Israf or wasteful expenditure is a Gretaer Sin
By: Ayatullah Abdul Husayn Dastaghaib Shirazi
The thirty-second sin, which has been mentioned in the Qur’an and traditions as a Greater sin, is Isrāf or wasteful expenditure. It is enumerated among the Greater Sins in the tradition of Fazl Ibn Shazān from Imam Riďa (a.s.) and also in the tradition of Amash from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.). The Qur’anic verses and traditions, both, confirm that wasteful expenditure is a Greater sin. First we shall quote these ayats and traditions and then delve into the various aspects of this sin. The Holy Qur’an says, “…and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Surah al-Ar’āf 7:31)
The above ayat suffices to show the dislike of Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) for the extravagant people. According to some exegesists of the Qur’an one who is not loved by Allah (S.w.T.) is doomed to perdition because the love of Allah (S.w.T.) implies Divine rewards.
According to Tafsīr Majmaul Bayan, Bakhti Shoa was the personal physician of Harūn al-Rashid. He was a Christian. One day he asked Waqidi, “Does your Holy book contain any medical knowledge?” Waqidi replied, “The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) has condensed the complete medical knowledge in a single verse, “...And eat and drink and be not extravagant.”
“Did your Prophet mention anything about this branch of knowledge?” asked the physician.
“Yes,” said Waqidi, “he has described the medical sciences in a brief sentence.
‘The stomach is the house of pain and abstinence is the most important medicine. Everyone should be given the amount (of food) he needs.’”
Upon hearing this, the Christian remarked, “Your Book and your Prophet have not omitted anything from medical science and Galen (the Greek physician) had nothing more to say.”
The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says in the Qur’an, “...eat of its fruit when it bears fruit, and pay the due of it on the day of its reaping, and do not act extravagantly; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Surah al-’An’ām 6:141)
A verse in Surah Ghāfir states, “Thus does Allah cause him to err who is extravagant, a doubter.” (Surah Ghāfir, 40:34)
Similarly, “...the extravagant are the inmates of the fire.” (Surah Ghāfir, 40:43)
Also, “And thus do We recompense him who is extravagant and does not believe in the communication of his Lord; and certainly the chastisement of the Hereafter is severer and more lasting.” (Surah Tā Hā, 20:127)
Allah the Almighty again says, “...and do not squander wastefully, surely the squanderers are the followers of the shaitans and the Shaitan is ever ungrateful to his Lord.” (Surah al-‘Isrā’, 17:26-27)
Tafsīr Minhaj cites the extravagance and prodigality of the pre-Islamic Arabs. When the rich among them invited someone for dinner, they slaughtered several camels to show off their wealth. The Almighty Allah has denounced their extravagance and has said that they squander their wealth like the insane.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, “Certainly, moderation is liked by Allah and He dislikes extravagance; even in the throwing away of a date-seed, because that too can be used (Arabs feed date-seeds to camels). And the same is with the throwing away of water left after drinking.” (Because even this can be put to some use). (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
The Imam (a.s.) has also said: “Fear Allah and be not extravagant nor miserly. Be moderate. Verily, extravagance is waste. The Almighty Allah says, ‘And do not waste!’ Certainly Allah has never punished the people who practise moderation.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
It means that the Divine punishment is reserved for both the squanderer as well as the miser. Bushr Ibn Umar says, “I went to Imam Sadiq (a.s.) and he placed some dates before us. We began to eat the dates and some of us were throwing away the seeds. He stopped them and said, ‘This is waste, Allah does not like corruption.’” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
In a tradition, from the book Faqih, the Holy Prophet (S) describes the various prohibited acts and states that the house one builds extravagantly and for show-off will be raised to seven floors by the Almighty Allah on the Day of Qiyāma. Allah (S.w.T.) will kindle that building and make it into a necklace and place it on the neck of that person. Then He will toss him into the fire. The people requested the Holy Prophet (S) to explain how a person can build a house for show-off. The Prophet (S) explained that it denotes a house, which is more than needed, and one that is constructed to show the superiority of the owner over other Muslim brothers.
