Abu Hāzim said: “I found the whole world in two things: the first is my sustenance and the second is the sustenance of another person. My sustenance will catch me even if I rode the wind and flew away. And if I tried to take someone else’s sustenance, even if I rode the wind after it, I would never be able to catch it.”
Deprivation, poverty, and not being able to find any livelihood or sustenance are some of the fears that burden the minds of human beings, often causing them great anxiety. Sustenance (rizq) constitutes a central point in the program of one’s fate. It starts from the stage of human formation in the mother’s womb, and continues until the time of death in accordance with one’s destiny. The time of death is, in a sense, the point at which our acquisition of sustenance ends.
All creatures’ sustenance has been predetermined; it neither increases nor decreases from what has been ordained. Holding fast to the means of earning sustenance (tawassul bil‑asbāb) produces results only if such has been foreordained by Allah. The following verse states this very clearly:
وَمَا مِن دَآبَّةٍ فِي الأَرْضِ إِلاَّ عَلَى اللّهِ رِزْقُهَا وَيَعْلَمُ مُسْتَقَرَّهَا وَمُسْتَوْدَعَهَا كُلٌّ فِي كِتَابٍ مُّبِينٍ
“There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependent on Allah.” (Hūd, 11:6)
Allah grants every individual creature’s share of sustenance. Because of that the friends of Allah hear expressions of gratitude for the blessings of Allah even in the songs of nightingales on rosewood trees. The following verse states how Allah Almighty provides even the sustenance of the wounded and disabled, and those who cannot properly obtain their own sustenance:
وَكَأَيِّن مِن دَابَّةٍ لَا تَحْمِلُ رِزْقَهَا اللَّهُ يَرْزُقُهَا وَإِيَّاكُمْ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
“How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance? It is Allah who feeds (both) them and you: For He hears and knows (all things).” (‘Ankabūt, 29:60)
It is also important to be aware of the diversity in the distribution of sustenance in the world. This diversity creates order and harmony in society rather than causing division and conflict. The Qur’an demonstrates that all worldly possessions ultimately belong to Allah and that they are distributed in accordance with the divine knowledge we call foreordained destiny (qada’ and qadar).
Believers should believe that any diversity in the distribution of sustenance is in their favor. If the order of life were left to the weak device of human beings, whose perception is warped by their desires, ambitions and limitations, it would create anarchy in the universe. Allah states in the Qur’an:
أَهُمْ يَقْسِمُونَ رَحْمَةَ رَبِّكَ نَحْنُ قَسَمْنَا بَيْنَهُم مَّعِيشَتَهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَرَفَعْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِيَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُهُم بَعْضًا سُخْرِيًّا وَرَحْمَتُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ مِّمَّا يَجْمَعُونَ
“Is it they who would portion out the mercy of your Lord? It is We Who portion out between them their livelihood in the life of this world: And We raise some of them above others in ranks, so that some may command work from others. But the mercy of your Lord is better than the (wealth) which they amass.” (Zukhruf, 43:32)
The distribution of sustenance among creatures in this universe is one of the signs of Allah’s sovereignty and power. At any time of the day, dining tables are well prepared for the creatures flying in the air, walking on land, or swimming in the sea. Moreover, generally, one being can notnourish itself with the food created for another being. In other words, the food for all creatures is diversified depending on their different environments and needs. This division of sustenance – as unlimited as the number of creatures in the universe, each fed differently one by one! – is the ultimate manifestation of wisdom, power, and sovereignty. Similarly, it is stated in another verse in the Qur’an:
أَوَلَمْ يَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَن يَشَاء وَيَقْدِرُ إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
“Know they not that Allah enlarges provision or restricts it for any He pleases? Verily, in this are signs for those who believe!” (Zumar, 39:52)
The Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) says in this respect: “Whenever one of you looks at someone above their station, let them also look at someone below their station. This is necessary for you in order that you not to look down on the favors of Allah.” (Bukhārī, Muslim, Tirmidhī)
Therefore the happiness and delight of our lives depend upon the belief that the share that was provided for us is best for us. There are so many events that appear to be misfortune at first sight, but their outcomes are really good fortune, just like poverty leading to Paradise. Likewise, there are so many events that appear to be good fortune at first, but their results are sad disappointment, such as wealth not spent in charity but instead upon cheap desires. Allah states:
كُلُوا مِن طَيِّبَاتِ مَا رَزَقْنَاكُمْ وَلَا تَطْغَوْا فِيهِ فَيَحِلَّ عَلَيْكُمْ غَضَبِي وَمَن
يَحْلِلْ عَلَيْهِ غَضَبِي فَقَدْ هَوَى
“Eat of the good things We have provided for your sustenance, but commit no excess therein, lest My wrath should descend on you: and those on whom My wrath descends do perish!” (Ta-Ha, 20:81)
In the light of all these truths, the believer’s submission to Allah’s distribution of sustenance is a way for his or her eternal happiness. Since sustenance was divided by the Creator before the human being was created, man should be in complete resignation to Allah so that he is able to enjoy the sustenance predestined for him and feel the taste of believing in destiny. It is stated in a hadith qudsī:
Allah, the Almighty, has commanded his angels in charge of the division of sustenance that: “If you find a servant of Mine who has completely focussed his or her concern on the hereafter, guarantee for that person the favors of heaven and earth! When you find a servant of Mine looking for his or her sustenance with fairness (without leaving the straight path) behave well with him and make his path easy!” (Nawadir al-Usul)
This hadith explicitly shows that when a servant focuses his or her desires and intentions only to Allah, obeys His commands, worships Him only for His sake, and becomes a sincere and devoted believer, he/she is guaranteed the blessings of heaven and earth. Allah Almighty generously creates the reasons by which they will obtain their sustenance. This fact is stated in the following verse:
وَمَن يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَل لَّهُ مَخْرَجًا وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لا يَحْتَسِبُ
“And for those who fear Allah, He (ever) prepares a way out, and He provides for him from (sources) he never could expect.” (Talāq, 65:2‑3)
In addition, the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) states: “If you put your faith exclusively in Allah, He will bestow on you your sustenance in the same way He provides for the birds. They go out in the morning with their stomachs empty and return filled in the evening. (Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah)
Species like ants, which stock food in the summer for the winter, are very rare. It is a known fact that other animals, although they do not prepare for winter like an ant does, can survive the severe conditions of winter and reach spring safe and sound. How can the Creator forget His creations’ sustenance in this perfect divine order which was established under His divinity and sovereignty?! However, laziness, stinginess, envy, not wanting to have children, etc. are wrong and blameworthy behavior regarding our sustenance in this world.
As stated above, Islam teaches that everybody’s share of sustenance is predetermined, neither increasing nor decreasing at any point in time. Allah, Who created everything that exists, has granted every creature a living term and determined a sufficient amount of sustenance for this period. The life of a human, every breath taken and every single morsel consumed, is completely fixed within the panel of destiny and encoded in Adam’s (upon him blessings and peace) descendants (dhurriyyah). But working to obtain the necessary allotted sustenance is also commanded upon the believers. Therefore, obeying the divine commands and working for sustenance are among our obligations. In other words, the distribution of pre-determined sustenance had been tied to the precondition of our labor. “Take the necessary measures, so do not then falsely blame predestination,” says a famous Turkish proverb. Allah Almighty has equipped us with divine faculties such as willpower, entrepreneurship, responsibility, resignation and discernment. Ignoring these rules is in fact a form of rebellion against Allah.
