The content mind is a perpetual feast: Islamic teachings during economic crises

Jazib Mehmood, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya Ghana

The Holy Prophetsa once stated:

‌الْقَنَاعَةُ‭ ‬‌كَنْزٌ‭ ‬لَا‭ ‬يَفْنَى

Meaning, “Contentment is a never-ending treasure.” (Az-Zuhd al-Kabir by Baihaqi, p. 88 [1996]; Mirqat-ul-Mafatih, hadith 5170, Vol. 8, p. 3238 [Beirut: Darul Fikr. 2002])

Today, this principle is more binding than ever. Some time ago, someone asked Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa what we ought to do about the worsening economic health of the world. Huzoor’s reply forms the bedrock of the Islamic perspective on wealth:

“Develop contentment – this is what Allah the Almighty has instructed; to develop contentment within yourself. If one becomes content, unnecessary spending and unjustified wants will reduce. […]

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“Those who are religious do not drown in worldly greed. You are to guide the world that ‘instead of chasing worldly greed, usurping each other’s rights, stealing, creating disorder and violence in the country against governments and holding protests, develop contentment within yourself and use your money in the most effective way’.

“If Ahmadis carry out their own tarbiyat in this way, they will be able to do the tarbiyat of the rest of the world too.

“This is a constant effort that you will have to exert. According to your circumstances there, create a plan of action. I have given a general plan of action many times: Develop contentment, connect with your faith, and as a result, worldly desires will reduce. Otherwise, worldly desires never end, they continue to increase. It is an ailment like itching – a person continues to itch, enjoys it and in the end, wounds himself. And so, ultimately, worldliness will only result in injuring oneself.

“Therefore, contentment and Allah’s remembrance – attention to salat – will resolve everything else. Develop a connection with Allah and all other ailments will be resolved as a result.” (Al Hakam, 9 September 2022, Issue 234, p. 3)

Islam teaches Muslims a unique perspective when it comes to financial matters. The Holy Quran states:

وَلَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيْنَيْكَ إِلَى مَا مَتَّعْنَا بِهِ أَزْوَاجًا مِّنْهُمْ زَهْرَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنيَا لِنَفْتِنَهُمْ فِيهِ وَرِزْقُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى

“And strain not thy eyes after what We have bestowed on some classes of them to enjoy [for a short time] — the splendour of the present world — that We may try them thereby. And the provision of thy Lord is better and more lasting.” (Surah Ta Ha, Ch.20: V.132)

Allah the Almighty states that one should not look at what others have been given, since it can derail a person from their true purpose, and foster greed and jealousy. Instead, Allah states that it is only the remembrance of Allah that can lead to inner peace. (Surah ar-Ra’d, Ch.13: V.29)

The excellent model of the Holy Prophetsa

The Holy Prophetsa embodied the same teaching. He lived his life in straitened circumstances and yet he was always content. This was because he constantly remembered Allah. Hazrat Aishara narrates that he remembered Allah at every moment of his life. (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Haiz, hadith 373)

He advised his companions to live in this world as if they were strangers, meaning they should adopt simplicity and treat this world as temporary. (Sunan Tirmidhi, Kitab az-Zuhd, hadith 2333)

The Holy Prophetsa practised this to perfection. Hazrat Umarra narrates that once he went to see the Holy Prophetsa at his home. The Holy Prophetsa was lying on a mat made of palm tree leaves with nothing between him and the mat. Underneath his head there was a leather pillow stuffed with palm fibres, and leaves from a Saut tree were piled at his feet, and above his head hung a few water-skins.

On seeing the marks of the mat imprinted on his side, Hazrat Umarra began to weep. Huzoorsa asked him why he was weeping. Hazrat Umarra replied that kings of this world were leading luxurious lives whereas the Holy Prophetsa was leading such an austere life.

The Holy Prophetsa stated, “Are you not satisfied that they enjoy this world and we enjoy the Hereafter?” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab at-Tafsir, hadith  4913)

On another occasion, the Holy Prophetsa beautifully expressed his life in these words:

“What do I have to do with this world? The likeness of me and this world is that of a traveller who seeks shade under a tree, then he moves on and leaves it.” (Musnad Ahmad, Musnad Abdullah bin Mas’ud, hadith 3709)

The Holy Prophetsa always entreated his companions to have complete trust in Allah to provide them with their needs. He stated:

“If you trust in Allah in the appropriate manner, you will be given sustenance like the birds. They leave their nests with empty stomachs in the morning and return in the evening fully satiated.” (Sunan Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Zuhud, hadith 2344)

The magnificent example of the Promised Messiahas

Following the example of his beloved master, the Promised Messiahas also had complete trust in Allah the Almighty. While he was still a young man, his father passed away, leaving him with little. Worried about how he would survive without a flowing income, he turned to God. Allah consoled him, stating:

أَلَيْسَ‭ ‬اللهُ‭ ‬بِكَافٍ‭ ‬عَبْدَهُ

Meaning, “Is Allah not sufficient for His servant?” (Tadhkirah [2018], p. 31; Kitab-ul-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 13, pp. 194–195, footnote)

