This worldly life, our test, is embellished with innumerable divine bounties, disclosures to the wise of the power and greatness of Allah the Almighty. These bounties may inspire people to become better servants. They may also produce discord and disappointment, if servants remain negligent. It would be utterly profligate to waste the bounties entrusted to us by Allah by using them contrary to their proper aim, or for the sake of selfish desires and devilish ambitions.
Certainly Allah the Almighty put all things between the heavens and the earth under the dominion of humanity. But he also told us that people shall be held responsible for these bounties in the Hereafter. Indeed, Allah tells us in the noble Qur’an:
Then, shall you be questioned that Day about the profits (you took!).(at-Takâthur, 102/8)
You shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves…(Âl-Imrân, 3/186)
Did you then think that We had created you in vain, and that you would not be brought back to Us (for accounting)? (Mu’minûn, 23/115)
The most upsetting kind of profligacy (which means wastefulness and violation of rightful limits) is the one that results from transgressing the boundaries set by Allah, and thus exchanging eternal happiness in the Hereafter for disappointment.
Out of ignorance, people usually think that wastefulness only concerns excessive consumption of material goods, and thus they apply the concept only within a narrow framework. However, just as wastefulness in the disposal of material goods is forbidden, so wastefulness in the disposal of spiritual goods is forbidden as well. Furthermore, profligacy concerning spiritual goods brings heavier responsibilities and may lead to disappointment.
Among the most important areas in which people behave wastefully both materially and spiritually are those that occur in the course of daily earning, spending, and charity.
Allah has determined the sustenance of all His servants. In fact, in the Qur’an Allah explains that the sustenance of people is guaranteed:
I have only created jinn and men so that they may serve Me. No sustenance do I require of them, nor do I require that they should feed Me. For Allah is He Who gives (all) Sustenance, Lord of Power, Steadfast (for ever).(Zâriyât, 51/56-58)
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). (`Ankabût, 29/60)
There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance depends on Allah: He knows the time and place of its definite abode and its temporary placement. All is in a clear record.(Hûd, 11/6)
In these verses Allah the Almighty assures us that His knowledge, power, and mercy are infinite. Indeed, we are unable even to imagine the number of animals living under the darkness of the soil, in hidden corridors of the earth, and deep down in the oceans. But Allah’s knowledge comprehends everything concerning them and guarantees their food and livelihood. So while we seek after our own sustenance, we must contemplate how we might establish companionship of heart with the ultimate Provider: Allah the Almighty, who provides sustenance for all.
The fact that Allah the Almighty guarantees the sustenance of creatures is an indication of divine power. This is stated elegantly in a saying of the Prophet (pbuh) : “Don’t give up your hopes of sustenance as long as you can lift your head. For man is born from his mother naked, and scarlet from head to toe. Afterwards Allah, the mighty and exalted, provides a wide range of sustenance for him.” (Ibn Mâja, Zuhd, 14). He also said, “Allah is very rich. What human beings eat and drink subtracts nothing from his wealth. He is very generous, and bestows His bounties endlessly, day and night. Think what Allah has bestowed upon creatures since the creation of the heavens and the earth! None of it has decreased His wealth.” (Bukhârî, Tawhid, 22).
Knowing this, if we worry too much about obtaining our sustenance and exaggerate our efforts in that regard, we are only allowing free sway to an anxiety originating from our lower soul, and one must keep clear of such anxieties. Only in relevant ways and through lawful means should we try our best to obtain the sustenance allotted us by Allah. We must consider the results of our lawful efforts as the decision of Allah, recognize them to be what is best for us, and accept them. If we succumb to unreasonable worries regarding the acquisition of sustenance and forget the Provider, of if we pursue unlawful means in order to gain more than we have, we are transgressing the limits and falling into profligacy.
At the same time, we must beware assuming that since Allah has decreed our sustenance from eternity, we are not in need of making any efforts. Such pernicious thinking that urges people to laziness also issues from the narrow focus of the lower soul. Such thinking, in trying to keep away from unreasonable worry, only passes to the other extreme
Allah the Almighty describes the situation in the Hereafter of those who transgress the divinely set limits through greed and avarice, and devote themselves to loving the wealth of this world.
