Dear ikhwan fillah rahimakumullah, Allow me to begin today’s sermon by sharing a supplication that was taught by our beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.:
Allahumma qanni’ni bimaa razaqtani wa baarikli fih, wakhluf alaa kulli ghaa’ebatilli bikhayr.
Which means: “O Allah, make me feel sufficient with the sustenance You have provided for me, give me barakah in it, and replace what I have lost with what is better.” [Hadith reported by Al-Hakim].
Jemaah, The abovementioned supplication comprises of important guidelines that one should live by. It reminds us of a pertinent trait that one should be cognisant of, which is that of qana’ah. The human attitude towards their sustenance, wasting because of non-contentment, and human attitude towards sharing one’s livelihood with others, are at the heart of the Islamic concept of qana’ah, and the Qur’anic concept of ‘a good wholesome life (Hayatun Tayyiba)’. The Arabic root verb qana’a means to embrace something with open hands or approach it face to face. The noun qana’ah denotes the condition where one is satisfied with something, and has sufficiency for one’s needs. The root meaning—embracing with open hands—is connected with contentment or satisfaction. One only embraces something with open hands when one is satisfied with that thing as sufficient for one’s needs. This literal meaning is the bridge which opens out to the technical ethical and spiritual meaning. Specifically qana’ah connotes satisfaction of self (nafs) with the distribution of means. This actually involves a double movement of acceptance and relinquishing. In order to be content, satisfaction with what one has is not enough, but one has to take a further step by relinquishing greed for acquiring what one does not have. Greed takes different forms including urges, fondness, or self-inclination, and when greed reaches its utmost height it manifests in the form of compulsion and violence in pursuit of what one desires to acquire.
Allah s.w.t. mentions in surah An-Nahl, verse 97:
Which means: “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” Some scholars of tafsir hold on to the opinion that the phrase “a good wholesome life” refers to the feeling of qana’ah which Allah bestows in a person, such that he feels sufficient with what he has in this world.
The 19th century Iraqi scholar, Shihab al-DÊn Sayyid Mahmud Al-Alusi (d. 1853) reported that the Prophet (SW) taught that the correct interpretation of this phrase “a good-wholesome life” is ‘contentment’, and the new life mentioned in the verse refers to our life in this world. Our material life here and now can only be pleasing and wholesome if it is lived with contentment. A life driven by greed will devolve into never ending toil and distress. The leading exegete of the Qur’an Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923 CE) besides ‘al qana’ah’, presented several interpretations of the phrase “good-wholesome life” including lawful provision (al-rizq al-halal), good provision (al-rizq al-hasan), wholesome provision (al-rizq al-tayyib), happiness (al-sa’ádah), and others. Amongst all these interpretations Ibn Jarir gave clear preference to ‘al- qana’ah’. His explanation throws important light on the significance of a good-wholesome life: This is because all other interpretations are probable to be in harmony with the meaning of qana’ah. Almighty Allah will make the pious people content with whatever lawful or good or wholesome provision they are provided. It is not necessary that the provision provided to pious people be in abundance. Most of the pious people are provided with limited material provisions in any case. The important point here is not the amount of the provision, but the human behaviour in relation to the worldly materials. With contentment as a praiseworthy character-trait, pious people are grateful and happy with whatever lawful means provided to them. Contentment is more important than the material itself. This is the reason why the most outstanding model of contentment, the Prophet (SW) used to supplicate: (Allahumma qanni’ni bimaa razaqtani wa baarikli fih, wakhluf alaa kulli ghaa’ebatilli bikhayr.) “O Allah! Make me content with whatever you have provided me, bless it for me, and for all that I do not have recompense me with goodness.”
Dear brothers, Another term very similar to qana’ah is rida (acceptance or compliance). The word rida most often denotes the acceptance of fate and Divine decree of Almighty Allah. This acceptance requires people to be tolerant and compliant with whatever circumstances they confront, whether it is comfortable or distressful. So rida in this sense shares something with qana’ah. However to Iraqi Sufis, since rida is one of the ‘states’ which alights in the heart and is not attained by the efforts made by servants of Allah, it may be considered as the end product of qana’ah. In other words, people who exert effort in being grateful with what they have and do not surrender to greed, are the ones in whom rida alights in their hearts. This can be said regarding qana’ah as well. It is a station as far as the servants of Allah are making an effort to be economical in their habits of consumption. After hard effort to maintain frugal habits, they are rewarded with qana’ah as a ‘state’ within their hearts. This is evidenced in the Prophet’s utterance: (man yastaghni yughnihu Allah wa man yaqna’ yuqanni’hu Allah) “He who seeks to achieve a state of sufficiency, Almighty Allah will render him free of need, and he who strives to be content, Allah will make him content”. To better understand how contentment can lead to a good-wholesome life, we may approach it from two complementary perspectives: One being the human attitude towards the means provided for him, and the other from the perspective of human behaviour in sharing their means with others.
