Discourse 7: Attaining One’s Sustenance

عَنْ إِبْنِ عُمَرَ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللٌّهِ : لَيْسَ شَيْءٌ تُبَاعِدُكُمْ مِنَ النَّارِ إِلاَّ وَ قَدْ ذَكَرْتُهُ لَكُمْ وَلاَ شَيْءٌ يُقَرِّبُكُمْ مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ إِلاَّ وَ قَدْ دَلَلْتُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ. إِنَّ رُوحَ الْقُدُسِ نَفَثَ فِي رَوْعِي أَنَّهُ لَنْ يَمُوتَ عَبْدٌ مِنْكُمْ حَتّى يَسْتَكْمِلَ رِزْقَهُ، فَأَجْمِلُوا فِي الطَّلَبِ فَلاَ يَحْمِلَنَّكُمُ اسْتِبْطَاءُ الرِّزْقِ عَلى أَنْ تَطْلُبُوا شَيْئاً مِنْ فَضْلِ اللٌّهِ بِمَعْصِيَتِهِ، فَإِنَّهُ لَنْ يُنَالَ مَا عِنْدَ اللٌّهِ إِلاَّ بِطَاعَتِهِ أَلاَ وَ إِنَّ لِكُلِّ امْرِءٍ رِزْقاً هُوَ يَأْتِيهِ لاَ مَحَالَةَ، فَمَنْ رَضِيَ بِهِ بُورِكَ لَهُ فِيهِ وَ وَسِّعَهُ، وَ مَنْ لَمْ يَرْضَ بِهِ لَمْ يُـبَارَكْ لَهُ فِيهِ و لَمْ يَسَعَهُ، إِنَّ الرِّزْقَ لَيَطْلُبُ الرَّجُلَ كَمَا يَطْلُبُهُ أَجَلُهُ.

It has been narrated from Ibne 'Umar that the Prophet (S) said, “There is nothing that will keep you away from the fire of hell except that I have explained it to you, and there is nothing that will bring you closer to Paradise but that I have guided you towards it. Surely the Holy Spirit has brought inspiration into my heart that not a single servant from among you will die until one's sustenance has been completed. So then seek this (your sustenance) in the best possible way (not resorting to the prohibited means).

Do not let the slowness of the sustenance coming to you by the grace of Allah make you seek it by disobeying Him. Surely that which is with Allah will never reach a person except through obedience to Him. Verily for each person there is sustenance (designated for him) that will reach him and there is no doubt in this. So whoever is pleased with one's sustenance, it will bring blessings to one and will be increased; and the person who is not pleased with his sustenance, it will not bring blessings to him nor will it be increased. Surely the sustenance goes in search of a person, just like one's appointed time (death) goes in search of a person.”1
The Noble Messenger of Allah (S) has stated that, “You must distance yourself from whatever keeps you away from Paradise - either through your speech or actions. In addition, I have commanded and taught you all of the things which bring you closer to Paradise and which keep you away from the Hell fire.”

The purpose of this tradition is to show us that we must strive and struggle to put the laws of Islam into practice and it is this act that separates us (the Shia) from the Ahlus Sunnah, who are of the belief that whatever has not been expressly legislated (in the Islamic texts) is not an applicable ruling (to follow).

With this said, we see that the Ahlus Sunnah give the permission to their Fuqaha to devise their own Islamic rules and regulations through the practice of Qiyas2, Istihsan3 and Masalah Mursalah4.

Is such a school of thought (that of the Ahlus Sunnah) in which half of their teachings are from Allah (SwT) and the Infalliable Prophet of Allah (S), while the other half which are from the whims and desires of the people (their Scholars) the true set of beliefs?  Or is the true school of thought in which all of the teachings are from Allah (SwT) and the Ma'sumin (meaning the Shia)?  Thus, there is a great difference between these two groups.

Of course the apparent understanding of the verse that states:

أَلْيَومَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ

“On this day (the 18th of Dhul Hijjah), I have completed your din (al-Islam) for you.”5

is just as we have mentioned since the word 'din' includes all of the theological beliefs, practical Islamic laws and the moral and ethical guidelines. Thus, the tradition which we started with shows us that we must deduce the laws of Islam, the theological beliefs and our moral and ethical guidelines through the process of Ijtihad (from the sources of Islam) and we are not permitted to formulate and devise our own laws!

