Malicious Envy

Hasad (envy) leads to unhappiness, bad morality, mischief and even disbelief. The cure: do not envy the worldly things, which are transient; and do not envy the matters of the Hereafter, where there is no room for jealousy.

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A sultan meets two villagers on his way. He says to one of them, “Ask for anything you want from me! But whatever you want, I will give your friend twofold.” However, this villager is a very envious one. He thinks to himself: if he wishes for a horse, his friend will get two of them; if he wants one beautiful house, his friend will have two beautiful houses again. He cannot give a decision, and finally says to the sultan: “O my sultan! Gouge one of my eyes out!” His friend will lose both of his eyes.

We do not know if the sultan accepted the wish of that villager, but this story apparently shows us how ugly the envy (hasad) is.

Malicious envy causes as a person to desire a loss off another person’s worldly or spiritual assets or a transition of them to himself while having the other person without those assets

Admiration is to want something that someone else has, but not to wish that person to lose it. Being an admirer is allowed as long as it is not for illicit things. That is why it is said that believer admires (ghibtah), but hypocrite envies.

Envy is such a malignant illness of the soul that it led some people to the unbelief and some jamaahs (religious communities) and nations to conflict and dissolve. It is even said that Iblees (Satan) is cursed and expelled by Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala due to his envy of Adam Alaihissalam.

Owing to the evil of envy, Allah (swt) taught the ummah of Muhammad (saw) to recite “I seek refuge in the Lord of the daybreak from the evil of the envious when he envies,” as a prayer.

Envy (hasad) is forbidden in the following verse:

“And do not wish for [envy] that by which Allah has made some of you exceed others [in worldly and spiritual things]. For men is a share of what they have earned, and for women is a share of what they have earned. And ask Allah of His bounty. Indeed Allah is ever, of all things, Knowing.”1

Our Prophet (saw) said: “The envious, the tale-carrier (who sets somebody against somebody), the treacherous, and the one who belittles people are not one of us.” And he recited this verse: “And those who harm believing men and believing women for [something] other than what they have earned [i.e., deserved] have certainly born upon themselves a slander and manifest sin.”2

Envy and Iman

Envy may cause such malicious things that it may even lead someone to unbelief. The Jews knew that a prophet would come at the End Times because they read in the Old Testament. But they expected that prophet would arise among themselves. When that prophet did not arise among them, their envy caused them to deny the prophet of the End Times.

The following verse was revealed about the Jews: “Or do they envy people [the prophet and the believers] for what Allah has given them of His bounty?”3

They wished the believers abandon the religion owing to their envy. The following verse refers to this malicious feeling:

“Many of the People of the Scripture wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy from themselves [even] after the truth has become clear to them.”4

The reason that the Qur’an tells us about these behaviours of the Jews is to warn us to be careful about envy.

It is always possible that someone from among the ummah may fall into grave sins or unbelief.

Our Prophet (saw) said as follows:

“Just as bitter agave taints the honey, envy ruins the faith.”5

“Faith and envy do not go together in the heart of a servant.”6

“Poverty would almost lead to unbelief (kufr). And envy would almost overcome the destiny.”7

Why is envy forbidden?

Allah (swt) is the One Who gives blessings. The envious has actually a feeling of objection to the blessing that Allah (swt) gives. That is why envy is forbidden. Imam Ghazali says:

The narrations we related indicate that envy is forbidden. The reason why envy is such an ugly thing is because the envious is furious at Allah’s rule and decree and His giving superiority to some of His servants. The envious has no right to be angry. What can be a bigger sin than resenting a Muslim’s reaching a comfort?8

Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi says in this issue: “[The envious] rejoices at the misfortunes he [his Muslim brother] suffers and is grieved by the bounties he receives; it is as if he [the envious] is offended by the kindness shown towards him by Divine Determining and Divine Mercy, as if he were criticizing and objecting to them. Whoever criticizes Divine Determining is striking his head against an anvil on which it will break, and whoever objects to Divine Mercy will himself be deprived of it.”9

