Man’s Obsession with Greed

Man’s Obsession with Greed

One of the most revealing insights about our life is found in Sura ut Takasur wherein Allah addresses mankind in these words: “You are obsessed by greed for more and more until you go down your graves”. Another possible translation of this ayat could be: “The competition for gaining more and more material wealth deceives you until you go down your graves”. In either case, the focus is on greed and competition for material wealth, and the subsequent loss that man ultimately suffers.
How do we understand the keywords “Alha” and “Takasur” and the consequences that the Quran mentions in different contexts thereof? Man by nature is driven to possess more and more wealth, for which he has to compete with other fellow human beings and assert his powers and claim to those possessions. What Charles Darwin has observed and concluded about man is true as far as the real world is concerned. There is always a contest for displaying one’s power in different fields of life. Competition for jobs, possession of material wealth, and subsequent greed for more are the reality, the reason being that man is by nature inclined to this. If all this is a fact, the question, then, is why does Allah say “Alhakum ut takasur hata zurtum ul maqabir”?
While man undoubtedly shares with other animals many biological features and necessities thereof, one thing that distinguishes him from other animals is the moral and spiritual faculty that is innate in him; therefore, possession of more and more material objects is not encouraged to be the end-purpose of his life. According to the Quranic scheme of things, while man is supposed to use the available material resources around him for his sustenance, he is not supposed to live for all these things; in other words, he has to earn his livelihood for his comforts but he has to use all his comforts for the nourishment of his soul, which is destined to travel to some other world after his departure from this physical world. Therefore, most of the religions are on one page that greed for this material world is to be discouraged.
In this context, one may invoke a Quranic prayer which reads: “O our Lord! Give us the good of this world and the good in the hereafter”, which means the things of this world may be given us in right proportion so that we may not lose the sense of beauty, proportion, balance and symmetry and thus may not be counted among the transgressors. The prayer itself suggests that our craving for more is actually a manifestation of our dissatisfaction, which when goes beyond a certain limit becomes a disease; therefore, the Quranic conclusion that “ You are obsessed by greed…” is actually an identification of that psychological and spiritual disease that man suffers from as a result of his materialism and its subsequent problems.
From the psychological point of view, when man finds himself in cut-throat competition with others, he, in order to achieve his short-term and long-term materialist objectives, is bound to forget the needs of his soul. Since peace of mind and contentment is a subjective experience, the greed for more material gains creates and cultivates greed for the whole of the world in man; therefore, when man’s ultimate destination is just a small grave, how on earth would the possession of the whole world bring him everlasting satisfaction and contentment? From the psychological point of view, the richest on the earth could be the unhappiest one while the poorest of the poor in terms of material wealth could be the happiest one in terms of spiritual contentment; therefore, the observation that this cut-throat competition for more and more wealth only deceives you.
Death being the ultimate destination of all living beings, as Allah says it in the Quran, “ Kullu mann alaiha fann wa yabqa wajhu rabbika zuljalal e wal ikram” (All that is found under the sun is subject to death and there shall remain your Lord, the majestic, alone forever), what one concludes from “alhakum ut takasur” is that materialism and greed for more power and wealth is actually an illusion that casts man away from the truth of all the truths, which is why man tends to forget the real and is momentarily lost in the pursuit of false realities. When, from the spiritual point of view, matter is transitory and God alone is the absolute, man is bound to be in ever-growing discontentment if he makes material pursuits the be-all and end-all of his life. Man lives a double existence: biological and spiritual; therefore, tendency to live one single existence of the two results in extremism, material or spiritual. The Quranic principle of balance, proportion, symmetry and harmony between the two is the best way forward and in tone with the whole system that the universe follows.
Another important thing that one may try to think about while reading “alhakum ut takasur hata zurtum ul maqabir” is that all believers as well as non-believers agree on death of human body as an unquestionable truth, though there is disagreement on life after death and the subsequent judgement. While hedonists believe that given the limited time man has under the sun, he must eat, drink and seek the pleasures of body to the maximum, there are also those who say that death is a momentary slumber that man experiences, and with this momentary slumber, there actually starts a new phase of life where man would be held accountable for whatever he has done in this material world. As stated earlier, all the material possessions act as mere illusions for the eyes of man if he is not conscious of the real world that he is going to enter immediately after his departure from this unreal and transitory world, argue those who believe in life after death.
The question, however, is why does Allah say “alhakum ut takasur” when He himself has put the urge for material gains in the nature of man and has, in fact, put humankind as well as other animals in competition with each other for different reasons and purposes? Apart from the possible interpretations attempted above from different points of view, what one can add is the fact that the Quran and all other divinely revealed books have condemned greed, lust and misuse of powers and possessions in all of their forms. Seven deadly sins have been condemned in the Bible. Hindu scriptures describe the material world as a kind of illusion. Buddhism is on the same page about all such sins. Sikhism equally condemns and criticises greed, lust, being possessive, and misuse of power in all its forms. Simply because all these sins actually snatch from man the divine light with which he is born. The more human beings fall in competition for all these deadly sins, the farther they are drawn from the heavenly light that their soul is blessed with; therefore, the text of the Quran has at different places and in different contexts the injunction that man must desist from all such temptations. The Quran says, “qadd aflaha mann zakkaha wa qadd khaba mann dassaha” which means “To a happy state shall indeed attain he who causes this [self] to grow in purity, and truly lost is he who buries it [in darkness].”
Concluding, “alhakum ut takasur hata zurtum al maqabir” is an insight into the reality that man knows but is most of the times unconscious of due to the rust that excessive competition for material gains causes to develop on human soul. As for human body, human soul too requires nourishment through good deeds, prayers, contemplation and good thoughts; otherwise, the rust caused by materialism, lust for power, gluttony and possessiveness cause the human soul to stray from the straight path which God had destined it to be on. The transitory nature of all material things in itself is evidence that human beings must only use them for different purposes but should not fall in love with them to the extent of worshipping them. While possession and pursuit of material objects may give momentary happiness to man, spiritual contentment can only be attained when man does not turn these material objects into idols for worship; rather, man uses them in such a way that gratitude to Allah is expressed through every act and every object.

[email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.