Discourse 6: Advice Given To Abu Dharr On Sustenance

عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللٌّهِ لِرَجُلٍ وَ هُوَ يُوصِـيهِ: أَقْلِلْ مِنَ الشَّهَوَاتِ يَسْهَلْ عَلَيْكَ الْفَقْرُ، وَ أَقْلِلْ مِنَ الذُّنُوبِ يَسْهَلْ عَلَيْكَ الْمَوْتُ، وَ قَدِّمْ مَا لَكَ أَمَامَكَ يَسُرَّكَ اللِّحَاقُ بِهِ، وَاقْـنَعْ بِمَا أُوتِـيتَهُ يَخِفَّ عَلَيْكَ الْحِسَابُ، وَ لاَ تَـتَشَاغَلْ عَمَّا فُرِضَ عَلَيْكَ بِمَا قَدْ ضُمِنَ لَكَ فَإِنَّـهُ لَيْسَ بِفَائِـتِكَ مَا قَدْ قُسِّمَ لَكَ، وَ لَسْتَ بِلاَحِقِ مَا قَدْ زُوِيَ عَـنْكَ. فَلاَتَكُ جَاهِداً فِيمَا أَنْصَحَ نَافِداً، وَاسَعَ لِمُلْكِ لاَ زَوَالَ لَهُ فِي مَنْزِلِ لاَانْـتِقَالَ عَنْهُ.

It has been narrated from Abu Dharr that he said, “The Messenger of Allah (S) said to a person whom he was advising, 'Reduce the base desires (of your soul) and poverty shall become easy upon you (to bear); lessen the sins so that death shall become easy for you to endure; send things from your own wealth ahead for yourself, so that by seeing this (on the Day of Judgment), you shall become happy; be content with that which is given to you so that your accountability and reckoning is reduced.

Do not busy yourself with the sustenance which is guaranteed to reach you (and do not develop greed to this segment of the provision which is guaranteed to reach you) so that you do not disregard the obligatory acts which are upon you (to perform), since surely that which has been set aside for you will not leave your hand (it shall surely reach you), and that which has left your hand (that sustenance which you have lost) will never come back again. Do not struggle to attain those things that are not pure and will be destroyed; do not put forth a struggle for those things that are temporal. Rather, struggle for those things which are perpetual and which will last forever (in the next life).'”1

In this tradition, the Messenger of Allah (S) has given us various pieces of advice, and at the end of his speech, has spoken about sustenance.

The Prophet (S) first stated that if we were able to reduce our lower desires, then poverty would become something easy to bear!

All of the wealth which exists in the world can be spent in three areas: 1) the necessities of life; 2) own personal welfare; and 3) our lower desires (our wants).

The amount which is spent on the necessities of life is the smallest portion spent (out of all three areas), where as the amount spent on satisfying our lower desires and passions is where the vast amount of our wealth goes. Therefore, the Noble Prophet (S) has told us that if we reduce our base desires, then poverty will be easy upon us.

Without doubt, a majority of the people who are poor are not deprived in relation to their primary needs and necessities (of life). The state of poverty that people encounter is either in relation to their welfare (need) and well-being, or in areas of the base and lower desires (greed).

A person may, for example, think that his house is too small for him and searches for a bigger house - thus, greed compells him to purchase a larger house.

There are also other things which are “unnecessary expenditures” which are, many times, placed at the top of our list of priorities as necessities and essential requirements. However, in reality we see that this is not the case!

There are many people who go through great pains in order to gain the material pleasures of life which they do not need. They have a house that is acceptable according to their status and requirements, their loans are all paid up, however they stop and ponder for a while and think to themselves:

مِنْ سَعَادَةِ الرَّجُلِ سَعَةُ دَارِهِ…

“One of the ways of happiness for a person is to have a large house…”

In addition they also think that, “Tomorrow, my young children will grow up, my relatives will come over and…”  In summary, gradually, such a person would make up excuses for himself, sell his old house, end up taking a loan from the bank just to purchase a new house!

One of the problems with people today is that they are not able to bear the challenges of life - there must be challenges and difficulties within life as these apparent “troubles” are actually no troubles at all!

We do not say that if Allah (SwT) blesses a person (materialistically speaking), that he must throw that thing away! Rather, our discussion focuses on the fact that we must not take these material things as being necessities of life which one needs and that one should spend his entire life chasing them!

Thus, when a person does not have such base desires, then he is definitely not poor!

Of course, we must accept the fact that when it comes to the absolute necessities of life, there are some people who are definitely poor and needy (of the basic needs).

In regards to the second commandment which is that we must reduce the number of sins we commit, we see that there is a direct relationship between the sins we perform and ease at the time of death and it is for this reason that the Prophet (S) has spoken these grand words.

At this point, we ask: why do people fear death? Simply put, people fear death because they feel it is complete annihilation and non-existence and because they think that death is an end to all things. Since they do not see death as a journey through a valley towards perpetual existence and a much more spacious world (compared to this world), they have a hatred and fear of it!

It is natural for a person to fear darkness and annihilation - however, if one was a true believer (Mo`min), then he would definitely not fear death! Truthfully, one of the greatest services which the Prophets (as) assisted mankind with was taking away the fear of death from them.

Of course, it is very well possible that a person is a true believer and has firm conviction in the next life, however since his book of deeds is blackened over with sins, he would fear death. In such a case, there is no way out for this person, except repentance from his sins.

