Avarice and Greed
(bukhl, ḥirṣ, shuḥḥ)

Fatimah Ahmadshah

Bukhl (stinginess), shuḥḥ (avarice), ḥirṣ (cupidity/strong desire), and ṭamaʿ (greed/obsessive hope) are closely related terms, referred to in the Qurʾān as human traits which one must control. The former two, mentioned respectively twelve and five times, are negative attributes that tarnish the human character. Ḥirṣ and ṭamaʿ are used respectively five and twelve times, and are regarded as human desires that can be channelled in a positive or negative manner.

Definitions and Usage

Bukhl and bakhal, from the root letters b-kh-l, mean stinginess. One who is stingy is called bākhil or bakhīl (pl. bukhalāʾ), and bakhkhāl if it becomes a habitual characteristic (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub b-kh-l). Al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. 502/1108) defines bukhl as the unjust withholding of possessions (Mufradāt) (see Possessions and Property). The linguist and jurist al-Fayyūmī (d. ca.770/1368) defines the term in a general sense as refusing a beggar possessions which one does not need and, in a legal sense, as withholding that which it is obligatory to give (Miṣbāḥ).

Shuḥḥ is defined by many linguists as stinginess (bukhl) combined with desire (ḥirṣ, see below). Verbal forms from the root (as in the phrase tashāḥḥa l-rajulān ʿalā amr, “the two men were stingy towards one another over a matter”) suggest contending for a matter lest it become unattainable (Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub sh-ḥ-ḥ). Ibn Manẓūr (630-711/1232-1311) explains shuḥḥ as covetous attachment to one’s possessions, and stinginess with them. One who has this is called shaḥīḥ (pl. shiḥāḥ, ashiḥḥa, and ashiḥḥāʾ) (Lisān).

In differentiating between bukhl and shuḥḥ, Ibn Qayyim (691-751/1292-1350) and al-Fayrūzābādī (729-817/1329-1414) describe shuḥḥ as occurring before bukhl: the former is the strong desire to possess something (especially that which belongs to another), while the latter is to refrain from spending one’s assets (see Spending). This is supported by the Tradition in which the Prophet, peace be upon him, says: “Beware of avarice (shuḥḥ), for avarice destroyed those who were before you; it incited them to abandon [social] relations and so they did, and [it] incited them to be stingy (bukhl) and so they were” (Aḥmad, Musnad ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ, 11:26 §6487). Shuḥḥ, therefore, is an inner state that leads one to practice bukhl (Ibn Qayyim, al-Wābil al-ṣayyib p. 75; Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, sub b-kh-l and sh-ḥ-ḥ; al-Kafawī, al-Kulliyyāt, sub b-kh-l).

Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273), however, says shuḥḥ is a combination of stinginess and cupidity. He concludes that shuḥḥ has more drastic consequences than bukhl (Tafsīr, sub Q 3:180), quoting a variant of the same hadith: “Beware of committing oppression (ẓulm), for oppression [shall become] different kinds of darkness (ẓulumāt) on the Day of Resurrection. And beware of avarice (shuḥḥ), for avarice destroyed those who were before you: it incited them to shed blood and make lawful what was unlawful for them” (Muslim, Birr wal-ṣila wal-adab, taḥrīm al-ẓulm). Similarly, al-Thaʿālibī’s (350-429/961-1038) listing of these vices ranks bukhl as the first and lowest level of stinginess and shuḥḥ, said to include cupidity, as the fourth level (Fiqh al-Lugha p. 161). Ibn Rajab (736-795/1335-1393) states that bukhl and shuḥḥ may be used interchangeably but are not fundamentally synonymous: the former denotes withholding one’s possessions, while the latter indicates an extreme desire (ḥirṣ) for something that drives one to seek it even by unlawful means and to neglect one’s obligations (hence the Prophet’s statement in the mentioned hadith) (Majmūʿ rasāʾil Ibn Rajab 1:69-70).

