Assessing your attachment to dunya
Are you in control or under control?
In his chapter on greed (at tama’: الطمع), long before Imam Al Ghazali wrote about spirituality, the third century scholar Imam Muhasibi (died in 857AD/243H) has his own unique take on it, and explored it in his beautiful and deep book Ādāb un Nufus.
He said you should keep occupied and engaged with asbab al alkhirah (the means of the hereafter) and protect your heart from the means of the dunya.
Dealing with the means without relying on it
Dealing with the means is not the same as relying on the means. Al Muhasibi is not saying don’t deal with the means of the dunya, but stressing the importance of not relying on it. Study for the exam but know that your success is not guaranteed by your work. Your success is in the hands of Allah Almighty. This does not mean sitting back and waiting for Him to grant you success but doing your bit to the best of your ability knowing all the while that you cannot succeed unless Allah Almighty wills it.
Greed for dunya vs greed for the akhirah
Protect yourself from the greed of dunya. Don’t make your concerns for the dunya your sole preoccupation. The only thing you focus on. Be grateful for what you have been given. By being grateful, what you are given will be greater than you can imagine.
If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour] (14:7)
If you protect your heart from the endless needs of the dunya and you have fear of Allah Almighty in your heart, then you will gain contentment (rida: رضى). When you have rida it changes your life. You are no longer chasing dunya. The dunya chases you instead. This is exactly what happened with the Prophet (peace be on him), who always distributed everything received – booty or gifts. His wives sometimes would say that he kept nothing of it for them. He said that if they had reminded him, he would have kept some for them. However, he was not preoccupied with dunya. In fact, he would forget his own self. The dunya was not his concern. When he slept on his rough reed mat, and Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) saw the imprint of the mat on his side, he said:
Messenger of Allah, supplicate Allah that He should make (life) prosperous for your Ummah as He has made plentiful for the people of Persia and Rome (in spite of the fact) that they do not worship Allah, the Exalted and Majestic, whereupon he (Allah’s Messenger) sat up and then said: Ibn Al-Khattab, do you have a doubt? They are a nation whom their nice things have been given immediately in the life of this world. I said: Allah’s Messenger! seek pardon for me. (Muslim).
And in another narration Abdullah bin Masoud (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) slept on a straw mat and got up with the marks left by it on his body. Ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
‘O Messenger of Allah! Shall we spread out a soft bedding for you.’ He (peace be on him) replied, ‘What have I to do with the world? I am like a rider who had sat under a tree for its shade, then went away and left it.’ (Tirmidhi)
These are limited days and hours. Live in dunya and enjoy dunya within halal parameters but don’t make it your priority or only concern.
How do you measure your attachment to dunya?
Though you are allowed to enjoy dunya and deal with dunya, it should not be your first concern. So how can you tell your level of attachment to the dunya? Where are you on the dunya-meter?
It is difficult to know, unless you have a conflict between your love of dunya and your love of Allah Almighty. This is why you are tested.
There was a man whose marriage was breaking down and feared that he would lose his children as his wife had falsified claims that he was abusing her so she could take custody of them. The case had gone to court and he was terrified and distraught at the thought of losing them. Though she had converted to Islam nominally to marry him, he was now worried that as her conversion was not genuine his children might leave Islam. When asked how strong his connection to Allah Almighty was, he confessed that he hadn’t really been practicing. After this episode, he had begun to practice – to eat halal, to lower his gaze and to pray. He wondered how he had lived before. Allah Almighty had not featured much in his life. He wondered how he got into this position? Through these events, Allah Almighty had brought him back with a slap.
When you have a regular connection with Allah Almighty, and a pure heart it gives you direction. The more you know the more you are aware when something is toxic. The higher your go the better your vision, someone on level 10 will see more bigger picture than the one on level 1.
Human need for a basic amount of greed
Greed is programmed in the lowest self. It is a human pre-set. Anas bin Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
If the son of Adam had a valley full of gold, he would want to have two valleys. Nothing fills his mouth but the dust of the grave, yet Allah will relent to whoever repents to him. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Of course, we do need a certain amount of greed in order to survive and to motivate us. Having no greed at all is not normal. However, it is an instinct which shaytan loves to exploit and uses to pull us away from what is halal. It goes without saying that greed in dunya is haram.
Is there a conflict between have wealth or ambition and Islam?
Abdur Rahman ibn Awf one of the wealthiest men in Makkah who would have featured in the Forbes magazine – left Makkah penniless as his wealth was confiscated when he migrated to Madinah. Yet he set up the market in Madinah and regained all his wealth. He maintained his principles. There was no contradiction between having wealth and having purpose and being connected to Allah.
However, don’t make the dunya your purpose. It is a means to an end. Make the dunya in your hands and not in your hearts. It is your bridge to the akhirah. There is no contradiction between ambition in your chosen field and ambition in the akhirah. You can be the top in your job or CEO but this should not be the goal itself. By being a person of dignity and respect you use this as a means to your akhirah.
If reaching the top comes at the sacrifice of your other obligations then you need to assess your situation. Can you live without attaining that level or not? Write out a list. What are your gains and losses? Are the gains worth the losses? Don’t lose your akhirah for the dunya.