Death is like a coarse, but colorful woolen garment for the believer which he takes off of his body and from which he steps out of this cramped and darkened world, into the presence of the close, intimate friends of Allah (SwT):

أَلدُّنْـيَا سِجْنُ الْمُؤْمِنِ وَ جَنَّةُ الْكَافِرِ.

“The world is the prison for a believer and a paradise for the disbeliever.”

Thus if the door of the prison was to open, and the prisoner was told, “Go ahead, you are free to leave”, would he be upset? Therefore, being freed from this world has no grief or hurt associated with it!

Of course, this sentence can be interpreted another way which is that due to continuously sinning, when the time of death approaches, death becomes very difficult for the person to bear. Since the person had developed a strong affinity and very intense relationship with the material world, at the time of death, when the soul is coming out, death would be extremely painful to bear! However, if one had not committed sins, then it would be very easy for the soul to leave the body.

At this junction, we see that the Prophet (S) focuses his attention on the next life and the fact that one must not exert his efforts to fulfill the affairs of the material world. In more correct terms, he has invited us to refrain from worshipping the transient world!

The tradition tells us that, “Allah will make your sustenance reach you and has guaranteed this. The amount which is destined for you will never slip from you, thus, you should not busy yourself with becoming greedy in terms of seeking wealth as through this, you would end up not performing the obligatory acts which are incumbent upon you.” 

This can be summarized in the commonly stated belief that, “Whatever is in your destiny will reach you.”

In continuation, the Prophet (S) stated, “Do not think that by merely working (at your job) that which has been specified (by Allah (SwT)) to reach you will not make its way to you, or that which should not reach you, will be given to you.”

Therefore, we must not put forth intense struggles in regards to those things which are not permanent. Rather, in order to secure the next life, which is perpetual and ever lasting, we must struggle hard!

The following points must be noted:

1. There are some very complex expressions and interpretations given in the verses of the Noble Qur`an and the traditions in relation to one's sustenance which at first glance, may seem contradictory to one another.

From one point of view, we see that the Qur`an and the traditions mention that the sustenance which shall reach us has already been apportioned by Allah (SwT). For example, in one verse of the Qur`an we read that:

مَا مِنْ دَآبَّةٍ فِي الأََرْضِ إلاَّ عَلى اللٌّهِ رِزْقُهَا

“There is not a single creature upon the Earth, except that upon Allah lies its sustenance.” (11:6)

In addition, it is mentioned in the traditions that as long as a person is alive, his sustenance will continue to reach him.

A person once asked the Prophet of Allah (S), “If a person was locked inside a room and all of the ways out were blocked, how would his sustenance reach him?”  The Prophet (S) replied, “His sustenance would reach him from that same channel that death would reach him.”

Thus, according to the verses and tradition quoted, the sustenance that we shall earn (in our life-time) is guaranteed to make its way to us.

The opposite side of the spectrum of this opinion, just as has been mentioned in the traditions, is that we have been invited to strive and struggle and wake up early in the morning to go after our earnings, since the person who is idle and unemployed is removed from the mercy of Allah (SwT). Thus, we must go out and seek our livelihood through business, trade and commerce and other such methods.

In the beginning, it seems as if there is a dissimilarity between the two views. However, we can rationalize the contrasting understandings by stating that the sustenance that has been guaranteed to reach us has conditions related to it - just as there are conditions for our prayers to be accepted. One of the conditions for the guaranteed-form of sustenance to reach us is that we must put forth an effort. With this brief understanding, the confusion between these two issues is removed!

2. Throughout the world, millions of people die due to hunger, and if sustenance was truly divided by Allah (SwT), then why are people dying?

When we see people dying of hunger we should realize that this is a sign of the oppression and tyranny of humanity! If a tyrant is throwing oppressed people into prison and not giving them food, thus causing them to die of hunger, we can not assume that this is the fault of the Creator of the Universe!

The African continent has the largest number of people in the entire world who are dying due to starvation, however at the same time, they hold the large deposits of diamonds and other valuable minerals! We see that there are a group of oppressors who are stealing this wealth while at the same time, we see that excess food is thrown away in the garbage and because of this, the Africans are dying of hunger!

In order for the price of wheat and other commodities to stay stable in the world markets, some countries actually dump truckloads of grain into the ocean, or they end up hoarding it - even if this means paying the price through the deaths of millions of people!

Thus, if there were no oppressors on the Earth, then such tribulations would definitely not occur.
Allah (SwT) has given all of us intelligence so that we travel on the right path using our human nature (Fitrah) which we were created with. Through this power, we would strive and struggle and work for the needs of the material life and for even greater output and production. However not all of this goes against the fact that there are groups of people who seek to control and limit this production!

There is another division seen in the traditions in which sustenance has been divided into the following categories:

1. The sustenance that one desires.
2. The sustenance that desires you.

The sustenance too is just like other issues which are related to Qaza and Qadr (decree and portion). The guaranteed and definite sustenance which will reach a person is that which, whether he likes it or not, comes to him; while the other one is that which we must go and seek.

From this division of the sustenance which the Commander of the Faithful, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (as) has mentioned in Nahj al-Balagha, it becomes clear that the traditions which tell us that, “The sustenance of a person will definitely reach him, even if he is in a prison” is in reference to that sustenance which has been guaranteed and promised for that person!

  • 1. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 74, pg. 187