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says: “Whenever Allah intends goodness from His servants, He reveals to him to live moderately and spend his life in the best way and keeps him away from extravagance and prodigality.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “Do you think if Allah has bestowed someone with wealth, it is because he is His beloved? And if He has given less to someone it is because he is low? No! It is not so. Whatever wealth is there, it all belongs to Allah. Allah gives it to whomsoever He wishes as a trust and He has permitted the trustee to eat, drink, wear clothes, marry, and ride from it, (but) in moderation. If he has excess he must distribute it among the poor and fulfill their needs. Then whoever follows the Divine commands, whatever he has eaten, drunk, worn, married and riden in moderation; all this is lawful for him and if he does not act upon it, everything is Harām.”
Then Imam (a.s.) recited the ayat, “And do not be extravagant, Allah does not love the squanderers.”
Then he continued, “Do you think it proper that a person purchases from the wealth which Allah has entrusted him, a horse costing 10,000 dirhams when he could have bought an animal worth 20 dirhams?; and it would have sufficed for him. Or if he purchase a slave-girl at a cost of a thousand dirhams when he could have got one in twenty dinars and quite sufficient for him? When the Almighty says, ‘Do not spend wastefully.’ (One who wastes and squanders money has done Khayanat in the trust of Allah (S.w.T.)). (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Abbasi says that he asked Imam Riďa (a.s.) as to how much he should spend on his family? Imam (a.s.) replied, “Between the two which are disliked.”
I said, “I don’t know what those two are?”
“Certainly Allah hates extravagance and He hates miserliness.”
Imam (a.s.) then recited the ayat, “And (the people are) those who are neither extravagant nor miserly. They are the moderate (people).” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has said that if a person is extravagant and later becomes poor due to it, his invocations will not be accepted. Then if he says “O Allah grant me health,” Allah (S.w.T.) says, “Had I not ordered you moderation?”
The meaning of extravagance and its types
Extravagance means crossing the limits or spending wastefully. It depends upon circumstances. For example, spending on something useless is Harām, even if it is only a single dirham. Spending unduly even for a proper ocassion is extravagance. If a dress of one hundred rupees is good enough one should not purchase a dress costing five hundred. According to certain scholars spending at the wrong place is squandering and spending more than necessary is extravagance.
Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “The extravagant have Three qualities; he eats more than required, he wears more than is suitable for him and buys things needlessly.” (Bihār al-Anwār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “If you wear a formal dress where it is not required, it is extravagance.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Extravagance depends upon the capacity of every person
It is necessary to know that extravagance depend upon the honour and respect of different people, their health and sickness, youth and old age, poverty and affluence, income levels etc. It is possible that an expensive dress may not constitute extravagance for a person who can afford the same and who holds a respectable position in society. Whereas for one who is not having the same position and income, wearing the same dress will constitute extravagance.
Kulayni (r.a.) has recorded a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said, “There are some poor people who squander more than the rich. Because the rich squander from the wealth Allah has given whereas the poor squander what they have not.” (Furu al-Kāfi)
Thus such poor people are always involved in economic problems and debts. They do not consider their circumstances and spend beyond their means. This is extravagance. It is a result of competing with those who are more affluent. In trying to keep up with them one indulges in extravagance and spends ones life in misery, sorrow and grief. If instead people look at those who are less privileged than them, as ordered by Islam, they would never fall prey to wasteful expenditure. Thus, bankruptcy is often caused by extravagance. If people obey the rules of Islam and act with common sense and reason, they will always practice moderation and keep aloof from this sin; they will be satisfied with whatever they have and live within their means. Consequently, they will enjoy the goodness of this world and the Hereafter.
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says: “No one can taste true belief till he cultivates Three qualities
1. Love of the knowledge of religious rules and regulations.
2. Patience in calamities and
3. Realistic estimation of his expenses.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “When a person practices moderation I guarantee that he will never become destitute.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) says: “Three things facilitate salvation: Fearing Allah, practising moderation in poverty and affluence, to say only the rightful thing even when angry or displeased.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) explains the ayat “We will certainly make him live a happy life.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:97)
and says that, “‘A happy life’ is contentment.”
Abu Zar repels greed
Uthman gave two hundred gold coins to his servants and told them to take them to Abu Zar and say, “Uthman has sent you his salām with a request to accept these coins. You can use them for your needs.”
When the servants brought the gold coins to Abu Zar and conveyed Uthman’s message he asked, “Has Uthman given a similar amount to every Muslim?”
