HomeDisciplining The Soul › Averting Envy

Chapter 11. Averting Envy

Envy is to wish that the blessing of the one who is envied be removed, even if  the one who envies does not receive the same blessing. The reason  for this
disease is the love of distinction and the hatred of being equal to everyone else. This is why when someone is blessed with a grace that makes him distinct from everyone else the envious person is pained because of that distinction or because that person became equal to him. This pain will only disappear when the blessing of the one who is envied is removed. It is rare to find anyone safe from possessing some amount of envy in his heart, which is something that a person is not sinful for possessing but rather sin is only earned upon wishing for the removal of the blessings be­ stowed upon his Muslim brethren.

Know that envy causes insomnia, malnutrition, paleness, mood swings and continuous depression. A one hundred and twenty year old nomad was asked, "What made you live so long?" He answered, "I let go of envy, so I lived a long life."

Know that envy only occurs in regards to worldly matters as you will not find people envying those who pray at night or those who freguently fast, neither do they envy scholars for their knowledge rather they envy those who have fame.

The cure for this disease is to know first that what Allah has predestined will happen, trying to change what is predestined is impossible, the One who divided the sustenance between people is Judicious and Wise, He is the Possessor; He gives and He takes, for He created the universe and all that it contains.

It is as if the one who envies opposes the will of the Giver, may He be exalted. A wise man said:

'Say to the one who envies me,
'Do you know who you are misbehaving against?'
You are misbehaving against Allah in what He gave
because you are not pleased with what He gave me
So He recompensed me for what you did and that is by
increasing me (in my blessings)
and shutting the doors of  earning (a livelihood) in your face.'

Also the one who is envied did not take from the livelihood of the one who envied him nor did he take anything from his hand. Therefore, when an envier wishes someone's blessing be removed it is merely an obvious injustice.

The one who envies should look to the state of the one he envies; if what he has is from worldly matters only, then he should rightfully be pitied and not envied, because what he possesses is probably against him not for him, for the surplus of worldly matters is nothing other than trouble.

As al-Mutanabi said:

'The boy mentioned his life and his need
while the surplus of livelihood is nothing but trouble.'

The explanation of all this is; one who is rich is always afraid for his money, the one who has many slave girls is always cautious and concerned about them, a ruler is always afraid of being dismissed. Then one should know that there is depression in many favors, those favors are temporary, and that misfortunes follow them. For the possessor of a favour is always waiting for it to end or for himself to leave it. He should also be certain that envied blessings and favors are not as important and valued to the one envied, as it is to the one who envies, for people think that those who hold important positions are the happiest while, in fact, they are not aware that a person aspires to something but when he has it, he loses his interest in it for he aspires to what is higher than he possesses whilst the one who envies him still covetously views what he envies.

The one who envies therefore should know that if the one he envied punishes him, he will not be able to punish him with what is worse than what he is already suffering from. Thus, if he is not cured by any of the previous means he should work hard to attain what the one he envies has attained. One of the righteous predecessors said: "I am afraid of worries even in enviousness. For when a man envies his neighbour for being rich, he travels to do business to be as rich as his neighbour, and if he envies someone for his knowledge, he stays up all night to study. However, people have reached a point where they love idleness, and then dispraise someone who has reached a high status."

How beautiful is what al-Rida said:

'...I am the white beautiful pure horse.
They all have their eyes on me, because
I spent the nights seeking high ranks while they slept.
If I had no respect in the eyes of others,
my enemies would have not attempted to defame me.'

Having said all that, if he who envies others cannot attain what the one he envies has attained, then he should struggle to prevent his tongue from defaming or criticising him and to confine what is in his heart.

Section One: Dispraise Envy

There are many Hadith that dispraise envy; Zubayr ibn al-Awam (ra) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, "The disease of the nations before you is creeping towards you: Envy and hatred, it is the 'shaver'. I do not speak of what cuts the hair, but what severs the religion. By the One in Whose hand is my soul! You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. Shall I tell you about something which, if you do it, you will love one another? Spread salam amongst yourselves." [Ahmad, Bayhaqi and tirmidhi]

Umar ibn Maymun said, Musa (as) saw a man at the throne so he envied him [i.e. liked what he saw so he wished it for himself, without wishing that the blessing be taken away from the man] and asked people about him. They said, 'Do you want to know about his deeds?' 'He does not envy people for what Allah bestowed upon them of His grace, he does not walk about spreading malicious gossip and he is not disobedient to his parents.'

Salim narrated from his father (ra) that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said "Envy is not justified except in the case of two individuals only: one who Allah has blessed with the Quran, so he prays reciting it during the night and day. And a man who Allah gave wealth, so he spends it rightfully during the night and the day." [Bukhari and Muslim]