Protecting ourselves from danger is inherent in our nature, such as when we consult a doctor and take medicine when ill, or flee from a dangerous fire or earthquake. Striving to obtain one’s sustenance is a divine command in order to be protected from dangers. It is not incongruent with the belief in predestination. If it were, there would be no point in requiring servants to seek their sustenance. Disregarding the rules of causes is a revolt against Allah and a great sin. It is stated in the Qur’an:
وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَى
“Man can have nothing but what he strives for.” (Najm, 53:39)
The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said: “For a man to take his rope and go into the forest to collect wood is better than to beg from people, whether or not people give him what he wants.” (Bukhārī)
According to Ibn al-Firāsī’s report, one day his father asked the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) “Messenger of Allah! Shall I ask from people what I need?” The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) replied: “Do not ask anyone! However if you must, then ask from righteous people!” (Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah)
Beside what we mentioned, Allah Almighty has appointed His creatures to be means for each other to acquire their sustenance. Looking after poor people, taking care of their needs and giving them part of what Allah has bestowed upon us is therefore great virtue and kindness. It is related that Gabriel (upon him peace) said, “If I had been from this world’s community I would have loved these three things most: Guiding those who lost their way, loving those who worship in poverty, and helping poor people who have to look after many children.”
Another important here is halāl (lawful) food obtained in legitimate ways – one of the greatest factors leading to one’s perfection.
Once Sahl b. Tustarī sold a sheep to a man. After a while the man brought the sheep back to Tustarī and said:
“I want you to take this sheep back, because it does not eat grass.”
Tustarī replied: “How do you know that?”
“I took her to a field to graze. She did not even have a single bit.”
“My friend! You must have done the wrong thing. It is not our animal’s habit to eat something that belongs to somebody else. Go and give her the fodder that you own.”
The man did as he was told and the sheep started to eat.
The Muslims’ sensitivity about gaining halāl food was even affecting their animals once.
Choosing halāl sustenance means the light of life, the joy of the heart, and the essence of worship. It is one of the leading factors in achieving a sound heart. Harām (unlawful) sustenance, however, is a poison which destroys one’s life, fire and disappointment of the heart. Humiliation in this world and in the hereafter, dishonor and calamity are all the terrible consequences of obtaining sustenance by illicit means.
Halāl possession and halāl nutrition are the means to reach Allah’s approval while unlawful gain and food are causes of great regret and disappointment for those who use them. When property and children obsess one’s heart, instead of it being reserved for Allah, the only result is sadness and despair. Rūmī explains this through the following example: “The water inside the ship sinks the ship. However, the water under the ship lifts it up. Because Solomon threw the love of worldly possessions out of his heart, he said ‘I am poor, and it behooves a poor man to be with the poor!’ and he reached a sublime position.”
Allah states in the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَنتُمُ الْفُقَرَاء إِلَى اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ
“O men! It is you that have need of Allah: but Allah is the One free of all wants, worthy of all praise.” (Fātir, 35:15)
That is why the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said about the belongings possessed only for the sake of religion and for Allah: “What a nice property it is which is spent for good!”
‘Umar b. Khattāb (may Allah be pleased with him) said the following prayer: “O Allah! Entrust abundant property to our benevolent people! It is hoped that they will help those in need among us.”
On the other hand, neither zakāh nor sadaqah (obligatory and voluntary charity) can originate in unlawful gain since it is not lawful property. Unlawful gain is a disgrace both in this world and in the hereafter. A lawful morsel fuels wisdom, learning and ma‘rifah or knowledge in the body, and arouses love of Allah and ardor in the heart.
Just as it is impossibile to harvest barley from a field where only wheat was sown, it is impossible to achieve spiritual perfection with a body fed with illicit nutrition. If the body is not nourished with halāl food, which gives human beings the power to know Allah, spiritual perfection in the heart and humility in worship are not attainable.
Contemplate the following hadith qudsi: “I feel ashamed to call to account those who refrained from harām food.”
It is therefore necessary to obtain sustenance by lawful means in this world. Only halāl food contains the power that keeps people on the straight path, equips them with divine wisdom, and guides them from the prison of the world to the light of Allah.
It should also be noted that there is a gray area in between the lawful and the unlawful. One needs to steer clear of it just as one would from the unlawful. Suspicious matters are like the private pasture of Allah, and whoever goes into that pasture will perish. The Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) said:
Both lawful and unlawful things are evident, but in between there are dubious matters of which most people have no knowledge. Whosoever saves himself from these dubious matters saves his religion and honor. And whoever indulges in these dubious matters falls into the unlawful. He/she is like a shepherd who grazes his flock near the private pasture of someone else and at any moment they are liable to enter it. Beware! Every king has a private pasture and the private pasture of Allah on earth is what He has declared illicit.