Other scholars hold that the word bukhl is used for isolated acts of stinginess, while shuḥḥ refers to a habitual stinginess in all matters that makes it an intrinsic characteristic of a given person. It is also said that bukhl is associated with withholding wealth, while shuḥḥ pertains to withholding both wealth and kindness (al-Khaṭṭābī, Maʿālim al-sunan 2:83-84).

Ḥirṣ is defined as excessive desire, and a person exhibiting this quality is called ḥarīṣ. The term has a different sense depending on the object of desire: if this object is inanimate, as with property or wealth, it is a negative trait; if it is living, as with a person, it is a positive trait indicating one’s concern for another’s well-being (Azharī, Tahdhīb; Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, sub ḥ-r-ṣ). For example, the Qurʾān describes the Prophet, peace be upon him, as ardently anxious over you (ḥarīṣun ʿalaykum) (Q 9:128), meaning not that he desires to possess you but that he desires you to enter into faith and attain everlasting felicity (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). A second meaning of ḥirṣ, identified by al-Dāmaghānī (d. 478/1085), refers to the effort that follows from such ardent concern, as in Q 12:103: And most of mankind will not believe, even though you exert yourself (wa-law ḥaraṣta) (Wujūh wal-naẓāʾir). Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597/1200), al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210), and al-Biqāʿī (d. 885/1480), on the one hand, and Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. 546/1151) and al-Ālūsī (1217-1270/1802-1854), on the other, differ regarding the interpretation of Q 16:37: Even if you desire (in-taḥriṣ) their guidance, verily Allah guides not those whom He leads astray. And they will have no helpers (see Astray). The first group understand desiring their guidance there to mean seeking it through strenuous effort (Zād; Tafsīr; Naẓm), while the second group understand it simply as exceeding desire (Muḥarrar; Rūḥ). Ibn ʿĀshūr’s (d. 1393/1973) explanation resolves these meanings (Tafsīr), coinciding with al-Jurjānī’s (d. 816/1413) definition of the word as an excessive desire for something that drives one to strive for its attainment (al-Taʿrīfāt).

The usage of ḥirṣ in the Qurʾān suggests that this desire is usually frustrated. For example, Q 4:129 (You will never be able to be impartial between wives, even if you desire to do so (wa-law ḥaraṣtum); but do not turn altogether [toward one] so as to leave her (the other) as if suspended) indicates that although one might wish to love his wives equally, this may be impossible since love is something beyond one’s control. Al-Rāzī and Ibn Kathīr (d. 774/1373) explain that while one is not held accountable for unequal affection, he is forbidden from exhibiting such disparity in his actions; so if a man favors one of his wives, he should not do so exaggeratingly so as to neglect the other, the treatment in effect leaving her as if she were neither divorced nor married (see their Tafsīrs). This verse is further explained by the narration of the Prophet’s wife ʿĀʾisha, may Allah be pleased with her, that the Prophet used to treat his wives equitably (in his time, possessions, and so on) and then say: “O Allah, this is my apportionment of what I possess, so do not hold me to account for what You possess (i.e., my heart) and I do not” (Abū Dāwūd, Nikāḥ, fī al-qasm bayna al-nisāʾ; Tirmidhī, Nikāḥ, mā jāʾa fī al-taswiya bayna al-ḍarāʾir). Ibn Baṭṭāl (d. 449/1057) concludes that it is enough for a man to treat his wives equally in his companionship of them and in providing them with sustenance, clothing and accommodation. As Allah does not burden a person but to the extent of his ability (Q 2:286), he is not obligated to love his wives equally (which lies beyond his ability to arbitrate) (Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 7:345).

The term ṭamaʿ, according to some linguists, is synonymous with ḥirṣ (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub ṭ-m-ʿ). Al-Rāghib defines it as inclination toward something out of lust or desire for it (Mufradāt), while Ibn Fāris (d. 395/1004) says it is the heart’s strong hope for something (Maqāyīs). Many exegetes, however, seem to agree with the latter as they tend to gloss ṭamaʿ with the word “hope” (rajāʾ) (cf. the Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī and Baghawī, sub Q 2:75, 74:15; Qurṭubī and Ibn ʿĀshūr, sub Q 26:82; and Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar and Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:56). Abū Ḥayyān (654-745/1256-1344) defines ṭamaʿ as obsession with obtaining the object of one’s desire, and explains that when desire is moderate it is called rajāʾ (hope), but when intensified it becomes ṭamaʿ (Baḥr, sub Q 2:75). Ibn ʿĀshūr considers ṭamaʿ synonymous with hope and says that it can be understood as the desire for something difficult to attain (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:75, 26:51).