Who piled up wealth and laid it by, thinking that his wealth would make him last forever? By no means! He will be sure to be thrown into That which Breaks to Pieces. And what will explain to you That which Breaks to Pieces? (It is) the Fire of (the wrath of) Allah kindled (to a blaze), which leaps up to the hearts. It shall close in on them, as if they were bound to outstretched columns.(Humazah 104/2-9)
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) expressed concern that his community might fall into extravagance by abandoning proper behavior in the pursuit of wealth. He said, “I fear that after I leave you, you will be presented with the flowers (goods) and ornaments of the world (and you may fall in love with them)!” (Bukhârî, Zakâh, 47)
It is not acceptable for us to become so occupied with earning our livelihood that we neglect private prayers and community services. It is also not acceptable to go to the other extreme and become indifferent and lazy concerning the livelihood of our families, so that they are in danger of falling into deprivation and ruin. The acceptable and blessed way, free from extravagance, is one that does not drive people to neglect performance of their ritual acts, nor damages anyone’s wellbeing, but provides a balanced order of work leading to lawful sustenance that brings happiness to the family.
On the other hand, it is worth pursuing the wealth of this world in order to give charity to the weak, those who live unprotected and under poor conditions. The possessor of such wealth may reach inner peace and the happiness of the Hereafter, for generosity and mercy belong among the character traits of the faithful.
Mercy is the most precious fruit of faith. Mercy is manifested most clearly when we try our best, using all lawful means, to help people in need recover from deprivation. We pass the bounties bestowed upon us by Allah along to the needy as charity.
How beautiful is the expression of Mawlânâ! “This worldly life is a dream. To become rich in this world is like finding a treasure in a dream. The wealth of this world remains in it, transmitted from one generation to the other.”
If we leave all our wealth to our heirs and descendants, we do not know what will become of it. They may lack proper spiritual training, and we cannot guess how they will spend their inheritance. Accumulating family wealth means assuming a heavy responsibility in the Hereafter. Such an undertaking may be unwise, for sound reasons. The Qur’an warns:
…And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah. Announce unto them a most grievous penalty. (at-Tawbah, 9/34)
Our Prophet (pbuh) one day asked his Companions: “Which of you loves the wealth of his heirs more than his own wealth?”
His Companions replied, “O Messenger of Allah! We all love our own wealth more than the wealth of our heirs!”
Then the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Whatever a person sends ahead of him to the Hereafter, by spending it on charity, is his own (true) wealth. Whatever he doesn’t spend is left behind and becomes the wealth of his heirs!” (Bukhârî, Riqâq 12)
Shaykh Sa’dî gave the following advice regarding the proper management of riches. “Don’t think that by piling up money, your status will rise! Water that doesn’t flow, stinks. Try to forgive and give charity. The heavens open to help the flowing water; by rains and by floods they support it. Intelligent people take their property with them when they depart to the other world. (That is, they give it as charity when they are alive to obtain divine acceptance). It is only miserly people who miss their property so much that they leave it behind them here!”
Abû Hurayrah related that a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked him, “O Messenger of Allah! Which alms will earn the most reward?”
Our Prophet (pbuh) replied, “The greatest reward belongs to the alms given when you are strong, powerful, healthy, and have some wish to hold on to them, since you are either afraid of becoming poor or desirous of becoming wealthy. Don’t postpone giving alms until you feel close to death, and then start saying, ‘This much shall be given to so-and-so, and that much shall be given to so-and-so! ‘Indeed at that moment your property has already been claimed by your inheritors.” (Bukhârî, Zakâh 11)
Abdullah ibn Shihhîr related: “One day the Messenger of Allah was reciting the Qur’anic chapter at-Takâthur. When he completed his recitation, he said: “The children of Adam keep saying, ‘My property, my property!’ O children of Adam! Do you have any property other than what you have consumed by eating it and wearing it, or by sending it to the Hereafter in advance by giving it as charity, so that you may be rewarded for it there?” (Muslim, Zuhd, 3-4).
Again, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said, “If one of you reaches the morning with life and possessions so secure that you have your health and a daily meal, you are like someone to whom the whole world has been given.” (Tirmidhî, Zuhd, 34)
And, “How happy is the one who was led to the straight path of Islam, who has sufficient livelihood and is satisfied with what he has!” (Tirmidhî, Zuhd, 35)
And, “A person who surrenders to Allah, has a bare livelihood, and is thankful has certainly attained salvation.” (Muslim, Zakâh, 125)
Abû Umâmah `Iyâs ibn Tha’labah said, “Once, in the Prophet’s presence, his Companions were talking about worldly affairs. The Messenger of Allah remarked, “Don’t you hear, don’t you hear? Pursuing a simple life is part of having faith! Pursuing a simple life is part of having faith!.” (Abû Dâwûd, Tarajjul, 2)
Indeed, recalling Tha’labah provides an occasion for mature believers to take heed. He began as virtuous man, but was caught up in the craving for worldly wealth. He did not pay attention to the warnings and guidance of the Prophet, and finally ended sadly through the intoxication of wealth.
