Mohamedarif M Suleman
(Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
Most people yearn to grow rich and famous, but is becoming rich truly the antidote to a life of limitations? Hardly. We frequently hear from the pulpits, the responsibility that comes with an endowment. For instance, the learned, have a responsibility to educate or to enlighten, the strong and the brave have to shoulder sensitive and circumstances of peril so that they can lead out of danger. Leaders, often misguided by the power they possess as one that gives them immense status and ability to own, are in fact charged with the responsibility of fairness, equity and justice.
Since we live in times of dollar-centric societies, when above all, making money and attaining classy status is desired by one and all (exceptions granted), it would be a good idea to try and understand the responsibilities that face them.
To start with, anyone with excess money, as per religious guidance, ought to know that he is simply a conduit of sustenance to other less fortunate members of society. Those who get beguiled behave and inappropriate this excess wealth by tremendous show of public display of their wealth and possessions.
To the great Lebanese poet and thinker Kahlil Gibran, wealth is wrongly defined when he says: “The true wealth of a nation lies not in it’s gold or silver but in it’s learning, wisdom and in the uprightness of its sons.”
In several instances, Imam Áli (AS) discusses the aspect of wealth and brings about the true meaning out of it when he says: “Authority, Power or Wealth do not change a man; they only reveal him”, or when he redefines it thus “The best kind of wealth is to give up inordinate desires”
Imam Áli (AS) was himself an embodiment of giving. He suffered in the darkness while aiding others. He chose to limit his own consumption while he provided for others. In fact, we know from history that his giving was not limited to matter and material, but also in kind. As followers of Ahlul Bayt (AS), we must relearn our slogans, which at times become empty vessels for we choose to grab the sentiment rather than the action, the substance rather than the spirit.
The recent crisis that America faced in which the wealthiest 1% were the target of the other 99% or a group representing them has resulted into manifold repercussions. In a report entitledResponsibility and Money: How the Wealthy View Their Role in Society, PNC Wealth Management found that 59% of the 555 millionaires surveyed feel an obligation to give. The study also found that 64% of the respondents said they should give significant checks to improve society; and that only 25% of the respondents said they would reduce their philanthropy if taxes were to be increased. About half said they also agree with Warren Buffett’s call for the very wealthy to pledge more to charity and pay more in taxes.
It is unclear whether this report is in self defence or if it is a genuine attempt by the maligned class to justify how they feel. Of course, it is clear that not all the wealthy pople of the world got their wealth by fraud or theft, and certainly not all of them are heartless. But the footprint we live behind is often dangerous. Unknowingly, by the show of public power, the rich may be providing the other wannabes in the struggling class, a template of how to behave once you are rich. This is precisely what we must avoid.
We must resist the temptation to be recognized for our wealth, because in truth, this is not our wealth. It has been sent to us for a purpose. We may have a second thought and ask if we are expected to give up everything and put our own families at risk by “over donating”, and that’s where the issue of tawaqqal would come. Of course, whatever is given out, with clean hearts and with true intentions, should inshaállah have great value in the eyes of Allah (SWT). But what is given out as a business deal, on conditions or though a verification process that belittles and demeans the honour of a family, is a questionable affront to charity.
Alas, power is nothing without control. If we are powerful and keep falling prey to the temptations of overspending for our own comfort and status building, while those around us bask in abject poverty, we may just be running away from our responsibilities. Just as we talk about having zero-ignorance levels by educating everyone, whereby some enlightened people educate the rest, this induction process, was also originally the design of human life so that there could be equal distribution. Socialist systems, frequently hijacked by over zealous and self serving leaders, have come to naught, giving the theory a rather dark shade.
Pursuit and display of wealth should not be our aims and objectives, as being rich means, being generous, unconditionally.