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Summary of question
What is the Quran’s perspective on waste and extravagance?
question
Explain verses 26 and 27 of Surah Isra in regards to waste and extravagance.
Concise answer

The religion of Islam is the religion of life and its precepts and rules set the grounds for human felicity and success, both for the individual, as well as the society. Islam has brought forth a complete program for every facet of human life and has advised balance and moderation to its followers in all affairs. Extravagance and waste means going past the proper boundaries and is the opposite of moderation. The limits of such are set by the precepts of religion, the intellect, and society. Here, waste (Tabdheer) takes on the meaning of waste and excess in the usage of food, as well as in general matters of life. The Quran has labeled the people who waste and are extravagant as the 'Brothers of Satan'. People who waste on purpose and with full knowledge are considered as being one with Satan. An individual who wastes in regards to the public treasury, his life, and his day to day expenditures with full knowledge and awareness is considered as being far from the reality of religion and he cannot be considered as being on the straight path (the Sirat al-Mustaqim).

Detailed Answer

Introduction-

Islam is a religion which has set forth a program for every facet of human life and has advised balance and moderation to its followers in all affairs. Islam has set the legitimate enjoyment of divine blessings as permissible and it has also set waste and extravagance as being impermissible. These limits have been set for the reason that all Muslims, in light of their social positions and wealth, have a responsibility towards the human society in which they live. If people were to be wasteful and extravagant, they would be harming that society and shirking their human responsibilities; in addition, they would develop and cultivate negative personal characteristics which would be destructive to them on an individual level. In order to fully understand the subject of waste (Tabdheer) and extravagance (Israaf), it is first necessary to explain these two terms and then delve into the various facets of this issue in light of the teachings and precepts of Islam.

Waste (Israaf)

Israaf means going too far and exceeding the limits in various issues; it is contrary to that of moderation. Raaghib Isfehaani has mentioned the following in regards to the meaning of Israaf: 'Any action which an individual performs which exceeds the limits is considered as being Israaf'.[1] Therefore, it can also be said that israaf is any useless action or any action which exceeds the natural limits, whether it relates to excess in quantity or in quality. Based upon this, it is clear that Israaf does not only relate to food and drink or even to financial matters alone; it is much more comprehensive in meaning. It can also be stated that israaf can relate to any excess in behavior, emotions, or spirit; it can also relate to any excess in ethical, cultural, or social characteristics.[2]  This description makes the individual duty of a Muslim very heavy for it brings the issue of waste and connects it with every single facet of human life.

From the explanations set forth by the grammarians and commentators in regards to the word 'Israaf', it appears that there are three individual factors which determine if an action falls into the boundaries of waste or not. The three are as follows:

1- Religiously impermissible actions: This is because anything religiously forbidden constitutes the 'boundaries' and 'limits' of God, and committing forbidden actions means crossing and trespassing those borders and going beyond those limits, even if there is no extravagant spending in money involved

2- The judgment of the intellect: This relates to spending money on things which the intellect considers as being wasteful and foolish. This applies to things such as destroying one's wealth (for example setting fire to it) or spending it in ways which are incorrect and useless.

3- Societal norms: Societal norms are another factor in determining waste and extravagance. For example, in the same way that not spending enough in matters which are obligatory in accordance to one's wealth and position in society is considered miserly, spending too much in relation to one's wealth and position is considered as being wasteful and extravagant. Not spending enough on obligatory matters is also considered as impermissible when it involves the rights of others. The limits of normal expenditure are set by the norms of the society that one lives in and so this can vary from individual to individual. In other words, the permissible limit of expenditure, both on the personal level, as well as on the family level, is not the same for everyone in a given society. In this way, an individual may spend his money in a certain way and it will be considered as Israaf, while another individual may do the exact same thing and it will not be considered as Israaf.[3]

Imam Sadiq (a) has mentioned the following in a tradition: 'How many a poor people who might be more extravagant than the wealthy! It was asked of him: How can this be so? Imam Sadiq (a) replied: The wealthy individual spends out of what he has but the poverty stricken individual spends beyond his financial position.'[4]

Waste (Tabdheer)

As was said, the meaning of the word Israaf in Islam does not pertain to financial aspects of eating or clothing for if it did, it would be called Tabdheer instead.

