- The topic of Envy
Assalamu’alaikum Warohmatullohi Wabarakatuhu...
Envy| Sheikh Khâlid Husayn|
The topic of envy is a very important one. It is a serious problem that all of us need to cope with. Envy spreads through society like a frightful illness and it is an illness that demands treatment.
Envy is indeed a serious, sometimes fatal illness. It is an ignoble character trait that tears rifts between people, communities, and even nations. A community that is blackened by this loathsome quality is one wherein cooperation and love become virtually unknown. Enmity, hatred, and violence become the order of the day.
Envy occurs when we see some blessing in the hands of another and desire for that blessing to be lost to that person. Muslim scholars have defined this feeling in many ways, but all of their definitions contain this essential meaning – to wish for someone to lose something good that he or she has been blessed with.
Al-Nawawî describes envy in the following way: “Envy is to desire for someone who enjoys a blessing to become bereft of it, regardless of whether that blessing is of a religious or worldly nature.”
Al-Ghazâlî writes: “As far as envy is concerned, Islamic scholars define it as the hatred of a blessing and the love that the one so blessed by it will become bereft of it.”
Ibn al-Jawzî says: “Envy is to hope that the one being envied becomes bereft of a blessing that he enjoys without the envier necessarily acquiring a similar blessing for himself.”
Envy is something quite prevalent in the world. This is why the Qur'ân speaks about it often. Allah says: “Do they envy the people on account of what Allah has given them of His grace?” [ Sûrah al-Nisâ' : 54]
Allah instructs us to seek refuge from “…the evil of the envier when he envies.” [ Sûrah al-Falaq : 5]
In the Qur'ân, we also have: “They shall say: Nay! You envy us.” [ Sûrah al-Fath : 15]
We must also not forget the famous story of Joseph (peace be upon him) and his brothers who envied his father's love for him so much that they cast him into a well.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned against the ill consequences of envy upon the envier, saying: “Beware of envy, for indeed envy consumes one's good deeds like fire consumes wood.” [ Sunan Abî Dâwûd (4903)]
He said: “The afflictions of the nations before you shall beset you: envy and rancor.” [ Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2510)]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned so sternly against envy because of how dangerous and ruinous it is. It can bring us to destruction in both our worldly and spiritual lives.
Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Do not revile nor envy one another. Do not turn away from one another and do not sever ties. Be devotees of Allah and brothers to one another. It is not permissible for a Muslims to shun his brother for more than three days.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî (6065) and Sahîh Muslim (2559)]
Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) also said: “In the worshipper's heart, faith and envy cannot dwell together.” [ Sunan al-Nasâ'î (3109)]
Envy is indeed a great and deadly evil. When it strikes, it inevitably leaves destruction in its wake. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand the causes of envy, so that we can take preventative action. Though the causes of envy are numerous, they can be summarized as follows:
1. Weakness of faith and discontent with Allah's providence. The heart of a person who is discontented is perpetually being rent apart and set ablaze. All it takes is for him to see someone else enjoying some blessing that he sees himself as deprived of. Such a person is unaware that it is indeed Allah who has apportioned His provisions for us all.
Being pleased and content with Allah's decree of His provisions is the way to bring rest to the soul and tranquility to the heart.
2. Ignorance of the evil consequences of envy. An envious person is rarely able to appreciate what his envy will lead to; its negative repercussions upon his faith, his life, and the community in which he lives.
With respect to his faith, an envious person is angry and annoyed with Allah's decree. He perceives his Lord as being unjust – glory be to Allah above what the envious ascribe to Him – since he is displeased that Allah bestowed upon another a blessing that He did not grant to him. This is a serious matter indeed.
With respect to his life, an envious person is eternally preoccupied with what Allah has given to others. He lives in a state of grief and depression as he looks upon the happiness that others enjoy while he is so deprived. His whole personality takes on a darker hue. Life becomes a burden to him. Contentment alludes him in everything and all that follows after his discontent is regret.
