Life Lesson 3 of Maria Popova is directly and clearly an Islamic teaching:
Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.
The Quran is full of verses exhorting people to spend for the sake of Allah. There are many more verses on this topic than on the famous five pillars of Islam. A few are cited below:
16:90 BEHOLD, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men
2:274 Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Muslims are commanded to spend money in excess of our needs for the sake of Allah.
Q2: 219 They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs.
The generosity of our Prophet Mohammad S.A.W., who is the perfect role
model for us, is well known. He never turned away anyone who sought his help.
After observing how much he gave out of the wealth that accrued to the
Muslims after the conquest of Mecca, Safwan bin Umayyah remarked that “(the
prophet) was as generous as the rain.” [The above passage is taken from “Crisis in Islamic Economics“, a paper which argues that Western economic theories are based on competition and greed, while Islamic Economics is based on cooperation and generosity.]
Today, because we Muslims have been listening to words like these all our lives, we have become immune to them. Advice goes into one ear and out the other, without having any effect on our thoughts and behavior. Learning to care for others, to give instead of taking, generosity instead of selfishness, is hard on our Nafs, but it is extremely rewarding. All our lives, we have practiced feeding our Nafs, doing whatever we desire, and feeling frustrated when we cannot get what we want.
There is a new way of life which Islam opens for us — we focus on serving God to the best of our abilities, and let Allah T’aala take care of all our personal problems. (Q6:162) Say: Lo! my worship and my sacrifice and my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the Worlds. Give EVERYTHING you have to the service of Allah – hold nothing back, keep nothing for yourself. It is living in this way which develops Tawakkul – trust in Allah. When we see, from personal experience, that Allah T’aala does not fail to provide for us, then we become confident in His guarantees. Also, this way of life is enormously satisfying. Giving to others, for the love of Allah, is the best way to create happiness, while selfishly trying to grab things for ourselves, without concern for others is the formula for unhappiness and loneliness. Economic theory teaches us that rational behavior involves trying to maximize the pleasure the I get from a lifetime of consumption. I would invite my readers to do an experiment with the OPPOSITE way of living. Forget about your own personal desires. Live only to serve all of mankind, in the best possible way, with your maximum energy and capabilities, for the sake of the love of God. Seek NOTHING for yourself. This seems a bit scary — What will happen to my food and to my basic necessities if I stop worrying about them? Allah T’aala re-assures us that if we seek to serve Him, and make that service our only concern, then He will take care of all of our needs. Experiment – try it for yourself and see. Take small steps to start, in order to build confidence.
Postscript: For previous lessons see, Life Lesson 1 On Unlearning and Life Lesson 2 on Intentions. For a discussion of how Islamic Economics is based on principles of generosity, and how this is radically different from Western Economics, see Radio Islam Interview on Islamic Economics.