“‘No”, they replied “Then am I superior to all the Muslims to be given these?”
The servants told him, Uthman has said that, “these gold coins are from his personal property and by Allah (S.w.T.) they are Halāl.”
“I do not need them because I am needless,” said Abu Zar.
“But we don’t see anything in your house, that shows you are needless?”
Abu Zar pointed towards a utensil and said, “There are two pieces of barley bread in it and hence I am needless.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
In another narration of the same type, Muawiya sent two of his slaves with some money for Abu Zar and when Abu Zar refused to accept them, the slaves said, “O Abu Zar! Muawiya had promised to free us if you accept the money. Please accept it for our sake.”
Abu Zar said, “If I take them you would be free from Muawiya’s slavery but I will become his slave, because then I will be forced to obey him.” (It would be the same as selling my religion for material wealth).
Sayyid Abu A’lā Maududi writes in his book, Islam and the Economic Problems that all the evils in the world are due to the wasteful expenditure of rich people and their vain pastimes. These people consider extra-marital sex a necessity. Due to this thousands of women become morally corrupt; thousands of men shamelessly commit debauchery. These people consider singing, dancing, music, acting etc. as necessary entertainments. Hence they have bought over the various professionals of these vices and the entertainment industry has bloomed. More and more people being attracted to these vices. Thus, the number of dancers, actors and prostitutes increase by the day.
This has resulted in the development of entertainments, which are not at all necessary for respectable people. On the contrary such vices are destroying morals and basic human values. Even sports and excursions have been commercialised into wealth ammassing business. Misguided people have instigated a section of society to indulge in producing wines, drugs and other intoxicants. The devastating effect of which on society are only too well known. They spend their money in building posh apartments, giving lavish parties. They spend exhorbitantly on jewellery, dresses, paintings etc. The height of their wasteful expenditure is reflected in the special rooms for their dogs and the golden collars and lashes with which they adorn their pets.
In the face of such wasteful expenditure are the destiutes and deprived masses who cannot have even their basic needs fulfilled. The Qarūns (profligates) have acted blatantly against humanity and against the principles of Islam by their wasteful expenditure. If only they had used their excess wealth for alleviating poverty and fufilling the needs of the poor, they would have done a service to humanity.
As pointed out earlier extravagance depends on the capacity of a person and what is extravagance for a poor man may not be considered lavishness for a rich man. However, it does not mean that the affluent people are free to spend their wealth in any way they like. Most certainly they cannot spend on anything which is Harām. In fact the rules that apply to the rich are very strict indeed.
When they have been bestowed with wealth and affluences they have to live in a manner suitable to their status. Whatever amount remains is not for hoarding. Any excess wealth has to be utilised in the manner stated by religion. It is obligatory to deduct Khums (1/5) of the extra wealth and distribute it to those who are qualified for it. One must also pay Zakat when it is obligatory.
If a person has some close relatives who are poor he has to give them some amount otherwise he will be guilty of Qat’a ar-Rahm. If some of his surplus money is needed by his destitute and poor relations, he must help them. If they are in debt he must help them repay the debts. If they are sick he should provide medicines for them and provide the other necessities of life. In fact, if he is aware of any Muslim who needs monetary help and he does not help him, he will be like the one described in the following words of Qur’an, “...and (as for) those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah’s way, announce to them a painful chastisement. On the day when it shall be heated in the fire of Hell, then their foreheads and their sides and their backs shall be branded with it; this is what you hoarded up for yourselves, therefore taste what you hoarded.” (Surah at-Tawba 9:34-35)
The Holy Prophet (S) explains, “If a person hoards wealth and does not fulfill the rights (if he sees a poor and needy person and he does not spend it in the way of Allah); then on the Day of Qiyāma he will be branded with it and it will be told to him, ‘This is your wealth which you collected with miserliness.’” (Tafsīr al-Mizan)
Numerous ayats and traditions have emphasised spending in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) and prohibited against hoarding of wealth. The former is considered most deserving of Divine rewards and the latter earns degrading punishment. However, if we quote these verses and narrations we would be straying from our topic.
It would not be out of place to mention a few facts of the modern world. Some rich people, who feel they are Muslims, hoard up all their surplus wealth in foreign banks, in secret accounts. Only when they exit from the world do we learn of their legacies. Allah (S.w.T.) knows how they shall justify their actions. If they offer the excuse of ignorance of the matter they will be confronted with the question as to why did they not try to learn about religion, attend majlis, lectures etc?