Asmai (ra) from the Tabi‘een said, “According to the narration I got, Allah Azza wa Jalla said: ‘The envious is the one who is enemy against My benefaction, furious at My rule, and who does not consent to My distribution.’”10

Envy is the cause of bad morality

Our Prophet (saw) said, “Indeed envy eats up good deeds just as fire consumes firewood.”11 Scholars commented that because the envy is the cause for sins like suspicion and backbiting, it eats up good deeds of the believer. Because the envious searches for the faults of the person he envies, has suspects about him, backbites him, or slanders him. In this respect while envy is a vice, it is also a cause for many other vices.

Envy is a cause for mischief

The main reason for the conflict and enmity among the people is the envy. Qur’an says, “And they did not become divided until after knowledge had come to them – out of jealous animosity between themselves.”12

Our Prophet (saw) warned us in the following hadiths:

“Creeping upon you is the disease of the peoples before you: envy and hatred. And the hatred is the thing that shaves. I do not say it shaves hair, but it shaves the religion. By the One in whose hand is my soul you will not enter Paradise until you believe. And you do not believe until you love one another. Certainly, let me inform you of that will establish such for you: spreading the salaam (greetings of peace) among yourselves.”13

“I suggest you to abstain from pride. It is the pride what kept Iblis from prostrating Adam. And I suggest you to abstain from greed. It is the greed that caused Adam (as) to eat from the forbidden tree. And I suggest you to abstain from envy. Because one of the sons of Adam killed the other due to the envy. These three vices are the roots of all misdeeds.”14

“As long as people do not envy one another they will remain on the right path.”15

“I fear of three things for my ummah. One of them is that their wealth will increase and therefore they will envy each other and kill one another.”16

“Abstain from envy! Indeed envy eats up good deeds just as fire consumes firewood.”17

“Beware of suspicion. Suspicion is the most untrue speech. Do not spy and do not eavesdrop. Do not compete with each other and do not envy each other and do not hate each other and do not turn your back on each other; and be, [O] servants of Allah, brethrens. A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He does not wrong him. He does not fail him [when he needs him]. He does not lie to him. And he does not show contempt for him. It is enough of evil for a person to hold his brother Muslim in contempt. All of a Muslim is inviolable to another Muslim: his blood, his wealth and his honour.”18

Imam Said Nursi says the following to his students:

“My brothers! The most dangerous aspect of egotism in our work [i.e. service] is jealousy. If it [service] is not purely for the sake of Allah, jealousy interferes and spoils it. Just as one of a person’s hands cannot be jealous of the other, and his eye cannot envy his ear, and his heart cannot compete with his mind, so each of you is like one sense, one member, of the collective personality of the totality we make up. You should not be rivals to one another, on the contrary, to take pride and pleasure in one another’s good qualities is a basic obligation of yours springing from the conscience.”20

“A group which is in solidarity is a means to turn the passivity and inactivity into action/movement. A group which is filled with envy is a means to turn movements into inactivity.”21

The envious is a selfish man who does not seek the pleasure of Allah (swt) and who does not care if the ummah suffers for his self interest. Many of the mischief in history were caused due to the envy; many nations became afflicted with disasters for this reason.

Envy, Scholars and Administrators

Envy is a very ugly and dangerous vice, and it is the source of mischief and disunity in societies. Especially, if this vice is common among scholars and administrators, it is more dangerous. Because they are in the positions that affect the society in all aspects.

It is mentioned in the Qur’an how the scholars of People of the Book disputed out of envy as follows: “And those who were given the Scripture (the Jewish and Christians) did not differ except after knowledge had come to them – out of jealous animosity between themselves.”22

These kinds of verses point to the fact that disunity and conflict among the ummah will arise because of the envy, too; and warn us against it.

