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The Philosophy of Wealth in Islam Julai 3, 2007

Posted by MOHD IDZANEY ZAKARIA in Cara Hidup, Ekonomi, Pengurusan Diri.
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Dr. Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran(ABIM)

One of the prevailing criteria of the world we are living now is the predominant desire of man toward material wealth. The world is dominated, mostly by the greed of man, translated in their obsession of material wealth. Money, as the symbol of extravagance and richness, has been the magic word of the modern man. Books on how to generate business, to maximize profit, and to become rich in the shortest possible time, pack the best-sellers shelves of every bookshop, hence accelerating the economic madness and material frenzy of the modern life. Every inch of human life is measured by dollar and cent, credit and debt, profit and loss. Man’s own desire and greediness has become his new God while the phantom of his rapacity and selfishness turns out to be his new religion.

Man suddenly forgets the pertinent lesson from history that abundance of wealth is so far the best demolisher of human civilizations. Saidina Umar al-Khattab whose geographically extent of his conquest extends more than one million square km, once saw abundant of wealth of the fallen Persian Empire including fine carpets brought back by his lieutenant, Sa’ad bin Abi Waqas. Umar suddenly wept. When asked about the reason of his sadness in that supposedly cheerful occasion, response, “This abundant of wealth has been the cause of down fall of the Persian Kingdom, and now it come to us to indicate our downfall”.

The philosophy of wealth reflected in these words of Umar is indeed the gist of how Islam views the possession of wealth. Islam obviously is not against any material pursuit neither it opposes the accumulation of wealth. The only caution Islam put forward is the danger of obsessive preoccupation in accumulating and conglomerating wealth either in the individual or in the societal and governmental level to the extent sidelining the most essential parts of his self, his spirituality. Without sufficient spiritual defense, man will easily be deluded by the deception of wealth. Wealth according Imam al-Ghazali is like a snake which inherent in it both poison and cure, danger and benefit. Whoever knows both of them in regard to wealth he can avoid the danger of wealth and gain benefit of it. But just like the snake, most mankind is rather near to the danger of wealth rather than its benefit.

Hence, this is the very reason Al-Qur’an warns us about the danger of piling up wealth to the extent it influences our psychology and worldview:
“Woe to every scandalmonger and backbiter
Who pileth up wealth and layeth 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”
(Al-Humazah 104: 1-4)

And since business and trading are the best manifestation of piling and accumulating excessive wealth, the Qur’an repeatedly warns those who are involved in business and trading concerning the danger being drawn towards the love of material profit to the point of giving more priorities to their business than to God. In Surah al-Taubah (9), verse 24, God says,
“Say, if it be that your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your mates, or your kindred, or the wealth that you have gained, the commerce in which you are fear a decline, or dwellings in which you are delight, are dearer to you than Allah or His Messenger, or striving in His cause, than wait until Allah brings about His decision; and Allah guides not to the rebellious,”

And in Surah al-Nur (24), verse 37, trade and business are specifically mentioned by God as deluders of man from the remembrances of God:
“In houses, which Allah has permitted to be raised so that His name be remembered in them, there extol His limitless glory in the mornings and the evenings, by men whom neither trade nor sale can divert from the remembrance of Allah, nor the regular prayer, nor from paying zakat. Their only fear is for the day when hearts and eyes will be turned about.”

The tendency of being swayed by the temptation of material wealth is indeed very strong in man. The love of wealth according to Prophet is the everlasting inspiration for man to think that he will not leave the world:
“The children of Adam will definitely be getting old but two things in him that will be always young, his hope and his love of wealth.”