If they had known everything why did they not act upon it. It is a pity that these wealthy people do not realize that spending in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) is the most appropriate utility of their wealth. It is the only beneficial way to spend it. The money spent in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) has been called as the ‘righteous wealth’ by the Holy Prophet (S). The person who spends in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) will deserve praises in this world and also earn the eternal rewards of the Hereafter. Those who do not, will be fraught with regret and bitterness, forever.
Extravagance depends on prevailing conditions at different times
Extravagance differs from person to person, it also depends on the prevailing conditions. It is possible that spending a certain quantity may not be extravagance in times of prosperity but if a similar amount is spent in times of famine when people are starving to death, it will be counted as lavishness and squandering. It would be obligatory for those people to avoid spending like in normal times and instead distribute that wealth among those who are in need.
Moatab, a servant of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, “There was an acute shortage of food when Imam (a.s.) asked me, ‘What is the position of our stocked grains?’
‘We have sufficient to last us months,’ I replied. Imam (a.s.) said, ‘Take it out and sell it.’
I said, ‘There is a shortage of wheat and barley in Madinah.’ But Imam (a.s.) insisted I sell it.
When I had sold it all, Imam (a.s.) told me that I should buy the daily requirements from the market like the common people and said, ‘Fix a diet of half wheat and half barley for my family, Allah knows that I am capable of feeding them all pure wheat bread but I like it that Allah sees me fulfilling duties of my life faithfully.’”
The same order applies to the matter of dressing. Some stupid people have accused Imam Sajjad (a.s.), Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) and Imam Riďa (a.s.) for wearing fine clothes whereas their fathers, grandfathers, the Holy Prophet (S) and Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) all wore humble clothes. The Holy Imams (a.s.) have always refuted this accusation by saying that those times were different. In those days the majority of the people dressed in very ordinary clothes but now there was prosperity and affluence in society.
“If we were to wear the same types of clothes today, people would insult us.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
In an incident connected with the same subject we find Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) asking his critic to come near. When he came near, Imam (a.s.) opened his outward garment and the man saw an old tattered shirt inside. Imam (a.s.) said, “This is the dress I wear to show humility to Allah and the other (outward) dress is for you and people like you to see.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Extravagance that is Harām at all times
We must know that Three types of extravagance are Harām at all times and in all circumstances. Its prohibition is not conditional. The first kind of extravagance is when a person spends something wastefully; even if the thing wasted is of not much significance; like throwing the date seed away when it could be put to some use. Or throwing away water left over after drinking when there is a shortage of water and someone else could have used the same. Tearing up and throwing away old clothes is also a waste; because they can be given to people who are less privileged. Having a light on when there is enough sunlight. Handing over something valuable to a child or a foolish person who does not understand its value; and who will spoil the same. All these are a kind of wasteful expenditure or extravagance.
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) saw some half-eaten fruits that had been thrown out of a house. He said, “What have you done? If your bellies are full there are many people as yet unsatiated. So you should give it to those needy people.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Whatever is left after eating must never be thrown away. Very many traditions have emphasised on the giving away of leftovers to animals, especially leftover bread.
During the time of Prophet Daniyal wastage of bread was rampant. The people used to throw away the leftover bread and it could be seen lying everywhere on the streets. Prophet Daniyal invoked Divine punishment for these people and hence they were inflicted with such a severe famine, that they were prepared to eat each other.
The book Wasa’il ul-Shia has mentioned that once Imam Baqir (a.s.) entered the toilet and saw a piece of bread lying on the floor. He picked it up and handed it over to his slave. When he had finished, he called the slave to produce that piece of bread. The slave said that he had cleaned it properly and then ate it. Imam (a.s.) said, “I emancipate you in the way of Allah.”
The Imam (a.s.) was told, “The slave had not performed any such deed that he deserved to be freed?”
Imam (a.s.) said, “It was because he had respected a great bounty, like bread and ate it; hence Paradise became incumbent upon him. I do not like to enslave a person for whom Allah has ordained Paradise.”
A similar type of tradition has been narrated from the Chief of the Martyrs, Imam Husain (a.s.).
