بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَلَوْلَا أَن يَكُونَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً لَجَعَلْنَا لِمَن يَكْفُرُ بِالرَّحْمَنِ لِبُيُوتِهِمْ سُقُفًا مِّن فَضَّةٍ وَمَعَارِجَ عَلَيْهَا يَظْهَرُونَ
وَلِبُيُوتِهِمْ أَبْوَابًا وَسُرُرًا عَلَيْهَا يَتَّكِؤُونَ
وَزُخْرُفًا وَإِن كُلُّ ذَلِكَ لَمَّا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةُ عِندَ رَبِّكَ لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
“And were it not that all people would become one community, We might indeed have provided for those who deny the Al-Rahman, roofs of silver for their houses, and stairways whereon to ascend. And doors for their houses, and couches whereon to recline, – and gold. Yet, all this would have been nothing but an enjoyment of life in this world – whereas, the life to come awaits the God-conscious with your Sustainer.”- [43:33-35]
Regarding the above verses of the Quran, which occur in Surah Al-Zukhruf, this part of verse 33 – وَلَوْلاَ أَن يَكُونَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَحِدَةً - “And were it not that mankind would have become of one community,” actually means, “were it not for the fact that many ignorant people would think that Our giving them wealth was a sign that We love the person to whom We give it, and thus they would have agreed upon disbelief for the sake of wealth.” — This is the view of Ibn `Abbas, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, As-Suddi and others, according to Tafsir Ibn Kathir.
What this part of the ayah means, is that were Allah to grant wealth, the kind of which is mentioned in the verses above, to most of mankind, it’d deceive them into believing that Allah was pleased with them, despite their rejection of Him and His Deen.
Going Down Memory Lane Again..
I often look back at my life, and find myself making a lot of comparisons. Comparisons between what I’d thought I’d be, and what I am today (اَلحَمْدُ لِلهِ, this comparison makes me bow my head in gratitude to my Creator).
Comparisons of what people thought would happen, and what actually happened (anyone remember the baseless “y2k” hype in 1999?). Comparisons between how some children in our school and extended family were expected to turn out when they grew up, and what they became instead (these comparisons embody some of the most mind-boggling moments of reflection for me as a homeschooling parent).
My musings leave me mostly amazed at how differently things often turn out than how they are expected to. Yet, no one openly admits and accepts that what they had vehemently predicted to happen with so much surety, turned out completely contrary to their claims.
They just remain silent; as if they never made any claims in the first place.
One Race After Another…
One thing that stands out in my memory of the past is how, at every phase in life, people compete with each other in a certain, specific realm or field.
Throughout childhood, for example, we competed a lot in test/exam grades at school, and toys. After every Eid, for example, children would discuss with each other, on the first day of school after the Eid holidays, how much Eidi they’d got. The kids who quoted the highest figure would feel the most proud, and be the most envied.
After every summer vacation, on the first day of school (again), children would discuss at length where they’d gone on vacation during the holidays, with the one who hadn’t gone anywhere appearing the most inferior of the lot (a ‘loser’, in contemporary terms,- yours truly being among this lot most of the time).
Those ‘lucky ducks’ who’d visited the US of A and returned not just with a pseudo American accent (complete with R’s rolled for emphasis) but also with a horde of exotic-tasting chocolates that they gave out to us less fortunate ones, occupied the most envied pedestal for days, taking their own sweet time to get off of it because they loved basking in the envy-laced attention.
Anyhow, after the competition of studies, grades, certificates, and degrees dwindled into nothingness, and we entered our twenties, the competition and ‘rat race’ (among us young girls) started to change to who got the most proposals, and who got engaged and/or married first. For a 22-23 year old girl to show any apathy towards marriage meant getting the “You’re weird” and eventually, the outright “You’re lying!” looks.
By the time I was 24 (and in full hijab), friends at my religious educational institute started asking me why I was so picky, assuming that the only reason I wasn’t yet married was that my standards were too high, and that was probably why I refused every proposal that came my way.
As for the ‘friends’, relatives and acquaintances in my social circles outside my religiously-inclined circle, well, they were just plain convinced that by donning full hijab, I had signed on to a life of spinsterhood, because, in their minds at least, who’d be crazy enough to marry someone like that, right?
Presume much? :)
I am so thankful that, between the aunties who believed that I’d never get married, the religious lot who thought my standards were too high and that my niqab was a barrier to all things good in life, and the secular relatives who, sporting sullen looks, shook their head with dismay at how I’d dashed all hopes of a career for mysef by refusing to work at an office job,– I didn’t just go plain crazy!
