Disclaimer: This post was written at a time when I was exploring Islamic beliefs. While some content may still apply, there may be much that does not.
Lately I've been focusing on solely the spiritual side of things. However, I think it is very important to bring the spiritual and the material together. This is something that is all too often overlooked, because often spiritual/religious people are uncomfortable with the material. It seems beneath them somehow, or wrong to be interested in.
Yet, this couldn't be further from the truth, which insha'Allah I'll show in this post. Materiality is really a part of spirituality, and a vital part at that.
I'll be speaking specifically on the topic of spirituality and money, because there is so much mistrust and apprehension around the subject of money in the spiritual community. It seems like the perfect place to start when discussing how to live in this world as a spiritual person.
Is It Wrong to Want Money?
I find that a lot of spiritual or religious people are almost afraid of money. They have this complicated relationship with it, where they believe it's wrong to want it, and yet they do actually need it to survive. So, to pursue more money seems to be unspiritual, and yet if they don't, they are constantly scraping by. Poverty is made almost as a virtue, and wealth as a sin.
Does it have to be this way? Are spirituality and money really mutually exclusive? Is it a sin to pursue earning more money?
The answer to all of these is an emphatic “No!”
What is a life without money? It would simply be impossible to live. In today's society, in order to live, you need money to buy food, to pay for electricity to keep that food cold, perhaps for gas to heat the house, and much more.
What do you think happens to the spiritual person who does not allow themselves to pursue earning more money? They will have to rely either on government benefits, or on family and friends, etc. In short, they become a leach on society, taking and taking but never able to give. Even if they have enough to get by, they will constantly be occupied with the thought of how to pay the next bill.
Now let's contrast that with the person who is okay with making more, and who has used that additional money responsibly. Such a person will not worry about money, because enough will always be coming in. They will be able to contribute to society, and might even give to charity, helping out more people in the process.
Of course, you don't always have that option. Sometimes we must make do with what God has given us, but I believe that if you trust, and sincerely ask for your needs to be met and more, that God will certainly answer, and probably even surprise you with the blessings that will start to rain down. That has been my experience.
But this is mostly for those who are afraid to even approach trying to make more money, because it seems too “worldly”.
Setting the Right Priorities
It really depends on your priorities. The question is, why are you trying to get more money?
Here are some classic bad answers:
- You want nice things just to look rich or important
- You believe it will make you happy
- You want to hoard it to ensure you always have enough
The first is wrong because you are trying to look impressive to others, building yourself up to something you really are not.
The second is wrong because money simply doesn't have the power to make you happy. It has the power to make things convenient, but that's about it.
The third is wrong because you can never guarantee your own security. That role is God's alone, to give you true security. Also, money should be out there circulating in the economy, which helps the economy in the process. That's also why I believe gaining interest on money is wrong (more on that at a later date insha'Allah), because as before, you aren't actually giving anything in return. Money works on an exchange basis, and simply allowing it to sit in an account and grow is against that principle.
Now, here are some good answers:
- You want to support your family
- You want to give to charity or give to the poor
- You want to enjoy life
The first is good obviously because you need to support your family, or simply support yourself if you are not in a relationship.
The second is good because you are helping others in need. Giving to charity actually purifies your wealth, bringing you more blessings from God. I recommend always giving of what you have, even if it isn't very much.
The third is good because there is nothing wrong with enjoying life and getting nice things, as long as you don't make them the first priority in your life. Everything has to be in its proper place.
So as you see above, it all depends on your relationship with that money. If it is going to rule your life and you are going to give your power away to it, then it is unhealthy. But if it is going to allow you to support yourself and your family, help others, and enjoy life, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Spiritual Does Not Mean Poor
That brings me to my next point. Often the stereotypical image of a spiritual or “enlightened” individual is a hermit off living in the woods, or in some cave, with no possessions whatsoever.
Does no possessions mean you are spiritual? No more than money means you are greedy. Sometimes it is the case, and sometimes it isn't.
I actually think possessing wealth can really purify you as a person. It is certainly a test, because it is hard to not use money for the wrong reasons, or to not begin to give it undue importance in your life.
I would also look at the good you can do for society. As a hermit with no possessions, you can volunteer at charities and do physical work to help out. As a person with money, your influence can spread much further, however. You can give to the poor, allowing them to buy the provisions they need to get by. Of course on top of that, you can still help out physically in any way you can.
Why this myth of poor = spiritual has gained such traction, I'm really not sure. I think part of it goes back to the beatitudes of the gospels. When I was doing research for this, I found there was a slight change of wording between Luke and Matthew. In Luke, Jesus (alaihis salam) is reported to have said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 NRSV)
While in Matthew, it says:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NRSV)
Notice in the verse in Matthew, it says the “poor in spirit”. This makes much more sense, as Jesus (alaihis salam) was always much more concerned with the inner state rather than what you did on the outside. You could be physically poor but have a spirit of envy and greed, and you could be physically wealthy but have a spirit of charity and generosity.
To be “poor in spirit” is indeed very important, but as we've seen above, it doesn't require having little to no money.
So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? I believe it means this: that no matter how much money you have, you realize that you rely on God for your every need. Your very existence relies on God, for He holds you in existence from moment to moment. Your next breath depends on God, because without His will, that breath would not be possible. Every cent you've ever received is a direct blessing of God, and it can just as easily be taken away if not put to good use. It is to realize that in reality, we do own nothing, even if you are a billionaire. Everything is on loan to you from God. You have come into the world empty-handed, and will similarly leave empty-handed, and nothing you can do in this life will change that.
That attitude is true poverty of spirit, and I encourage you to nurture this attitude, no matter if you have $10 or $1,000,000.
However, in no way does it mean you are wrong if you have money. As I've already shown above, having money is in fact more of a responsibility, because you must put it to good use, and not make it into an idol.
Money Is Spiritual
Money is spiritual, just as much as anything else. I believe that everything is spiritual, because God has created it all. But everything also has its limitations, its proper and improper uses. Water is good, but not if you breathe it in. Sunlight is good, but not if you are exposed to it so much that you get skin cancer. Just so, money is good, but not if you put it above God.
Sometimes people are uncomfortable praying for money. They feel like it is selfish. But if money is good, then it is okay to ask for. God knows that we need money to provide for ourselves.
Money also has principles by which it operates, both spiritually and materially. I've mentioned a few of these above:
- Money must be an exchange
- To give to charity or the poor purifies your wealth and allows you to receive more
- Money must be in circulation: to allow it to sit and earn interest for nothing is against its proper use
If you follow these principles, then the money you have already will be blessed and continue to grow insha'Allah.
There are more principles besides this, of course. I've only covered a few in this post.