وَمَنْ يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
Waman yuqa shuhha nafsihi faulā’ika humul-muflihūn
And whoever is saved from the covetousness of his soul—they are the successful ones.
(Sūrat al-Hashr No.59, Āyat 9)
The above is part of a verse that describes selfless people who are willing to give others even when they themselves are needy. At the end of the verse Allah ‘azza wa-jall says that whoever is protected from the covetousness of the soul is successful.
Some things to understand in this verse:
1) ‘Shuhha’ – often translated as greediness, niggardliness, covetousness etc. It refers to a soul that is both greedy and miserly. The person not only wants everything for himself, he is also unwilling to let others share it with him. This is not only an occasional attitude. Rather it has become a habit of the soul.
Imam Sadiq (a) once asked his companion, ‘Do you know who a Shāhih (one with Shuhha) is?’ The companion replied, ‘One who is miserly.’ The Imam said: Shuhha is worse than miserliness. The miserly person is miserly with what is in his hands. But the Shahih is covetous of what is in his hands as well as what is in the hands of others. He wants everything that is in the hands of others, through halal or haram ways and is not content with what Allah subhānahu wa-ta‘āla has given him. (Tafsīr-e Namūneh under verse 59:9)
In another Hadith we read: Faith and covetousness cannot combine in one heart. (Ibid)
Covetousness comes from an attachment to materialism. It makes everything that others have seem very attractive. It springs from lack of contentment in life. More importantly it is a sign of lack of belief and trust in Allah (swt).
2) The phrase ‘yuqa shuhha nafsihi’ tells us that this protection is granted to the soul. Yuqa comes ‘wiqāyah’ – to protect, to save, and to prevent from harm. Whoever is able to overcome the covetousness of the soul has been granted a special ability by God. Such a person is protected from narrow mindedness and miserliness and is willing to give from what s/he has. He is also not upset at seeing others have what he wants. Training of the soul and preventing it from stooping to lowly qualities is real success. Allah (swt) calls these people the truly successful ones.
When a person has faith in Allah ‘azza wa-jall its fruits include trust in Him and contentment at His decree. This naturally reduces and even eliminates covetousness. It is important to understand that the favor of protection of the soul is not a gift given randomly by God. It is the natural result of a soul that inclines towards its Maker and realizes his own – and everyone else’s – dependence on Almighty Allah. Such is the system created by Allah. If you believe in Him and turn to Him there will be consequences for your soul. Positive consequences, one of which will be the lack of greed and miserliness. The protection of the soul is a direct result of the choice made by the human being.
Let this verse remind you of the lowliness of greed and miserliness. Protect yourself from it through increased remembrance of Allah and enhancement of faith. It will allow you to be happy with what you have and also be willing to give others, rather than want what they have. These are ingredients for a happy life, both in the world and the Hereafter.
Sources: Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; http://www.alketab.org/