The Concept of Wealth in Islam

In Islam wealth ultimately belongs to Allah and we as his Khalifah on earth are entrusted with it, individually and at large. This stewardship requires that Muslims handle their wealth in accordance with Islamic principles. The Qur’an says, “Believe in Allah and His Messenger and spend out of that of which He has made you trustees. For those who have believed among you and spent, there will be a great reward.”

The Islamic economic model revolves around sustainable circulation of wealth and ethical growth methods. It does not necessarily enrich specific individuals (capitalism) nor does it assert central governance of wealth (communism). There are frequent recessions due to the structure of modern economic models and that is because of an imbalance.

Islamic wealth creation instead involves fair trade principles, prohibitions of unethical gain, risk-sharing, where both parties experience risk and share reward. Transactions must have a real economic purpose without undue speculation, nor exploitation of any party. There is also a stipulation of Zakat, which is mandatory almsgiving to support ones’ community financially.

So man is free to acquire wealth to spend on himself and improve his society. In fact Allah encourages one to seek wealth in the Qur’an, “He it is who made the earth smooth for you, therefore go about in the spacious sides thereof, and eat of His sustenance, and to Him is the return after death.” [67:15] In other words, stop vying with each other and seek the means everywhere, the earth is vast. This goes for seeking new business ventures too. In Surah Jumu’ah, Allah says, “And when the Prayer is finished, then disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah: and celebrate the Praises of Allah often (and without stint): that you may prosper.”

Where one has wealth, then he should use it on himself. The Prophet ﷺ once remarked, upon seeing a well-off man dressed shabbily, “If Allah has given you wealth, let the effect of Allah’s blessing and generosity be seen on you.” (Nasai 5,224 – Sahih) The Prophet ﷺ prayed to Allah to increase Anas in wealth and to bless Urwah in his business dealings. He also said, “Whoever loves that he be granted more wealth and that his lease of life be prolonged, he should keep good relations with his kith and kin.” (Bukhari 5,986).

Furthermore, In Islam we learn it is ultimately Allah who provides and gives sustenance, even if two people took the same paths to acquire wealth, like the example of the two gardeners in Surah al-Kahf. Whatever ones’ result, we give thanks to Allah. The Muslim does not display desperation in seeking provision. What is allotted to him was allotted the day he was born. His job is to work in the Dunya and then receive his allotted share, otherwise man will find himself constantly anxious. We are free to choose whether we acquire our sustenance using halal or haram means. The Prophet said “A servant says, my wealth, my wealth! but out of his wealth three things are only his: whatever he eats and makes use of or by means of which he dresses himself and it wears out or he gives as charity, and this is what he stored for himself (as a reward for the Hereafter), and what is beyond this (it is of no use to you) because you are to depart and leave it for other people.” Muslim 2959.

When one seeks halal wealth or spends wisely and includes the needy-folk, Allah places Barakah in his wealth, which is a divine grace. One will experience his wealth being stretched and goodness in his interactions.

For those who are given an abundance of wealth, there is an additional responsibility to support their family and friends. The Prophet ﷺ said, “This worldly property is [like] sweet vegetation. How excellent is the wealth of the Muslim, if it is collected through legitimate means and spent in Allah’s cause and on orphans, poor people, and travellers.” (Bukhari 2,842) He also advised, “Do not wish to be like anyone except in two cases: a person whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously; [and] the one whom Allah has given wisdom and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.” (Bukhari 7,141)

Limitations on wealth

There is limitation on how wealth is acquired, this mainly resolves round being just to people and being part of a fair and growing community. Acquiring wealth through gambling, usury, interest, selling harmful goods are all unlawful. The person who acquires wealth unlawfully is like “the one who eats but is never satisfied”, and the wealth of such a person will be a witness against them on the Day of Judgement. (Bukhari 1,465) Allah warns us in the Quran, “And do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly or send it [in bribery] to the authorities in order that you consume a portion of the wealth of the people in sin, while you know.” (Al-Baqarah 2:188) Allah also condemns the scholars and priests who devour the wealth of people in the name of religion (Al-Taubah 9:34). The Prophet ﷺ said “There will come a time when a man will not care where his wealth comes from – whether [its source is] halal or haram.” (Nasai 4,454 – Sahih). One of the wisdoms for the Zakat is purifying wealth from ill-gotten or ill-intended means.

Trials of wealth

Muslims are also reminded of the trials of wealth. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed, there is a fitnah for every nation, and the fitnah for my nation is wealth.” (Tirmidhi 2,336 – Sahih) The Prophet ﷺ also sought refuge with Allah against the “evil of the fitnah of wealth”. (Bukhari) While the term fitnah has several meanings, here it implies temptation and allurement. Wealth can divert a person from the straight path in general, and from the remembrance of Allah in particular. Allah states in the Quran, “Your wealth and your children are but a trial, and Allah has with Him a great reward.” (Al-Taghabun 64:15) Wealth is a trial because it puts to test your resolve, adherence to Allah’s commands, and commitment to the right course. It may temp you to spend on sinful pursuits, take Allah’s blessings for granted, and look down upon others.

Part of this is the disease of the heart of greed where one constantly wasn’t to acquire more and more and finds it hard to let go. It is worth remembering, however, that no amount of wealth can satisfy human greed: “If the son of Adam had a valley full of wealth, he would seek a second, and if he had a second, he would seek a third; and nothing fills the belly of the son of Adam except for dirt [i.e. death].” (Tirmidhi 3,793 – Hasan) The Prophet ﷺ further stated, “The son of Adam grows old, but two [desires] in him remain young: desire for wealth and desire for life.” (Muslim 1,047a).

Obligations with regards to wealth

Then there are stipulations on how must use some of their wealth – spending on ones’ family, paying Zakat, adhering to the divisions of inheritance. Allah says, “And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who, when they spend, do not do so extravagantly (excessively), nor are they miserly but they are between the two, moderate.” (Al-Furqān: 67). The Prophet ﷺ said, “When Allah grants wealth to anyone of you, he should first spend it on himself and his family.” (Muslim 1,822a). Charity indeed starts are home. One should always seek to help the family out of poverty over others. Then one’s neighbours and local community. If the people around us thrive, we all ultimately thrive. When we support the widows, those overcome with debt or anyone in the state of need, we find wealth circulated around the community. Allah describes the righteous believer as the one who “gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask, and for freeing slaves.” (Al-Baqarah 2:177). However this doesn’t mean the poor should have a laisse faire attitude, the Prophet used to make dua’ to be free from the need of people. If we can earn our own wealth then we do not need to rely on others or wait for support. Umar said, “Let not one of you refrain from working for his provision, supplicating to Allah to provide while he knows that the sky does not rain gold and silver.” [Iḥyā’ Ulūm al-Dīn 2/62]. The Prophet said “No meal eaten by one of you is better than the meal he eats from the work of his own hands. Verily, the Prophet of Allah, David, upon him be peace, would eat from the work of his own hands.” Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1966.

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