As regards the wastage of clothes we have already quoted a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) where he has remarked about the wearing of fine clothes in common place situations. He (a.s.) himself wore the fine clothes to suit his eminent position.
Eating or drinking harmful things is also a waste
The second type of extravagance is spending on eatables and drinks that cause harm to the body, like eating when one is already full. It is harmful to eat on a full stomach and it is a waste. However, spending upon those things, which are good for the body, is not Isrāf.
al-Kāfi has a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.). One of his followers approached him and said, “When we head for Mecca (for Hajj) we have to halt at a point to wear the ihrām and we also feel the need to anoint our bodies with a pack made from flour husk. Since we do not have flour husk we use flour instead, but it makes me feel very guilty; though our Lord knows better.”
Imam (a.s.) said, “Whatever is necessary for the body is not Isrāf. Quite often we mix sieved flour with olive oil and apply it to our body.”
The narrator then asked Imam (a.s.) to distinguish extravagance from stinginess. Imam (a.s.) told him, “Bread, meat, milk, vinegar and ghee; whatever you wish you can eat. But do not eat all of them at one time.”
Spending on Harām things is Isrāf
The third type of extravagance or wastage is spending on things and vices that are Harām according of Shariah. Like purchasing wine or purchasing items used in gambling; paying to singers or prostitutes, bribing government officials, spending money to obtain unlawful gains or usurping someone else’s property by force, paying for oppressing a Muslim. All these ways of spending are Isrāf. One who indulges in these activities commits two wrongs; one is the action itself and secondly he is also guilty of Isrāf.
Tafsīr of Ayyashi records a tradition through Abdul Rahmān bin Hajjaj who asked Imam (a.s.) the meaning of ayat, “And do not squander wastefully.”
Imam (a.s.) said, “If one spends in any other way than what Allah has ordered, it is squandering and if one spends in the way of Allah, it is moderation.”
Charity is never extravagance
Some of the ayats that deal with the subject of charity emphasise it to such an extent that if one gives away all his belongings while he himself is in need of them, he has not been extravagant. On the contrary it is one of the recommended actions and is liked by Allah (S.w.T.). As the following ayat of Qur’an states: “...and prefer (them) before themselves though poverty may afflict them, and whoever is preserved from the niggardliness of his soul, these it is that are the successful ones.” (Surah al-Hashr 59:9)
Preferring others to ourselves means that even though we are in need of something that we have, we give it to someone else who also needs it. We prefer to fulfill the other person’s needs rather than our own. This is the spirit of sacrifice mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. In another place we have, “And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive...” (Surah al-Insān 76:8)
Majority of the Mufassirīn (commentator of Qur’an) agree that the above verse was revealed in praise of ‘Ali (a.s.), Fatemah Zahra (S), Imam Hasan (a.s.), Imam Husain (a.s.) and their maid, Fizza when they had fasted for Three days consecutively and every day at the time of breaking the fast they gave the bread in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) and contended themselves by ending the fast with plain water.
A person enquired from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.), “What is the best charity?” Imam (a.s.) replied, “One who himself does not possess anything but toils and earns and gives it in the way of Allah. Have you not seen the ayat of Qur’an: “And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive...?” (al-Kāfi)
A report from a Sunni narrator Asim bin Kalīb is mentioned in Tafsīr Minhaj us-Sādiqīn. He reports that a beggar came to the Holy Prophet (S) and requested him for something. The Messenger of Allah (S) sent someone to his residence to get something for the beggar but he was informed that there was nothing at home. The Holy Prophet (S) announced among the companions as to who will render help to this poor man. ‘Ali (a.s.) volunteered, saying, “This destitute shall be my guest tonight.”
He (a.s.) took him home and informed Hazrat Zahra (S) about his condition. Janabe Fatemah Zahra (S) said, “O ‘Ali! We have food enough for only one person and I had kept it for my daughter Zainab but you may do as you wish.”
Imam (a.s.) said, “It would be better to put the children to sleep and put out the lamp because such a less quantity of food will be insulting before the guest.”
Janabe Fatemah (S) did as instructed and the food was placed before the guest. He began to eat and the food was not yet finished when he said, “I am full and the Almighty Allah has given barakat in your food.” Thus he departed happily.