At this point, the following issues must be mentioned:

1. There are some lazy people who feel that by relying on the verse of the Qur`an which states:

وَ مَا مِنْ دَآبَّةِ فِي الأَرْضِ إِلاَّ عَلى اللٌّهِ رِزْقُهَا

“There is not a single creature on the Earth except that its sustenance is guaranteed by Allah.”6

or by relying on the traditions which state that everyone's sustenance has been decided and specified (by Allah (SwT)), they assume that there is no need to struggle to make ends meet since their sustenance has already been designated and it will reach them in any way (whether they work or not). Thus, they feel that no mouth will remain open except that sustenance will reach it (from Allah (SwT))!

These types of people whose understanding and awareness of the religion and the teachings of the school of thought are very simple and weak give excuses to the enemies (through these sorts of beliefs) that it is religion which causes the problems within the economy of a country. They make other people believe that it is religion itself which leads to a stopping of positive activity which could bring benefits to the (material) life of people.

These people think that it is religion which forces a person to submit his entire presence to such things (that could otherwise make them productive and well off) and makes them bring forth the excuse that if such and such gift were not granted to him, then for sure they would not have any sustenance reach them (and thus, they would have starved). These types of people also think that if a particular sustenance was meant for them, then definitely without any questions it will reach them (and no one can stop it from coming to them).

This sort of thought gives those who exploit others a very good opportunity to place the yolk of slavery around their necks and prevent them from the most basic of needs and requirements of life.

However, if these people possessed even a minute understanding of the Qur`an and the Islamic traditions, then it would be sufficient for them to reach the following conclusion that Islam requires a person to strive and struggle in order to acquire any sort of benefit in the material and spiritual realms of humanity. In fact, the Qur`an has presented the following verse as the slogan of such people (who strive and struggle):

لَيْسَ لِلإِنْسَانِ إِلاَّ مَا سَعى

“Mankind will have nothing except that which they strive for.”

In order to be examples and models for the rest of the people, the leaders of Islam (the Prophet and A`immah) used to exert much toil and labour in working and busied themselves in strenuous activity. The previous Prophets too were no exception to this rule. We see that they were shepherds, tailors, cultivators of the fields and farmers.

If the meaning that one's sustenance is guaranteed from Allah (SwT) means that we are to sit in our houses and wait for the sustenance to reach us, then we would not have seen the Prophets and A`immah - who were all much more acquainted and knowledgeable with the teachings of the religion than us - exerting such labour and toil in working!

Therefore, we must state that: the sustenance of each and every person has been determined and fixed, however in the same vein it is based on the condition that a person works and struggles (to acquire it). Any time this condition is not acted upon, then that which has been promised will not come about.

Similar is the case of death: “Each and every person has an appointed time (to die) and his or her lifespan has been determined.”  Without doubt the meaning of this speech is not that if a person was to go towards suicide and kill himself, or was to eat or drink something to induce death, that he would remain alive until his appointed time of death. Rather, this means that the body which we have been given has the ability to remain for as long as it has been appointed to remain here (on Earth) on the condition that the principles of cleanliness and hygiene are observed and that a person keeps away from those things which are hazardous to one's health and can lead him to dying sooner.

An important point to mention here is that the verses of the Qur`an and the traditions which speak in relation to the sustenance being specified for every person truly act just as brakes (similar to the brakes in a car that stop the movement of the car) on the thoughts of those people who are greedy, worship the material world and who try to achieve material gains through whatever means possible. It puts a stop to the thoughts of those people who think that if they do not resort to various sorts of oppression or tyrannical acts, then they will not be able to provide (for their families) and lead a (good) material life.

How is it possible that when a person grows and becomes big and has the strength and energy to perform any task that at this stage in his life, Allah (SwT) would forget him?  Does the intellect and firm belief in Allah (SwT) permit a person to think that in such a stage (of his life), it is possible that his sustenance would not be provided to him (by Allah (SwT)) such that he must drown himself in the pool of oppression and tyranny and usurp the rights of other people and through greed and gluttony, steal the rights of the oppressed?

Of course we can not deny the fact that some forms of sustenance - whether a person goes after it or not - will definitely come looking for him. Can we deny the fact that the light of the sun shines on our house without us doing anything; or that the rain falls and the weather changes in search of us without anything of our own doing, or can we deny the fact that intelligence, aptitude and ability which was with us from the very first day we were born was put inside us without any struggle and endeavour on our part?