As in the case with ḥirṣ, the term ṭamaʿ is also used to describe hope for the unattainable—usually because it is unaccompanied by any effort. For example, Q 70:38-39 declares: Does every one of them hope (yaṭmaʿ) to enter the Garden of Bliss? Nay, for We have created them from that which they know. Ibn ʿAṭiyya states that these verses were revealed concerning some disbelievers who claimed that if in fact there existed an afterlife and Paradise then surely they would be admitted into it, for Allah had blessed them in this life and would do the same in the next. The Qurʾān refutes this false analogy, reminding them of their creation from an inferior substance, implying that creatures of such origins do not deserve Paradise merely by their creation but only by virtue of their good deeds (Muḥarrar, sub Q 70:38) (see Acquisition). On the other hand, when sincere effort is put into obtaining one’s desire—as in the case of the Prophet Ibrāhīm, may peace be upon him, when he said “And I hope (aṭmaʿ) [Allah] will forgive me my faults on the Day of Reckoning” (Q 26:82)—where the word “ṭamaʿ” indicates that which is surely attainable, namely, Allah’s forgiveness.

Several other words and expressions are used to refer to the vice of refusing to expend what one has. One of these words is “refraining” (imsāk), which Ibn al-Jawzī explains as “bukhl” (Nuzhat al-aʿyun, sub imsāk), and another is “restriction” (iqtār/taqtīr), both of which are used in Q 17:100 (Say: “If you possessed the treasures of my Lord’s mercy, you would [still] surely refrain (la-amsaktum) for fear of spending”—and man is ever-restricting (wa-kāna-l-insānu qatūrā)) to mean that even if humans, and some say disbelievers specifically, possessed all the blessings of Allah, they would nonetheless be miserly for fear of their wealth diminishing. This interpretation is further confirmed by the appended adjunct qatūrā that describes man’s miserly nature, as he tends to restrict himself from spending of his wealth (Baghawī, Tafsīr; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Rāzī, Tafsīr).

Another epithet for stinginess is the word ḍann, defined by al-Rāghib as withholding something precious (Mufradāt, sub ḍ-n-n). This term is mentioned only once in the Qurʾān, where Allah Most High affirms the sincerity of the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying: And he is not one who withholds (ḍanīn) his knowledge of the Unseen (Q 81:24). The Qurʾān thus both affirms that the Prophet received revelation and denies that he was selective in what he propagated (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr).

Another usage is “to hold back” (kady/ikdāʾ), which means to cease, originally used to describe a well-digger, as in the phrase balagha ilā l-kudya, “he hit impenetrable or solid ground,” meaning he thereupon ceased digging (Zajjāj, Maʿānī, sub Q 53:34). Akdā is used in Q 53:33-34 (Have you seen the one who turned away and gave a little, then withheld (akdā)?); Ibn Kathīr says that according to Ibn ʿAbbās and others, this applies to a person who spends a little in the path of Allah and then withholds (Tafsīr). Al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923), Ibn ʿAṭiyya, al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1076), and al-Bayḍāwī (d. 691/1291) specify that according to the majority of commentators, it was revealed regarding al-Walīd b. al-Mughīra, who was inclined to accept the message of the Prophet, blessing and peace be upon him, but whom some of the disbelievers accused of abandoning the religion of his forefathers. He replied that he feared the wrath of Allah in the Hereafter. One of them guaranteed that if al-Walīd gave him some of his wealth, he would substitute for him in the Hereafter and take his punishment upon himself. Al-Walīd accepted this and withheld his acceptance of Islam, paid a little to that man, and then withheld the remainder (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Ibn ʿAṭiyya, and Bayḍāwī; and Wāḥidī, Asbāb al-nuzūl, sub Q 53:34).

