Reflection No. 122 on Q 20:131 – Contentment

وَلَا تَمُدَّنَّ عَيْنَيْكَ إِلَىٰ مَا مَتَّعْنَا بِهِ أَزْوَاجًا مِنْهُمْ

walā tamuddanna ‘aynaka ilā mā matta‘nā bihi azwājan minhum

And do not stretch your eyes [in longing] after that which We have given for enjoyment to different groups of them . . Sūrat Tāhā (No. 20) Āyat 131

Human beings in this world often look at others and wish they had what others have. This type of longing creates a sense of dissatisfaction with life, and is not conducive to contentment and peace of mind. Even when it does not become jealousy where there is the desire that the other person be deprived of whatever he is enjoying, the comparing with others and longing for what they have is harmful for self -worth and can be crippling for progress in life.

Islam emphasizes that the believer be contented with what he has. In this verse, note how Allah uses the phrase ‘stretching the eyes’, meaning a look that is long and constant, based on attachment to what they have. Also note that God uses the word matta‘nā’, – ‘what We have given them to enjoy’, not an‘amnā-, i.e. ‘what We have blessed them with’. According to Tafsīr this means that not all what people enjoy in this world can be considered blessings. Sometimes it is a test, and you may be better off not having it as the test may be difficult.

Looking at others and longing for what they have creates the following negative qualities which a believer stays away from:
1) Not being pleased with Allah’s decree. Somebody who wishes what others have is actually questioning what God has granted in His Decree. The Holy Prophet (s) said that God Almighty addressed Mūāa ibn ‘Imrān (a) as follows:  O son of ‘Imrān, never be envious of people concerning the favors I have conferred on them by My grace;  . . . Indeed, the envious man is indignant at the bestowal of My favor, and contests My apportioning of gifts among My creatures (MH, H. 3923).

2) Envy or Jealousy. This is a great sin and destroys the good that a believer may be trying to do. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) has said: The fruit of envy is misfortune in the world and the hereafter. (MH, H. 3911) He also said: One who is jealous is a sick person though he may physically appear to be healthy (MH, H. 3948)

3) Lack of contentment. Contentment is a great wealth, and brings happiness and peace of mind. Without it man is always yearning for more, and is never really satisfied with life. Contentment comes when you appreciate what you have and don’t compare it to what others have. Each person has a different role to play in this world and has been given different things by the Almighty. This is part of the wise plan that He for humanity. Understanding that can make a world of difference to our attitude in life. That is why Imam Ali (a) says: There is no treasure richer than contentment (MH, H.16850).

Increase your satisfaction in life by not looking longingly at what others have. When you are tempted to do so, remind yourself of the above verse. It is a great reminder to rein in your thoughts.

Sources: Tafsīr-e Nūr – Aghae Muhsin Qarā’ati;  Mīzānul Hikmah, Muhammadi Rayshahrī