Reflection No. 303 on Q 17:26 – Avoid Extravagance

وَلَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِيرًا
Walā tubadhdhir tabdhīrā

And do not squander wastefully
(Sūratul Isrā No.17, Āyat 26)

Islam encourages believers to be balanced in all aspects of life.  The Almighty has blessed us with many beautiful things that we can use and enjoy. But to use these blessing wastefully, or even inappropriately, is an abuse of those blessings. It goes against gratitude to God for the blessings, and transgresses the rights of others in society who also use the same resources.

To go beyond limits is known as isrāf (extravagance). Extravagance is not just in eating and drinking, or spending. The extravagance condemned in Islam goes beyond material deeds. Anything that is over the limits of appropriateness, whether to do with the body, the soul, or the heart, is extravagance. Imam Ali (a) in describing the hypocrites says they are extravagant and commit excess in passing judgement (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 194)

There are three criteria to determine the limits of anything, beyond which it would be considered extravagance.

  1. The limits set by Allah – anything that is forbidden by Allah is a limit. To overstep that is an extravagance in the form of sinning.
  2. The dictates of the intellect – when the ‘aql of the human being understands the ugliness of a particular act, that is a limit it sets. To trespass that is to be extravagant. Imam al-Kāzim (a) says: Use of the intellect goes hand in hand with knowledge (Al-Kāfī, v. 1, p. 14, H. 12)
  3. The norms of society – each era and each society is different. What is appropriate for one may not be appropriate for another. People within a society are also different. They differ in the role they play in society, their circumstances, their wealth, etc. What may be appropriate for one could be considered extravagant for another. Imam al-Sādiq (a) once said: Sometimes a poor person is more extravagant than a rich one.’ He was asked how that could be. He explained, ‘The rich person spends from what he has, but the poor person spends beyond his means.’ (Al-Kāfī, v.7, p. 346)

There are many types of extravagance. One type is in spending. This is known as tabdhīr or squandering wealth. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: Surely tabdhīr (squandering wealth) is from isrāf (extravagance) (al-Kāfī, v., p.19). The Āyat above tells believers not to squander wealth. It goes on to say people who do are the brothers of Shaytān. This means it is a satanic act of ingratitude and misappropriation of trust.

It is interesting to note the following anecdotes narrated in Tafsīr-e Namūne under this verse:

  • Once Imam al-Sādiq (a) asked that ripe dates be brought for the people around him. When the companions started eating the dates, some threw the date seeds away. The Imam told them: Do not do this as it is from tabdhīr and God does not like corruption. (This could mean that the date seeds could be used for animal feed or for human benefit and should not just be discarded).
  • The Holy Prophet (s) was once walking along and saw his companion doing wudhū. The man was using a lot of water. ‘Why are you wasting, O Sa‘ad,’ he asked. The man was surprised. ‘Is there waste in water of wudhū too’ he asked. ‘Yes’ said the Prophet ‘even if you are beside a running stream.’

It is sometimes difficult to discern if we are being extravagant or not. If we spend within our means, when is it that we are being extravagant? The following Hadith sheds some light on it: A man asked Imam al-Sādiq (a); ‘can a believer have ten items of clothing?’ ‘Yes’ replied the Imam. ‘And twenty?’ ‘Yes,’ said the Imam ‘that is not from extravagance. Extravagance is when you make your formal clothes your work clothes.’

Recite this verse to remind yourself not to be extravagant and waste wealth, or other blessings from Allah. It can lead to displeasure of Allah, reduce barakah and blessings in life, invite poverty and generally have a lot of negative consequences. Discipline yourself to be balanced in life and choose the middle path.

Sources: Amīrul Mu’minīn Ali bin Abu Talib (a), Nahjul Balāgha; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh;