All the gifts bestowed by our Lord upon His servants are evidences of His mercy, compassion and love. These divine offerings are sent by Allah the Almighty to his servants freely: no servant pays anything for them or can undertake any effort in order to deserve them. Allah the Exalted declares in the holy Qur’an:
And He has made of service unto you whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth (as a pure kindness). … In this verily are portents for people who reflect.(al-Jathiyah, 45/13)
However, this free bestowal does not mean that people can use the divine gifts however they please, without any conditions or restrictions. Indeed, in a different verse Allah declares:
Does humanity think that it is to be left aimless?(Qiyâmah, 75/36)
Thus when we spend the gifts given by Allah, we must take into account the divine orders and prohibitions. We must not forget that while unlawful spending leads to chastisement, even lawful spending requires an explanation. Just as we should keep away from unlawful acts, we should avoid committing profligacy (isrâf) and falling into another kind of unlawful act through our misuse of the lawful things. Indeed profligacy means to treat the gifts given by Allah with disrespect by transgressing His limits for their employment. This is indeed an utterly ungrateful attitude towards the benefactions of Allah the Almighty.
Profligacy is a word normally applied to issues of the management of wealth, but it has a wider application that includes all kinds of affairs in which human beings may exceed rightful limits. Accordingly, if a servant exceeds the limits imposed by Allah in whatever department of life, his act constitutes profligacy. All sorts of divine gifts may be spent with no profit, but only loss.
`Iyas said: “Anything that transgresses the limits commanded by Allah is extravagance.”
Because of the workings of our egos, human beings are always inclined to think that we have good excuses for our mistakes. Even criminals who have committed the worst sorts of crimes justify their crimes and wish be excused because of various causes and motives. Both wasteful and miserly people are no different: they defend themselves with excuses, and are prone to be happy with the way they are. They are rarely free of the delusion that the madness of extravagance or the baseness of avarice constitutes true happiness. This is why the concept of profligacy, which presents itself at first sight as an empty frame, fills promptly with a picture generated by the divine commandments.
Just as profligate treatment of the material goods that are entrusted to us is prohibited by our religion; so the profligate treatment of our spiritual goods, such as creeds, acts of worship, forms of sacred knowledge, ethics, and holy times and seasons, is also prohibited. It is very possible to be wasteful and transgress limits in such affairs. Extravagance in creed is considered to be more crucial and dangerous than the others. That is because wastefulness here results in losing our eternal happiness for the sake of temporary worldly convenience.
Our Lord has prohibited both extravagance and miserliness in the treatment of all our needs, from eating, drinking, and clothing ourselves all the way up to the highest values of our spiritual lives. He has commanded us to be moderate in everything. Thus every believer must pursue the ideal of a life that strikes the balance between the two extremes. In fact, if one does not observe the divine guidelines in using material and spiritual divine gifts, one cannot avoid falling into one or the other of these two unsound situations of extravagance and miserliness.
I would like to briefly describe some of the major acts of extravagance that may lead us to calamity in the Hereafter, and indicate the way to escape them.
Wastefulness in faith and creed
This is the gravest of all kinds of wastefulness. It damages the innate disposition toward Islam built into human nature, our intellectual and spiritual dignity, by subjecting the mind to false beliefs, myths, superstitions, and pernicious trends of thought. To suffer this is to suffer the loss of eternal happiness.
Weakening of faith is a spiritual devastation that most often results from companionship with impious people. Our Lord warns us to be careful about falling into such a situation in the following verse:
And when you see those who meddle with Our revelations, withdraw from them until they meddle with another topic. And if the Devil causes you to forget, sit not, after your remembrance, in the congregation of evildoers.(al-An’âm, 6/68)
Indeed, close relationships with impious people lead to liking them, liking them leads to thinking like them, and thinking like them gradually weakens one’s faith until in time eternal life itself may be lost. The causes for this kind of extravagance in one’s faith are enumerated in the Qur’an as following:
From the Garden they will call to the guilty: What brought you to that Fire? They will answer: “We were not of those who prayed, nor did we feed the wretched. We used to plunge about (in vain dispute) with (other) plungers, and we denied the Day of Judgment.” (al-Muddaththir, 74/40-46)
Our Lord also indicates how one may avoid such a terrible end:
O you who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with the truthful. (at-Tawbah, 9/119)
Another Qur’anic verse reminds us of the importance of divine signs, including commands and prohibitions, and urges us to pay close attention to them so that we register their meanings in our hearts:
…and those who, when they are reminded of the revelations of their Lord, fall not deaf and blind thereat. (al-Furqân, 25/73)
The power of understanding of our eyes and our hearts are among Allah’s bounties to us. To use those powers in a manner irrelevant to their purpose and thus not to see the divine signs is also a form of profligacy, since misuse lays waste to their proper function. Allah warns us about the unpleasant destiny resulting from extravagance and falsehood in the following Qur’anic verse:
….surely Allah does not guide whoever is profligate, a liar. (al-Mu’min, 40/28)
There are also cases of creedal deviation, violations of approved boundaries in belief. One of the most important common cases of creedal deviation occurs when people visit the shrines of Allah’s Friends, and then direct their petitions to those Friends instead of to Allah. The appropriate way to visit Allah’s Friends is to examine their sound practices during their lives, to ponder their high degree in Allah’s eyes, and to ask Allah the Almighty for help out of respect for what He granted to that Friend. However, to place unconditional trust in the intercession of virtuous servants, claiming “such-and-such a virtuous servant will intervene for me and save me from punishment” is a false creed. In fact Allah declares in the Noble Qur’an that only people whom Allah permits can intercede:
On that day no intercession avails save (that of) him unto whom the All-Compassionate gives leave …. (Tâhâ, 20/109).