Among the expressions used to convey stinginess is tightfistedness (qabḍ al-yadd): The hypocritical men and hypocritical women are one from another; they enjoin evil and forbid what is good and they close tight their hands (wa-yaqbiḍūna aydiyahum). They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them. Verily the hypocrites are the rebellious ones (Q 9:67). Just as openhandedness denotes generosity because one extends his hand in order to give, closing one’s hand is a symbol of stinginess (Rāzī, Tafsīr; Ālūsī, Rūḥ).

Closely connected to the previous example is the metaphor of the “chained hand” (al-yadd al-maghlūla), which is another figurative expression mentioned in Q 17:29: And do not make your hand chained to your neck, nor stretch it to its utmost reach, so that you become rebuked and exhausted. Abū Ḥayyān explains that stinginess restricts the use of one’s wealth, like a chain that shackles the hand to the neck restricts free movement. The particular mention of the hand is because it is the limb by which one gives and takes (Baḥr, sub Q 17:29). Q 5:64 also employs this phrase in speaking of the audacity of certain Jews who attributed stinginess to the Almighty: And the Jews said: “Allah’s hand is bound (yadd Allāh maghlūla).” Be their hands bound and be they accursed for what they say! Nay, both His hands are outstretched. He spends as He wills. This blasphemous slander, al-Rāzī writes, was “vehemently refuted by Allah’s description of Himself” (Tafsīr).

The verbs “to collect” (jamaʿa) and “to contain” (awʿā) are used in the Qurʾān to express ḥirṣ and bukhl, respectively; together, according to certain of the above definitions, they amount to shuḥḥ. For example, Q 104:1-2 condemns every backbiter and slanderer, who has collected wealth and counted it, collecting and enumerating their wealth, reflecting the obsessive cupidity by which one refuses to expend one’s possessions in righteous causes (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 104:2). Qurʾān 70:18 describes the disbelievers as having collected and contained [wealth], which al-Qurṭubī explains by saying “they secured it in vessels, refusing to give what Allah ordained, and so they were considered hoarders and misers” (Tafsīr). This expression is also used in the hadith, “Do not hoard (lā tūʿī), or else Allah will withhold (fa-yūʿiya) from you” (Bukhārī, Zakāt, al-ṣadaqa fī māʾstaṭāʿa).

Avarice is also inversely described as the hindrance of good (manʿ al-khayr). Al-Rāghib defines khayr as common goods such as intelligence, justice, or anything beneficial. It is occasionally used in the Qurʾān to signify wealth (e.g., Q 2:180, 215, 272; 100:8) (Mufradāt, sub kh-y-r). The Qurʾān describes the disbeliever as “a hinderer of good (mannāʿin lil-khayr), transgressing [and] sinful” (Q 68:12) (specified by some as al-Walīd b. al-Mughīra) whose suggestion to occasionally worship idols the Prophet was forbidden to obey. Ibn ʿAṭiyya asserts that many exegetes understand khayr here as referring specifically to money and therefore that hinderer of good refers to one who is avaricious, while others state that khayr includes wealth and good deeds (Muḥarrar). Ibn ʿĀshūr adds that withholding khayr refers to the disbelievers denying their relatives monetary support if they dared to embrace Islam, just as the Arabs in the Age of Ignorance (see Jāhiliyya) would deny the weak their wealth in charity, instead spending it only in their gatherings and on visiting tribes in order to acquire fame and glory, as mentioned in Q 89:18: And you do not urge one another to feed the poor (Tafsīr, sub Q 68:12).

