Many people assume wealth is measured by how much money one has; Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), however, offers an entirely different perspective. Abu Hurayrah R) reported that the Messenger (PBUH) said, “Wealth is not the abundance of [material] possessions; wealth is self-contentment.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
The aforementioned Hadeeth explicitly teaches us that the key to gaining real wealth is being satisfied with what one already has. Simply put, if you are constantly being plagued with the feeling of needing more, then you are not rich- regardless of how much money you might have; if you feel satisfied with what you have, on the other hand, then you are, by this definition, rich regardless of how much money you may possess. Money alone cannot bring about inner happiness for two main reasons: (1) a rich but greedy person may whittle his material possessions down to nothing and still feel miserable, and (2) these material possessions may be lost and turn into a source for depression.
If we can agree that contentment is real wealth, then discontentment must be real poverty. Discontentment can make a person loose their sense of worth and sense of efficacy. Those who have allowed Hollywood culture to pervade their lives often fall prey to the idea that possessing self-worth is equated to possessing the material wealth celebrities have (lavish materialism, skewed standards of beauty, age, wealth ...etc.). For this reason, many people idolize celebrities. Moreover, millions of dollars are spent on advertisements persuading people to use their credit cards to buy non-essential materials they can do without or may not even use. People end up drowning in debt, which further complicates their lives and places great pressure and stress on them.
Imam Muslim reports that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Be pleased with what Allah has given you and you will be the richest of people.” By taking this Hadeeth in light of what we have learned from the first Hadeeth, we can recognize that self-contentment comes from being pleased with Allah’s decrees. Therefore, self-contentment requires faith, trust and a God-oriented heart. The Quran accurately describes the rewards promised to the believers, “Whoever does righteous deeds, whether be a male or female, and he has Faith, we will make him lead a good life.” (16:97) Some scholars interpret ‘good life’ here as a ‘life filled with contentment.'
It is interesting the quality of self-contentment found in the Hadeeth under discussion indicates that real wealth is an inner experience that relates to what is happening inside of us, not around us. Therefore, contentment has nothing to do with laziness or giving up or becoming passive; rather, it fights greed, self-indulgence and countless conflicts which lack of contentment causes. What denies contentment is not our desire to improve our situations, but the reckless, selfish competition for material gain through haram channels. For instance, work that leads one to cheating, dishonesty and corruption is a sign of greed and discontentment. Falling into debt to buy a car for the sole purpose of impressing others is another sign of discontentment and lack of real personal freedom.
With this said, a Muslim can be content and still work on improving his or her life situations. To avoid falling into the trap of greed, a Muslim must work towards meeting three conditions. First, the work or the source of money must be halal. Second, the work does not result in violating the teachings of our faith nor neglecting religious or social obligations; such as, the five daily prayers and family rights. Third, the acquisition of money does not promote having a self-centered life; but rather, earning money should make one feel responsible for helping the poor and the needy, especially through the mandatory annual Zakat. Giving for the sake of Allah is evidence that a person is generous, thankful and faith-filled. In this manner, wealth and contentment can go hand-in-hand. Moreover, wealth can be a blessing for the individual and the community. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was reported to have said, “Blessed is the money in the hands of a righteous man.”
Contentment can be learned.Although some people are naturally content, it does not mean that if you are not born with this value you cannot develop it. The Prophet (PBUH) was reported to have said, “Were the son of Adam to have a valley of gold, he would crave another. He will not be satisfied till he passes away. However, Allah accepts those who repent.” The first part of the Hadeeth explains that many people want (and not necessarily need) more. However, the underlined part of the Hadith tells us indirectly that people have a chance to fight greed and covetousness through repentance. Here are some ways we can develop the essential value of contentment:
(1) Compare yourself to people who have less than you.Unfortunately, many people fall into the trap of comparing their lives to that of richer people only to end up feeling either second-rate or deprived. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was reported to have said, “[In terms of material possessions], look at those who are inferior to you and do not look at those who are superior to you. By doing so, you will not belittle Allah’s blessings on you.” (Bukhari & Muslim) This means we should focus on what we have rather than what we do not so that we do not fall prey to the comparison trap.
(2) Count your blessings and be thankful.Unless we recognize Allah’s blessings upon us, we cannot practice contentment. Whenever we feel discontentment, we should take a moment and write down Allah’s blessings. We do not need to go very far in doing so and can simply ask three basic questions: ‘Do I feel safe? ‘Do I have a serious disease?’ ‘Do I have food for the day?’ If we are able answer these questions in the positive, we should count ourselves among the most blessed people in the world. This is exactly what our Prophet (PBUH) emulated for us. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was reported to have said, “Whoever wakes up feeling secure, free of [serious] diseases and having sufficient food for his day should know that he is given the entire [pleasures of] life!” (At-Tirmidhi)
(3) Remember that this life is a test! Adopting the Hereafter as your goal prevents being trapped into discontentment. Once you look at this worldly life as Allah’s test and do your best to pass it—through patience and gratitude—you will have a strong feeling that your life is rewarding and meaningful, no matter what difficulties come your way. The Quran teaches us that this worldly life is a test and the Hereafter is the superior, eternal life, “Do not gaze longingly at the pleasures of the splendor of the worldly life that We gave different classes of them [unbelievers]. It is a test for them, and Allah’s provision [for you] is far better and everlasting.” (20: 131)
(4) Fight Greed through Giving.There is great contentment and joy to be gained from giving. Giving is a sign of the absence of greed. Giving will make you among the better ones. Prophet Muhammad (S) was reported to have said, “The Upper Hand [that of a giver] is better that the Lower Hand [that of a recipient]. Start with your dependants.”
(5) Make dua’a for contentment.Bukhari and Muslim report on the authority of A’isha (R) that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) used to repeat the following prayer, “‘O Allah, I seek refuge with You from sin and heavy debt.’ Someone exclaimed, ‘How often you seek refuge from heavy debt!’ He (PBUH) said, ‘When a man falls into debt, he speaks and tells lies, and he makes a promise and breaks it.’” It was also reported that Prophet (PBUH) used to pray every morning and every evening stating,“O Allah I seek refuge of you from worries and grief. I seek refuge of you from helplessness and laziness. I seek refuge of you from cowardice and miserliness. I seek refuge of you from mounting debts and being overpowered by men.” This dua’a is an indication of the balance our faith teaches us in working to gain provision without making provision our source of contentment.
O Allah bring Your peace into our hearts, into our families, into our communities and into the world. O Allah kindle in our hearts Your love, the love of those who love You and the love of all that You love. Ameen.