It is also wrong to say that virtuous servants know everything, and read people’s minds and hearts. They only know whatever Allah lets them know. Otherwise, even prophets do not know all things. Accordingly, our Prophet (pbuh) responded to certain questions he received by saying, “On this issue the one asked is not more knowledgeable than the one asking.” Indeed, on the serious occasion of the slander of our mother A’ishah (r.a), Allah’s Messenger did not receive a revelation clarifying the situation until a full month after the event. During this period, he could not make a decisive judgment about the matter. Another example is the case of the three Companions who, because of carelessness, missed joining the army assembled for the Tabuk campaign. Allah’s Messenger received a revelation clarifying their situation only fifty days later.
`Uthman ibn Maz’ûn passed away at the house of a certain Ummul-A`lâ in Madinah. Afterwards this woman declared, “O `Uthmân, I bear witness that right now Allah the Exalted is treating you well!” Allah’s Messenger stopped her.
“How do you know that Allah is treating him well, right now?” he asked.
The woman said, “I swear to Allah, I do not know!”
And Allah’s Messenger said, “You see that `Uthmân has died. Personally I hope that Allah shows mercy upon him. But although I am the prophet among you, I do not know what is going to happen to me or to you.”
Ummu’l-Alâ related, “I swear by Allah that after that event, I never said anything about anybody (I simply hoped that my Lord would show mercy).” (Bukhârî, Tâbîr, 27)
In the Nobel Qur’an, Allah declares:
Say: I am no new thing among the Messengers (of Allah), nor know I what will be done with me or with you. I do but follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner.(al-Ahqâf 46/9)
Somebody asked Prophet Jacob (pbuh):
“O you whose heart is illuminated, the intelligent prophet! How did it happen that you smelled the scent of Joseph on a shirt that was brought all the way out of Egypt for you, yet you did not notice anything when he was lying at the bottom of a well near your own home?”
And Jacob answered, “What we receive from Allah resembles a flash of lightning.. So sometimes remote places are disclosed to us, while nearby events stay hidden!”
To offer idle compliments inattentively and for no good reason is also considered profligate, and disapproved. The Messenger of Allah said, “If any of you wants to praise your Muslim brother, and if he really has those praiseworthy attributes, then praise him like this: “I think so-and-so has such-and-such attributes. Allah is sufficient for him, I cannot guarantee anyone before Allah, but I think he is such-and-such.” (Bukhârî, Shahâdât, 16)
The perfection of faith depends on a solid faculty of reason that is shaped by revelation. The perfection of reason in turn depends on the light of faith, which is maturity of heart. Those creeds and ideas deprived of divine light and instead filled with myth and superstition are like oil lamps that lack oil or light bulbs that lack electricity. Similarly, a faculty of reason that is not governed by revelation is doomed to destruction, like a light bulb that receives too much electricity or the wrong sort of current, and so gets broken.
Profligacy in ritual prayer
Moderation must characterize all acts of worship, even while ordinary dealings are so arranged as to form religiously beneficial customs. Indeed the way we accustom ourselves to do things usually determines the course of our behavior later on.
The first opportunity for extravagance in the performance of worship is the temptation to use more water than necessary in the course of the routine ritual ablution, or the full-body ritual ablution, because of needless misgivings.
Once the Messenger of Allah visited Sa’d (r.a) while the latter was performing ritual ablution. The Prophet (pbuh) exclaimed, “What an extravagant use of water is this!”
