he wrote a letter to the governor of that region, advising him to treat him well. (Ibn Qayyim, III, 650-652; Ibn Sa’d, I, 323).

***

The pact of brotherhood between the Emigrants who had migrated from Mecca to Madina, and the Ansar of Madina was a unique scene the likes of which history has never seen. It was such that the Ansar of Madina declared all of their wealth and put it forward to be distributed equally amongst their Emigrant brothers. In response, the Emigrants, whose hearts were treasures of contentedness, displayed a lack of want and were able to say:

“May your property and wealth be blessed for you, my brother, just show me the path to the market, that will be enough” (Bukhari, Buyu, 1).

***

One day a poor man from the Muslims of Madina came to the Prophet and asked him for something to eat.

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) asked him:

“Have you nothing in your house?”

The man replied:

“Yes. We have a cloth, a part of which we cover ourselves and a part of which we use to cover the floor, and we have an urn of water”

The Prophet (pbuh) replied:

Bring them to me”. The man brought his cloth and urn of water. The Prophet took them in his hand and asked those about him:

“Who would like to buy these?”

One of the Companions said that he would give one dirham for them. The Prophet called out a few times:

“Is there no one who will give more?”

He then sold them to a Companion who offered two dirhams. He gave the poor man the money and said:

Go and buy food for your family with this dirham. With the remaining money go and buy an axe and bring it to me”.

When the man returned with an axe, the Prophet attached a handle with his own hands and said to him:

Now, off you go. Chop wood with this and sell it. Work like this for fifteen days and then come back to me

The poor man returned to the Prophet fifteen days later. He had earned ten dirhams and was able to buy clothes and food for himself and his family.

The Prophet was very pleased at this and said to him:

This is much better for you than having your begging be a taint for you on the Day of Judgement…” (Abu Dawud, Zakat, 26/1641; Ibn Majah, Tijarah, 25)

A Muslim must perceive the virtue in giving his fellow believer a profession. And needy Muslims must remain free of want from other people and strive to work in the direction showed by the Messenger of Allah.

***

Abu Said (r.a) was one of the Companions who used to tie a rock to his stomach to suppress his hunger. His mother said to him:

“Rise and go to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Ask him for something. Such and such went to the Messenger of Allah, and he came to his aid. And such and such went also, and he was also given bounty. Come now, you go too. Maybe you will return with some good”.

Abu Said (r.a) replied to his mother:

“Let us wait a while and look for something. If we can’t find anything, then we will go”. However much he looked he could not find anything to eat. Having no other choice, he decided to go to the Messenger of Allah. When he arrived in the presence of Allah’s Messenger, he found him giving a sermon and he began to listen to him. In his sermon the Prophet was speaking about the following:

Allah will make the one who shows lack of want and preserves his honour independent of all of creation…”

After hearing these words, Abu Said  could not bear to ask for anything from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and returned home empty handed. He tells of his state afterwards as follows:

“After I returned home from the Prophet empty-handed Almighty Allah sent us our provision, and our affairs were put into such order that there was no one from the Ansar who were richer than we were” (See Ahmad, III, 44).

This is the importance of being able to know our Lord well. The importance of knowing that our Lord is Al-Razzak, The Provider, who bestows provision on His servants and distributes it. The stronger our trust in, reliance upon and submission is to Him, the wealthier and more at peace will be our hearts.

***

Hakim ibn Hizam (r.a) narrates:

“I once went to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and asked him to give me a portion of the booty that they had obtained. He gave me one hundred camels. I asked him for some more and he gave me another one hundred camels. I asked him for more and again he gave me one hundred camels. Then he said to me:

“O Hakim! This wealth is truly attractive and sweet. It will be blessed for whoever takes it without feeling greed for it. Whoever takes it with greed and coveting it, it will not have any blessings for him. Such a person is like one who keeps eating and eating and is never satiated. The hand that gives is superior to the hand that takes”.

Upon this I said:

“O Messenger of Allah! I swear by Allah who sent you with the true religion that I will never accept anything from anyone other than you as long as I live”

Hakim  then took the first one hundred camels that the Prophet (pbuh) offered him and left the rest. The day came when (during his caliphate) Abu Bakr  was to distribute property from booty and he called Hakim  to him. However Hakim refrained from taking anything from him. Yet again (during his caliphate), Umar  invited Hakim  in order to distribute some booty to him. Again Hakim  did not accept anything. Following this Umar  then said to the people:

“Muslims. I ask you to look here at Hakim. I am giving him the share that Allah has allocated for him from this booty but he will not take it”. Thus it was that after the death of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), Hakim  never accepted anything from anyone. (Bukhari, Wasaya 9; Wakidi, III, 945).

This is a unique example of determination to be content with what one has, of being free of dependency on others and of love for the Prophet (pbuh)…

***

Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who was known for his asceticism and piety was once asked:

“Which is superior, wealth or poverty?”

He replied:

“Continue going to the market (that is, do your trade) and do not be dependent on others. I know of no greater virtue than being independent of people”

***

Ibrahim ibn Adham once saw a man complaining of poverty and said to him:

“Did they give you poverty without paying its price that you are now complaining of it?”