Tabrasi has mentioned the following in this regards: 'Tabdheer is the spread of wealth in the way of waste (israaf). Tabdheer includes the spoiling, corruption, and waste of financial resources but if money is spent in a certain way (even if it is not that much) for improving something, this cannot be considered as Tabdheer.'[5]

According to Tabrasi's definition of Tabdheer, it is clear that Tabdheer is the foundation of Israaf. Israaf contains a much more comprehensive meaning for waste and extravagance in wealth. For example, Israaf can mean excess spending in giving charity while Tabdheer cannot be used in these cases. Tabdheer is used in matters where there is waste and extravagance in matters of food, and when wealth is simply wasted without rhyme or reason. In other words, it can be said that every Tabdheer is Israaf but not every Israaf can be considered as Tabdheer. Imam Sadiq (a) has mentioned the following in a tradition: 'انّ التبذیر من الأسراف'[6], which means that Tabdheer is a form of Israaf. Israaf has various branches, of which Tabdheer is one of them.

Therefore, in matters related to economics, the meaning of Israaf is not that much different than that of Tabdheer. In distinguishing between these two terms, it can be said that considering what semanticists say about Tabdheer, what is meant by it is the spoiling and destruction of wealth and doesn't cover excessiveness in personal expenses and charity. This is while Israaf is much more comprehensive in scope and includes excess in personal and family expenditures, as well as non obligatory charity.[7]

Imam Sadiq (a) and His Teachings on Moderation

When Imam Sadiq (a) was reciting the following verse: 'Those who, when spending, are neither wasteful nor tightfisted, and moderation lies between these [extremes].'[8], he picked up a handful of small stones and while holding his fist closed, said: This is the rigidness which God (awj) has mentioned in his book. He then picked up another handful and opening his fist, dropped them all. At this point he said: This is israaf. He then picked up another handful and poured out a portion while holding onto another portion of it. He then said: This is the middle limit.[9]

The Behavior of the Brothers of Satan

Those who do israaf are considered as the brothers of Satan; these individuals showcase various types of behavior in different times and circumstances. Those who do israaf on purpose and with full knowledge are considered as being one with Satan. An individual who wastes in regards to the public treasury, his life, and his day to day expenditures with full knowledge and awareness is considered as being far from the reality of religion and he cannot be considered as being on the straight path (the Sirat al-Mustaqim). The Quran has mentioned: 'وَ آتِ ذَا الْقُرْبى‏ حَقَّهُ وَ الْمِسْکِینَ وَ ابْنَ السَّبِیلِ وَ لا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِیراً، إِنَّ الْمُبَذِّرِینَ کانُوا إِخْوانَ الشَّیاطِینِ وَ کانَ الشَّیطانُ لِرَبِّهِ کَفُوراً', which means: Give the relatives their [due] right, and the needy and the traveller [as well], but do not squander wastefully. Indeed the wasteful are brothers of satans, and Satan is ungrateful to his Lord.[10]

In the aforementioned verses, the doers of israaf are considered as being the brothers of Satan and of being one with him. This issue has been explained in a tradition by Imam Sadiq (a), where the Imam (a) said: Luqman said to his son: There exist three signs in the doer of israaf: he buys what is not (appropriate) for him (meaning what is beyond his position and status), he wears what is not for him (doesn't suit him), and eats what is not for him (doesn't match his status)."[11]

The Harms of Israaf for the individual

1- Physical harm to the body: exceeding the limits in eating and drinking bring great harm to the body. According to physicians today, overeating and drinking too much are one of the main causes of various illnesses and diseases. This is something which was emphasized by the Imams (a) many centuries ago. The Quran also warns the believers against israaf in eating and drinking: 'کُلُوا وَ اشْرَبُوا وَ لا تُسْرِفُوا، إِنَّهُ لا یحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِین', which means: '… eat and drink, but do not waste; indeed He does not like the wasteful.'[12]

2- The wrath of God: 'انه لایحب المسرفین'[13], which means: 'God does not love those who do israaf'. Imam Sadiq (a) has said the following in regards to israaf: 'ان السرف امر یبغضه الله'[14], which means: 'Israaf is subject to God's wrath.'

3- A decrease in blessings: Israaf causes the blessings to decrease in one's life and to eventually die out completely: 'اِنَّ مَعَ الاسْرافِ قِلَّةَ الْبَرَکَةِ',[15] which means: Israaf comes hand in hand with a decrease in the blessings.

4- Being deprived of guidance: God tells the doers of israaf: 'إِنَّ اللَّهَ لا یَهْدی مَنْ هُوَ مُسْرِفٌ کَذَّابٌ',[16] which means: Verily God does not guide the doers of israaf and the liars.

