Wasteful Expenditure (Israf) is a Great Sin
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
The thirty-second sin, which has been mentioned in the Qur’an and traditions as a Greater sin, is Isrāf or wasteful expenditure. It is enumerated among the Greater Sins in the tradition of Fazl Ibn Shazān from Imam Riďa (a.s.) and also in the tradition of Amash from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.). The Qur’anic verses and traditions, both, confirm that wasteful expenditure is a Greater sin. First we shall quote these ayats and traditions and then delve into the various aspects of this sin. The Holy Qur’an says, “…and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Surah al-Ar’āf 7:31)
The above ayat suffices to show the dislike of Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) for the extravagant people. According to some exegesists of the Qur’an one who is not loved by Allah (S.w.T.) is doomed to perdition because the love of Allah (S.w.T.) implies Divine rewards.
According to Tafsīr Majmaul Bayan, Bakhti Shoa was the personal physician of Harūn al-Rashid. He was a Christian. One day he asked Waqidi, “Does your Holy book contain any medical knowledge?” Waqidi replied, “The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) has condensed the complete medical knowledge in a single verse, “...And eat and drink and be not extravagant.”
“Did your Prophet mention anything about this branch of knowledge?” asked the physician.
“Yes,” said Waqidi, “he has described the medical sciences in a brief sentence.
‘The stomach is the house of pain and abstinence is the most important medicine. Everyone should be given the amount (of food) he needs.’”
Upon hearing this, the Christian remarked, “Your Book and your Prophet have not omitted anything from medical science and Galen (the Greek physician) had nothing more to say.”
The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says in the Qur’an, “...eat of its fruit when it bears fruit, and pay the due of it on the day of its reaping, and do not act extravagantly; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Surah al-’An’ām 6:141)
A verse in Surah Ghāfir states, “Thus does Allah cause him to err who is extravagant, a doubter.” (Surah Ghāfir, 40:34)
Similarly, “...the extravagant are the inmates of the fire.” (Surah Ghāfir, 40:43)
Also, “And thus do We recompense him who is extravagant and does not believe in the communication of his Lord; and certainly the chastisement of the Hereafter is severer and more lasting.” (Surah Tā Hā, 20:127)
Allah the Almighty again says, “...and do not squander wastefully, surely the squanderers are the followers of the shaitans and the Shaitan is ever ungrateful to his Lord.” (Surah al-‘Isrā’, 17:26-27)
Tafsīr Minhaj cites the extravagance and prodigality of the pre-Islamic Arabs. When the rich among them invited someone for dinner, they slaughtered several camels to show off their wealth. The Almighty Allah has denounced their extravagance and has said that they squander their wealth like the insane.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, “Certainly, moderation is liked by Allah and He dislikes extravagance; even in the throwing away of a date-seed, because that too can be used (Arabs feed date-seeds to camels). And the same is with the throwing away of water left after drinking.” (Because even this can be put to some use). (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
The Imam (a.s.) has also said: “Fear Allah and be not extravagant nor miserly. Be moderate. Verily, extravagance is waste. The Almighty Allah says, ‘And do not waste!’ Certainly Allah has never punished the people who practise moderation.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
It means that the Divine punishment is reserved for both the squanderer as well as the miser. Bushr Ibn Umar says, “I went to Imam Sadiq (a.s.) and he placed some dates before us. We began to eat the dates and some of us were throwing away the seeds. He stopped them and said, ‘This is waste, Allah does not like corruption.’” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
In a tradition, from the book Faqih, the Holy Prophet (S) describes the various prohibited acts and states that the house one builds extravagantly and for show-off will be raised to seven floors by the Almighty Allah on the Day of Qiyāma. Allah (S.w.T.) will kindle that building and make it into a necklace and place it on the neck of that person. Then He will toss him into the fire. The people requested the Holy Prophet (S) to explain how a person can build a house for show-off. The Prophet (S) explained that it denotes a house, which is more than needed, and one that is constructed to show the superiority of the owner over other Muslim brothers.
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says: “Whenever Allah intends goodness from His servants, He reveals to him to live moderately and spend his life in the best way and keeps him away from extravagance and prodigality.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “Do you think if Allah has bestowed someone with wealth, it is because he is His beloved? And if He has given less to someone it is because he is low? No! It is not so. Whatever wealth is there, it all belongs to Allah. Allah gives it to whomsoever He wishes as a trust and He has permitted the trustee to eat, drink, wear clothes, marry, and ride from it, (but) in moderation. If he has excess he must distribute it among the poor and fulfill their needs. Then whoever follows the Divine commands, whatever he has eaten, drunk, worn, married and riden in moderation; all this is lawful for him and if he does not act upon it, everything is Harām.”
