ABÛ HURAIRAH NARRATED that the Prophet said:
There shall be no envying of anyone save two (types): A man to whom Allah has taught the Quran and who recites it in the watches of the night and the watches of the day. Thus should a neighbor of his hears him, he may say: “Would that I be given what so-and-so has been given so that I might do what he does; and a man to whom Allah has given (much) wealth, who continually rids himself of it in (the path of) truth. Thus a man may say: “Would that I be given what so-and-so has been given so that I might do what he does.”
The Arabic word ‘^asad’ means ‘envy.’ More specifically, it is to wish that the blessing of another be taken from them and given to you so that you can be in a higher state than that person. Or, ‘^asad’ is to desire that a blessing be taken from another so that you may at least feel that you are the equal of another [in a specific regard].
Anyone who allows ^asad to fester in his or her heart, or who acts or speaks based on the feeling of ^asad is blameworthy and has committed a sin. Human nature is such in its creation that it is disposed to love being better than others.
This being the case, the initial impulse of envy is not sinful. Only when one does not consciously subdue the sinful aspects of this impulse does one become sinful.
±asad is considered halâl only when one sees that an ungodly person has a blessing that he uses to commit evil acts, in which case one can wish that the blessing be taken from such a person. The motivation in this circumstance, however, is not the desire for you yourself to be raised. It is for the general good to be raised.
As for the ^asad mentioned in the ^adîth, it is not to be taken in its literal sense. Rather, it means that one desires these two blessings for oneself so that one might do good works therewith—absent the desire for the other to lose his or her blessing. Thus competition in goodness is good. Allah has said:
Then, for this—that is, the delights of Paradise—let the competitors compete. [Sûrat Al-Mu~affifîn, 83:26]
Further, competition in that which has no moral component (such as in a race or sports), the Sharî¢ah neither encourages nor frowns upon. Conversely, competing in disobedience to Allah is ^arâm. For this reason the Prophet œ said: “And do not compete with one another,” meaning, do not compete with one another in bad things.
The recitation of the Quran and the spending of wealth in the above-mentioned ^adith symbolizes all good things. That is because the recitation of the Quran in this context means recitation as well as implementation. Moreover, obedience to Allah is performed through actions and through wealth. Thus the recitation of the Quran represents all good actions.
Encouraged competition is not restricted to the confines the two specific things the Prophet œ mentioned. The proof for this is that there are other a^adîth in Bukhâri that have the same basic meaning with slight variations. For example:
There shall be no envy except in two (things):A man to whom Allah has given (much) wealth such that Allah uses this man to distribute wealth in the path of truth; and a man to whom Allah has given wisdom such that he judges based upon it and teaches it.
‘Al-±ikmah, that is ‘the wisdom,’ in this context strongly implies the knowledge of ^adîth. The proof for this is Imam Al-Shâfi¢i’s tafsîr of the verse:
Thus be ever mindful of [and repeat often] what is recited in your homes of the verses of Allah and of ‘the wisdom.’ Indeed, ever is Allah subtle, all-aware [Sûrat Al-A^zâb, 33:34].
Of this verse, Al-Shâfi¢i said:
It is well known that the verses of Allah were recited in the house of the Prophet œ [that is, his wives’ apartments]. Then what is al-^ikmah referring to other than the Sunnah? Thus, this may be translated what is recited in your homes of the verses of Allah and of the [traditions of prophetic] wisdom, that is, a^adîth.
Further proof is that Al-Kitâb (the Book) is often mentioned in the Quran paired with the mention of Al-^ikmah, such as in the verse:
Our Lord! And send forth among [our descendants] a messenger from their own who shall recite to them Your verses, and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them. Indeed, it is You, You [alone] who are the Overpowering One, the All-Wise. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:129]
Hence, the strong implication is that Al-Hikmah, “wisdom,” in this context refers to the Sunnah.