Anyhow, cue to what I said at the start of this post — about comparing what people thought would happen, to what actually happened?! And to how they remain silent when all their prophecies regarding a young person’s future in life are proved false by divine decree?
Anyway, once you’ve traversed the rat races of studies and marriage, let’s take a look at what kinds of competition await in the late twenties, up to early thirties.
In this period, post-marriage, the competition shifts to having the first baby, and a few years after that, the second baby, and then, — without pausing for breath (for some) – the third; going on until one child of each gender has been birthed.
This is important, so as to to permanently avoid the unwelcome gazes of pity and intrusive questioning from those among the older generation who try to very emphatically convince you how absolutely imperative it is to have offspring of both genders:
“What? No daughter? But daughters are the ones who take care of parents in old age.”
“What? No son? Tch tch.” [No further verbal expressions of pity needed in this case. Because in the Eastern part of the world, many people staunchly believe in a simple mathematical formula/equation: no son = no wealth. Having no son implies that all the wealth that a couple owns will eventually fall into others' hands, and that their name will be wiped off the face of the earth when they die. Now who can verbalize such an impending catastrophe for those couples who couldn't successfully beseech Allah to put the coveted Y chromosome into at least one of their embryos, eh? It is better to just remain silent. <-- end of sarcasm]
Back to the twenties to early thirties age range: there is also considerable pressure on a newly married woman/girl in this age group to master the art of homemaking; to transform herself into a domestic ‘goddess’, so to speak, who can successfully multitask changing diapers, doing the laundry, grocery shopping and cooking perfectly sauteed curries, without letting out a single sigh of fatigue.
She should be able to cook well enough to host a perfect, glitch-free dinner party, especially when her in-laws are the guests, in order to show off her culinary, baking and hostessing expertise etc. and thus practically ‘prove’ to them that she is able to take care of their “little boy” (no exaggeration) and also his children. [*Yawn*]
For the guys and men, the pressure during their late twenties has less to do with making babies, and more to do with successfully establishing their careers, viz. bagging a good job at the right company, with the right-sounding job title, and, of course, the fat paycheck, along with the accompanying (and socially visible) perks and privileges.
From that point onwards, competition among men (and in the contemporary world of working mothers, also among women) mostly involves the race up the corporate ladder, even if it means switching ladders in order to skip a few rungs to get more ahead than the rest in reaching new corporate heights.
Somewhere along the way, the race to acquire a foreign (developed) country’s citizenship is also traversed by some (this especially applies to middle-class Pakistani’s who have a poverty background/mindset — a lot of them are in Canada now, by the way. Ah, Canada. The place to be!). [*snicker*]
You get the picture. It’s like a domino effect: the domino’s, in this case, comprising of one competition after another. Each decade of life seems to herald the closing of one chapter (along with packing up (quite literally), and promptly forgetting about, it’s associated achievements,- the ones we all spent years chasing and competing with others for) and the opening of a new chapter of competition – the “get set, go!” start of a new race to acquire another, different blessing or possession this time.
Now, let’s see if you can guess what realm the competition shifts to after one hits their thirties, and starts to inch towards their forties.
Having successfully covered the chronological rat races of studies (degrees, graduation, post-graduation), marriage (wedding party, bling etc.), family (the babies of each gender), the successful job and career……what now? What next?
Can you guess?
Well, it is this:
The Pull of Property
“Are you still living in that apartment?”
Everyone nowadays seems to desire to live in a big house at some point in their lives, or so it seems. At least 2500 square feet, or more. In case you know of someone who doesn’t desire this, do inform me please. Then let me know where they are locked up.
Just kidding. *Cough*
It’s like there is nothing better to aspire to or talk about when sitting in someone’s drawing room once you’re 40+, than the rising property prices and the plethora of newly emerging investment opportunities in the form of high-rise buildings, apartment complexes and shopping malls (which, in some cases, are combined into a single, massive, horizon-grabbing construction project).
Welcome to the new-age mania of property acquisition, where hotels, malls, residential apartments, offices and shops are often all found under one, magnanimous, solar-powered roof!
