Islamic Character Reflections

The Stinginess of Jealousy Usman Siddiqui

Jealousy is a difficult emotion to understand. Yet each of us—or at least, too many of us—suffer jealousy in some dimension from time to time: it may be a sudden impulse, or it may be a deep-seated feeling that grows within you against an individual. Whatever the case may be, our beloved Prophet ﷺ (may peace and blessings be upon him) warned us out of sincere concern for our well-being to guard against it, saying, “Beware of jealousy, for indeed jealousy consumes one’s good deeds like fire consumes wood.” [Sunan Abi Dawud] Therefore, it is of great importance to investigate the origins of jealousy in order to help us rid ourselves of this evil.

Imam al-Ghazali, the doctor of dead hearts, defined jealousy as a form of shu (شُحّ), meaning stinginess. However, this is not stinginess in the conventional sense. The conventional use of stinginess in Arabic is bukhl (بُخل), which refers to the kind of stinginess we are familiar with: miserliness with regards to something you own. Shu, on the other hand, is to be stingy with something that does not belong to you; in other words, something you do not want someone to receive from other people. This is a far worse spiritual vice than bukhl—in itself a great sin—and is a disease we must rid our hearts of with as much earnestness as any physical illness. While one could somewhat understand the superficial logic of bukhl—that giving £10 of your money to charity will make you £10 worse off—an example of shu would be not wanting another person to give away their £10. It is troubling in both the material and spiritual dimension.

So what does shu have to do with jealousy? While they may appear to be two separate vices, the two are in fact closely connected. Jealousy, according to Imam al-Ghazali, is shu (stinginess) with regards to Allah’s blessings and mercies. If Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala—glorified and exalted be He!—gifts somebody beautiful features, a strong intellect, a melodious voice, or wealth, then jealousy is wishing that Allah (swt) had not given that person what He chose to give. Hence, you are being stingy with that which never belonged to you; such blessings belong to God Almighty alone and He bestows them upon whomsoever He wills. At this point you may be thinking, “No, I do not wish that Allah would withhold that blessing from them, but I do wish Allah had given it to me too!” This is actually self-deception, for if Allah (swt) was to remove that blessing from them or had not given it to them in the first place, you would find yourself content, arrogance restored, and there would be no jealousy. Therefore, the person not having the blessing is, in reality, more important to you than your desire of the blessing itself. It is nothing more than being stingy with God’s infinite grace, and—much more dangerously—having a hatred of God’s generosity. Rather, we should constantly remember and work hard towards the goal set for us by our beloved Prophet ﷺ, may peace and blessings be upon him: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” [al-Saḥiḥayn]

Imam Muhammad ibn Sireen is reported to have said: “I have never envied anyone over anything: if a person is going to be in the Fire, how could I envy him over some worldly matter when he is destined for the Fire?! And if he is going to Paradise, how could I be envious of a man of Paradise with whom God—blessed is He—is pleased?!”

So fear Allah as much as you are able and listen and obey and spend [in the way of Allah]; it is better for your selves. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.” [The Holy Qur’an, 64:16]

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  • “This is actually self-deception, for if Allah (swt) was to remove that blessing from them or had not given it to them in the first place, you would find yourself content, arrogance restored, and there would be no jealousy. ”

    One minute. If a person in a wheelchair wishes that he/she had the ability to walk are they under the influence of Satan? What if the individual has a social disabilty that impairs their functioning in society? Ok in a sense if everyone else was disabled at the same level then that deficit would not exist and hence there would be no handicap, but what if a person just wants to be able be on a level playing field?

    • Thank you for the interesting thought. This I would not call jealousy/envy, though, so wouldn’t extend what you quoted towards it. Even if it were a form of bitter jealousy, then this falls into the channel of “rida bi’l-qadr” – a topic large enough to warrant volumes – involving the acceptance of God’s decree as the best for one’s own success. Were the veil of destiny to be lifted, and we see that which has been planned by the Almighty, we would not wish to change anything other than that which has already been decreed.

      The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “How amazing is the affair of the believer. There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” [Muslim]

    • “One minute. If a person in a wheelchair wishes that he/she had the ability to walk are they under the influence of Satan?”

      Wow, you were really reaching with that one…

  • subhanAllah – i never thought of it that way. So well explained! very practical examples to figure out how to implement this inshAllah – and so beautifully interwoven with the quran and hadith – thank you!

  • Jazakallahu Khairan…..amazing reflection ……this is so true…may Allah help us to remove this vice within us …and may Allah reward you for being a facilitator….

  • the article is very nice but it’s not jealousy that makes us want people to lose their things, it’s envy!

      • One of the definitions for jealousy I came across was: “Feeling or showing envy of someone”. I think the lines are quite blurred in English and they are used somewhat synonymously. If there is indeed a technical difference, then apologies – do not read too much into it as far as this article goes!

  • Assalamu alaikkum,
    Good article to think and reflect on…
    Actually, a disease or disability ( at any level – be it
    physical, mental)or any hardships in THIS LIFE SHOULD BE
    HOW A TRUE BELIEVER SEES IT. One should be content with
    allah’s qadr and insha allah, benefits of sabr will be
    reaped either in this life or in the jannah. That doesnt mean one should stop asking duas to make one’s condition better. POINT IS: KEEP ASKING AND IF YOUR DUAS ANSWERED THEN ITS GOOD, IFNOT THEN MAYBE ALLAH HAS DESIGNED SOMETHING BETTER.

    • One of the important things you need to do is make du’a that Allah removes this from your heart, and make du’a for them too. That aspect which you think you are jealous of, pray that Allah gives them MORE. If someone is very handsome and popular, say mashaAllah and make dua that Allah preserves their beauty, gives them more, and makes more people love them. This will really give Shaytan a kick up the backside! The interesting part is if you make this sincere dua for them, the angels will pray for you as well, that you get these qualities, but that is besides the point and we don’t care about that.

      Remind yourself of what is important: the friendship of ALLAH. If Allah loves us, then what is there to be jealous of other people? There is more to say, I recommend reflecting upon what Imam al-Ghazali advised on the matter. It is briefly referred to in Bidayah al-Hidayah, but you may find more detail in the Mukhtasar of the Ihya or the Ihya itself.

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