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 shuḥ (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. Shuḥ, 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 shuḥ would be not wanting another person to give away their £10. It is troubling in both the material and spiritual dimension.
So what does shuḥ 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 shuḥ (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]