The recent property mania in Karachi has risen to such an extent that, if you’re ‘loser’ enough to have been living in an apartment for over a decade, you might as well hide yourself socially, (unless the apartment you own and reside in is in Creek Vistas), and not emerge from your ‘cave’ of self-imposed exile (pun not intended) until and unless you’ve taken a back-breaking property loan, or used some other (by hook or by crook) means to acquire at least a 250 square yard house or residential plot on that side of the Clifton bridge, in your name.
Even if this means being under debt for life, you can then get your desired 15 minutes of social fame by uttering the cliched catch-phrase of every quintessential, Karachi-dwelling urbanite/social butterfly: “We have just shifted to our own bungalow in Defence”, and consequently receive the coveted looks of approval from onlookers, as well those of envy from others.
Sorry, But I’m Not In
Large, cemented living spaces are grossly over-rated, in my opinion. They prove true the old cliche: all that glitters is not gold. But convince world-wise people about that and let’s hope you succeed.
The value of the property anyone owns, in addition to the variety of the types of property that is in their name (whether inside or outside Pakistan, remember Canada? :P Or it could be USA, Dubai, UK, Australia,…you name it, and a Pakistani will want a house there, or at least an apartment), is the most ‘prestigious’ and coveted goal of the latest rat race that I am, sadly, beginning to find myself reluctantly pulled into.
This time, however, I’m not a kid any more. I no longer allow people to tell me what to chase after. I am no longer a young, naive pushover; or a people-pleasing wannabe craving social acceptance and gazes of approval from people who I know will, with time, find something else to tell me to run after and desire.
What I am saying is: I am not getting into this property rat race. :P
The Realities Behind the ‘Rich’ Lifestyle
It is possible that, like most, you also desire to upgrade your standard of living later on in life and dwell in a sprawling, palatial home with your family.
Before you go and start making these future home plans for yourself, however, it would be wise to first educate and inform yourself about the various cons of living in a big house, because it always pays to be a realist:
- You will have to be a good manager. A spacious dwelling requires efficient human resources to sustain and manage it. A smaller home can be easily managed by one person, or two. Not so the sprawling, 10,000-square-feet mansion or villa. You will need to employ a workforce, albeit small, to manage your outdoor and indoor maintenance work and daily operations. And in order to keep that workforce loyal towards you and working efficiently, you will have to learn how to properly manage, motivate and keep them in the long term. If you currently cannot employ a maid, nanny, cook, gardener, or driver for more than a year (do your domestic helpers always leave, for one reason or another?), but still intend to upgrade to a big bungalow, please get some training in managing the blue-collar working class.
- You will have less privacy. In lieu of the above point, prepare to live a life in which your employees go in and out of your private quarters (home, courtyard, driveway, garden, bedroom, home office, kitchen etc.), which means that almost every conversation that you have, whether with your spouse, parent, children, or other employees, will have a high chance of being overheard by someone. Shouting at your child? The nanny will hear it. Complaining about something over the phone to your husband? The maid or cook will hear it. Having a friend over for lunch? The maids will talk about it. Heck, many a rich person also needs personal assistant(s) to do simple tasks for them, on top of the said employees who manage their homes. These PA’s might even have the passwords to their private social media accounts, email addresses and bank accounts. Welcome to a rich person’s privacy-lacking world: you might be lonely inside (explained more, further below), but how ironic, that you’re hardly ever alone.
- You see less of your children. It is quite sad that many a time, even the children of rich parents cannot have a private word with them (without the presence of personal assistants or nannies around), without a prior ‘appointment’ (imagine your children saying to you, “Mama can we have lunch alone? Just us?”). Rich parents are very busy parents. They have a lot of wealth to guard; a lot of businesses to run; many people to manage. Add to that the physical distance between the parents’ and children’s bedrooms in the home (remember, they’re living in a multistory bungalow, where the higher the figure of square feet, the greater the social prestige?), and it’s not like the rich parent sees or hears too much of their child during the course of an average day in the first place – the entourage of personal assistants and employees aside. Welcome to the reality behind your illusion of property-Utopia.
- The bigger and more expensive the asset, the more it costs to maintain it. Using one’s wealth to purchase assets (houses, luxury cars, gold, designer furniture, branded tableware etc.) that require costly maintenance, is not always a wise decision. However, few ‘wannabe’ affluent people realize this simple fact when they join the race to chase these things. So e.g. do you want to be seen driving this car ↓ (pictured) one day? ➔ Then first try finding out how much its parts and its routine maintenance will cost you, so that you know how much money you’ll still be regularly shelling out for it once you’ve purchased it, just to keep it in good condition.