Our Prophet (pbuh) declared, “The son of Adam may lay claim to nothing but a house to inhabit, a cloth to cover his body, a piece of bread to eat, and a cup of water.” (Tirmidhî, Zuhd, 30)
The Messenger of Allah advised the faithful to pursue a life without waste, to be content with what they had, and to be moderate. He lived in this way himself, as an example to his community. His mode of life is reflected in this prayer of his: “O my Lord! May you provide as sustenance to the family of Muhammad exactly what will suffice.” (Bukhârî, Riqâq, 17)
It is well known that the causes behind the spiritual crisis of our time are unlawful earnings, violation of the rights of others, lack of contentment with one’s possessions, and the craving for earning more. In order to eliminate these negative motives, people must be mindful of the Islamic principles warning us against infringing the rights of others and encouraging us to earn our livelihood in lawful ways.
Certainly, whether your wealth is earned lawfully or unlawfully affects your dealings with Allah and your dealings with others. Therefore it affects your fate. Lawful or unlawful income is also frequently found to be the issue underpinning either the positive or the negative behavior of our children. If we want ideal children free from negative and base influences, we must make sure that our wealth is earned lawfully.
If hearts constantly observe Allah’s commands and the tradition of the Messenger, they will demand lawful sustenance, and bodies nourished on such sustenance become a source of light and goodness. As for bodies that are polluted by unlawful food or food of doubtful origins, they will become a source of evil. Consequently, those who love the Prophet (pbuh) will follow his advice. They will keep away from extravagance as well as miserliness and will be careful to earn their sustenance by lawful means. Following the Prophet’s illumined path, they will enjoy the happiness of keeping company with him in the Hereafter.
Be aware that needs and requirements differ from one age to another. Needs should be satisfied according to their level of urgency. If we are giving money and effort in charity but not satisfying actual needs, such actions are classified as a kind of wastefulness, merely because of our failure to estimate true needs. For example, when a society badly needs educated people of faith with a sense of dignity, people who love their fellow Muslims, if we spend our charity elsewhere, we are wasting it. In a period when implementation of religious principle and development of spiritual feeling alike are weakening, the most urgent need is to support them and make an effort to increase the level of religious, moral, and spiritual education.
Believers must develop their ability to identify need. Allah the Exalted explains the importance of making sure that charity is given to the neediest Thus He says in the noble Qur’an:
(Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause, are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (for trade or work). The ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. You shall know them by their faces… (Baqarah, 2/73)
While there are so many people who are needy, it is immoderate to give people we know personally more than they require. That is, we must give charity to the needy strictly according to their need.
Mawlânâ Jalâluddîn Rûmî remarked:
There are many wealthy men who, if they were to refrain from giving charity to the undeserving, would profit more from their restraint than they do from their charity. Spend the property bestowed by Allah upon you according to the divine rules! Giving charity without proper grounds makes you into a rebellious slave who gives the king’s property to bandits while pretending to be generous.
Those who are in charge of maintaining humanitarian foundations and associations must be particularly aware of this principle and extremely careful when they deliver charity to the needy.
There is another important point to which we should pay attention. A certain behavior undertaken in different circumstances may appear to be the same both times, yet it will be counted differently according to the situation. While certain acts may be counted as profligate when performed by one person, the same acts may be counted otherwise when performed by another person, for people have different opportunities regarding both the spiritual and the material bounties they possess. Consequently, the responsibility of each person to Allah depends on that person’s capacities. In the noble Qur’an, Allah declares:
On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear…(Baqarah, 2/286).
So we see that according to the divine measurement, no person’s responsibility is equal to anyone else’s.
A developed human being should give the greatest amount of charity possible according to his or her opportunity and possession. Certainly we are all are under obligation, and will be held responsible for the good works that we might have done, yet held back from doing.
Still, in any society there will be people who may be doing less than their opportunities would oblige them to do. If we compare our own actions to the actions of such people and consider ourselves generous by comparison, that comparison may not be sound. This is why we should compare our own level of generosity to the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Companions. We should make their behavior our criteria for assessing acts of charity, and try to imitate them. Those who appear generous in the eyes of men may not be so in the eyes of Allah.
May Allah the Almighty lead us to refrain from the unlawful and suspect in all affairs! May He preserve our hearts from inclining toward either extravagance or miserliness! May He grant that we use all His bounties in accordance with His consent, and let us come into His presence with shining faces and peace of mind!