Then Imam (a.s.) recited the ayat, “And do not be extravagant, Allah does not love the squanderers.”
Then he continued, “Do you think it proper that a person purchases from the wealth which Allah has entrusted him, a horse costing 10,000 dirhams when he could have bought an animal worth 20 dirhams?; and it would have sufficed for him. Or if he purchase a slave-girl at a cost of a thousand dirhams when he could have got one in twenty dinars and quite sufficient for him? When the Almighty says,
‘Do not spend wastefully.’ (One who wastes and squanders money has done Khayanat in the trust of Allah (S.w.T.)). (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Abbasi says that he asked Imam Riďa (a.s.) as to how much he should spend on his family? Imam (a.s.) replied, “Between the two which are disliked.”
I said, “I don’t know what those two are?”
“Certainly Allah hates extravagance and He hates miserliness.” Imam (a.s.) then recited the ayat,
“And (the people are) those who are neither extravagant nor miserly. They are the moderate (people).” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has said that if a person is extravagant and later becomes poor due to it, his invocations will not be accepted. Then if he says “O Allah grant me health,” Allah (S.w.T.) says, “Had I not ordered you moderation?”
The meaning of extravagance and its types
Extravagance means crossing the limits or spending wastefully. It depends upon circumstances. For example, spending on something useless is Harām, even if it is only a single dirham. Spending unduly even for a proper ocassion is extravagance. If a dress of one hundred rupees is good enough one should not purchase a dress costing five hundred. According to certain scholars spending at the wrong place is squandering and spending more than necessary is extravagance.
Hazrat ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “The extravagant have Three qualities; he eats more than required, he wears more than is suitable for him and buys things needlessly.” (Bihār al-Anwār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “If you wear a formal dress where it is not required, it is extravagance.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Extravagance depends upon the capacity of every person
It is necessary to know that extravagance depend upon the honour and respect of different people, their health and sickness, youth and old age, poverty and affluence, income levels etc. It is possible that an expensive dress may not constitute extravagance for a person who can afford the same and who holds a respectable position in society. Whereas for one who is not having the same position and income, wearing the same dress will constitute extravagance.
Kulayni (r.a.) has recorded a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that he said, “There are some poor people who squander more than the rich. Because the rich squander from the wealth Allah has given whereas the poor squander what they have not.” (Furu al-Kāfi)
Thus such poor people are always involved in economic problems and debts. They do not consider their circumstances and spend beyond their means. This is extravagance. It is a result of competing with those who are more affluent. In trying to keep up with them one indulges in extravagance and spends ones life in misery, sorrow and grief. If instead people look at those who are less privileged than them, as ordered by Islam, they would never fall prey to wasteful expenditure. Thus, bankruptcy is often caused by extravagance. If people obey the rules of Islam and act with common sense and reason, they will always practice moderation and keep aloof from this sin; they will be satisfied with whatever they have and live within their means. Consequently, they will enjoy the goodness of this world and the Hereafter.
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says: “No one can taste true belief till he cultivates Three qualities
1. Love of the knowledge of religious rules and regulations.
2. Patience in calamities and
3. Realistic estimation of his expenses.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says: “When a person practices moderation I guarantee that he will never become destitute.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) says: “Three things facilitate salvation: Fearing Allah, practising moderation in poverty and affluence, to say only the rightful thing even when angry or displeased.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) explains the ayat “We will certainly make him live a happy life.” (Surah an-Nahl 16:97)
and says that, “‘A happy life’ is contentment.”
Abu Zar repels greed
Uthman gave two hundred gold coins to his servants and told them to take them to Abu Zar and say, “Uthman has sent you his salām with a request to accept these coins. You can use them for your needs.”
When the servants brought the gold coins to Abu Zar and conveyed Uthman’s message he asked, “Has Uthman given a similar amount to every Muslim?”
“‘No”, they replied
“Then am I superior to all the Muslims to be given these?”
The servants told him, Uthman has said that, “these gold coins are from his personal property and by Allah (S.w.T.) they are Halāl.”
“I do not need them because I am needless,” said Abu Zar.
“But we don’t see anything in your house, that shows you are needless?”
Abu Zar pointed towards a utensil and said, “There are two pieces of barley bread in it and hence I am needless.” (Safinat’ul-Bihār)
In another narration of the same type, Muawiya sent two of his slaves with some money for Abu Zar and when Abu Zar refused to accept them, the slaves said, “O Abu Zar! Muawiya had promised to free us if you accept the money. Please accept it for our sake.”
Abu Zar said, “If I take them you would be free from Muawiya’s slavery but I will become his slave, because then I will be forced to obey him.” (It would be the same as selling my religion for material wealth).