Avarice and Greed in Human Nature

Humankind is considered inherently desirous in the Qurʾān. The verse And avarice has been made present in [people’s] souls (wa-uḥḍirat al-anfus al-shuḥḥ) (Q 4:128), explains al-Zamakhsharī, means that desire is indelibly imprinted in the nature of man (Kashshāf). Q 47:36-38 calls us to reflect on this quality: He will not ask you for your wealth. If He were to ask you for it then urge you, you would withhold, and He would bring out your hatred. Behold, you are those who are called to spend in the way of Allah, yet among you are those who withhold. And whoever withholds, withholds only from himself. Similarly, Q 70:21 says that when good touches him he is stingy (manūʿā). Ibn Kathīr explains: “This is one of the lowly attributes for which man has a natural propensity; if he acquires a blessing from Allah, he is stingy with it towards others and refuses to pay his dues and denies the rights of Allah in it” (Tafsīr, sub Q 70:21). The Prophet, may peace be upon him, alluded to this nature when he was asked about the best form of charity. He replied: “To give charity while you are healthy, avaricious (shaḥīḥ), afraid of poverty, and wishing for wealth...” (Bukhārī, Zakāt, faḍl ṣadaqat al-shaḥīḥ al-ṣaḥīḥ; Muslim, Zakāt, bayān anna afḍal al-ṣadaqa ṣadaqat al-ṣaḥīḥ al-shaḥīḥ). Good health and avarice are mentioned because it is in these two states that a person is more attached to his wealth, it being more meritorious to give when clinging to life than after having relinquished hope for life (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī 3:335).

While these citations may suggest a very negative outlook on human nature, Ibn ʿAṭiyya explains that shuḥḥ means to cling to things such as beliefs, desires, ambitions, and wealth. This attachment is natural and is only vile when it becomes excessive, leading one to deny the rights of others (see Rights and Claims; Boundaries of Allah) (Muḥarrar, sub Q 4:128). It is in this context that avarice is blameworthy, because it provokes one to overstep the boundaries set by the Almighty, thus threatening one’s faith—as the Prophet, peace be upon him, warned: “Two hungry wolves let loose amongst sheep are not as ravaging to them as yearning for wealth and position are to a person’s faith” (Aḥmad, Musnad al-Makkiyīn, hadith Kaʿb b. Mālik, 25:62 §15784; Tirmidhī, Zuhd, bāb). Ibn Rajab comments that this indicates that such desire diminishes one’s faith until but a little of it remains, just as only few sheep could escape the attack of rampant wolves. This can also be understood from the hadith, “Avarice (shuḥḥ) and faith (īmān) (see Belief) can never coexist in a person’s heart” (Nasāʾī, Jihād, faḍl man ʿamila fī sabīl Allāh ʿalā qadamih) (Majmūʿ rasāʾil Ibn Rajab 1:64, 70).

Ultimately, the passions of greed and desire are tests from this world (see Trials and Strife), and resisting the avarice of one’s own soul leads to felicity in both the temporal and eternal abodes. Allah mentions that whosoever is saved from his own avarice (shuḥḥ), they are the [truly] successful (Q 59:9, 64:16). As mentioned, shuḥḥ is a human instinct that stems from the desire to possess and store wealth and reluctance to expend it. One achieves true felicity by resisting this temptation and giving to others by spending in charity for the sake of Allah (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 59:9; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 64:16). However, this success can only be granted by Allah; hence the Prophet’s prayer, peace be upon him: “O Allah, I seek refuge in You from worry and grief, incapacity and laziness, cowardice and miserliness, being overcome by debt and being overpowered by men” (Bukhārī, Daʿawāt, al-istiʿādha min al-jubn wal-kasal).

The Blameworthiness of Avarice

Q 17:29 directs believers to the disciplines of spending: one should not give so little as to harm oneself and one’s family, nor so lavishly as to be left empty-handed. Rather, one should remain moderate so as not to incur blame or strain (Rāzī, Tafsīr). True believers are described as those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor stingy but hold to a moderate [way] between the two (Q 25:67). Moderation is extolled as one of the characteristics of the Servants of the Most Merciful (ʿibād al-Raḥmān) whom Allah has promised eternal life in Paradise, and whom the angels will greet therein (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 25:75).