Human Behaviour towards Sustenance The first perspective is supported by Sa’id Nursi’s (d. 1960 CE) allegory of two men entering a hall with an audience hosted by a man of honour during a severe winter. The one embodied with the trait of contentment is satisfied with the place he is provided by the host so long as he is safe from the cold outside while the one inflated by the trait of greed shows anger and dissatisfaction for not getting the most honoured seat by respecting his ego which he feels he deserves. Both these men show gratitude differently to the host. The host’s treatment towards both of them is according to their attitude as well. Looking at the demanding non-appreciative attitude, the host offered him a place at the end of the hall, while he offered the more respected place to the one who showed gratitude and humility. Sa’id Nursi then elaborates that the “hall” stands for the universe and the resources in it, while the host portrays Almighty Allah, and the two men represent types of humans utilizing the universe with different attitudes. In this allegory Said Nursi explains that a man who is greedy will not appreciate the means he already has. He will think that what he has is not enough for him, so he will complain and never show gratitude. We have pointed earlier to the word “satisfaction” in the definition of qana’ah which is an important element in understanding contentment. Greed leads to non-contentment and non-contentment is dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction disseminates complaints inside the greedy person, instead of appreciation and gratitude (shukr). It destroys his enthusiasm to work and to make an effort so he becomes lazy. Laziness is tantamount to desire for wealth, which does not involve making effort even if it is unlawful. In this way the greedy person loses his self-respect and esteem. Said Nursi goes on to demonstrate that the negative effect of greediness and non-contentment can even be experienced in such everyday activities as sleeping and waiting for someone. If one allows oneself to sleep naturally he will doze off smoothly. On the other hand when one forces oneself to sleep, he will be turning on his sides impatiently and will end up losing the mood to sleep altogether. Similarly when waiting for someone for an important purpose, if one keeps on complaining “where is the person?” “why is he late?” he will end up losing patience. Eventually he will get up and leave without achieving the important purpose. The hidden reason behind humans behaving greedily in doing their everyday work is that there is an arrangement and order decreed by Divine Wisdom in everything. In order to produce bread, one has to cultivate, harvest, mill, then bake. A greedy person in an effort to achieve a fast result tries either to jump this order and fails to achieve his goal, or he tries to omit one of the steps and may achieve his goal but with defects.
Almighty Allah prohibited wasting (al-Araf 7:31):
“Eat and drink: but waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters.” Nursi while explaining this verse relates it to moderation—in other words the economical usage of sustenance. He advised that to use one’s sustenance with frugality is the shukr ma’nawi (the inner appreciation) because of which Almighty Allah will bestow blessings (barakah) on the person. To support this, he presented the Prophet’s utterance: “He who is thrifty will not lament regarding his family livelihood”. People go into poverty or scarcity when they are not moderate in their expenditure. An interesting point emerges here: that when people start wasting and are not thrifty, they activate greed in themselves. We earlier pointed out that greed will lead to non-contentment. It is a vicious cycle: Wasting leads to greed, greed leads to non-contentment, and non-contentment leads to wasting once again. Dear brothers, human capacity to utilise is limited. Beyond their capacity, they will have to discard part of the sustenance or keep the sustenance until a true need arises again. Sustenance which cannot be kept because of its perishable nature will be wasted. For instance, a non-contented hungry man buys three pieces of cooked chicken. His stomach has the capacity for only two pieces. After eating two pieces the third piece is most likely to be thrown in the bin a common scenario one sees in restaurants. On the other hand, a contented man will buy according to his capacity and needs, he will not waste. He will be thrifty in utilising his sustenance. Similarly, abundant sustenance cannot quench the thirst of greed. The greed will keep on triggering false demands. The Prophet’s companion Saad b. Abi Waqas spoke well when he said to his son: “O Son if you seek for riches, seek it through contentment. He who does not have contentment, wealth will never suffice him”
Dear jeemah, we now concentrate on explaining qana’ah in relation to sharing sustenance with others. Some humans due to greed become selfish and neglect to pay their zakah (charitable tax) to the needy. This can be applied to other forms of beneficence, such as establishing waqf-based institutions to assist the poor, orphans, widows, single mothers, and others. As we saw above, contentment is not only related to material means, but also plays an important role in everyday inter-human activities. Sparing time for family and friends is not possible if one is not content with oneself, for greed and non-contentment are inherent qualities of self-centeredness. Issues such as impatience, anger, or selfishness, are all connected with non-contentment. To this extent, one may assert that greed and non-contentment serve as a source of immorality and the decay of human social life.