Sayyid Abu A’lā Maududi writes in his book, Islam and the Economic Problems that all the evils in the world are due to the wasteful expenditure of rich people and their vain pastimes. These people consider extra-marital sex a necessity. Due to this thousands of women become morally corrupt; thousands of men shamelessly commit debauchery. These people consider singing, dancing, music, acting etc. as necessary entertainments. Hence they have bought over the various professionals of these vices and the entertainment industry has bloomed. More and more people being attracted to these vices. Thus, the number of dancers, actors and prostitutes increase by the day.
This has resulted in the development of entertainments, which are not at all necessary for respectable people. On the contrary such vices are destroying morals and basic human values. Even sports and excursions have been commercialised into wealth ammassing business. Misguided people have instigated a section of society to indulge in producing wines, drugs and other intoxicants. The devastating effect of which on society are only too well known. They spend their money in building posh apartments, giving lavish parties. They spend exhorbitantly on jewellery, dresses, paintings etc. The height of their wasteful expenditure is reflected in the special rooms for their dogs and the golden collars and lashes with which they adorn their pets.
In the face of such wasteful expenditure are the destiutes and deprived masses who cannot have even their basic needs fulfilled. The Qarūns (profligates) have acted blatantly against humanity and against the principles of Islam by their wasteful expenditure. If only they had used their excess wealth for alleviating poverty and fufilling the needs of the poor, they would have done a service to humanity.
As pointed out earlier extravagance depends on the capacity of a person and what is extravagance for a poor man may not be considered lavishness for a rich man. However, it does not mean that the affluent people are free to spend their wealth in any way they like. Most certainly they cannot spend on anything which is Harām. In fact the rules that apply to the rich are very strict indeed.
When they have been bestowed with wealth and affluences they have to live in a manner suitable to their status. Whatever amount remains is not for hoarding. Any excess wealth has to be utilised in the manner stated by religion. It is obligatory to deduct Khums (1/5) of the extra wealth and distribute it to those who are qualified for it. One must also pay Zakat when it is obligatory.
If a person has some close relatives who are poor he has to give them some amount otherwise he will be guilty of Qat’a ar-Rahm. If some of his surplus money is needed by his destitute and poor relations, he must help them. If they are in debt he must help them repay the debts. If they are sick he should provide medicines for them and provide the other necessities of life. In fact, if he is aware of any Muslim who needs monetary help and he does not help him, he will be like the one described in the following words of Qur’an, “...and (as for) those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah’s way, announce to them a painful chastisement. On the day when it shall be heated in the fire of Hell, then their foreheads and their sides and their backs shall be branded with it; this is what you hoarded up for yourselves, therefore taste what you hoarded.” (Surah at-Tawba 9:34-35)
The Holy Prophet (S) explains, “If a person hoards wealth and does not fulfill the rights (if he sees a poor and needy person and he does not spend it in the way of Allah); then on the Day of Qiyāma he will be branded with it and it will be told to him, ‘This is your wealth which you collected with miserliness.’” (Tafsīr al-Mizan)
Numerous ayats and traditions have emphasised spending in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) and prohibited against hoarding of wealth. The former is considered most deserving of Divine rewards and the latter earns degrading punishment. However, if we quote these verses and narrations we would be straying from our topic.
It would not be out of place to mention a few facts of the modern world. Some rich people, who feel they are Muslims, hoard up all their surplus wealth in foreign banks, in secret accounts. Only when they exit from the world do we learn of their legacies. Allah (S.w.T.) knows how they shall justify their actions. If they offer the excuse of ignorance of the matter they will be confronted with the question as to why did they not try to learn about religion, attend majlis, lectures etc?
If they had known everything why did they not act upon it. It is a pity that these wealthy people do not realize that spending in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) is the most appropriate utility of their wealth. It is the only beneficial way to spend it. The money spent in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) has been called as the ‘righteous wealth’ by the Holy Prophet (S). The person who spends in the way of Allah (S.w.T.) will deserve praises in this world and also earn the eternal rewards of the Hereafter. Those who do not, will be fraught with regret and bitterness, forever.
Extravagance depends on prevailing conditions at different times
Extravagance differs from person to person, it also depends on the prevailing conditions. It is possible that spending a certain quantity may not be extravagance in times of prosperity but if a similar amount is spent in times of famine when people are starving to death, it will be counted as lavishness and squandering. It would be obligatory for those people to avoid spending like in normal times and instead distribute that wealth among those who are in need.
Moatab, a servant of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says, “There was an acute shortage of food when Imam (a.s.) asked me, ‘What is the position of our stocked grains?’ ‘We have sufficient to last us months,’ I replied. Imam (a.s.) said, ‘Take it out and sell it.’
I said, ‘There is a shortage of wheat and barley in Madinah.’ But Imam (a.s.) insisted I sell it.
