By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
You are not defined by the stuff you own. Your “stuff” is not a part of you. Your “stuff” will break, disappear, or be left behind one day.
In fact what truly defines our character is how we react to loss. If we were stripped of all the possessions we love, who would we be in that moment? Would we still be grateful to Allah, patient, trusting?
Hopefully it never comes to that. But seriously, those times of greatest sadness and joy are when our thoughts must turn to Allah, The Eternal, The Merciful, The Wise.
Allah says, “Never will you attain the good until you spend from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” [Quran 3: 92]
Think about that. Allah is telling us to give away the things that we love the most! SubhanAllah! Why does Allah ask this of us? Is it to liberate us from slavery to material possessions? To f0cus our minds on Allah and the aakhirah (hereafter)? To prevent the evil that results from the love of money? To benefit the poor?
Yes, for all of those reasons. Excessive attachment to any material thing is misguidance. The love of possessions is a spiritual trap.
I have at times given away things that were precious to me, thinking they would mean as much to the other person as they do to me. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t, and yes it hurts my feelings when the other person doesn’t value my gift; but eventually I get over it, because the point is the act of giving. And maybe – Insha-Allah – I’ll have something to show Allah on Yawm Al-Qiyamah (the Day of Resurrection), maybe I’ll be able to say, “O Allah, I gave away these things that I loved,” and maybe that will earn me some forgiveness, Allah knows.
There is a powerful spiritual lesson in taking an object that you love, and giving it away. I remember a middle-aged brother named AbdulKareem (Damis-Salaam, for those of you who know him). He worked hard, supported a family, and got by on a tight budget. One time he got a nice brown leather coat, the long kind that comes down to the knees. It looked good on him. Then a younger brother, a teenager with poor manners, said, “Man, that’s a cool coat. Can I have it?” Without a word, AbdulKareem took off the coat and gave it to the teenager. There’s such a strength of character, such freedom from attachment, in being able to do that. That was 27 years ago and I imagine that AbdulKareem (who is an old man now) has forgotten all about it. But Allah sees and remembers.
The Simplicity of the Prophet’s Life (sws)
This deep generosity was one of the qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It’s said that he never refused anyone who asked him for anything, if it was his to give.
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) was the most generous of all the people, and he used to reach the peak in generosity in the month of Ramadan when Gabriel met him. Gabriel used to meet him every night of Ramadan to teach him the Qur’an. Allah’s Messenger was the most generous person, even more generous than the strong uncontrollable wind.” [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 1, Number 5]
Aside from being generous, the Messenger of Allah (sws) had no attachment to “stuff”. The extreme simplicity of his lifestyle was astounding. He never ate lavish food (not even soft bread), never ate on a dining cloth, and never filled his belly even with barley bread. His household often went many days with no cooking fire in the oven, living on dates and water, and occasionally a glass of milk donated by the neighbors. His mattress was a piece of tanned skin filled with rough palm fibers.
Once Umar Ibn al-Khattab (radhi allahu anhu) entered upon the Messenger of Allah (sws) when he was lying on a mat of palm fibers that had left marks on his side. Umar (ra) said: “O Messenger of Allah, why do you not get something more comfortable than this?” He (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “What do I have to do with this world? My relationship with this world is like that of a traveler on a hot summer’s day, who seeks shade under a tree for an hour, then moves on.” [Musnad Ahmad and al-Hakim. Saheeh al-Jamee (5545)]
So you see, he lived like this not out of necessity, but out of choice. Money often came into his household (especially later in his life when Islam spread to all of Arabia) but he would give it all to the poor, retaining nothing.
Excessive possessions are anchors that drag us down. The hunger for material goods is a kind of sickness. It causes us more stress than happiness, and in the end we gain nothing genuine.
A Moment I Regret, and a Non-Materialistic Friend
I once got angry with my daughter when she was no more than four years old, because she pulled the soft cover off my headphones and tore it. I chastised her roughly (verbally only) and she cried. I immediately felt deeply guilty and I hugged her and told her it was okay. I still regret that moment and I wish I could take it back. It would have been enough for me to tell her once, kindly, that she should not do that again. Instead I made my beautiful child cry because of a meaningless possession. I don’t ever want to do that again. One moment of happiness with my child is more precious to me than a thousand stupid headphones.
I want to divorce myself as much as possible from the desire for needless possessions.
When I was a bicycle messenger in San Francisco many years ago, I had a colleague, Jennie, who could pack all her possessions in a pair of bicycle saddlebags. Anything that wouldn’t fit in the bags, she’d give away. She had a small flat in the Mission district, and when later she was moving to a little place up on 2nd Avenue, she called me and a few friends over to help. It turned out she called us not to help her pack, but so she could give away to us whatever possessions she had accumulated that wouldn’t fit in her saddlebags. I had another messenger friend, Ben, who lived in a small travel van. He was a kayaker and sailor. When not working, Ben spent much of his time on the sea or the bay. Interestingly, Jennie and Ben were both non-Muslims, yet they lived more simply than any Muslim I have known.
I can’t live that simply, or maybe I’m not willing to, but I do envy those who can. They have discovered something deep and true about the nature of the world. Life is not about stuff that costs too much, takes up space, wears out, breaks, and contributes nothing to the world. Rather, life is about experiences, family, learning, worshiping, and leaving a legacy of compassion and love. All those things last beyond our lifetimes, and beyond the veil of this life.
May Allah help us to live simply, and to be generous, and to value ‘ibadah, family and love more than “stuff”.