After receiving this revelation from Allah, the Promised Messiahas, describing his condition, states:

“This revelation afforded me complete comfort and satisfaction and it impressed itself upon my heart like a steel nail. I call to witness Allah, the Lord of Honour and Glory, in Whose hands is my life that He has demonstrated the truth of this revelation of glad tiding in a manner that I could not have conceived. He has provided for me as no father could have done for a child.” (Kitab-ul-Bariyyah, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 13, pp. 194–195 footnote)

Speaking of this remarkable trust in Allah, the Promised Messiahas states:

“I find that the state of my heart is a strange one. When it is extremely humid and the heat becomes immensely intense, people begin to hope with a sense of certainty that rain will soon follow. Similarly, when I find my casket to be empty, I feel a firm sense of certainty in the grace of God that now it will be replenished, and this is exactly what happens.”

Then, the Promised Messiahas swore by God Almighty and said:

“When my pouch is empty, the sort of joy and pleasure that I experience in trusting God Almighty at such a time is beyond my ability to explain. My state at such a time is extremely comforting and satisfying, in comparison to when my pouch is full.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 2, p. 43)

How should Muslims spend?

Such exemplary trust is a reflection of the Quranic verse:

وَمَن‭ ‬يَتَّقِ‭ ‬اللَّهَ‭ ‬يَجْعَل‭ ‬لَّهُ‭ ‬مَخْرَجًا‭ ‬وَيَرْزُقْهُ‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬حَيْثُ‭ ‬لَا‭ ‬يَحْتَسِبُ‭ ‬وَمَن‭ ‬يَتَوَكَّلْ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬اللَّهِ‭ ‬فَهُوَ‭ ‬حَسْبُهُ

“And he who fears Allah — He will make for him a way out, and will provide for him from where he expects not. And he who puts his trust in Allah — He is sufficient for him.” (Surah at-Talaq, Ch.65: V.3–4)

Therefore, Islam has provided a balanced method for approaching spending. Allah the Almighty states:

وَلاَ‭ ‬تَجْعَلْ‭ ‬يَدَكَ‭ ‬مَغْلُولَةً‭ ‬إِلَى‭ ‬عُنُقِكَ‭ ‬وَلاَ‭ ‬تَبْسُطْهَا‭ ‬كُلَّ‭ ‬الْبَسْطِ‭ ‬فَتَقْعُدَ‭ ‬مَلُومًا‭ ‬مَّحْسُورًا

“And keep not your hand chained to your neck [in utter stinginess] nor extend it in extravagance to the full; or you will end up roundly condemned [and] rendered ineffectual.” (Surah Bani Israel, Ch.17: V.30)

This means that one should not be so miserly as not to spend it even when there is a real and genuine need as if his hands are tied to his neck, nor should one stretch forth one’s hands so openly as to squander away his wealth purposelessly. One should strike the golden mean.

In the next verse, Allah speaks of the underlying principle:

إِنَّ‭ ‬رَبَّكَ‭ ‬يَبْسُطُ‭ ‬الرِّزْقَ‭ ‬لِمَن‭ ‬يَشَاء‭ ‬وَيَقْدِرُ‭ ‬إِنَّهُ‭ ‬كَانَ‭ ‬بِعِبَادِهِ‭ ‬خَبِيرًا‭ ‬بَصِيرًا

“Surely, thy Lord enlarges [His] provision for whom He pleases, and straitens [it for whom He pleases]. Verily, He knows [and] sees His servants full well.” (Surah Bani Israel, Ch.17: V.31)

God grants plenty to some and straitens the means of livelihood for others. He does so that He may see whether those upon whom He has bestowed wealth help those who are poor and needy.

In this way, this verse teaches the supreme lesson that money spent helping and serving the poor is money well spent. The enlarging of provision by Allah and the straitening of it by Him does not imply an arbitrary action but refers to a wise system of divine laws.

It is for this reason the Holy Quran speaks severely of those who hoard wealth. Allah states:

الَّذِينَ‭ ‬يَبْخَلُونَ‭ ‬وَيَأْمُرُونَ‭ ‬النَّاسَ‭ ‬بِالْبُخْلِ‭ ‬وَيَكْتُمُونَ‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬آتَاهُمُ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬مِن‭ ‬فَضْلِهِ‭ ‬وَأَعْتَدْنَا‭ ‬لِلْكَافِرِينَ‭ ‬عَذَابًا‭ ‬مُّهِينًا

“Who are niggardly and enjoin people to be niggardly, and conceal that which Allah has given them of His bounty. And We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment.” (Surah An-Nisa, Ch.4: V.38)

In contrast, speaking of the believers, the Holy Quran states:

وَالَّذِينَ‭ ‬فِي‭ ‬أَمْوَالِهِمْ‭ ‬حَقٌّ‭ ‬مَّعْلُومٌ‭ ‬لِّلسَّائِلِ‭ ‬وَالْمَحْرُومِ