On the other hand, stinginess is a vice of hypocrites (see Hypocrisy and Hypocrites) who are characterized as tightfisted (Q 9:67). Q 33:19 indicates that their avarice is not limited to wealth but includes reluctance to aid the community in times of battle. In this connection, al-Ṭabarī mentions that “they were cowards at the time of battle, and insolent afterwards, impudently demanding that the believers give them a share of the spoils of war of which they were so covetous” (Tafsīr). Q 9:75-77 relates the account of the hypocrites in the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who covenanted with Allah to give charity and be among the righteous if He blessed them with wealth. However, when Allah gave them of His bounty they withheld their wealth and broke their pledge, thus deserving Allah’s wrath: So He made their consequence hypocrisy in their hearts until the day when they shall meet Him, because they broke their covenant with Allah and because they used to lie (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 9:77). It is a widespread misconception that this verse pertains to the Companion Thaʿlaba b. Ḥāṭib, may Allah be pleased with him. Ibn Ḥazm (384-456/994-1064) (al-Muḥallā 12:137), al-Qurṭubī (Tafsīr, sub Q 9:77), and many scholars of hadith reject the narrative cited in this regard, asserting that it is defective both in its text and in its transmission. Furthermore, it contradicts Q 9:77, which describes the perpetrator as a hypocrite whereas Thaʿlaba was a believer well known to have fought in the battle of Badr. Four of the narrators of this hadith are identified as weak, making this narrative false beyond doubt (for a detailed refutation, see al-Wādiʿī, al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-musnad min asbāb al-nuzūl p. 11-12; al-Hilālī, al-Shihāb al-thāqib).

Tightfistedness and avarice are despised by Allah, as Q 57:23-24 and Q 4:36-37 state: Verily, Allah does not like those who are proud and boastful; those who are miserly, and enjoin others to be miserly, and hide what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounties. And we have prepared for the disbelievers a disgraceful torment. Commentators suggest that these verses refer either to the hypocrites, who would only spend their wealth pretentiously and would encourage people not to spend for the cause of Allah (as mentioned in Q 63:7: They are the ones who say: “Spend not on those who are with Allah’s Messenger, that they may disperse”), or they refer to those Jews (q.v.) whose scholars were said to have concealed the description of the Prophet Muḥammad given in their book. Al-Ṭabarī states that “they hid and encouraged others to hide this knowledge that was given to them” (Tafsīr; also Tafsīrs of Baghawī, Qurṭubī, Ibn ʿĀshūr, sub Q 4:37; see Hiding Knowledge).

Such stinginess merits Divine punishment: And let not those who withhold that which Allah has given them of His bounty think that it is good for them. Rather it is bad for them; on the Day of Resurrection their necks will be encircled with that which they withheld. To Allah belongs the heritage of the heavens and the earth; and Allah is aware of what you do (Q 3:180). Many exegetes have understood this verse to refer to miserliness regarding money, particularly alms (see Almsgiving; Zakāt) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr). A hadith further warns that “Whoever is given wealth by Allah but does not pay zakāt on it, on the Day of Resurrection his wealth will be made like a poisonous snake with two black spots over his eyes. It will encircle his neck on the Day of Resurrection, and bite his cheeks, then say: ‘I am your wealth, I am your treasure.’” Then the Prophet, peace be upon him, recited Let not those who withhold… (Q 3:180) (Bukhārī, Zakāt, ithm māniʿ al-zakāt). Ibn Ḥajar (d. 852/1449) states that the snake’s words will serve to increase his torment and remorse, which will be of no avail (Fatḥ al-bārī 3:318).

Miserliness may also stem from a feeling of superiority, and so Divine Punishment is also meted out to those who think that they do not need Allah’s grace and therefore withhold from charity: And as for him who withholds and thinks himself self-sufficient, and disbelieves in the reward—We will ease his way to adversity (Q 92:8-10). Al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122) and Ibn Kathīr explain that for those who do not spend in the way of good and who believe Allah’s reward to be dispensable, Allah will facilitate their desire to do evil deeds that will lead them to Hell. This means that Allah rewards those who intend good with the success to do so, but does not interfere with the vile impulses of those with evil intentions; rather He allows them to act upon their desires (Tafsīrs).