He becomes distanced from his community, as everyone, young and old, finds his company unpleasant. His own relatives often dislike him more than strangers, and he feels alienated at all times. His standing in society suffers, as does his professional life. He becomes an unproductive member of society.
3. Hatred, enmity, and rancor. These are some of the most serious reasons for envy. A person who harbors such ill feelings towards others automatically begins to feel envy towards them for whatever good they possess. In such a state, his hatred and envy can instigate him to inflict harm or injury upon them.
4. Astonishment. Allah tells us in the Qur'ân how the nations of the past spurned the Prophets who had been sent to them. They decried: “You are nothing but a man like ourselves!” [ Sûrah YâSîn : 15] “Should we believe in two men like ourselves!” [ Sûrah al-Mu'minûn : 47] Their astonishment that people like themselves could be elevated to the rank of Prophets led them to envy and as a consequence to disbelief.
5. Pride. The envy that the unbelievers felt for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stemmed from pride. “And they say: ‘Why is not this Qur'ân sent down to some leading man in either of the two (chief) cities?'” [ Sûrah al-Zukhruf : 31]
Abû Jahl gave his reason for disbelieving in the Prophet (peace be upon him) as follows: “We vie with the tribe of Bânû Manâf in nobility. They feed the people so we feed them people. They assume responsibilities so we assume them. They give so we give. So when we are neck in neck in the race, they declare: ‘We have a Prophet who receives revelation from Heaven.' When will we be able to match that? By Allah! We shall never believe in him nor shall we ever believe what he says.”
We can see how the envy that filled Abû Jahl's heart caused him to disbelieve. He could not bear to see how Allah was blessing the Prophet (peace be upon him) and honoring him with prophecy and with His Message.
6. Meanness of spirit. Some people simply loathe it when good befalls others. They take glee, rather, in hearing about their suffering and their misfortunes. Allah speaks about such people, saying: “If aught that is good befalls you, it grieves them; but if some misfortune overtakes you, they rejoice at it.” [ Sûrah Âl `Imrân : 120]
7. Rivalry. When people have similar ambitions, they can fear losing out to those others who share their ambitions. Al-Ghazâlî writes: “This applies only to people in competition with one another. As a consequence, each of them envies his rivals for whatever they achieve that brings them closer to their goals. This includes the envy suffered by co-wives with respect to their relationship with their husband. It also includes the envy that was felt by Joseph's brothers for his success in engendering their father's love. As Allah relates to us: ‘They said: Truly Joseph and his brother are loved more by our father than we.' [ Sûrah Yûsuf : 8]”
Armed with the knowledge of what causes envy, we should do our utmost to avoid falling into it. We should work to remove these negative factors from our lives and block any path that might take us down the road to destruction.
The Sunnah recommends to us some things to do that will help us in this endeavor.
If we see something we covet and feel our envious gaze falling upon the blessings of another, we should make it our habit to say “ Mâ shâ' Allah; lâ quwwata illâ bil-lâh .” meaning: It is what Allah has decreed; there is no power besides that which is Allah's.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever sees something that he likes and then says: ‘ Mâ shâ' Allah; lâ quwwata illâ bil-lâh ', will bring no harm to it.”
We should also pray to Allah to bless that person. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever among you sees with his brother something that pleases him should supplicate to Allah to bless him in it.” [ Musnad Ahmad (15550) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (3509)]
Putting this advice into practice will protect our hearts from envy and protect our brothers and sisters in faith from the harm that our envy might visit upon them.
There are also ways that are established in the Sunnah for us to beseech Allah's protection from the harm of those who envy us.
We should read from the Qur'ân Sûrah al-Fâtihah and Âyah al-Kursî . The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “If a worshipper reads the opening of the Book ( Sûrah al-Fâtihah ) and Âyah al-Kursî in his home, he will not be afflicted that day by the gaze of man or jinn.” [ al-Daylamî ]
We should also read the last two chapters of the Qur'ân: Sûrah al-Falaq and Sûrah al-Nâs to protect us from the evil of those who envy us.
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