“And those in whose wealth there is a recognized right, for the beggar and the destitute who begs not” (Surah al-Ma’arif, Ch.70: V.25-26)

In such straitened times, this teaching is especially relevant. Underling this verse of the Holy Quran, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, addressing Lajna Imaillah UK at their annual ijtema this year, stated:

“Now, as the economic condition of the world worsens and people’s financial condition becomes strained, some people may think that they should focus on their own needs and tighten their giving hands. In such circumstances, we should remember those in greater need than us and help and support them as much as possible.” (Al Hakam, Issue 236, 23 September 2022, p. 3)

Once, the Holy Prophetsa came to see Hazrat Bilalra. He saw a heap of dates by him and inquired, “Bilal, what are these dates for?” Hazrat Bilalra replied, “I intend to store them for the next year.” Huzoorsa asked, “Are you not afraid that hellfire would be ignited with these dates?” Then he advised him to spend in the way of Allah and to not be scared of poverty. (Mu‘jamul Kabir by Tibrani, Vol. 1, p. 340, hadith 1020)

Similarly, someone asked the Holy Prophetsa about which charity was the most superior in reward. The Holy Prophetsa replied, “The charity which you practice while you are healthy, niggardly and afraid of poverty and wish to become wealthy.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab az-Zakat, hadith 1419)

Consumer culture would have us constantly spend on ourselves, encouraging us to buy things we don’t really need. Islam opposes such materialism and encourages us to spend out of our wealth, so that we don’t think money is everything, lest it destroy us.

How should poor Muslims spend?

Although Muslims have been commanded to spend on the less fortunate, there are many Muslims who do not make enough to be able to spend out of their wealth. Addressing this, Allah the Almighty states:

لِيُنفِقْ‭ ‬ذُو‭ ‬سَعَةٍ‭ ‬مِّن‭ ‬سَعَتِهِ‭ ‬وَمَن‭ ‬قُدِرَ‭ ‬عَلَيْهِ‭ ‬رِزْقُهُ‭ ‬فَلْيُنفِقْ‭ ‬مِمَّا‭ ‬آتَاهُ‭ ‬اللَّهُ‭ ‬لَا‭ ‬يُكَلِّفُ‭ ‬اللَّهُ‭ ‬نَفْسًا‭ ‬إِلَّا‭ ‬مَا‭ ‬آتَاهَا‭ ‬سَيَجْعَلُ‭ ‬اللَّهُ‭ ‬بَعْدَ‭ ‬عُسْرٍ‭ ‬يُسْرًا

“Let him who has abundance of means spend out of his abundance. And let him whose means of subsistence are straitened spend out of what Allah has given him. Allah burdens not any soul beyond that which He has given it. Allah will soon bring about ease after hardship.” (Surah At-Talaq, Ch.65: V.8)

During the life of the Holy Prophetsa, a companion came to him and confessed to committing a sin. The Holy Prophetsa asked him if he could free a slave as a means of atonement. He said he couldn’t. Huzoorsa asked him if he could fast for two months consecutively. He replied that he couldn’t.

Just then, someone brought a basket of dates to the Holy Prophetsa. The Holy Prophetsa handed the dates over to the companion and asked him to give them to a needy person. He replied that there was no one poorer than him in Medina. Huzoorsa laughed, and asked him to feed the dates to his family. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab as-Saum, hadith 1936)

This rather humorous incident shows how Islam looks after the less endowed. If someone is extremely destitute and simply cannot afford to spend on others, feeding his own family would be considered spending in the way of Allah. All that matters is having the right intention, i.e., if one had wealth, one would spend out of it on others.

Interestingly, the Holy Prophetsa once defined a poor person. He stated:

“The poor person is not the one for whom a date or two or a morsel or two is sufficient but the poor person is he who does not beg others or show his poverty at all.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab At-Tafsir, hadith 4539)

However, this does not mean that Islam glorifies poverty. The Holy Prophetsa always prayed to be saved from debt. He also prayed that Allah might save him from the affliction of poverty. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ad-Da’wat, hadith 6368) The Holy Prophetsa always encouraged people to earn a livelihood so that they may fulfil the rights of their family, friends, and society. (Sahih Muslim, Kitab az-Zakat, hadith 1042)

Even when preparing a will, the Holy Prophetsa stated it was better to leave one’s inheritors with a good inheritance than to give all of one’s wealth to charity. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ad-Da’wat, hadith 6373)

Encapsulating this entire subject, the Promised Messiahas states:

“I have seen poverty drag many people to atheism. A believer, however, does not think ill of God no matter how stringent their circumstances, and deeming them to be the result of their own faults, they beseech God for His mercy and grace. Eventually, when this era passes, and the prayers of a believers come to fruition, they do not forget their time of weakness, but rather, remember it always.

“Therefore, if you believe in the fact that one is always in need of God, then adopt the way of righteousness. Blessed is the one who adopts righteousness in times of prosperity and joy; and unfortunate is the one who stumbles, yet does not turn to God.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 1, p. 154)

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