Kitab Al-Kasb (Part 12): Is the State of Indigence Better or the State of Affluence?

This question (refer Part 11) is based on another question over which (resolution) there is disagreement among the scholars, and this (other question) is that whether the state of indigence is superior or the state of affluence? Our legal position is that the state of indigence is superior, while some of the other scholars say that the state of affluence is superior.

On every Wednesday, I will share a part of the translation of the book Kitab Al-Kasb (the book of Earning a Livelihood) written by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani.

Part 12: Is the State of Indigence better or the State of Affluence?
This question (refer Part 11) is based on another question over which (resolution) there is disagreement among the scholars, and this (other question) is that whether the state of indigence is superior or the state of affluence? Our legal position is that the state of indigence is superior, while some of the other scholars say that the state of affluence is superior.

Imam Muhammad has indicated in two places in the Book of Earning what we have explained regarding our legal position. He says in one of the two places, “If people were content with what suffices them and they attended to the surplus and directed it toward the affair of their hereafter, it would have been better for them.” And he says in another place, “And as for whatever that is more than what a person really needs he will be held to account for it, whereas a person is not held to account for poverty, and there is no doubt that what a person is not held to account for is better than what he is held to account for.”

As for those who deem affluence superior they argue by saying, “Affluence is blessing while poverty is misery, adversity and tribulation. It is not concealed from the intelligent that blessing is superior to adversity and tribulation, and the proof of it is that Allah has called wealth a bounty, and thus He, says, “And seek the bounty of Allah” [Al-Quran, surah al-Jumu’ah, verse 10], and He also says, “There is no crime on you that you seek bounty from your Lord” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Baqarah, verse 198]. And that which is Allah’s bounty is the most superior in rank.

He also called wealth a good, and thus He says, “…if he leaves any goods, that the legacy goes to his parents” [Al-Quran, surah Al-Baqarah, verse 180]. This word “goods” show that wealth is something good rather than its opposite.

Allah says, “We did indeed bestow on Dawud favor from us” [Al-Quran, surah Saba’, verse 10], that is, dominion and wealth, so much so that it was related that he used to have a hundred concubines and he wished from Allah more than that and Allah granted it to him and called that a favor from Him. And Sulayman (Solomon), asked Allah for that favor, thus he said, “My Lord! Forgive me, and grant me dominion that is not to be for anyone after me” [Al-Quran, surah Sad, verse 35].

It is not to be considered of any of the Messengers, on whom be blessing and peace, that he would ask of Allah the lower degree rather than the higher degree. The proof of this is that the Prophet says, “The hands are three. The hand of Allah, then the giving hand and then the receiving hand, and it is the lowest until the day of resurrection” [this hadith related by Abu Dawud, al-Hakim, Ahmad and ibn Hibban]. In another hadith he says, “The higher hand is better than the lower. The higher hand is the giving hand while the lower hand is the receiving hand” [this hadith related by al-Bukhari and Muslim].

And the Prophet said to Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, “That you leave your inheritor affluent is better for you than leaving them dependent and begging from people” [this hadith related by al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Abu Bakr al-Siddiq said to A’ishah when he was sick, “Surely the most cherished of people to me in regard to having wealth is you, and the most severe of them on me in regard to falling into poverty is you” [this related by Malik and ibn Sa’d]. This shows that the state of affluence is superior to the state of poverty.

The Prophet says, “Poverty is almost unbelief” [related by al-Suyuti and al-Bayhaqi]. And he says, “O Allah, I seek refuge with You from being in need except of You”. He also says, ” O Allah, I seek refuge with you from wretchedness and from feigned wretchedness” [related by al-Tabarani and al-Haythami]. Wretchedness is destitution and feigned wretchedness is feigned destitution, and it should not be considered of the Prophet that he sought refuge with Allah from the highest of ranks.

