The Hadith of Envy

BUKHÂRI NARRATED IN his book aî Al-Bukhâri on the authority of Abû Hurairah that the Prophet œ 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 hear 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 lightens 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.”

What is Envy (Hasad)?

The Arabic word ‘^asad’ means ‘envy.’ More specifically, it is to wish that the blessing of another be taken away from him/her 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.

When Envy is Not Haram (Prohibited)

±asad is considered halâl (allowed, encouraged) 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 away 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 above ^adîth, it is not to be taken strictly 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 it. 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.

Wider Implication and Interlinking References

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 not only the recitation in and of itself, but also the implementation in one’s behavior of what those recited verses call for. Moreover, obedience to Allah is performed through actions and through wealth. Thus the recitation of the Quran represents, by extension, all good actions.

Encouraged competition is not restricted to the two specific things which the Prophet œ mentioned in the ^adîth above. The proof for this is that there are other a^adîth in Bukhâri that have the same basic thrust, but 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”

What is entailed in Al-Hikmah, “[the] Wisdom”?

Al-Hikmah, the Quranic term translated ‘[the] wisdom,’ strongly implies in this context 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 ayah (verse) may be translated what is recited in your homes from among the verses of Allah and from among [the traditions of prophetic] wisdom, that is, a^adîth.  The Sunnah are the right/ righteous/ maximally God-pleasing ways of Prophet Muhammad œ, as attested to in the a^adîth literature. This exemplary, prophetic model of lifestyle for all humankind is, indeed, the highest form of wisdom–set in action by the Companions of the Prophet œ.

Also, Al-Kitâb (the Book) is another wording often mentioned in the Quran paired with the mention of al-^ikmah, such as in the verse, recounting Abraham’s prayer:

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, “[the] wisdom,” in this context refers to the exemplary practice of Muhammad œ, what he had been seen to have wisely done and said, based as it was in his inspired, prophetic behavior, that is, in his Sunnah.

May Allah transform our inclination for envy to all “the Wisdom” (Al-Hikmah) that leads to pleasing our Lord.

 

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Written By

Omar Abdl-Haleem is a fourth generation Muslim in America. He has a BA from Al-Azhar University in Usul Al-Din, specializing in Hadith, and was about to finish his Master’s Degree from Al-Azhar in Hadith, when he had to leave Egypt for safety reasons in the fall of 2013. He has translated most of Ibn Al-Jawzi’s book: Sayd Al-Khatir into English, which he intends to complete (some episodes of Omar’s translation of this book have appeared in Aljumuah Website). He is also working on a Hadith book for English speakers that explains and teaches Mustalah Al-Hadith (Hadith Terminology) in common terms. His Arabic is native, having studied in Egypt since he was 14, and then full time after completion of High School in the US. He is invaluable for AlJumuah in accessing scholarly texts. He intends to complete his graduate studies in Hadith.

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