Why does the Qur’an repeatedly remind us about the danger of business and trading?
It is because this kind of trading will make man heedless of another more profound business with a most noble business partner, a business with God Himself:
“O ye who believe! Shall I lead you to a bargain that will save you from the grievous penalty? That you believe in Allah and his Messenger, and that you strive in the cause of Allah with your property and yourselves. That will be best for you if you but know”
(Al-Saff 61:10-11)
This kind of business is a spiritual business that promises not only a more satisfying profit but also will avoid mankind from falling to a state of utter lost, the lost that is graver than any other material lost that man ever experience in this world, as reminded by Allah in Surah al-Asr:
“By time. Verily man is in utter loss. Except such as have Faith,
and (join together) In the mutual teaching of truth, and patience and constancy”

Commenting this verse, al-Razi illustrates the reason why it is as if only this is the only loss emphasized by the Qur’an. It is because the real loss for mankind is when he was denied of his service to God, to perform his ubudiyyah to God. And when this kind of loss compared with other kind of losses, it is as if the other is non-existent.

The term ‘la’ in lafi khusr, al-Razi adds, indicates two meanings; that man is in the way of loss (fi tariq al-khusr); secondly that man cannot be separated from loss.” How is this happened? A loss in trading, says al-Razi, means the decrement of the capital. And in this spiritual business, it is man’s own existence, his own life which is the capital of trading. Therefore, when one’s life is full of misgivings, he is surely in the state of loss since he is decreasing his capital. If his life is full of the mubahat, permissible deeds, he is also in the state of loss for he only maintains his capital without accumulating any profit. And even his life is full obedience to God , al-Razi says, he is still, comparatively in a state of loss for there is always a better level of obedience to God. In other word, there is an infinite level of ubudiyyah. The higher the state of obedience, the higher once position in the eyes of God.

Where there is no limit of the ubudiyah, it also means that there is no limit of the profit of this spiritual trading. It is a trading with multiple profit ad’afan kathirah as the Qur’an says. And how can we get less profit in a business when our business partner is the one in whose hand are the keys of want or plenty, who possesses the heaven and the earth.

Hence to involve in this spiritual trading is not a matter of option. Only the fools and those whose heart are sealed will refuse to involve in this trading. These group, as al-Qur’an states, will rather involved in the weird trading namely but to buy error in place of guidance (ishtara al-dalalata bi al-huda) and to buy sufferings in the place of forgiveness (al-‘azab bi al-maghfirah)

Let us reminded that to deal with this spiritual trading is not always easy as been said. It needs a real, continuing struggle and effort and everlasting battle with our own animal self. The struggle is getting more profit in this trading become more difficult when it somehow against the material profit that we gain in this world. How strong are we to follow the model depicted by Saidina Abu Bakar, a promising businessman with 400,000 dirham, capital flow before converted into Islam, but left with him 5,000 dirham when he made hijrah with the prophet and finally give up all his wealth in the war of Tabuk. When asked by the Prophet what he left for his family, he convincingly replied, “I left them Allah and You”.

Indeed, these are the main who hope for the tijaratan lan tabur, commerce which will never fail as recorded by Al-Qur’an; “Those who are rehearse the book of Allah, established the regular prayer, and spent in charity out of what we have provided for them secretly and openly, hope for the commerce, that will never fail. For he will pay their reward. He will give them more out of bounty. For he is Oft-Forgiving. Most ready to appreciate service.” (Fathir, 35:29-30)

When commenting this verse, Abdullah Yusuf Ali says that:
‘The good man’s charity comes not merely out of superfluities, but out of “what Allah provided” for him. He therefore recognizes two things : that the wealth (literal and metaphorical) is not his absolute, but that it is given to him by Allah; and secondly, that he must deny himself the use of some of it, as merchant puts some of his wealth to invest the capital. Only the Godly man’s commerce will never fail or fluctuates, because Allah guarantees him in return, and even adds something to the return out of his bounty. That is Allah gives more than our merits deserves.

It is indeed true as stressed by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, which the kind of loss in the spiritual business with God when compared to the worldly material loss, is as if the second one of is a non-existence. The loss in the spiritual trading with God means the lost of everything one owns. It means a never ending grief not only in this world but more importantly the permanent life in the hereafter. The loss in this business can find nothing to replace as a payback. No huge palaces, neither mountainous gold and silver can rectify the great losses done by the mishandling his own self. The only replacement is his own self.

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