If a scholar desires to win the love of people with his knowledge, rather than seeking Allah’s consent, he envies anyone who is better than him in knowledge. He tries to find their faults to discredit them. He commits sins due to his suspicion and backbiting. Although he must play a constructive and unifying role in the society, he becomes a mischief-maker.  His knowledge causes him to go to Hell while it must be his way to Paradise.

It’s said that six groups of people will be sent to Hell without reckoning and the envious scholars are one of them.

Ibn Omar (ra) said, “So long as one does not give up envying those superior to himself, and does not quit condescending to those who have less knowledge than himself, and does not stop desiring to earn money with his knowledge; he cannot become a (real) scholar.”

The administrators who have an ambition to get higher positions are no different than the scholars. Indeed, envy is more common among the administrators and it is more dangerous for other people. One of the Abbasid Caliphs Ma’mun says, “We, the rulers, have a very much inclination to envy, to own and to tyrannize.”

In the history, many of the mischief in the societies were caused owing to the fight for throne and power. The envious people caused disasters because of their ambition for power. Many of the mischief in history were caused due to the envy. It is said that one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Umayyad was the envy among the people like princes who were on equal terms.

When people cannot get a post they wanted, they envy the person who is assigned to that post. They do all the things they can do to make that person lose his position and to be assigned there.

Nevertheless, these people are not the only envious ones. A person who gains a post envies as well. Some leaders fear and feel uncomfortable that their talented subordinates will advance rapidly and be liked more and get their positions in the end. For this reason they block their subordinates’ way. By doing all these things these leaders betray the people they lead and their own causes. Because they esteem their positions above everything.

A leader must be a good skill hunter. He must look for talents in his subordinates, spot them, protect them, and let them go forward. It is only possible in this way that the cause or the organization he leads can move forward. For instance, the teacher of Imam Rabbani, Baki Billah educated Imam Rabbani and gave him ‘ijazah; and then Imam Billah followed Imam Rabbani. The Ottoman Sultan Murad II willingly stepped down from the throne and handed over to his son Fatih.

The envious cannot be happy

They say the envious cannot be happy. Omar b. Abdulaziz said, “I haven never seen an oppressor that resembles an oppressed like the envious.” The envious is in continuous agony although the envied person does not do anything. But he, the envious, is not oppressed but the oppressor. He gives pain to himself. Imam Bediuzzaman says:

“Those who cherish rancour and enmity transgress against their own souls, their brother believer, and Divine mercy. For such a person condemns his soul to painful torment with his rancour and enmity. He imposes torment on his soul whenever his enemy gains some bounty yet he suffers in fear of him. If his enmity arises from envy, then it is the most severe form of torment. For envy in the first place consumes and destroys the envier and its harm for the envied one is either slight or nonexistent. If he rejoices at the misfortunes he suffers and is grieved by the bounties he receives, it is as if he is offended by the kindness shown towards him by Divine Determining and Divine Mercy, as if he were criticizing and objecting to them. Whoever criticizes Divine Determining is striking his head against an anvil on which it will break, and whoever objects to Divine Mercy will himself be deprived of it.”23

A scholar says, “I saw a 120-year-old Bedouin. I said, ‘You lived really long!’ And he said, ‘I gave up envy and I lived.’”

In a nutshell, whoever wants to feel at peace must give up envy.

Solution for the Envy

Imam Bediuzzaman says as follows:

“In matters relating to religion and the Hereafter there should be no rivalry, envy or jealousy; indeed there can be none of these in truth. The reason for envy and jealousy is that when several hands reach out after a single object, when several eyes are fixed on a single position, when several stomachs hunger for a single loaf of bread, first envy arises as a result of conflict, dispute and rivalry, and then jealousy. Since many people desire the same thing in the world, and because the world, narrow and transitory as it is, cannot satisfy the limitless desires of man, people become rivals of each other. However, in the hereafter a-five-hundred-year paradise will be given to a single individual; seventy thousand palaces and houris will be granted to him; and every one of the people of Paradise will be perfectly satisfied with his share. It is thus clear that there is no cause of rivalry in the Hereafter, nor can there be rivalry. In that case, neither should there be any rivalry with respect to those good deeds that entail reward in the Hereafter; there is no room for jealousy here.