Sa’d (r.a) said, “How could extravagance pertain to ablution?”
The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Indeed, one may waste water even while making ablution at a flowing river!” (Ibn Mâja, Tahârah, 48)
It is among the wasteful acts to neglect to pray in congregation if one has the opportunity. It is also wasteful to pray without spiritual depth, as if discharging an unpleasant obligation. Allah says, concerning those who do not feel the awe and peace of the prayer,
So woe to the worshippers who are heedless of their prayers... (al-Mâ`ûn, 107/4-5).
The Messenger of Allah spoke about the loss of virtue in ritual prayers due to inner faults, meaning ritual prayers performed without the relevant spiritual awareness. He said, “There are those who perform the ritual prayer yet receive the reward of only half, one-third, one-fifth, one-sixth, one-seventh, one-eighth, one-ninth, or even one-tenth of its value!” (Abû Dâwûd, Salâh, 123, 124).
Allah the Almighty requires that both our minds and our hearts should be spiritually ready for worship at the time of prayer. By His command
Bow down in adoration, and bring yourself closer (to Allah)! (‘Alaq, 96/19)
he demands that when our foreheads touch the ground, our hearts should be filled with humility in a state of awareness, for faith becomes perfect only when mind and heart devote themselves together, cooperating with each other. In the Qur’an, those who perform their ritual prayers properly are described:
Successful indeed are the faithful who are humble in their prayers… (Mu’minun, 23/1-2).
Another form of waste is to decrease the reward of the fast of Ramadan, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, by bad actions such as telling lies and talking behind people’s backs. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “If someone will not stop telling lies, will not stop doing business by deceiving people, then Allah will not care whether he stops eating and drinking.” (Bukhârî, Sawm 8, Adab 51)
Fasting should make us better appreciate the value of the divine gifts bestowed upon us. When we stop eating and drinking for even half a day, fasting makes us grasp how weak we are. It acquaints us with the life conditions of our brothers and sisters who suffer from poor economic conditions, and encourages our hearts to become more sensitive toward them. It should also encourage us to give alms with anticipation and humility, as if we were giving alms to Allah Himself. Indeed the Qur’an says:
….Allah accepts the repentance of His servants and receives their gifts of charity… (Tawbah 9/104).
The holy month of Ramadan, when fasting is obligatory, is full of light, spirituality, mercy, forgiveness, and the effects of divine favor. The Messenger of Allah urged us to benefit from the divine enlightenment and grace active during Ramadan as much as we possibly can. In the nights of Ramadan we should perform the routine prayers with full concentration, asking Allah for forgiveness, remembering Him, reflecting upon His attributes, and reciting the holy Qur’an. In the days we should continue worshipping with fullness of heart by giving alms and undertaking good deeds. At the time of breaking the fast, which is when Allah accepts the prayers of His servants, we should enjoy the peace that results from asking Allah for forgiveness, praising Him, and supplying food to our fellow Muslims for the Ramadan dinner. In the evening we should use our time wisely by pursuing proper performance of the special Ramadan prayers. If we cannot utilize this holy month properly, we will have missed receiving benefit from a sea of divine mercy and forgiveness right there next to us, and so will have simply wasted other gifts we have received.
There is profligacy in Pilgrimage when a would-be pilgrim does not care whether he earns his living by lawful means; when he pays no attention to the rights of other people over him; when he busies himself with futile activities and engages in acts that set spiritual grace and enlightenment at a distance. All these count as wastefulness. In fact, the Messenger of Allah said of the profligate pilgrim, “When he shouts “Labbayk!,” (The pilgrims’ cry, “O my Lord, I am at your service!”) he is answered, “You have nothing to do with that cry, or anything like it! Your earnings are unlawful, your food is unlawful, your transportation is unlawful. Go back as a sinner, without any reward! Be sad, for you will encounter things that you do not like!” (Haythamî, III, 209-210).
Profligacy appears in almsgiving and charity when one troubles the needy by reminding them of one’s generosity. If a person should be infected with spiritual diseases of the heart such as hypocrisy and pride, the result will be wastefulness in giving.. Allah says in the noble Qur’an:
Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury. …. O you who believe! cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury…. (Baqarah, 2/263-264).
Every believer should carefully search out persons who deserve to receive alms. Indeed Allah praises people who undertake such an inquiry as
…those who are active in deeds of charity…(Mu’minun, 23/4).
