Ghazali on stinginess
Imam Ghazali’s book, Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, ‘The Forty Principles of the Religion,’ which he wrote before his death, is a summary of Ihya Ulumuddin, and his life’s works and thoughts.
Miserliness – Bukhl
This is a big topic, which Ghazali broke down and summarised as 6 topics – bukhl in the Quran and Sunnah, the essence of miserliness and the reality of loving money, how wealth can be praiseworthy/blameworthy, how much wealth is sufficient for us, and the extremes in spending – squandering (israf) and bukhl. And then he explains how to treat it.
Allah Almighty told us in the Quran:
Whoever is protected from the stinginess of his self, these are the successful ones. (59:9 and 64:16)
Therefore we can see that whoever avoids this trait will be successful in their life in dunya and akhirah. In Surat An-Nisa that the habit of excessively restraining one’s spending and concealing what Allah has blessed one with, is not a habit one should be pleased with, as it is a punishable trait.
Who are stingy and enjoin upon [other] people stinginess and conceal what Allah has given them of His bounty – and We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment (4:37)
In Arabic miserliness is bukhl and shuh. These qualities can make life unbearable for family members when their parent or spouse is stingy.
In the sunnah, the Prophet (peace be on him) addressed this common human trait. It affects people in general, not just Muslims. It is human nature to be possessive and selfish, as this is part of our survival instinct. If we did not acquire what we need, we would die out. However when this instinct grows out of proportion, it becomes a disease.
“Beware of greed, for it was greed that destroyed those who came before you. It commanded them to be miserly and they did so. It commanded them to sever their family ties and they did so. It commanded them to behave wickedly and they did so” (Abu Dawood)
The worst thing is when miserliness prevents you from paying what you are obliged to pay. When it reaches this extent it is dangerous.
The Prophet (peace be on him) here shows us that the nations before us were destroyed by their tightfistedness in giving the charity they had been commanded to give, and for not helping others.
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Two qualities are never combined in a believer: miserliness and bad character.” (Tirmidhi)
What is the essence of miserliness?
Ghazali says the root or miserliness is the love of wealth. We all love wealth and the, but it becomes problematic when you are immersed it in and cannot see beyond it and it controls you. If you use the dunya to please Allah, to fulfil your obligations and look after your family and support those who are needy, without looking for praise and a pat on the back, then it is good but to love wealth for sake of wealth is not good.
Being rich or poor does not make you a miser
One’s status does not reflect what is in one’s heart. You cannot assume that someone who has less is attached to the akhirah, nor can you assume that someone who has a great deal is attached to dunya. The quality of being a miser is not evident unless one is in a position where one has to give. If someone has nothing to give you cannot test this quality. However it is possible for a billionaire’s heart to be attached to the akhirah and the penniless one to be attached to dunya. So do not gauge others by their outward trappings– the house they live in, the car they drive and the clothes they wear. It might be a true reflection and it might not. A wealthy person may be very generous. Yet the intention behind their generosity may be to buy votes. We see at election time that candidates suddenly start giving – where were they the rest of the year?
Wealth is a test
Allah states plainly in the Quran that wealth and children are a test. One reason people are reluctant to give is because they fear it will decrease their wealth and then they will not have enough for their family.
O you who believe! Let not your wealth nor your children (distract and) divert you from the remembrance of God. Those who do so, they are the losers (63:9)
Know that your wealth and children are a trial and that there is an immense reward with Allah. (8:28 and 64:15)
Shaytan preys on the instinct to look after one’s family and this drives people to hoard what they have. However who provided the wealth in the first place? It was not you. Though you may have worked hard, graduated from a top university and through blood and sweat achieved a certain level, many others attended the same classes as you. you were fortunate and got ‘A’s but they did not. Though you listened to the same lectures and read the same textbooks, it was Allah who allowed you to excel – to have a quicker and deeper understanding, a better memory and better ability to express yourself. Or to set up a successful business. It is Allah you granted you this honour. You could have been ill on the day of the test, or failed in your business, or thrown obstacles in your path that you could not surmount, but He enabled you to succeed, where others did not. And He can take it all away in an instant if He wants.
Do not become immersed in dunya
Though we all need to earn our livelihood, we have to avoid the tipping point when earning to sustain us becomes earning for the sake of it. The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Do not take a villa and thus the world. (Tirmidhi)
He was warning us from becoming immersed in the dunya. Some people have much property or many farms, as some of the companions had at the time of the Prophet (peace be on him), such as Abu Darda, Abdur Rahman ibn Auf and Uthman bin Affan (may Allah be pleased with them). They had great fortunes and were the ultra high net individuals of their time. And there were many others. But the dunya did not distract them from the akhirah, conversely it brought them closer to Allah. One example is when Uthman funded the whole army from his own wealth.