The envious here is either a hypocrite, seeking worldly result through the performance of good deeds, or a sincere but ignorant devotee, not knowing the true purpose of good deeds and not comprehending that sincerity is the spirit and foundation of all good deeds. By cultivating a kind rivalry and hostility toward the awliya (saints), he is in fact placing in doubt the breadth of Allah’s compassion.”24

Imam Nursi also tells a solution for the envy:

“The cure for envy: Let the envious reflect on the ultimate fate of those things that arouse his enmity. Then he will understand that the beauty, strength, rank, and wealth possessed by his rival are transient and temporary. Their benefit is slight, and the anxiety they cause is great. If it is a question of advantages enjoyed with respect to the Hereafter, they cannot be an object of envy. But if one does envy another on account of them, then he is either himself a hypocrite, wishing to destroy the goods of the Hereafter while yet in this world, or he imagines the one whom he envies to be a hypocrite, thus being unjust towards him.”25

Abu Darda (ra) said, “Whoever increase remembering death, his envy and his relief (with worldly wealth) decrease.”

Hasan Al-Basri (ra) says, “O man! Why do you envy your brother? If what is given to him (as blessing) is his right, how can you be angry at someone to whom Allah (swt) gives bounty? If it is not his right to have it, what for do you envy a man who will be punished in the Hell for that?

Ibn Sırın says, “I did not envy anyone for worldly things. Because if the person who has been given wealth will go to Paradise, what value does that worldly wealth have compared to Paradise’s? Why should I envy him? And if that person will go to Hell, what does he have to be envied? What does his wealth bring?”

What to do if others envy us?

Allah (swt) commands us to seek refuge in the protection of Him from the evil of the envious. The envious are the enemies of the bounties of Allah (swt). And the One Who will protect us from them is Allah (swt).

Along with seeking refuge in Allah (swt), it will be the best precaution to conceal the bounties which we have attained or will acquire. Our Prophet (saw) said: “Seek help in meeting your needs by keeping quiet, for everyone who is blessed is envied.”26

They say, “Insan is the slave of ihsan,” or “Man is the slave of favour.” We can end the envy of the envious people if we behave in a friendly manner and do favours to them (so that they become embarrassed about their envy).

What to do if we are envious, which is a grave sin and weakens our faith?

We must try to correct our nafs (soul) by calling ourselves to account and giving advises to ourselves. We touched upon how to get rid of the envy above. This is covered in Imam Ghazali’s Ihya in detail. We refer those who want more details to that book.

The fact is that every son of Adam envies. But some people envy more than others. When the envious envies a person but does not speak out against him or does not commit an evil act, his envy does not harm himself hopefully.

We finish our article with the following words of Imam Sharani:

My brother, examine your nafs! Control if it is free of envy against your Muslim brothers who have many blessings. See if you are giving advises to them (by wishing goodness for them) as Allah commands you, or you are doing something opposite. If your situation is not pleasant, repent to Allah (swt).

References:

1- Nisa, 4:32

2- Tabarani; Ahzab, 33:58

3- Nisa, 4:54

4- Baqarah, 2:109

5- Daylami

6- Bayhaqi

7- Ibn Abi Shaiba, Bayhaqi

8- Ihya, v.3, p.426

9- The Letters, 22nd Letter

10- Bayhaqi

11- Ahmad

12- Shura, 42:14

13- Tirmidhi, Ahmad

14- Ibn Asakir

15- Tabarani

16- Tabarani

17- Abu Dawud, Bayhaqi, Ahmad

18- Bukhari

19- The Letters, 29th Letter, The Six Stratagems

20- Seeds of Reality

21- Al ‘Imran, 3:19

22- Tabaraani

23- The Letters, 22nd Letter

24- The Letters, 21st Letter

25- The Letters, 22nd Letter

26- Daylami

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