Greed is revolting
Unchecked pursuit of dunya leads to vulnerability on several fronts. Greed pulls us in many directions – to wealth, food, status and the opposite sex. In the fascinating hadith Umm Zar’ in which a group of 11 women have a venting session about their husbands, (as familiar as if they are alive today) one of the women describes her greedy husband with disgust. He makes noises while he eats, gobbles up everything and leaves nothing for anyone else. Lacking in etiquettes, he is as appalling when he drinks. In the Arab world, where entertaining guests is a constant feature, eating like a pig is very embarrassing for his wife.
Greed leads to degradation
Al-Muhasibi points out that the desire for food and drink and lust are the two worse objects of greed. If you have this kind of greed, then the consequences are adhal (astonishing). If you are dignified, you can lose your dignity: you become enslaved to your desires. If you are knowledgeable it can destroy your knowledge. And if you are admired, it can tarnish your reputation. Driven by desire, alcoholics will sell anything to fulfil their cravings. Do not let your greed rule you.
Allah Almighty says:
Have you seen him who chose his desire as his god? Would you be an agent for him? (25:43)
It is not committing shirk but desire becomes like lord, as you become obedient to it. Following it. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
May he be miserable, the worshipper of the dinar and dirham (money), and the worshipper of the striped silk cloak. If he is given anything, he is satisfied; but if not, he is unsatisfied. (Bukhari)
Ibn Ata Allah Al-Sakandari (d.1310AD/709H) in his book Al-Hikam said:
You do not love anything without being its slave, but He does not want you to be anyone’s slave but His.
Desire, unchecked, leads to addiction. Today, we have been infected by an addiction to social media. We need to cut this down.
The Christian concept of fasting is lent – giving up what you like, whether it is chocolate or something else. Recently a priest asked his congregation to give up their mobile phones for Lent. The concept is good. It is helping you fight addiction.
Ibn Atta Allah is saying that being enslaved to anyone but Allah Almighty is wrong. He wants us to be His slave, not to money or position or desire.
The power-hungry leaders
These days leaders will throw their nations to the dogs in order to stay in power. You don’t know what it feels like to be in that chair. I have witnessed people who once preached to others how to behave, and were pious and knowledgeable, completely change when they come to power. This is a test.
Allah Almighty tests our qualities in different ways. Allah Almighty shows us which quality we have and which one needs improving through our tests.
The poisoned cup – financial markets
Al-Muhasibi says love of dunya is like drinking one cup full of sweet poison – the more you drink the more it kills you. The main reason behind the 2008 financial collapse was greed. In many narrations the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Miserable is the slave of the dinar and the dirham. (Bukhari)
The subprime market in America and selling derivatives on was pure greed and had disastrous consequences all over the world. Hikmah (wisdom) and dignity disappear when there is greed. This is very scary. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
There will appear among my community people who will be dominated by desires like rabies which penetrates its patient. There remains no vein and no joint but it penetrates it. (Abu Dawoud)
A person who was given knowledge by Allah Almighty but left it is likened to a dog. He always has his tongue hanging out. He is greedy.
And relate to them the story of him to whom We delivered Our signs, but he detached himself from them, so Satan went after him, and he became one of the perverters.
Had We willed, We could have elevated him through them; but he clung to the ground, and followed his desires. His metaphor is that of a dog: if you chase it, it pants; and if you leave it alone, it pants. Such is the metaphor of the people who deny Our signs. So tell the tale, so that they may ponder. (7:175-176)
Giving in to greed
Double misery affects that person – he knows nothing of dunya except following his desire. If you let it become inflated it will control your life. If you do not let it balloon, you can keep it under control. It is not meant to rule your life.
The moment you lose balance, and follow your desire you bear the consequences of your choices. Allah Almighty does not force taqwa on anyone He does not force goodness on anyone. He clarified what is good and what isn’t through the prophets and messengers and He gave us free will. Allah Almighty does not care about you when you go against His pleasure. He does not approve. So if you had a good status with Allah Almighty, you lose it when you allow greed to take over. This is accompanied later by huge regret when they wake up and realise what they did to themselves.
Instead of getting into a vicious circle. Assess yourself and figure out where you are on the list of control. Are you in control or under control?
But if they fail to respond to you, know that they follow their fancies. And who is more lost than him who follows his fancy without guidance from God? God does not guide the unjust people. (28:50)
The remedy to greed
Be greedy about the akhirah and focus your energy on that. Channel your eagerness towards the akhirah. When the prophet (peace be upon him) was offered mountains of gold he rejected them for akhirah. (As in Musnad Ahmad).
But as for him who feared the Standing of his Lord, and restrained the self from desires. Then Paradise is the shelter. (79:40-41)
Excessive greed leads to addiction, miserliness and a loss of dignity and reputation. It can destroy relationships. We need do regular salah, lots of istighfar and dhikr to make us stable and help us fight the greed inside us. Let’s focus on the akhirah more inshallah.
Talk delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim in London in July 2019
Protect your eyes to keep them on the prize
June 09, 2023