In another narration it is mentioned that afterwards ‘Ali (a.s.), Janabe Fatemah (S), Imam Hasan (a.s.), Imam Husain (a.s.), Janabe Fizza and Janabe Zainab satiated themselves with the remaining food and the happenings were reported to the Holy Prophet (S) the next day, and the following verse was revealed: “...and prefer (them) before themselves though poverty may afflict them, and whoever is preserved from the niggardliness of his soul, these it is that are the successful ones.” (Surah al-Hashr 59:9)
It is recorded in al-Kāfi that Samā enquired from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.): “If a person has just enough food to sustain him for a day, is it incumbent upon him to give from it to a needy person? Or if one has provisions for a month, only enough for him; is he required to give to those who are destitute? Similarly the one who has stocks for a year or any appointed period. Is it in any way incumbent for him to curtail his own needs and give a part of it to the needy? Would he be implicated if he doesn’t?
Imam (a.s.) explained, “There are two aspects of this matter, one is that the best of you are those who do good and prefers others over oneself. They are inclined towards sacrifice and charity. Regarding them Allah says, “...and prefer (them) over themselves.”
The second point is that though one who keeps only the necessary quantity for himself is not blamed, yet the hand of one who gives is better than the hand of one who takes. You must take precedence in helping those who depend upon you.”
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “Selflessness is one of the highest degrees of belief.”
The Holy Prophet (S) says, “There is no goodness in Isrāf and there is no Isrāf in goodness.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
We must always practise moderation
In addition to these verses we also have ayats that emphasise moderation in spending. For example: “And do not make your hand to be shackled to your neck nor stretch it forth to the utmost (limit) of its stretching forth, lest you should (afterwards) sit down blamed, stripped off.” (Surah al-‘Isrā’, 17:29)
The above ayat is commanding the believers not to exceed limits in spending, so as to avoid its ramifications. The Almighty Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “And they who when they spend, are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, and (keep) between these the just mean.” (Surah al-Furqān 25:67)
Ibn Abi Umair has related that a person asked Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) the meaning of the ayat, “...and pay the due of it on the Day of its reaping, and do not act extravagantly; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Surah al-An’ām 6:141)
Imam (a.s.) explained, “There was a man from the helpers (ansār) who was a cultivator. When he received his income he spent it all on the helpless and distributed it among the poor. As a result nothing remained for his family. So the Holy Qur’an has termed it as extravagance and said that he should pay the fixed taxes from farming but he must not be extravagant because Allah did not like extravagant people.”
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, “One who spends all his wealth in charity has certainly done Isrāf.” (Faqih)
Reconciling the two types of verses
In order to reconcile the differing verses, the scholars have mentioned some clauses. In the Sharh of al-Kāfi we find that according to Tabarsi it is possible that the arguments in favour of selflessness pertain to the times of poverty, for example the initial period of Islam and the recommendation emphasising moderation in charity pertain to prosperous times. Or they may differ according to the economic condition of the one who seeks help, i.e. some people deserve to be helped even by sacrificing ones own needs and there are some people who need not be helped at the cost of ones own needs. It also depends upon the person who is being charitable. If he possesses complete and perfect faith, there is no harm if he exceeds the limits of generosity to fulfill the needs of people, but if an ordinary person donates everything and is himself impoverished, he will not be able to bear it. In this case it is advisable for him to stay within limits in charity. Thus except for the divine personalities and extremely pious people the masses can be said to belong to the latter category. Therefore the ayat, “And do not make your hand...” (Surah al-‘Isrā’, 17:29)
is addressed to the Holy Prophet (S) but it is meant for the guidance of the common Muslims. Muhammad Ibn Makki was of the opinion that the rules of charity vary with person to person. The traditions, which imply extreme selflessness, are only for those who give their personal belongings to the needy and the traditions that hint a moderation even in charity are meant for those who have wife, children and family etc. Such a person cannot prefer others to his own children. He cannot give away whatever is necessary for his family to other needy people. Sacrifice of our own needs is allowed but it is not permitted to give away the requirements of our family and children. The honourable scholar has also stated that it is makrūh (detestable) for a man to donate his total wealth in charity unless he is sure he will be able to bear the consequences. Also it is necessary that he does not have the responsibility of a family or children. (Dārus Salām of Nūri)
Sayyid Muhammad Kadhim Yazdi also remarks that according to the Holy Qur’an, sunnat of the Holy Prophet (S) and the unanimous opinion of the scholars, Isrāf is Harām, there is no objection against this verdict. Isrāf is the expenditure on useless things which is considered as wasteful by common sense; whether the amount spent is appropriate to the occasion or not.
