"Be indifferent towards this world, and Allah will love you. Be indifferent to what is in people’s hands, and they will love you? What does that hadith mean? What is meant being indifferent to what is in people’s hands?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

A man asked the Prophet to show him a deed which, if he did it, Allah would love him and people would love him. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said,

"Be indifferent towards this world, and Allah will love you. Be indifferent to what is in people’s hands, and they will love you." (Ibn Majah, Zuhd 1)

First of all, we should state the following: That the Prophet (pbuh) does not want worldly things does not mean that they are bad. For, he also prayed so that his ummah would not undergo hardships. A Muslim’s abandoning the world does not mean giving up working, but giving up settling the world in his heart. That is, a Muslim needs to work, attain high ranks but he should not settle them in his heart. His heart needs to be full of love of the hereafter. Otherwise, if a Muslim settles the world in his heart and regards everything as material wealth and property – God forbid – , what he earns will drive him away from Allah. 

“But those who before them, had homes (in Medina) and had adopted the Faith,- show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls,- they are the ones that achieve prosperity.” (al-Hashr, 59/9)

According to the verse above, it is forbidden for a believer to try to get the property and rank of a person and to envy his talents and virtues.

Instead of envying the things granted to others but not him, destroying himself by complaining, being dragged by destructive feelings like hatred, jealousy, envy and revenge, and hence doubting Allah’s justice and doubting that He distributed things properly among His slaves, a believer should feel contented and grateful. For, lack of contentment, and envying others due to what they possess will bring about jealousy, hatred and enmity; it means not to show consent to Allah’s predestination and distribution. If a person demands something that has not been preordained for him, it means to oppose the wisdom behind qadar and it becomes a source vicious agony for him. To demand something that was given to another person as a result of his efforts by not doing anything means tactlessness, idleness and waste of time. Therefore, God Almighty states the following:

“And in no wise covet those things in which Allah Hath bestowed His gifts More freely on some of you than on others: To men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of His bounty. For Allah hath full knowledge of all things.” (an-Nisa, 4/32)

Zuhd (asceticism) means abandoning one’s ambition and desire toward the world and worldly things. This state called asceticism means to direct one’s desire and demand of something to a better one. In asceticism, tending toward something better is in question.

A person who does not value anything except Allah is regarded as an ascetic person in perfect sense. However, it is not contrary to asceticism for a person to earn enough money to take care of himself and his family members and to own some property. Nevertheless, it is a necessity of asceticism to give the extra things that one has to the needy.

It is necessary to seek the foundation of ascetic life in the Quran. Allah explains in several verses how one need to view the world:

"Nor strain thine eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to parties of them, the splendor of the life of this world, through which We test them: but the provision of thy Lord is better and more enduring." (Taha, 20/131)

"To any that desires the tilth of the Hereafter, We give increase in his tilth, and to any that desires the tilth of this world, We grant somewhat thereof, but he has no share or lot in the Hereafter." (ash-Shura, 42/20)

It is stated in the Quran that the boons of the world are a means of testing, that their worldly benefits are few and that the rewards Allah will give are better; thus, it is pointed out how man should view the life he leads. (see al-Mu'minun, 23/56; an-Nisa, 4/77; al-Qasas, 28/80)

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was the most ascetic person among people. Although he conquered many places and obtained a lot of worldly goods, “his armor was pawned in the hands of a Jew” so that he would find sustenance for his family when he died. (Bukhari, Buyu' 15)

Hz. Aisha narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) and his family members did not eat bread made of wheat three days in a row from the day they migrated to Madinah to the day when the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) died. (Bukhari, Riqaq 17) Sometimes, they did not kindle the fire for a month in the house of the Prophet (pbuh) and they had only dates and water to have. (Muslim, Zuhd 26)

It is certain that the Prophet (pbuh) led an ascetic life and did not give importance to worldly possessions and that he demanded spiritual wealth, not material. (Bukhari, Riqaq 15) As a matter of fact, Allah offered to transform the valley of Makkah into gold and give it to him but the Messenger of Allah addressed his Lord as follows:

"So when I am hungry, I would beseech You and remember You, and when I am full I would be grateful to You and praise You." (Tirmidhi, Zuhd 35)

The Quran indicates this issue with the following verse: "Do they think that because We have granted them abundance of wealth and sons?" (al-Mu'minun, 23/55)

However, those verses and hadith should not be understood as encouragement of poverty that will make man beg from others. For, Islam does not like abasement. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) took refuge in Allah from the evil of the fitnah of poverty and from falling into poverty that makes man forget everything (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 6/57); he pointed out that poverty would be almost equal to unbelief. (Bayhaqi, Shuabul-Iman, 5/267)

To sum up, zuhd (asceticism) is the source of love of Allah, peace in the heart, obtaining what is good, wisdom and happiness, turning toward the hereafter by despising the world, showing compassion and mercy to people and hence love of people. 

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