Rūmī draws attention to the fact that licit food fills people with spirituality (rūhaniyyah) and divine light (nūraniyyah):
There is no food for the human being other than divine light. The spirit cannot be nourished by any other means.
Little by little restrain yourself from the foods and drinks of this world! These are not the actual nutriments of a human being.
Try to gain competence in obtaining the nutriments of heaven! Prepare yourself for the morsel of divine light!
Heed the command of the Qur’an: “Seek the bounty of Allah!” (Jum‘a, 62:10)!
Beware lest the body not incline and submit, but instead become obdurate against Haqq (Truth) unless it feels hungry. Trying to subdue it while it is full is like trying to forge cold iron.
The nafs (lower self) resembles Pharaoh, who begged Moses (upon him blessings and peace) in the years of famine.
If you stay away from these crumbs, you will attain sublime and gracious sustenance.
Even if you eat tons of such spiritual food you will still walk as light as a feather.
Even if you eat from spiritual food as much as an ocean, you will still float like a ship.
The appetite of the stomach guides human to the hayloft, but the appetite of the heart guides human beings to fields of sweet basil.
An animal nourished with straw and barley ultimately becomes a sacrifice; those who are nourished with the light of haqq (truth) become a living Quran.
Give up your stomach and walk towards heart so that the peace of Allah comes to you!
Be aware that hunger is the basis of all remedies. Assimilate hunger with determination – do not scorn it!
Our expenses in this world are for the livelihood of our families and ourselves. However we must shun extravagance. Wealth and opportunities in this world are limited. They are entrusted to us by Allah, and we will be questioned about them in the hereafter. Spending them boorishly and thoughtlessly like today’s capitalist societies endangers the lives of future generations. Among all animals, only human beings do not easily become satisfied. A wild animal attacks a flock of sheep only to quell its hunger at that moment. It does not continue killing afterwards thinking that “it will eat it the next day!” It veritably becomes a friend of the other sheep in the herd. On the contrary, human beings have limitless desires. The first condition to save a person from his or her endless ambitions is to protect it from extravagace by inculcating it the firm belief that sustenance neither increases nor decreases. The Qur’an states:
وَإِن مِّن شَيْءٍ إِلاَّ عِندَنَا خَزَائِنُهُ وَمَا نُنَزِّلُهُ إِلاَّ بِقَدَرٍ مَّعْلُومٍ
“And there is not a thing but its inexhaustible sources and treasures are with Us; but We only send down thereof in due and appointed measures.” (Hijr, 15:21)
In this verse, it is explained that the division of sustenance is by divine will, and that ambition and greed are shut off from the intelligent person. The verse also states that sustenance is distributed by Allah. If we add up our new wishes and growing aspirations one after the other, this chain of desires are called worldly ambitions (tūl-i amal). These will only last until we reach the grave. Their consequences are disappointment and severe remorse. Worldly ambitions consist of limitless finite desires just like a shadow which disappears with the setting sun.
Sins darken the heart and make it deaf to reality: they desensitize the heart to the divine truth. In this respect, one of the causes of the illnesses of the heart is the consumption of unlawful foods. It has been narrated that the prayers of a person who ate illicit food will not be answered for forty days. The reason is that the circulation of a nutriment in the body takes forty days to complete. The above-mentioned report illustrates the ill effects of unlawful food on the spiritual well-being of the heart.
Thus, nourishment by unlawful means is a spiritual poison for the body. It is impossible to feel the good taste of worship in that state.
We should be alert where we spent the capital of our lives. We should prefer sound investment of our limited number of breaths to the goods of this world. We need to be like the travellers of virtue and truth, who give up the finite but embrace the infinite, preferring the right path to the path that leads to one’s destruction.
O Allah! Provide us with pure and lawful sustenance and make us successful through our good deeds!