Quranic Reflection No. 362 Āyat 56:45 – Self Indulgence

إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا قَبْلَ ذَٰلِكَ مُتْرَفِينَ
Innahum kānū qabla dhālika mutrifīn
Indeed they had indulged in affluence before this
(Sūratul Wāqi‘ah, No.56, Āyat 45)

When Allah ‘azza wa-jall talks about the people of the left hand in Sūratul Wāqi‘ah He describes them as being from the mutrafīn – people who indulged in luxuries and pleasures. The word comes from ‘itrāf’ meaning to be intoxicated and to transgress due to affluence. This type of self-indulgence brings with it a decline and decay in moral standards and has been responsible for the downfall of many societies in history.

Affluence refers to wealth as well as any other blessings through which the human being derives enjoyment. When man transgresses the limits of pleasure seeking and is wholly self-indulgent it leads to a disregard of its consequences in this world and the Hereafter. They do not listen to the voice of the fitrat (natural disposition) inside them, or the reason that tries to guide them. There is a hardened indifference that indulgence creates and it makes them deaf to the voice of reason. The people of ‘Ād when warned by their Prophet said: It is the same to us whether you exhort us or not, these are nothing but the traditions of the ancients and we will not be punished (Q 26:136-138).

Indulgence in affluence and pleasure has brought down many a society. Imam Ali ‘alayhis salām spoke out against it when he saw the Muslim community follow that path. He sensed the dangers of attaining huge amounts of wealth and struggled against it through his sermons and letters and especially through his own example. He says: Beware of the intoxication induced by affluence and fear the disaster which will follow it (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 51). He also says in Sermon 129: Look around; you will see either a poor man hardly able to breathe in extreme poverty or a rich man who has transformed God’s blessings into his own infidelity, or you will see a miser who is stingy in discharging the obligations imposed by God a means of increasing his own wealth, or you will find the rebellious whose unruly hearts are deaf to moral admonition.

Shahīd Murtadhā Mutahharī writes about this campaign of Imam Ali against the intoxication of affluence: Ali (a) struggled to save the Islamic world from this grave danger and was severely critical of those who were responsible for the infection to set in. He set an example of an altogether different life style in his own personal living and on attaining caliphate, he gave the top priority to the campaign against these dangers in his revolutionary program (Glimpses of Nahjul Balagha).

The effects of indulgence in affluence can be seen all around us. Many of the present issues in society today are hallmarks of a people giving free rein to material and sensual pleasures. The acclaimed documentary Decadence: The Decline of the Western world produced by Pria Viswalingam (2011) depicts the signs of decay in the Western society including the addiction to anti-depressants, rampant individualism, emptying of churches, and disintegration of families. There is an obsession with consumption without the fear of consequences.

Recite this verse to remind yourself of the dangers of indulgence. We should not be lured by the luster that surrounds material pleasures. It draws people in and closes in around them, making them prisoners of their desires. Then there is a downhill descent, both for the individual and for society. Be awake to its dangers.

Sources: Imam Ali (a), Nahjul Balagha; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; Murtadhā Mutahharī, Glimpses of the Nahjul Balagha;