- You will have many superficial friends and acquaintances. Yes, rich people who live in the ‘right’ kind of home (i.e. those who openly ‘show’ others how rich they are) tend to attract more insincere and fake ‘friends’. This is because many people want to associate with them just because of their contacts and connections (or to simply become more popular/enter the “in” crowd), and to be seen associating with them, in order to get personal gains. Simple sociology.
- You will experience more fear. If you live in a big home, own luxury cars and other valuables, and have an openly lavish lifestyle, you will need bodyguards and other security measures/systems to protect yourself and your wealth. You will thus live in constant fear: fear of being robbed, looted at gunpoint (a norm in Karachi), kidnapped, or embezzled through fraud.
- You will be more recognizable, perhaps even a little famous. Still want the lifestyle of the rich? Be prepared to say goodbye to anonymity, personal security, peace of mind, and life’s simple pleasures. Such as being just a face in the crowd. Or going shopping alone, without any guard or PA tagging along.
- You might start to love authority and power. This is more related to personal growth/spirituality (tazkiyah). Love of power basically means: as you advance in age, you might become an overbearing old person who tries to control and manipulate others (including grown-up offspring and grandchildren). This is because it becomes a big boss’ habit to always have their own way, especially with the line of subordinates and employees at their service saying “yes, sir/ma’am” all the time.
- You might not be very well-liked. The well-known adage: “it gets very lonely at the top” is actually quite true. Because of all the above points that I’ve listed, while wealthy people might sport a very full social life and a busy schedule/calendar of events and activities, on the inside, they might be very lonely, simply because they have no ‘real’ friends. Most people around them might secretly envy them for their wealth. Some of their employees might even conspire to rob them of it one day. There are few people they wholeheartedly trust. Fewer still, who love them only for who they are, not what they own.
Religious Scholars and Their Wealthy Patrons
Here I must point out the positive side of possessing wealth – given that I have deliberately listed only the cons of ‘living a rich lifestyle’ above (which is not synonymous with being wealthy, please note), in an effort to show the reality behind the glossy facade of living the so-called ‘life of luxury and ease’.
Muslims endowed with wisdom (religious knowledge) that they use for making decisions, and which they impart to others, as well as those who possess wealth that they generously spend in the way of Allah, are the only two people we are allowed to envy:
لاَ حَسَدَ إِلاَّ فِي اثْنَتَيْنِ رَجُلٌ آتَاهُ اللَّهُ مَالاً فَسَلَّطَهُ عَلَى هَلَكَتِهِ فِي الْحَقِّ وَرَجُلٌ آتَاهُ اللَّهُ حِكْمَةً فَهُوَ يَقْضِي بِهَا وَيُعَلِّمُهَا
`Abdullah bin Mas’ud reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: “There should be no envy but only in case of two persons: one having been endowed with wealth and power to spend it in the cause of the Truth, and (the other), who has been endowed with wisdom and he decides cases with the help of it and teaches it (to others).”
[Sahih Muslim 816]
I find this hadith especially amazing, because I have witnessed how many modern-day religious scholars enjoy an especially close relationship with those who spend generously in the way of Allah i.e. both are found a lot in each other’s company.
The affluent person who donates their houses/property to a religious institute (headed by a possessor of wisdom), to be used as their centers of education/offices; who opens the doors of their own palatial personal home for the religious scholar (and their family) to stay in whenever they are passing through the city, for as long as they like, with free meals and transport available at their beck and call…
This is the person who will be found the most in the company of that religious scholar; the person whose calls the religious scholar will take on their personal cell phone (instead of routing them through a personal assistant or receptionist); whose words they will listen to extra intently, when they speak during one of their lectures/classes. The generous donor. The big-hearted patron.
The person who spends their wealth generously in the way of Allah, has been granted two rare blessings: abundance of wealth (obviously), and a big, humble heart.
Such a person probably deserves the company of the contemporary religious scholars the most, especially since every need of the latter, and that of their institute/organization, can be so quickly met with one of their cheques – right?
There is just one problem with this rosy picture: it is not the way of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), or of the pious predecessors who came immediately after him.
The Best of Mankind Chose to Live Poorly
I find myself pondering on why Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was not like some of the contemporary religious scholars today: he was so one-of-the-crowd, so easily approachable — by the poor man/woman on the street; by the woman complaining about her husband (58:1). He wore what poor people wore. He ate what they ate (when he ate at all). He ate on the floor. He slept on the floor.