When I had sold it all, Imam (a.s.) told me that I should buy the daily requirements from the market like the common people and said, ‘Fix a diet of half wheat and half barley for my family, Allah knows that I am capable of feeding them all pure wheat bread but I like it that Allah sees me fulfilling duties of my life faithfully.’”
The same order applies to the matter of dressing. Some stupid people have accused Imam Sajjad (a.s.), Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) and Imam Riďa (a.s.) for wearing fine clothes whereas their fathers, grandfathers, the Holy Prophet (S) and Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) all wore humble clothes. The Holy Imams (a.s.) have always refuted this accusation by saying that those times were different. In those days the majority of the people dressed in very ordinary clothes but now there was prosperity and affluence in society.
“If we were to wear the same types of clothes today, people would insult us.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
In an incident connected with the same subject we find Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) asking his critic to come near. When he came near, Imam (a.s.) opened his outward garment and the man saw an old tattered shirt inside. Imam (a.s.) said, “This is the dress I wear to show humility to Allah and the other (outward) dress is for you and people like you to see.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Extravagance that is Harām at all times
We must know that Three types of extravagance are Harām at all times and in all circumstances. Its prohibition is not conditional. The first kind of extravagance is when a person spends something wastefully; even if the thing wasted is of not much significance; like throwing the date seed away when it could be put to some use. Or throwing away water left over after drinking when there is a shortage of water and someone else could have used the same. Tearing up and throwing away old clothes is also a waste; because they can be given to people who are less privileged. Having a light on when there is enough sunlight. Handing over something valuable to a child or a foolish person who does not understand its value; and who will spoil the same. All these are a kind of wasteful expenditure or extravagance.
Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) saw some half-eaten fruits that had been thrown out of a house. He said, “What have you done? If your bellies are full there are many people as yet unsatiated. So you should give it to those needy people.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
Whatever is left after eating must never be thrown away. Very many traditions have emphasised on the giving away of leftovers to animals, especially leftover bread.
During the time of Prophet Daniyal wastage of bread was rampant. The people used to throw away the leftover bread and it could be seen lying everywhere on the streets. Prophet Daniyal invoked Divine punishment for these people and hence they were inflicted with such a severe famine, that they were prepared to eat each other.
The book Wasa’il ul-Shia has mentioned that once Imam Baqir (a.s.) entered the toilet and saw a piece of bread lying on the floor. He picked it up and handed it over to his slave. When he had finished, he called the slave to produce that piece of bread. The slave said that he had cleaned it properly and then ate it. Imam (a.s.) said, “I emancipate you in the way of Allah.”
The Imam (a.s.) was told, “The slave had not performed any such deed that he deserved to be freed?”
Imam (a.s.) said, “It was because he had respected a great bounty, like bread and ate it; hence Paradise became incumbent upon him. I do not like to enslave a person for whom Allah has ordained Paradise.”
A similar type of tradition has been narrated from the Chief of the Martyrs, Imam Husain (a.s.).
As regards the wastage of clothes we have already quoted a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) where he has remarked about the wearing of fine clothes in common place situations. He (a.s.) himself wore the fine clothes to suit his eminent position.
Eating or drinking harmful things is also a waste
The second type of extravagance is spending on eatables and drinks that cause harm to the body, like eating when one is already full. It is harmful to eat on a full stomach and it is a waste. However, spending upon those things, which are good for the body, is not Isrāf.
al-Kāfi has a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.). One of his followers approached him and said, “When we head for Mecca (for Hajj) we have to halt at a point to wear the ihrām and we also feel the need to anoint our bodies with a pack made from flour husk. Since we do not have flour husk we use flour instead, but it makes me feel very guilty; though our Lord knows better.”
Imam (a.s.) said, “Whatever is necessary for the body is not Isrāf. Quite often we mix sieved flour with olive oil and apply it to our body.”
The narrator then asked Imam (a.s.) to distinguish extravagance from stinginess. Imam (a.s.) told him, “Bread, meat, milk, vinegar and ghee; whatever you wish you can eat. But do not eat all of them at one time.”
Spending on Harām things is Isrāf
The third type of extravagance or wastage is spending on things and vices that are Harām according of Shariah. Like purchasing wine or purchasing items used in gambling; paying to singers or prostitutes, bribing government officials, spending money to obtain unlawful gains or usurping someone else’s property by force, paying for oppressing a Muslim. All these ways of spending are Isrāf. One who indulges in these activities commits two wrongs; one is the action itself and secondly he is also guilty of Isrāf.
Tafsīr of Ayyashi records a tradition through Abdul Rahmān bin Hajjaj who asked Imam (a.s.) the meaning of ayat, “And do not squander wastefully.”
Imam (a.s.) said, “If one spends in any other way than what Allah has ordered, it is squandering and if one spends in the way of Allah, it is moderation.”