To deliver monetary alms and charity goods to people who really deserve them is extremely important. Allah commands us to do research in this regard and develop the skills “to recognize the needy by their faces.” Certainly, our ability to deliver support to people to whom it is due depends on our own means of livelihood. The alms we spend and the charity we give will reveal to us, like a truthful mirror, whether our earnings were lawfully obtained. If we earn the money lawfully, it will be well spent on good and deserving people. If it is earned unlawfully, then it will be wasted on undeserving people.
There is wastefulness in Qur’an recitation if one makes no effort to recite it properly or to understand its message, and if one remains indifferent to the orders and prohibitions stated in it. Such a person is profligate regarding a great and precious treasure. Allah distinguishes those who are profligate and those who fully benefit from the light of the Qur’an in the following verse:
We have given the Book as inheritance to such of Our servants as we have chosen. Among them are some who wrong their own souls; some who follow a middle course; and some who are, by Allah’s leave, foremost in good deeds. That is the highest grace. (Fâtir, 35/32).
Just as the most privileged of human beings are the community of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), so the most elevated people of this community are those who recite the Qur’an, learn it by heart, absorb its messages, and follow the rules it provides. Some people wrong themselves: they do not recite the Qur’an and do not follow its guidance despite having had the opportunity to study. This is simply wasting a great gift. Some people follow a middle path, since they practice it at times, and leave it aside at times. Some others, however, by Allah’s permission, excel in good deeds.
The noble Qur’an is the language of the heavens and the earth. It is a blessing for souls and a treasure of spirituality. It is a miracle of expression dedicated to humanity. Every heart that fully absorbs it becomes a site of divine manifestation. Those who assimilate the generous Qur’an experience unique peace of mind and happiness, for the Qur’an is a micro cosmos embracing the whole universe in its magnificence. For the people of heart, the glorious Qur’an is like a splendid door providing access to the depths of the world of contemplation.
In order to recite the Qur’an properly, purity of heart is as important as cleanliness of body. There are spiritual diseases of the heart that prevent people from encountering the Qur’an in an appropriate manner. Those who cannot receive the divine mercy, cure, and guidance in it end up in a condition of great loss. Since the Qur’an expresses the will of Allah, it can be understood best by pious and virtuous people. In order to be able to benefit from the bounty of the generous Qur’an and thus obtain happiness in this world as well as in the Hereafter, one must attain taqwa, or mindfulness of Allah.
Another issue requiring attention is the service of human beings. To serve others for Allah’s sake, even in unimportant things, may be more valuable than much supererogatory prayer. The following case from the Age of Felicity explains this precisely.
One time when he was traveling, the Prophet (pbuh) encamped at a suitable place. Some of his Companions were fasting, so they fell asleep immediately, since they were quite tired. Others brought water to be used for ablution and set up tents for shelter. When the time to break the fast arrived, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Today, those who did not fast acquired more reward (than those who fasted).” (Muslim, Sıyâm, 100-101).
If a person occupies himself with secondary things and neglects earning his livelihood so that he becomes needy, this is also a kind of extravagance. Indeed, the Prophet (pbuh) stated, “Allah the Almighty loves to see a servant who grows tired working for lawful livelihood.” (as-Suyûtî, al-Jâmi` as-Saghîr, I, 65).
Another kind of profligacy appears when people make supplications to Allah in a group. Some people will pray at extravagant length, especially when praying in public. They may even shout so as to indicate a special gift, perhaps uttering rhyming expressions. Such performances cause the community to lose interest. All this amounts to no more than wasting the essence of worship. In fact the Messenger of Allah prohibited making supplications in a screaming and shouting manner: “Do not scream when you pray to Allah. You are not addressing one who is deaf!” (Bukhârî, Jihâd, 131; Muslim, Dhikr, 44). Such immoderate petitions result in the destruction of the spirituality of pious acts.
Profligacy in worship eliminates its benefits. In a different hadith of the Prophet (pbuh), we read, “A group will emerge out of this community who will transgress the limits of purification and prayer.” (Abû Dâwûd, Tahârah, 45).
To sum up, Allah the Almighty warns us against performing ritual acts automatically, unconsciously, without seeking the enlightenment and deep engagement to be drawn from them. Allah asks our hearts to come closer to Him. They approach Him as they become filled with spirituality and illumination through a sense of divine blessings received. Allah wants our hearts to reach divine encounter.
O our Lord! May you protect us from wastefulness in faith, creeds and ritual either by neglecting them or by transgressing rightful limits! May you bestow upon us all the sublime taste and excitement acquired through perfecting our faith, and the peace and pleasure resulting from the living performance of ritual acts!
. See, Baqara 2/273.