Stewardship of wealth

By Ahmad Ibrahim, July 2006

It teaches us that we are not the absolute owners of our resources; we have an obligation to respect and care for our wealth, and share it with the needy and the poor.

Have you ever heard the term "Affluenza"?

It is a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf, 2002)

This term was first coined in a documentary in U.S, based on a book published in 1997 [1]. Simply said "Affluenza" is a form of materialism [2]; when a person pursues wealth and luxury as the primary objective in life. It is an attitude or a way of thinking, which creates an unhealthy preoccupation with money and material things. And more a person stays in this condition, more it gets reinforced at individual and the social levels, constraining the person to derive the identities and sense of place in the world through their consumption activity and what they own.[3]

Many people in our society display the symptoms of this social condition. Wealth and luxury has become their preoccupation and identity. It breeds numerous social issues; corruption, crime, inefficiency, health issues, debts and waste are only some of them. This is more despicable in Pakistan than industrialized nations, because we are a poor country where more than a quarter of our population lives below poverty line. [4]

But we must also appreciate that materialism is not simply being rich; a person can be rich without being a materialist. A person may consider money as one of the most important thing in life; but not everything. A person can be rich, but also mindful of his or her social responsibilities and appreciate importance of love, kindness, family, friends, relatives, neighbours, community and society.

This is a responsible behaviour, and nature also teaches us that we all have an obligation to respect and care for its resources. And maintain and use wisely the wealth that has been bestowed on us. This concept is called ‘Stewardship of wealth’; which means we are not the absolute owners of our wealth but responsible to use it wisely, and share it with poor and needy.

This concept is the opposite of Affluenza and the subject of this essay. In the following sections we will examine the perspective of Quran on 'Stewardship of wealth'.

Balance in our lives

We find the concept of 'Stewardship of wealth' in the earliest passages of Quran. In the primary message of Quran, we see that God has commanded us

  • Be generous to the fellow human beings
  • Honour the orphans, feed the poor and give his or her wealth to the poor [93:8-10, 90:4-17]
  • Cooperate in acts of goodness with fellow human beings
  • And in this way purify our soul [80:3]

In Quran, God also teaches us to achieve a balance in our lives; instead of preoccupation or over-indulgence with wealth and luxury. God says:

"And the firmament He has raised high, and He has set up the Balance of Justice. In order that ye may not transgress due balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance." [55/7-8]

This balance is about all the aspects of lives; in our relations; in our work; in our prayers or in our social responsibilities. And one very important aspect, which we cannot ignore, is the wealth and resources God has bestowed on us. What should be our attitude towards our wealth? How should we spend it? And on whom shall we spend it; these are questions of fundamental importance in Quran and our subject today.

Stewardship does not necessarily mean renouncing wealth; it is an acknowledgement that poor have a right in our wealth. We must accept a share in our wealth for those who are in need. God teaches us in Quran:

... and in whose possessions there is a due share, acknowledged [by them], for such as ask [for help] and such as are deprived [of what is good in life] [70/24-25]

Quran also teaches that we cannot seek purification of soul and happiness by indulging our appetites, spending more on luxury and wealth, and increasing our needs; but by sharing our resources with the poor and needy and by being humble in our prayers to the God.

Criticism of Materialism

Quran has warned those who are afflicted by materialism:

You Are Obsessed by greed for more and more, until you go down to your graves. Nay, in time you will come to understand! And once again: Nay, in time you will come to understand! [102/1-4]

WOE unto every slanderer, fault-finder! [Woe unto him] who amasses wealth and counts it a safeguard, thinking that his wealth will make him live forever! Nay, but [in the life to come such as] he shall indeed be abandoned to crushing torment! [104/1-4]

For it is He who has brought into being gardens – [both] the cultivated ones and those growing wild – and the date-palm, and fields bearing multiform produce, and the olive tree, and the pomegranate: [all] resembling one another and yet so different. Eat of their fruit when it comes to fruition, and give [unto the poor] their due on harvest day. And do not waste [God’s bounties]: verily, He does not love the wasteful! [6/141]

Qarun was doubtless, of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: such were the treasures We had bestowed on him that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men, behold, his people said to him: "Exult not, for Allah loveth not those who exult (in riches). [28/76]

In the parable of blighted garden, God has warned those who do not share their wealth with the needy.

Life of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

The life of our Prophet is a guidance for all of us. His life is a living example of giving. In prosperity or adversity, he and his followers were constant in sharing the good things with other community members. There are numerous examples from his life which teaches us the virtues of giving. As revealed to him by God, he practiced and conveyed the principle of 'Stewardship of wealth' in Mecca. And founded a community on the same principle, who were active in sharing their wealth and resources with the needy.

Stewardship of wealth

In summary it means:

  • To acknowledge the right of poor and destitute in our wealth [70/24-25]
  • To treat the orphans, poor and needy with respect [93/9-11]
  • Not to follow up the good deeds with reminders of generosity or harm [2/262, 2/264]
  • To forgive or say kind words instead of good deed followed up with hurt. []
  • To be proactive in goodness and rally for good things. []
  • Cooperate and constantly remind each other. []

Rewards for those who share their wealth with the poor an needy

  • In the parable of garden on a height, God promised those who spend their wealth for the sake of God, while firm in their belief, that even with little resources they will have a beautiful life.
  • God will remove grief and fear from them.
  • God will create a way for them in difficult circumstances and give them help from resources they cannot perceive.
  • Whatever is spent, will be repaid many times over.

Conclusion

The principle of 'Stewardship of wealth' teaches us that we are not the absolute owners of our resources. Therefore, we must use them wisely and voluntarily share with the poor and the needy.

Notes & References

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[1] Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John de Graaf, David Wann & Thomas H. Naylor, ISBN 1576751996 [2] A tendency to prefer material possessions and physical comfort to spiritual values; a way of life based on material interests. Oxford Dictionary [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affluenza [4] The poverty line is the level of income below which one cannot afford to purchase all the resources one requires to live. People who have an income below the poverty line have no discretionary disposable income, by definition. en. wikipedia.org/wiki/Poverty_line
 

 

 

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