Zubayr bin Al-Awwam was a well-known companion of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who had hardly any property when he migrated to Madinah. When Zubayr died many years later, however, his net worth was in excess of fifty million (dirhams or dinars), including eleven houses in Madinah, four houses in other cities, and two large plots of land. This account of his assets, reported in Bukhari, clears up a misconception about Islam: that it is impermissible to own much property or possess the blessings of this world. Rather, what is important is your attitude towards wealth, and how you acquire and spend it.
Wealth, according to the Quran and Hadith, has a two-fold nature: it is both a blessing and a trial from Allah.
Wealth as a Blessing
Wealth allows you to live in comfort – afford a desirable home, eat wholesome food, wear fine clothes, and fulfill many of your other needs and wants. The Prophet ﷺ said, “This wealth is green and sweet [i.e. delicious like fruits]; and whoever takes it without greed is blessed in it.” (Bukhari) The Prophet ﷺ once remarked, upon seeing a well-off man dressed shabbily, “If Allah has given you wealth, let the effect of Allah’s blessing and generosity be seen on you.” (Nasai) The Prophet ﷺ prayed to Allah to increase Anas in wealth and to bless Urwah in his business dealings. (Tirmidhi) He also said, “Whoever loves that he be granted more wealth and that his lease of life be prolonged, he should keep good relations with his kith and kin.” (Bukhari)
Moreover, wealth enables you to help others financially, improve their lot, and alleviate some of their hardships. The Prophet ﷺ said, “This worldly property is [like] sweet vegetation. How excellent is the wealth of the Muslim, if it is collected through legitimate means and spent in Allah’s cause and on orphans, poor people, and travellers.” (Bukhari) He also advised, “Do not wish to be like anyone except in two cases: a person whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously; [and] the one whom Allah has given wisdom and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.” (Bukhari)
Wealth as a Trial
The Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed, there is a fitnah for every nation, and the fitnah for my nation is wealth.” (Tirmidhi) The Prophet ﷺ also sought refuge with Allah against the “evil of the fitnah of wealth”. (Bukhari) While the term fitnah has several meanings, here it implies temptation and allurement. Wealth can divert a person from the straight path in general, and from the remembrance of Allah in particular. Allah states in the Quran, “Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and Allah has with Him a great reward.” (64:15) Wealth is a trial because it puts to test your resolve, adherence to Allah’s commands, and commitment to the right course. It may temp you to spend on sinful pursuits, take Allah’s blessings for granted, and look down upon others.
Let’s now look at two stern warnings given to the believers regarding the source of their wealth and excessive love of wealth.
Acquiring Wealth Unlawfully
The person who acquires wealth unlawfully is like “the one who eats but is never satisfied” (Bukhari), and such a person shall end up in the Fire of Hell (Nasai). Allah warns us in the Quran, “And do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly or send it [in bribery] to the authorities in order that you consume a portion of the wealth of the people in sin, while you know.” (2:188) Allah also condemns the scholars and priests who devour the wealth of people in the name of religion (9:34). Misappropriating the wealth of an orphan is among the “seven great destructive sins” in Islam. (Bukhari) Despite such stern warnings against earning unlawfully, the Prophet ﷺ had predicted that it would become a norm among future generations: “There will come a time when a man will not care where his wealth comes from – whether [its source is] halal or haram.” (Nasai)
It is worth remembering, however, that no amount of wealth can satisfy human greed: “If the son of Adam had a valley full of wealth, he would seek a second, and if he had a second, he would seek a third; and nothing fills the belly of the son of Adam except for dirt [i.e. death].” (Tirmidhi) The Prophet ﷺ further stated, “The son of Adam grows old, but two [desires] in him remain young: desire for wealth and desire for life.” (Muslim) Real wealth lies in being content with what you can legitimately earn and possess, not in earning more: “Richness is not in having many possessions, but richness is being content with oneself.” (Tirmidhi)
Excessive Love of Wealth
Always remember that all wealth ultimately belongs to Allah; you are merely holding onto His wealth as a trustee, and shall pass it on at the time of your death. Hence, you must not spend this wealth in a way disapproved by Allah. The Quran condemns the attitude of the people of Midian who proclaimed, “O Shuayb, does your prayer [i.e., religion] command you that we should leave what our fathers worship or not do with our wealth as we please?” (11:87) Similarly, Qarun was chastised for believing that all his wealth was due to his own knowledge and acumen. Allah is the granter of abundance while your efforts are a means for achieving what is meant for you.
Although you should strive to attain Allah’s blessings in this world, acquiring wealth and status must never become your passion or the focal point of your daily endeavors. The Quran condemns those who “love wealth with immense love” (89:20) and who are “intense” in their love of wealth (100:8). There is also the type of person who “thinks that his wealth will make him immortal” (104:1-3), thus forgetting about the accountability in the hereafter. Never become so emotionally dependent on material possessions that parting with them causes you much grief.
Let’s now look at two desirable ways of spending your wealth: on your family and on those in need.
Spending on One’s Family
Allah has made it the responsibility of the man to provide for his family. Therefore, the first right on a man’s earnings is his own and that of your family, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “When Allah grants wealth to anyone of you, he should first spend it on himself and his family.” (Muslim) A person is rewarded for whatever they spend on their family; in fact, spending on your dependents entitles you to the same reward as that for charity. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The best charity is that which is practiced by a wealthy person. And start giving first to your dependents.” (Bukhari) When Kaab bin Maalik wanted to give all his wealth in the way of Allah, the Prophet ﷺ advised him, “Keep some of your wealth as it is good for you.” (Bukhari)
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The Prophet ﷺ admonished against leaving your family financially deprived or dependent on others at the time of your death: “It is better for you to leave your inheritors wealthy than to leave them poor begging others…” (Bukhari) He even discouraged giving in charity on your death-bed as your heirs already have a right over it: “Do not delay it [charity] to the time of approaching death and then say, ‘Give so much to such and such, and so much to such and such.’ And it has already belonged to such and such.” (Bukhari)
Spending in the Way of Allah
One of the best uses of your wealth is to help the poor, orphans, widows, and others who may be in need. Spending in the way of Allah is a means of purifying your wealth. Allah describes the righteous believer as the one who “gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask, and for freeing slaves.” (2:177) Allah further gives a beautiful example to describe how He multiplies the reward for spending in His cause: “The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like a seed [of grain] which grows seven spikes; in each spike is a hundred grains. And Allah multiplies [His reward] for whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (2:261)
Finally, remember that it is not the amount of wealth you possess that matters to Allah, but how you earn and utilize it, and how it impacts your attitude and actions. As the Prophet ﷺ said, “Verily, Allah does not look to your faces and your wealth, but He looks at your hearts and your deeds.” (Muslim)