We are also not able to deny the fact that in some instances, a person is not forced to go after something (such as sustenance). Rather, due to some events which occur in his life, some gifts are bequeathed upon him. We may look at such events that happen as purely coincidental, however in reality and keeping in mind the organization of creation (put forth by Allah (SwT)), this too has been done according to some reason.

Without doubt, this sort of sustenance coming to a person is different than the sustenance that comes to him through his own work and struggles, however this sort of blessing, which is sometimes referred to as “coming from nowhere” or in more precise terms, “a gift that was given unexpectedly” is a grace from Allah (SwT) which has reached us.

If we do not look after and take care of such gifts in the proper way, then these too will slip away from our hands and we will be left with nothing or we will be left with something that would not produce any (positive) effects in our lives.

The well known words of the Commander of the Faithful, 'Ali b. Abi Talib (as) contained in letter number 31 of Nahjul Balagha, which he wrote to his son Imam Hasan b. 'Ali (as) states that:

وَ اعْلَمْ يَا بُنَيَّ! إِنَّ الرِّزْقَ رِزْقَانِ: رِزْقُ تَطْلُبَهُ وَ رِزْقُ يَطْلُبُكَ.

“My son, you must know that surely sustenance is of two types: the sustenance that you go after (seeking it) and the sustenance which comes after you (seeking you).”

This tradition emphasizes the issues which we have discussed so far.
In any case, the main point here is that all of the teachings of Islam tell us that:

1. In other to achieve a better life - whether this is the material or spiritual realm - we must exert extra toil and struggle; and the thought that our sustenance has already been determined (by Allah (SwT)) and thus we don't have to work hard for it is completely wrong.7

2. This is a lesson to all of those who are students of the Islamic sciences that we must have true faith that Allah, the Most High, will make the sustenance of all of the people of knowledge reach to their rightful owners. Why do we say this?  If the scholars of religion fall into the thought of gathering wealth (for themselves), then we see two major dangers that will come from this:

A) The scholars of Islam are supposed to be examples for the people. If the scholars themselves are running after the material aspects of the transient world then they will not be able to be practical role models for the people.

B) The wealth that others (other than the scholars of Islam) hoard does not affect the religion. However, if a scholar of Islam seeks to gather wealth through either the permitted or the unpermitted channels and other means, then this would definitely strike a blow to the religion - this is most definitely the source of all tragedies!

  • 1. Ibid., vol. 77, pg. 185
  • 2. Qiyas: This is an act which can lead (a Scholar) to knowledge or assumption in relation to an Islamic legislation in which there is no clear proof mentioned (in the Qur’an or the Prophetic traditions) to formulate a ruling. The Shi`a `Ulama do not consider Qiyas as one of the methods of reaching to the Islamic rulings, however a majority of the Fuqaha of the Ahlus Sunnah accept this method. [Al-Mujiz Fi Usul al-Fiqh, Ayatullah Ja`far Subhani, vol. 1, pg. 16 ]
  • 3. Istihsan: The lexical meaning of this word is to consider something as good, however in the science of Jurisprudence (`Ilm al-Usul) it means to consider one act as being better than another act without basing this conclusion on any proof from the Islamic legislation (Qur’an and traditions of the Prophet). A majority of the Sunni Fuqaha` such as those of the Hanafi and Maliki schools of law accept this form of deduction whereas the Shi`a and those of the Shaf`i schools are opposed to it. [Al-Mujiz Fi Usul al-Fiqh, Ayatullah Ja`far Subhani, vol. 1, pg. 17 ]
  • 4. Masalah Mursalah: This term used in the Science of Jurisprudence (`Ilm al-Usul) refers to making a ruling based on the overall goodness (of the ruling) without basing it on any proof from the Islamic sources (Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet). Some of the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah accept this method of deduction of the Islamic legislation, however the Fuqaha of the Shi`a are completely opposed to it. [Al-Mujiz Fi Usul al-Fiqh, Ayatullah Ja`far Subhani, vol. 1, pg. 17 ]
  • 5. Surat al-Maidah (5), Verse 3
  • 6. Surat Hud (11), Verse 6
  • 7. In this regards, please refer to Tafsir-e-Namunah, vol. 9, pg. 20.