He inherited 30 million dirhams from his father and increased them in trade. Among his acts of charity he bought a well when the wells of Madinah were bitter and salty and gave it to the Muslims. During the campaign for Tabuk, when the Muslims were experiencing drought and famine, the Prophet (peace be on him) asked Muslims to make donate towards the campaign, and Uthman donated 940 camels and 60 horses to the army, that is, a total of one thousand riding animals. Later during the reign of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), Muslims were suffering from severe drought, so Uthman donated a huge caravan full of goods as alms.
He was so generous that he gave without hesitation. If you are balanced, there is nothing wrong with having wealth. The lesson we are being taught is not to not earn money, as the Prophet (peace be on him) did not tell his companions to give up their businesses but not to let wealth distract you. Utilise your wealth in goodness and promoting goodness. Not everyone can do that. Money can be a huge distraction and take someone from being close to Allah to becoming distant from Him. That is a big loss.
Ibn Abi Shayba said when someone dies what did he send forward… and leave for heirs
Ibn Mas`ud (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) asked, “Who of you loves the wealth of his heir more than his own wealth?” The Companions said: “O Messenger of Allah! There is none of us but loves his own wealth more.” He (peace be on him) said, “His wealth is that which he has sent forward, but that which he retains belongs to his heir.” (Bukhari)
What will happen to the wealth you accumulated?
If you spent all your life accumulating wealth, you worked for your heirs not yourself, as misers do not spend on themselves. If you had given it to the right causes, the wealth would be in your akhirah account. But if you left it all behind, it is no use to you. You cannot take cash or gold with you.
Ghazali is saying money is not blameworthy itself but how you earn it and spend it. Money is just a means of exchange.
Thus the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
How excellent is the useful wealth of a righteous man! (Bukhari in Al Adab al Mufrad)
Instead of watching the numbers of one’s bank account go up on a screen, put your wealth to good use.
Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Wretched is the slave of the dinar! Wretched is the slave of the dirham! (Bukhari)
The Prophet (peace be on him) is saying one who is chasing pennies and pounds is miserable in this life and the akhirah, because his wealth did not benefit him in either place. The one who can spend is the master, not the slave. So the one who cannot spend it, is the slave, no matter how wealthy he is. The slave works hard but cannot enjoy the money, because he is not a free person. It is ironic therefore that the wealthy man thinks he is a master, when he is a slave.
Had he realised that he was the slave of Allah and spent on what pleases Allah, he would have earned his freedom to do as he pleases in Jannah and would be praised. However if he merely hoarded his wealth, he will be locked up in Jahanum and blamed for wasting the opportunity to do good when he had been given it.
The man who couldn’t pay his zakat
I heard from a trusted friend that there was a man who could not bring himself to pay zakat. He was very troubled by this but at the same time could not physically do it. One day he asked his shaykh to come to his house with four strong men. He gave him instructions how to access his safe and to count his wealth, calculate his zakat and take it. The shaykh did as he was asked and returned the next day with four strong men. As the man had warned, the sight of this made him furious and he began to shout and curse, but the four men held him though he tried to beat them up. Meanwhile the shaykh carried out his task and took the zakat that was due. The man came to the mosque then next day covered in bruises and with swollen black eyes. He said he had cried all night at the loss of his money, but he was grateful to the shaykh for helping him fulfil his obligation.
We are on a journey in dunya so we need provision to reach our destination safely, but when we focus on earning money for its own sake, then we lose our direction.
In Surat Humazah, Allah Almighty says:
Woe to every scorner and mocker, Who collects wealth and [continuously] counts it. (104:1-2)
Imam al Jahiz (776 AH–868AH) wrote the well known Kitab al-Bukhala (The Book of Misers), a collection of anecdotes on stinginess, which he filled with anecdotes about misers that he had met or heard about on his travels through different countries.
Ghazali mentions that golden formula which is how to be balanced between squandering wealth and hoarding it. This is summarised in the ayah of the Quran in which Allah Almighty says, ‘do not tie your hands to necks nor spread them out wide’, in other words:
Do not be so tight-fisted, for you will be blameworthy; nor so open-handed, for you will end up in poverty. (17:29)
Squandering and stinginess are two extremes, whereas Allah Almighty made us a moderate ummah. Islam is the path of moderation.
Wealth opens the gates of dunya
The more wealth you have the more the gates of dunya and haram open up for you. The more opportunities present themselves to you for spending on yourself and on entertainment and doubtful matters. It can be a slippery slope.
Wake up before it is too late. Take what you need. If you do that it helps you focus on what is most important. The pandemic has shown us that we have many things in our lives which are not essential. The most important thing we have is our imaan. This makes us strong and resilient. And our families. The pandemic has made us reflect on how we have been spending our time. How much was wasted? Free your time to do what is beneficial and useful. Don’t be intoxicated by your friends and what they have, or try to compete with them. Your akhirah is more important than seeking extra wealth which you don’t need and cannot take with you. As Allah Almighty stated in Surat Takathur:
Competition in [worldly] increase diverts you (102:1)
If you are busy seeking the dunya, you might wake up one day in the graveyard and find you have nothing.