Is Isrāf possible in charitable deeds? Some of the scholars including Sayyid Muhammad Kadhim Yazdi believe that it is possible. Some well-known jurists have stated the contrary. According to the traditions, “There is no goodness in Isrāf and no Isrāf in goodness.” But we should know that the former opinion is more precautionary on the basis of other traditions on this subject.
After quoting the traditions of Ibn Abi Umair and Sahih of Bazanti and other sources, the late Sayyid says, “The ayats and narrations denouncing wasteful expenditure revoke (mansookh) the ayat of selfless sacrifice.” Therefore it apears that it is not proper to sacrifice and to give gifts extravagantly which are not appropriate to the status of the donor, or which common sense perceives such generosity to be excessive. There is no logic in giving and taking of such gifts and donations. As mentioned earlier wasteful spending in necessary matters is also prohibited. The only exception being the expenses of Hajj and Umra which are not subject to any limits. The Holy Prophet (S) says, “No spending is more likeable to Allah than one which is moderate and except for over-spending in Hajj, He dislikes all types of extravagance.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
No extravagance in charitable acts
The author of the present work is very strongly of the opinion that there is no extravagance in charity. Even if a person gives his total wealth with the intention pleasing Allah (S.w.T.) and of achieving Divine blessings he does not do anything unacceptable. He justifies his opinion on the basis of a few of the many ayats.
The ayat, “And do not move your hand...”
is a lenient prohibition and does not mention the act as Harām or Makrūh. Also the ayat, “And they who when they spend, are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, and (keep) between these the just mean.”
maypertain to househld expenditure and not to that which is spent in the way of Allah. It may also mean that those who are not stingy and also not extravagant are the obedient creatures of the Beneficent Lord. As regards the ayat, “eat of its fruit when it bears fruit,...and do not act extravagantly” and “surely He does not love the extravagant...”
we can say that both these sentences form a single statement. The tradition, which explains the ayat also shows that the two are interrelated. Though it is true that a person who donates the entire crop in charity and does not keep anything for his family and children certainly commits Isrāf. Charity and selflessness is permitted, but feeding and clothing his dependents is Wajib upon him. One who deprives his dependents of the basic needs and gives everything in charity has acted against Divine commands. But if he feels assured that he will be able to fulfill the needs of his family from other sources or that his dependents will not claim their rights from him, it is permitted for him to give everything away for the sake of Allah. This can be supported by the examples from the lives of the Holy Imams (a.s.). For example, Hazrat Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) had time and again performed such sacrifice of his total belongings. Once he sold his orchard for twelve thousand Dirhams and distributed the complete amount among the poor and needy. He did not save anything for his family, but ‘Ali (a.s.) and other great personalities never deprived their own dependents. Whenever they performed such charitable deeds they had faith in themselves that they would be able to provide their families from some other means. Whatever has been stated with regard to the ayats prohibiting over-spending can also be supported with the tradition of the Holy Prophet (S) wherein he denounced the person who spends all his wealth and dies leaving his minor children destitute and helpless. It is prohibited for a person to spend his complete wealth in charity when he knows that after him his children will be in need of it. If he leaves a legacy for his children who have no other source of income; the legacy shall also be in the way of Allah.
It is for this reason that drawing a will for more that a third of one’s total property is prohibited. It is also commanded for those who have young children to will for less than a third of their wealth.
The traditions of selflessness apply to only special circumstances. Extreme generosity is not prohibited and whatever has been said about the meaning of the ayats explains the tradition of Ibn Abi Umair. The narration of Sahih of Bazanti may imply that, it is not proper to over-spend where Imam (a.s.) has prohibited extravagance. The tradition of Faqih may concern those people who spend in recommended ways, where it is incumbent for them not to spend. The tradition of Imam (a.s.) may also be a refutation of the Sufis’ assertion that extreme selflessness is incumbent and the Imams (a.s.) have also pointed out that spending for ones family’s needs is also like spending in the way of Allah (S.w.T.). The words of tradition also imply that moderation in ways of charity is emphasised with a gentle command. In other words over-spending in charity is only a recommended prohibition whereas we are aware of the incomparable charitable acts of the Holy Prophet (S) and the Imams (a.s.), and verses that were revealed in the praise of these deeds (The ayat of ‘Halatā’ and the verse of ‘Najva’).