He didn’t have an entourage (of personal assistants or patrons), the protocol of which a poor person would have to go through to get a one-to-one “appointment” with him. His dwellings were small, and furnished in a “bare-bones” manner. No five-star hotels, no luxury vehicles (although a camel was there, yeah).
And even he wasn’t left alone about the expensive property/big house thing. The Prophet ﷺ was asked by his antagonists among the disbelievers, why he didn’t have a house adorned with gold:
أَوْ يَكُونَ لَكَ بَيْتٌ مِّن زُخْرُفٍ
“Or you have a house adorned with gold…” [17:93]
I cannot stop thinking about Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) lifestyle, and why he chose to give away his wealth in the way of Allah (even though he could have had the lifestyle of a rich man); why he chose to live the way a hand-to-mouth traveler does?
He did wear nice, expensive clothes too, and he did eat good food too — to indicate their permissibility. But not as a norm for himself, or his household, but as an exception.
What I’ve concluded is that he had the mindset of a rich person, but the lifestyle of a pauper. Which means that he was truly rich i.e. ghani (i.e. self-sufficient, indifferent to anything or anyone besides Allah), but he liked to be around poor people. He was very approachable for them. He mingled with them socially, more than he did with the rich.
Unlike some religious scholars/imam’s today (I can already sense the fangs, claws and guns being drawn out by my haters for saying this — hehe! Go ahead!), Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was physically more accessible by the poor, not exclusively so by just the rich. In social settings, he was found surrounded by the poor, not sitting within exclusive cliques (viz. ‘meetings’) comprising of rich and influential people.
Let’s take a small, hypothetical test to see things more clearly, shall we?
The head of a religious Islamic/da’wah organization is sitting in a ‘staff meeting’. His or her personal assistant comes to him/her saying that 2 people are simultaneously on separate phone lines asking to speak to him:
- A woman with a weak, crackling voice who is sobbing uncontrollably.
- A (or the wife of) Major General/Minister/Businessman/Chief Justice interested in making a 20 million ___ (insert currency) donation for their organization.
Now please tell me, whose call do you think the head of the religious organization will take first?
I know which call I’d take first, if I was in their position — i.e. if I was Chief Executive of a non-profit that was always in need of big money for one project or another.
Now, I know that these organizations are doing great humanitarian work; that they are non-profit; that they run on volunteers; that the religious scholars don’t take the money for themselves or their own needs; that they pass on these donations/funds to truly needy people etc. I know all that.
What I am trying to highlight is, that the contemporary need for money to run any non-profit organization today has created an obvious, clear chasm between those who run them, and the poor people of a society. Odd and ironic though it might sound.
And this is precisely what I cannot seem to figure out. Especially in light of the comparisons I make between today’s righteous Muslims who are doing great work for Islam, and Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), his companions and his early successors from the salaf.
They looked poor, ate like (and in the company of) the poor, and lived like the poor. The poor people acquired their company easily, because these pious predecessors sought it.
Whereas me? I can hardly survive a rickety rickshaw or public bus ride, or a night of load-shedding (planned power outages) in the summers, without emerging from the experience as a cranky, snap-happy mass of nerves!
Perhaps society was very different then, than it is now?
In the world today, if you can’t bring to the table a certain figure in cash/money to donate, or in thousands of square feet/yards of cemented space, to either live in yourself, or to donate to a religious institute (in cash or kind), you are largely ignored socially – by both, the secular-minded movers and shakers in society who are actively engaged in philanthropy, as well as the ‘prominent’ religious people (da’wah activists, scholars and imam’s) who are doing the work of propagating Allah’s Deen.
Today, the two P’s go hand in hand.
No, it is not Poverty and Popularity, like it was in the days of our pious predecessors (aslaaf).
It is Prestige and Property.
In Answer to the Question…
Yes, I am still living in that apartment!
And I live in it thanking Allah every day for a roof over my head, ground under my feet, a mattress to sleep on, clothes on my back, and food in my stomach.
And even if I lived in a mansion, only these basic things would comprise my simple needs as a traveler passing through this world.
Now pass me the ketchup to have with my $5 gourmet burger, please. :|
وعنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: رب أشعث أغبر مدفوع بالأبواب لو أقسم على الله لأبره
Abu Hurairah (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنْهُ) reported, “Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, ‘Many a person with shaggy and dusty hair, driven away from doors (because of their poverty and shabby clothes) were to swear by Allah (that something would happen), Allah will certainly make it happen’.” [Sahih Muslim]