Many people assume wealth is measured by how much money one has; Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, however, offers an entirely different perspective. Abu Hurayrah reported that the Messenger ﷺ said, “Wealth is not the abundance of [material] possessions; wealth is self-contentment” (Bukhari & Muslim).
The Hadeeth mentioned above explicitly teaches us that the key to gaining real wealth is to be satisfied with what one already has. Simply put, if you are continually feeling the need for more, you are not rich- regardless of how much money you might have. If you feel satisfied with what you have, on the other hand, then you are, by this definition, rich regardless of how much money you possess. Money alone does not bring about inner happiness for two main reasons: (1) a rich but greedy person may whittle their material possessions down to nothing and still feel miserable, and (2) these material possessions may be lost and turn into a source for depression.
If we can agree that contentment is real wealth, then discontentment must be real poverty. Discontentment can make a person lose their sense of worth and sense of efficacy. Those who have allowed Hollywood culture to permeate their lives often fall prey to the idea that self-worth is material wealth celebrities have (lavish materialism, skewed standards of beauty, age, wealth, etc.). For this reason, many people idolize celebrities. Moreover, millions of dollars are spent on advertisements persuading people to use their credit cards to buy non-essential materials they can do without or may not even use. People end up drowning in debt, which further complicates their lives and creates enormous pressure and stress.
Imam Muslim reports that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Be pleased with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people.” By taking this Hadeeth in light of what we have learned from the first Hadeeth, we can recognize that self-contentment comes from being pleased with Allah’s decrees. Therefore, self-contentment requires faith, trust, and a God-oriented heart. The Quran accurately describes the rewards promised to the believers, “Whoever does righteous deeds, whether be a male or female, and has Faith, we will make them lead a good life” (16:97). Some scholars interpret ‘good life’ here as a ‘life filled with contentment.’
Interestingly, the quality of self-contentment found in the Hadeeth under discussion indicates that real wealth is an inner experience that relates to what is happening inside of us, not around us. Therefore, contentment has nothing to do with laziness or giving up or becoming passive; instead, it fights greed, self-indulgence, and countless conflicts that lack peace. What denies contentment is not our desire to improve our situations, but the reckless, selfish competition for material gain through forbidden channels. For instance, work that leads one to cheat, be dishonest and corrupt, is a sign of greed and discontentment. Falling into debt to buy a car to impress others is another sign of discontentment and lack of real personal freedom.
With this said, Muslims can be content and still improve their life situations. To avoid falling into the trap of greed, a Muslim must work toward meeting three conditions. First, the work or the source of money must be halal. Second, the work does not result in violating the teachings of our faith nor neglecting religious or social obligations, such as the five daily prayers and family rights. Third, the acquisition of money does not promote a self-centered life. Instead, earning money should make one feel responsible for helping the poor and the needy, especially through the mandatory annual Zakat. Giving for the sake of Allah is evidence that a person is generous, thankful, and faith-filled. In this manner, wealth and contentment go hand-in-hand. Moreover, wealth can be a blessing for the individual and the community. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was reported to have said, “Blessed is the money in the hands of a righteous man.”
Contentment can be learned. Although some people are naturally content, it does not mean that you cannot develop it if you are not born with this value. The Prophet ﷺ was reported to have said, “Were the son of Adam to have a valley of gold, he would crave another. He will not be satisfied until he passes away. However, Allah accepts those who repent.” The first part of the Hadeeth explains that many people want (and not necessarily need) more. However, the Hadeeth’s underlined part tells us indirectly that people have a chance to fight greed and covetousness through repentance. Here are some ways we can develop the essential value of contentment:
(1) Compare yourself to people who have less than you. Unfortunately, many people fall into the trap of comparing their lives to wealthier people only to end up feeling either second-rate or deprived. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was reported to have said, “[In terms of material possessions], look at those who are inferior to you and do not look at those who are superior to you. By doing so, you will not belittle Allah’s blessings on you” (Bukhari & Muslim). We should focus on what we have rather than what we do not so that we do not fall prey to the comparison trap.
(2) Count your blessings and be thankful. Unless we recognize Allah’s blessings upon us, we cannot practice contentment. Whenever we feel discontent, we should take a moment and write down Allah’s blessings. We do not need to go very far in doing so and can simply ask three basic questions: ‘Do I feel safe? ‘Do I have a serious disease?’ ‘Do I have food for the day?’ If we can answer these questions in the positive, we should count ourselves among the most blessed people in the world. This is exactly what our Prophet ﷺ emulated for us. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was reported to have said, “Whoever wakes up feeling secure, free of [serious] diseases and having sufficient food for the day should know that he is given the entire [pleasures of] life!” (At-Tirmidhi)
(3) Remember that this life is a test! Adopting the Hereafter as your goal prevents entrapment into discontentment. Once you look at this worldly life as Allah’s test and do your best to pass it—through patience and gratitude—you will have a strong feeling that your life is rewarding and meaningful, no matter what difficulties come your way. The Quran teaches us that this worldly life is a test, and the Hereafter is the superior, eternal life, “Do not gaze longingly at the pleasures of the splendor of the worldly life that We gave different classes of them [unbelievers]. It is a test for them, and Allah’s provision is far better and everlasting” (20: 131).
(4) Fight Greed through Giving. There is great contentment and joy to be gained from giving. Giving is a sign of the absence of greed. Giving will make you among the better ones. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was reported to have said, “The Upper Hand [that of a giver] is better than the Lower Hand [that of a recipient]. Start with your dependants.”
(5) Make dua’a for contentment. Bukhari and Muslim report on the authority of A’isha that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used to repeat the following prayer, “O Allah, I seek refuge with You from sin and heavy debt.” Someone exclaimed, ‘How often do you seek refuge from heavy debt!’ He ﷺ replied, “When a man falls into debt, he speaks and tells lies, and he makes a promise and breaks it.” It was also reported that the Prophet ﷺ used to pray every morning and every evening stating, “O Allah I seek refuge from you from worries and grief. I seek refuge from you from helplessness and laziness. I seek refuge from you from cowardice and miserliness. I seek refuge from you from mounting debts and being overpowered by men.”
O Allah bring Your peace into our hearts, into our families, into our communities, and the world. O Allah kindle in our hearts Your love, the love of those who love You, and the love of all that You love. Ameen.