By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked one group of his companions, “Do you know who the bankrupt person is?”
They said, “A bankrupt person amongst us is the one who has neither money nor property.”
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The bankrupt person of my nation is he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayer and fast and giving great amounts in charity. And at the same time, he would come having abused this one, and slandered that one, and consumed the wealth of the other unlawfully, and shed the blood of yet others and having beaten others. Then any person whom he has wronged will be given from his good deeds on that Day. And if his good deeds are exhausted until he clears the account concerning all of the people he has oppressed, the sins of those people whom he has wronged will be thrown unto his account and after that, he will be thrown into the hellfire.” (Muslim)
The entire world has been struggling through an economic recession. Millions of people are out of work. People are losing their homes as we speak.
It’s difficult in these times not to fear for our financial security. It’s hard not to be consumed with worry; to wonder what will happen if our income disappears. For business owners, the threat of losing the business looms like a specter. For individuals driven to their knees by debt, it can seem like all options have evaporated. For all these people, an ugly ten-letter word threatens to unravel everything they’ve tried to build, and to brand them with the label of a failed life: bankruptcy.
I understand the fear of poverty, and the stress of financial insecurity. I am intelligent (Alhamdulillah), educated, versatile, and creative. I’ve written books, won awards, founded important websites, traveled the world. I’m raising a lovely child ma-sha-Allah. I teach martial arts as a hobby. I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished. But for some reason, financial “security” has almost always eluded me. I can’t say why. It could be that my choices have always been unconventional. I was never willing to focus intensely on standard career paths. I was never willing to settle for what I saw – rightly or wrongly – as mediocrity and meaningless drudge work, all in the name of pursuing the sacred cow of financial security, which I think is illusory anyway.
For a while in my late teens, I slept in an ice cream truck that I owned. I had several friends who were Palestinian college students, and I would often visit them during the day, at least partly so I could raid their fridges and get something to eat.
In my late twenties I was more stable, employed and living in my own apartment in San Francisco, which was no mean feat. I worked three different jobs at the same time, one full time and two part time. But I was often broke, especially in the days before payday. I’d buy large bags of oranges on sale. I had no cooking facilities in my tiny apartment, only a microwave oven, so I’d go to the Vietnamese restaurant below my house and buy a large container of steamed rice for $1, then turn it into three meals by eating it with canned beans or corn. Once a week the company I worked for bought pizzas for the employees. I’d wait until everyone was done, then scoop the leftovers into a plastic bag and take it home. I’d live off that leftover pizza for two or three days.
Sometimes I’d scrounge through the pockets of all my clothes, hoping to find an overlooked dollar bill, or maybe – Alhamdulillah! – a twenty!
Later, when I was married and lived in Oakland, we used to juggle the bills, every month trying to decide which bills needed paying most urgently. Oh, the bill is still white? Ignore it. We’ll wait for the pink one that means services are about to be shut off.
Even now it’s sometimes a struggle. Allah has always provided for me – Alhamdulillah – and I cannot complain, but I know what it’s like to have money worries constantly buzzing in the back of your mind like a swarm of killer bees, to the point where it’s difficult to think about anything else.
At one point in 2010 I considered filing for bankruptcy. But the filing itself was costly. Debtors might have challenged the filing, and even if it went through, my credit rating would have been ruined for years to come.
Alhamdulillah, I managed to stave off the crisis, and now things have improved. My income has increased, and most of my debt has been settled. I have managed to avoid the dreaded financial spook, the mark of the wrong road taken: bankruptcy.
Or have I?
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the revolutionary hadith I quoted above, redefined the meaning of bankruptcy. On the Day of Judgment, every human being will be weighed by criteria that have nothing to do with finances.
If I have abused another human being with my tongue or my hands, then I’m on the road to bankruptcy. If I’ve committed gheebah (backbiting) by mocking or criticizing someone in his absence, or if I’ve lied, or broken promises without cause, then I’m dumping my good deeds down the drain.
If I have stolen someone’s wealth, then I am making myself destitute.
If I have shed someone’s blood without cause, or beaten someone, then I have made myself a penniless wretch.
If I have done all of these things, then it doesn’t matter if I pray and fast and give sadaqah, I am bankrupt, bankrupt, bankrupt. I am spiritually void. I am given all my good deeds away and replaced them with evil, and I am utterly destitute.
And yes, I have done all of these things at some point in life, so I have much to fear, and I have not avoided bankruptcy at all, even if my wallet is full of money and my bank account is flush.
Things are not always as they seem, brothers and sisters. The eyes of the world deceive us.
Fear the true bankruptcy, the kind that dooms you before Allah! If you want to avoid that bankruptcy, and come before Allah as a rich man or woman, then prayer, fasting and charity are only the start. Abuse no one, backbite no one, insult no one, hurt no one, strike no one. Steal from no one, take advantage of no one.
Instead, be kind, and speak to people gently; be fair in everything, stand up for justice, and tell the truth. Act with love. Let Allah be your guide, and the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) your example.
Do this and you will be richer than any king or queen of this world.