Miserliness in Western literature
One cannot of think of miserliness without thinking of Ebenezer Scrooge.
The very name reflects the quintessential miser – the mean, grouchy, cold hearted, solitary and stubborn protagonist of A Christmas Carol.
Dickens described him:
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
What you may not know is that Scrooge was based on a real person, John Elwes. In fact this real ‘miser’s habits seem to exceed even Scrooge. He had inherited a huge a fortune which he continued to amass during his lifetime was at one point worth £1 million pounds in 1700s.
Yet this miser dressed in rags, never cleaned his shoes in case cleaning them wore them out faster. Rode on horses rather than a carriage, because they were cheaper. He would sleep under a tree, than in a tavern. He would fill his pockets with hardboiled eggs so he wouldn’t have to pay for meals along the way. And he rode on the dirt on the side of the road rather than the road itself, so the horses shoes would not wear out as fast. When he got wet in the rain, he would not light a fire to dry himself or his clothes.
He became the most shabbily dressed MP in parliament to the extent that people would people would stop in the street to put coins in his hand because he looked like a tramp.
How did his life end? By the end, he was so obsessed by money that he would wrap each coin in his pocket in a piece of paper and hide it around his house. Then he would stay up half the night wandering agitatedly where he’d hidden them. Terrified of dying penniless, he often woke in the middle of the night screaming at imaginary thieves: “I will keep my money, I will! Nobody shall rob me of my property.”
Although Scrooge is a caricature and John Elwes even worse, we all have traces or more of that miser inside us.
In the opening of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, there is a memorable scene. Mr Dashwood has been left with a fortune which he promised his father to share with his sisters, however, although he intends initially to give them a thousand pounds each, by the time he has reflected on it and discussed it with his wife he persuades himself £50 each would be more than sufficient.
We can all be that person sometimes, who talks ourselves into giving less than we intended.
From Sister Rahma Abdulatif’s workshop on How to Keep your Heart Healthy:
Allah doesn’t love miserliness and misers. How does this impact you and your families?
You are creating a behavioural pattern for not giving, so a culture of not giving is created.
Yes, true. personally, I was very scared that by the idea of being deprived of Allah’s love, scared to think of this possibility of being deprived of Allah’s love and pleasure. I was thinking of how much we hold back and how much we give. In this country, there is a system that provides stuff, and I think some people fall into the tendency of expecting to take and giving becomes a negotiation.
I was looking at the literature on miserliness, there is very little on it. What is available is negative, it is critical of religious people.
What I found in psychology and philosophy of greed, is that whenever existential anxiety threatens our sense of self-esteem we turn to a culture of comfort or consolation. In our cultures or the lack of it we find comfort in material things or materialism, by extension we want to hold on to things rather than give. We are becoming collectors. There is an idea when we have an appetite of collecting then we don’t like to share. When we are collectors, we are unable to feel satisfied and we feel that there is not enough to go around. Also, when we acquire one thing, we want to acquire another thing. We can get consumed by materialism.
The drawback for being a collector in western literature is that you are unable to connect to higher desires and a higher being. One of the consequences is that the collector is unable to connect to a higher sense of purpose or higher power to the idea of religion or spirituality.
One drawback is that you are unable to direct yourself to a higher power for the ideas of religion and belief. There is an idea that holding back is associated with negativity related to states of stress, exhaustion anxiety, depression and despair. There are also maladaptive behaviours such as gambling and theft as a possible response to this. All these things are associated with keeping back.
There are benefits of giving in both our physical health and psychologically, this could be emotionally positive. What are these?
We are trained to give. London comes highest in giving and Muslims are amongst the most charitable community. We do give naturally, that’s why Islam is a way of life.
Health benefits of giving reduces blood pressure, increases self-esteem, lessens depression and lowers stress. It lengthens lives. The conclusion is greater happiness and satisfaction The quote in the paper was that “Giving evokes gratitude” Giving or receiving leads to gratitude.
Gratitude is integral to happiness, health and social bonds. That is your heading there, because the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wassalam said to us to exchange gifts because it increases your bond and gratitude. Gratitude is promoted in mental health treatment.
Western literature explains the causes of stinginess emanates from not having enough or growing up in extreme poverty. Islam helps us to heal it explains to us that just because we didn’t have doesn’t mean that we should hold onto things later in life.
The need to give is a human need whether it is love, attention or money.
An important lesson for us to take away is that Allah doesn’t love misers, that is something we need to bear in mind.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – The Thursday Al Ghazali Class 23rd December 2021 with additional notes on the psychotherapy of Hasad by Sister Rahma Abdul Latif. Delivered at the How to Keep your Heart Healthy Course, transcribed by F. Qadir.
November 27, 2022
November 27, 2022
November 26, 2022