Commendable and Contemptible Desire

Ḥirṣ and ṭamaʿ are attributed to the disbelievers as negative traits. Q 2:96, for instance, describes certain Jews: And verily, you will find them the greediest of mankind for life, even more than the polytheists. Each one of them wishes that he could live for a thousand years, and the grant of such a life would not save him in the least from punishment. And Allah sees all that they do. They knew they would be punished on the Day of Judgment, and their extreme greed for long life was in hopes that it might help them escape that fate (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). And of al-Walīd b. al-Mughīra, Allah says: Leave Me with him whom I created alone—and granted vast riches, and children by his side, and made life smooth for him. Yet he greedily desires that I should give more (Q 74:11-15). The Qurʾān condemns the actions of this unbeliever for his covetousness and greed for even more worldly goods than he already possessed (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 74:15).

Contrary to bukhl and shuḥḥ, however, the Qurʾān does not always use the terms ḥirṣ and ṭamaʿ negatively. In many instances, these traits are associated with Prophets (q.v.) and believers. For example, ḥirṣ is cited as a quality of the Prophet Muḥammad, peace be upon him, in the verse Verily there has come to you a Messenger from amongst yourselves: grievous to him is that which you should suffer, and he is ardently anxious over you (ḥarīṣun ʿalaykum), toward the believers most kind and merciful (Q 9:128), which describes his fervent desire to deliver guidance and benefit to the believers (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). The word ṭamaʿ is used when describing the Prophet Ibrāhīm’s hope for forgiveness on the Day of Resurrection (Q 26:82), which as Ibn ʿAṭiyya explains reflects his extreme concern stemming from his intense fear of Allah (Muḥarrar).

The Qurʾān further attributes ṭamaʿ to the believers concerning the Almighty’s forgiveness and their admittance into Paradise. The sorcerers (q.v.), for instance, who were threatened by the Pharaoh (see Firʿawn) for believing in Mūsā, peace be upon him, declared: Verily, we avidly hope (naṭmaʿu) that our Lord forgives us our sins as we are the first of the believers (Q 26:51). The Negus, Aṣḥama b. Abhar, King of Abyssinia (Ibn Ḥajar, al-Iṣāba 1:347), and his companions were also reported to have expressed their strong desire to be counted among the faithful believers who deserve Paradise, saying: “And why should we not believe in Allah and that which has come to us of the truth? We wish (naṭmaʿu) that our Lord will admit us along with the righteous” (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 5:84). Al-Biqāʿī is of the opinion that ṭamaʿ here indicates the desire for something without having fulfilled the requirements for it. The term thus intimates that their admittance, if granted, would be purely by the grace of Allah and not through their deeds (Naẓm, sub Q 5:84, 26:82). The Qurʾān also relates the desire of the People of the Heights (aṣḥāb al-aʿrāf) (q.v.) to enter Paradise: They will call out to the dwellers in Paradise: “Peace be upon you.” They will not [yet] have entered it, but they will strongly desire (yaṭmaʿūn) to (Q 7:46). These people, whose good and evil deeds weighed equally in the balance, will be standing on a barrier between Paradise and Hell, able to recognize the dwellers of both. When they see a denizen of Paradise, they will covet the same abode for themselves (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr).

Such desire is not only acceptable but encouraged. The verse It is He who shows you the lightning [for] fear and [for] hope (ṭamaʿan) and raises the heavy clouds (Q 13:12, cf. 30:24) notes that one of the signs of His might is lightning: it provokes fear in people lest it bode ill (stormy weather), and also arouses in them hope for welcome rain (al-Biqāʿī, Naẓm, sub Q 13:12; Tafsīrs of Ibn Kathīr and Ibn ʿĀshūr, sub Q 30:24). Allah even enjoins believers to desire His pleasure and fear His wrath: And do not work corruption upon earth after its reformation; but invoke Him in a state of fear and hope (ṭamaʿan). Surely, Allah’s mercy is near to the doers of good (Q 7:56). Ibn ʿĀshūr comments that invoking Allah should proceed either from fear of His anger and punishment, or from desire for His pleasure and reward; one should ask Allah to grant one’s yearnings and protect one from what one fears (Tafsīr). Although the Qurʾān recognizes covetousness and desire as being natural, Allah directs human beings to harness these desires by investing them in the achievement of good.


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See also

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