Moreover, we see that Imam Hasan (a.s.) in his life gave half his wealth in charity to the poor and needy, on Three occasions. The charitable deeds of Imam Husain (a.s.) and other Imam (a.s.) are also well known. Imam Riďa (a.s.) donated his total wealth in charity at Khurasan on the day of Arafat. When Fazl ibn Sahl pointed out that Imam (a.s.) has suffered a great loss, Imam (a.s.) replied that, “Whatever I received as my share is sufficient.”
Again on the day of Navroz when he assumed the seat of heir apparent of Ma’mūn under duress, he gave away all the presents and gifts to a single poet who had recited in praise of Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s.).
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has been reported to have said, “If all the world becomes my property and becomes a single morsel and I place it in the mouth of a single believer; I will not consider myself extravagant.”
Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s.) says: “If all the world becomes a morsel and I give to a true worshipper of Allah I will feel I have not fulfilled his rights completely and if I give even a gulp of water to a starving disbeliever; I consider myself extravagant.”
These two narrations expound the fact that even if the whole world is gifted to a sincere and a pious believer it will not be extravagance, because he deserves it.
Numerous instances of selflessness of pious scholars have been recorded. Some of these righteous people have seen the rewards of their charity in their worldly life. Rawzātul Jannat contains an incident regarding Muhaqqiq Ardebeli that during the times of famine he used to give away to the poor whatever he had. He used to live in poverty himself. One day when he had donated all his possessions his wife became angry with him that he had deprived his children in such times when food was scarce. He left his home and went to the mosque and sat there in Ehtekāf. An unknown person arrived at the door of his house and handed sacks of wheat and flour saying that master Ardebeli sent it and that he was in Ehtekāf at the mosque of Kufa. When Muhaqqiq Ardebeli returned home from Ehtekāf his wife told him that he had sent very fine wheat and flour. When he learnt of the details he realized that it was a Divine favour upon him and fell down in prostration to thank the Almighty. Many times it was seen that the Muhaqqiq left home with an expensive turban but if he encountered a beggar he tore a piece from it and gave it in alms. On numerous occasions he returned home bare-head.
Isrāf in belief and actions
Until now we have discussed extravagance in monetary terms but since the dictionary meaning of Isrāf is “exceeding limits” and “extremism” the same laws apply to beliefs and actions. Isrāf in belief implies believing about oneself or others something that is untrue and inappropriate. For example the belief of Fir’on that he was God. As he told the people, ‘I do not know any of the gods except myself.’ The Almighty Allah has mentioned him as ‘one who crossed the limits.’
“...surely Fir’on was lofty in the land; and most surely he was of the extravagant.” (Surah Yūnus 10:83)
Regarding those who do not believe in Allah (S.w.T.), Prophethood, Imams, Qiyāma etc.
The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says in the Holy Qur’an, “And thus do We recompense him who is extravagant and does not believe in the communications of his Lord; and certainly the chastisement of the Hereafter is severer and more lasting.” (Surah Tā Hā 20:127)
Performing detestable acts and avoiding advisable deeds is Isrāf in action. For example the homosexual inclinations of the people of Prophet Lut (a.s.) have been termed as extravagance: “Most surely you come to males in lust besides females; nay, you are an extravagant people.” (Surah al-Ar’āf 7:81)
In fact all the sins of actions and speech are a kind of extremism and every sinner is said to have crossed the limits. The Almighty says: “Say: O my servants! Who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the Mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (Surah az-Zumar 39:53)
But we must not despair of our deficiencies. If we turn to Allah (S.w.T.) He shall certainly forgive. We on our part should make a sincere effort not to be wasteful in our daily lives and not to exceed the limits in whatever we are engaged in. Moderation has to be practiced by us even in routine acts like eating, sleeping and talking. As the tradition says, “Verily Allah hates the one who eats excessively and the one who sleeps excessively.”
For those who wish to study the subject in more detail we recommend the book Me’rajus Sa’adat. This book discusses the method of living in accordance with Islamic principles