5- Poverty: The most important economic aspect of israaf is that of poverty; this is because israaf involves the waste of limited resources and thus naturally becomes a threat to human life. Imam Ali (a) has stated that: 'الْقَصْدُ مَثْرَاةٌ، وَ السَّرَفُ‏ مَتْوَاةٌ'[17], which means: Israaf causes destruction, while moderation is a means for the increase of wealth.

6- Destruction: Israaf in any form sends people towards destruction. The Quran has detailed this reality in the following way: 'ثُمَّ صَدَقْناهُمُ الْوَعْدَ فَأَنْجَیناهُمْ وَ مَنْ نَشاءُ وَ أَهْلَکْنَا الْمُسْرِفِین'[18], which means: 'Then We fulfilled Our promise to them, and We delivered them and whomever We wished, and We destroyed the profligates.'

7- Punishment in the next world: Those who exceed the divinely set limits and consider them as being unimportant will be punished in the next world. The Quran has mentioned the following in this regards: 'وَ کَذلِکَ نَجْزِی مَنْ أَسْرَفَ وَ لَمْ یؤْمِنْ بِآیاتِ رَبِّهِ وَ لَعَذابُ الْآخِرَةِ أَشَدُّ وَ أَبْقى'[19], which means: 'Thus do We requite him who is a profligate and does not believe in the signs of his Lord. And the punishment of the Hereafter is severer and more lasting.'

The Social Harms of Israaf

Israaf has the following social consequences:

1- The destruction of social wealth and resources: Israaf wastes social resources such as: oil and minerals, no matter how great these resources may be. Imam Ali (a) has mentioned the following in a tradition: 'الْإِسْرَافُ‏ یُفْنِی‏ الْجَزِیلَ'[20], which means: Israaf annihilates even great amounts of wealth.

2- The decline of societal morals and ethics: The improper use and waste of resources pulls humanity towards corruption and societal destruction. This can even reach the point where an individual stops caring about the needs of others and only cares about himself.

3- The creation of class strife and struggle: One of the causes behind the creation of class strife is that of israaf. This is because some individuals, with their high levels of wealth, believe that they can spend this wealth in any manner in which they please, even if this goes against the rules of Islam and their society. Overtime, this attitude helps to first create classes and then to create strife and rancor between them.

4- The decline of governments: Another one of the social consequences of israaf is the decline of governments. Ibn Khaldun, one of the Muslim sociologists, has mentioned that whenever a government would become afflicted with israaf and extravagance, it would soon fall into decline.[21]

 

[1] Raghib Isfahani,‌ Mufradaat Alfaadh al-Quran, under the term "سرف".

[2] See: Rastegar Juybari, Valiyullah, Israf az Didgahe Islam, Al-Asfiya' Press, Tehran, 1380 (solar).

[3] See: Musavi Kashmari, Mahdi, Pajuheshi dar Israf, Bustane Ketab, third edition, Qum, 1385.

[4] Kāfī, Kulayni, vol. 7, p. 346, Daar al-Hadith, Qum, first edition, 1429 AH.

[5] Tabarsi, Majma' al-Bayan, vol. 6, p. 633, Nasir Khosro, Tehran, third edition, 1372 (solar).

[6] Kāfī, vol. 7, p. 19.

[7] Musavi Kashmari, Mahdi, Pajuheshi dar Israf, Bustane Ketab, third edition, Qum, 1385 (solar).

[8] Surah Furqan, Verse 67.

[9] Kafi, vol. 7, p. 345.

[10] Surah Israa, Verse 26 and 27.

[11] Shaykh Saduq, Khisal, vol. 1, p. 121, Islamic Publications, Qum, first edition, 1362 (solar).

[12] Surah A'raaf, Verse 31.

[13] Surah An'aam, Verse 14.

[14] Kāfī, vol. 7, p. 339.

[15] Kafi, vol. 4, p. 55.

[16] Surah Ghaafir, Verse 28.

[17] Kafi, vol. 7, p. 339.

[18] Surah Anbiya, Verse 9.

[19] Surah Taha, Verse 127.

[20] Tamimi Amidi, Abd al-Wahid ibn Muhammad, Tasnif Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, corrected by Dirayati, Mustafa, p. 359, single volume, Islamic Propagations Office, Qum, first edition, 1366 (solar).

[21] See: Khosro, Gholamali, Shenakhte Anva'e Ejtema'at az Didgahe Farabi va Ibn Khaldun, Ittila'at Press, first edition, Tehran, 1372 (solar).

 

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