Based on this insight, two common attitudes are born in society which are quite relevant to our present time:
1. Once my stomach is full, I do not have to care about others dying in hunger.
2. You work and I will eat. You make an effort and I will rest.
Both attitudes reflect that without contentment humans become self-centred and stingy. When humans become self-centred and do not fulfil the virtue of sharing their material means with other humans, they actually harm their “finer nature”. Allah says in surah Muhammad verse no 38:
“Now, you are these called to expend in the way of Allah. Then among you (some) are miserly; and whoever is miserly, then he is miserly only upon himself.”
The verse points to the message that humans are invited to participate in the cause of Almighty Allah, namely by sharing with others. Almighty Allah is independent of human aid in His cause. The invitation to serve the cause of Almighty Allah is for one’s own ultimate good. If one does not take part in His cause because of one’s own self-centeredness and stinginess, one damages one’s own soul.
Beloved Jeemah, What should we do in order to attain qana’ah ? The Qur’an explains this better in (al-Ra’ad 13:11)
“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves (souls)”. The Qur’an interpreter, al-Alusi (d. 1270/1853) in commenting on this verse quoted, a hadith qudsi reported by Ali (RA) The précis of the hadith is that Almighty Allah says: Those who were involved in my disliked-disobedience then turned towards my beloved deeds of obedience, I will surely change My Punishment of them into My Mercy. Those who were involved in my beloved deeds of obedience, then turned towards my disliked-disobedience, I will surely change My mercy for them into My punishment.”
This verse and its interpretation sheds light on the external situation of humans based on their inner state of soul and morality. Be it spiritual, or environmental, or social, or financial, the inner state of humans plays a crucial role for any positive outcome. This verse imparts that humans are to discipline their lower desires in relation to consumption and behaviour. If appetitive desire is not controlled, it can take the form of compulsion in obtaining what one does not have. Sahl b. Sa’d al-Sa’idi’ reported that: “A man came to the Prophet SW and said: “O Messenger of Allah, advise me on a deed which if I perform, Allah will love me and the people will love me. The Prophet È replied: “Renounce the pleasure of the world, Allah will love you, and renounce that which is in the hands of people, people will love you”. This hadith calls for moderate consumption of material resources. The first part encourages us to consume only according to need, and doing so honours the human with love of Almighty Allah. The second part, “renounce that which is in the hands of people”, signifies that one should consume or produce within one’s own means. One’s personal endeavour should not lead to a consumption level which will usurp the resources of other fellow humans. Letting fellow humans enjoy their share of resources will honour them with love and respect. This is well supported by another hadith which states: “The one who takes from the material world more than his needs digs his own grave without realizing.” By consuming and producing beyond proper bounds of need humans tap the earth’s natural resources excessively, and invite environmental calamities upon themselves. Inner development is the Islamic concept of “human development”. Without this development, the human-wilderness, including corruption, violence, self-centeredness and immorality, will be at a par with its sophisticated technological infrastructure. Civilization is about humans existing together and interacting with people and the environment around them in an appropriate and balanced way. To achieve this, humans need to control their inner appetitive desires when dealing with each other and when dealing with the material world. The inner self will decide the nature of his action. Self-discipline will generate good actions which will be beneficial for him, his fellow humans, and the environment. Allah says in Surah Fatir 35:18):
“And whoever purifies himself only purifies himself for [the benefit of] his soul. And to Allah is the [final] destination.”
May Allah s.w.t grant us strong faith in finding contentment for all of His blessings with a sense of qana’ah. May Allah show us the truth as truth, and let us love it and live by it. May Allah show us falsehood as falsehood, and let us hate it and stay far away from it.