Our argument for our legal position on the issue is that poverty is safer for the servants, and the highest degree for the servant is that which is the safest for him. The elucidation of this is that he is secure through poverty from the excessiveness of affluence. Allah says, “Oh, no! Man does indeed go into excess in viewing himself as self-sufficient” [Al-Quran, surah Al-‘Alaq, verse 6-7]. And He, says, “…the ones who were tyrannical in the lands and multiplied corruption therein, so your Lord poured a medley of punishment upon them” [Al-Quran, verse Al-Fajr, verse 11-13].  They were driven to that excess by affluence; that is, those who lay claim to what is not due to them nor to anyone of humankind. It has not been reported that any of the poor fell into such excess, thus this shows that poverty is safer.

Moreover, the state of affluence is that to which the self is inclined and to which human nature calls, and by which the satisfaction of desire is attained, whereas non of these are attained by poverty, and so the highest rank is that which is farthest from the satisfaction of desires, for Allah says, “And they pursued their cravings, and they will meet with perdition” [Al-Quran, surah Maryam, verse 59].

Allah says, “Made to seem pleasing to humanity is love of desires for women and children and heaps and hoards of gold and silver, and domesticated horses, and cattle, and fields. This are conveniences for the life of the world, while the finest resort is with Allah” [Al-Quran, surah Ali Imran, verse 14]. And the proof of the Prophet’s statement, “The garden is encircled by what us disliked while the fire is encircled by what is desired” [related by Muslim and al-Tirmidhi].

And the Prophet says, “Poverty is more decorative on the believer than the good cheek-piece on the cheeks of the horse” [related by al-Suyuti] He says, “The poor people of my community will enter the garden before the rich people by half a day, which is five hundred years” [related by al-Tirmidhi ibn majad and ibn Hibban].

And in the traditions it is mentioned, “The last of the Prophets, on whom be blessing and peace, to enter the garden is Sulayman because f his dominion” [related by al-Tabarani].

The Prophet, one day said to ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf, “What delayed you from me O ‘Abd al-Rahman? He said, “What is that O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet said, “You are the last of my companion to join me on the day of resurrection, and I said, ‘What held you from me?, and you said, ‘Property. I was taken to account for it and held back until now'”  [related by al-Hafiz al-Mundhiri and others with critical comments].

‘Abd al-Rahman was among the ten companions for whom the Messenger of Allah attested to the garden. He had shared his wealth with Allah four times by giving out to charity one half and retaining one half. At the first time, when his wealth was eight thousand dirhams, he gave out to charity four thousand. At the second time, his wealth was eight thousands dinars, and so he gave away in  charity for thousand dinars. At the third time, his wealth was sixteen thousand dinars, and he gave away half of that. At the fourth time, his wealth was thirty two thousand dinars and he gave away half of it [this related by al-Tabarani, Abu Nu’aym and Ibn Hajar]. Despite all this giving, the Prophet said to him what he said. Therefore it is manifest that the state of poverty is superior.

The Prophet says, “The keys to the treasure houses of the earth were presented to me, and so I sought the advice of my brother, Jibril, on whom be peace, regarding them, and he directed me to humility, and so I said, ‘I shall be a serving prophet, hungry one day and sated one day. When I am hungry I shall be patient and when I am sated I shall be thankful'” [Related by al-Tirmidhi, alMundhiri, al-Tabarani, Al-Bayhaqi and others]. The Prophet used to say, “O Allah, let me live as a poor man and let me die a poor man, and gather me in the assembly of the poor” [related by al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah].

Without a doubt, the Prophet asked for the highest of ranks, and that which is superior for us is that which the Messenger of Allah asked for his self. The Prophet says, ” I am your allotment among the Prophets, and you are my allotment among the Communities” related by Imam Ahmad].

It becomes clear from what we have mentioned that the Prophet did not seek refuge from poverty absolutely, but he only sought refuge from poverty that causes one to be neglectful, according to what was related in some of the narrations that he said, “O Allah! I seek refuge with you from poverty that causes one to be neglectful, and from affluence that causes transgression” [related by al-Bazzar and Abu Ya’la]. It is only that in some situations he qualified his request, and in some other situation he left it unqualified, but he meant it that qualification all the same. However, whoever heard the word “poverty’ unqualified related it as he heard it.


22 The Book of Earning-700x700

Author: Abu Tariq Abu Tariq Muhsin is a zakat officer for Zakat Centre of Federal Territory of Malaysia. A writer, researcher and publisher of various writing focusing on Zakat & Islamic studies.

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