The man asked in surprise:

“O sir. Is there a price paid for poverty?”

Ibrahim ibn Adham then said:

“Yes. When I saw the value of poverty I willingly and happily gave the land of Belh in order to buy it”

The matter that is aimed at here is to be wealthy in terms of contentedness by breaking the greed of the nafs. The patient poor people and the grateful rich are equal in terms of Allah’s pleasure. The spiritual worth of poverty when it is borne with patience has no measure…

***

Abu Hazim was once asked:

“How much wealth do you have?”

“I have two things: the first is that I am content with Allah; and the second is that I am independent of people”.

“In that case you are poor”, it was said to him.

He replied:

“How can I be poor when the heavens and the earth and all that is between them belong to Allah, and I am His sincere servant?”

Real poverty is the heart which is heedless of Allah. A heart that has been given the bounty of being together with Allah is the richest heart in the world. And the one that is distant from Allah is the most deprived.

***

The following story reflects the virtue of contentedness and istigna and contains a lesson for us all:

One time during Ramadan when it was time to break the fast, a man whose face bore a nobility that people had never seen, arrived at a bakery. After the crowd had dispersed he said to the baker:

“My son. I was not able to earn my livelihood for today. Would you give me a quarter of a loaf of bread that I will pay for tomorrow if I am still alive?”

His voice was trembling and his face was red. The baker said to him:

“Of course sir; I will give you a whole loaf of bread. You don’t need to pay for it”. However that odd man said:

“No my child, one quarter is enough… Maybe three other needy people will come and ask for some bread. And anyway only a quarter of my face can blush. I cannot bear anymore than that. And my condition for taking the quarter is that I pay you for it tomorrow”.

The surprised baker gave him a quarter of a loaf. The man took the bread, kissing it and silently and slowly walked away. A dog appeared before him just up ahead. He was looking at the old man with begging eyes that revealed its hunger. That blessed radiant man said: “So, half of this is meant for you” and he gave half of the quarter to the dog. After that he walked off to the mosque. He broke his fast with what was left of the bread and some water. He thanked Allah for the bounties that He had bestowed upon him.

The next day a storekeeper said to him:

“Sir, take these water bottles and fill them up from that fountain and then carry this new stock inside”. The man then gave him one lira for this.

The peculiar old man immediately ran to the bakery and paid 25 cents for the quarter loaf. The baker did not want to take it but the radiant looking man insisted and he could no longer resist; he was forced to accept the money with his eyes full of tears.

This is a person who was a model of contentedness and free of want. He was also a generous servant of Allah who was able to give some of his bread away, despite his poverty and did not withhold his compassion for Allah’s creatures.

***

The following are two examples of contentedness and istigna that we witnessed at the Foundation of Aziz Mahmud Hudayi in Istanbul:

Our Foundation was in the process of giving aid to a mother and her son. The son was paralysed but had finished university. One day the mother came to the Foundation and thanking us she said:

“I am no longer going to receive any help from you. You may help people who may be more needy than I am, because my son has now passed away. With the last amount of money I received I was able to pay for my son’s funeral. Now however I am left on my own. And I can look after myself. Please give the money that you would have given me to a needy family that may be in our former position”.

Another family we were in the process of aiding was a family from Holland. The mother had lost her husband and her children were left orphaned. One day she wrote a letter thanking our Foundation in which was written:

“I have now paid back my husband’s debts. I have saved him from being indebted to other people. I am now able to get by with my own efforts”.

And so, dignity has nothing to do with wealth nor poverty; real dignity is a jewel that lies in the heart.

***

The servant of Allah must never be in a state of dependency on others, but neither should he act independent of the bounty that comes to him from Allah. The following hadith explains this well:

“The Prophet Ayyub (upon whom be peace) had taken off his robe to wash it when a pile of gold pieces fell down before him. He immediately began to fill his robe with them. Upon this Allah Most High called to him:

“O Ayyub! Did I not free you from this desire for the world that I see in you now?” Ayyub responded:

“I swear by Your Dignity that indeed You did my Lord. However I am not free of want of the blessings that come to me from You”. (Bukhari, Ghusul, 20).

***

Hasan Basri once prayed to Allah Most High:

“O Allah! Enrich me by making me needy for You. And do not impoverish me by making me independent of You”. (Baqillani, I’jazu al-Qur’an, Beirut 1998, p 107).

***

In short, the Prophet (pbuh) declared that true wealth is determined by wealth of the heart and not with property.[2] Thus everyone is rich according to the degree of their contentedness and istigna. Contentedness is, according to the hadith, a treasure that never depletes[3]. True believers are those who possess this bounty of wealth and give it away.

 

[1].     Al Mugni is one of the Divine Names of Allah and means ‘The One Who enriches’ (Translator’s note)

[2].     Ahmad, II, 389

[3].     Bayhaqi, Kitabu az-Zuhd, Beirut 1996, II 88)