The Evil Trap of Envy
  • Tue, 03/01/2016
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A child says at a counselling session: “My younger brother only loves himself, and he looks at everyone else with disdain, though he has nothing that they don’t have. He never admits when he is wrong. He is always trying to take as much as he can from his parents, and what they give him is never enough. He is always complaining that he is being treated unjustly and that others are given preferential treatment.”

This is an example of jealousy. It will get progressively worse if the person afflicted with the trait does not bring it under control. The jealous brother wants everything to focus exclusively on him, praise, money, attention, and success. He will not only be jealous when his siblings get attention. He will also become envious of those around him whenever anyone from among them achieves success or receives praise and attention.

Someone asked al-Hasan al-Basrī: “Does a believer feel envy?”

He replied: “Have you forgotten the brothers of Joseph?”

The first crime was perpetrated by one blood brother against another. Allah says about Can and Abel: Sūrah al-Mā’idah: 27] Envious people completely disregard the welfare of others so they can remain on top. They do everything to block the path of those who might excel them. Those whom envious people deal with must always be at a disadvantage.

Even the worship of envious people is selfish. When they fast and pray, they grow self-satisfied with their supposed piety. In their supplications, they leave no room for Allah’s wisdom. They insist on imploring Allah with exactly what they want in exactly the way they want it. Their demanding insistence is nothing like the pious person’s persistence and patience.

Allah says: “And among humankind are those who worship Allah upon a narrow ledge, so that if good befalls them, they are content therewith, but if a trial befalls them, they turn back headlong. They lose both this world and the Hereafter. That is the manifest loss.” [Sūrah al-Hajj: 11]

When someone criticises them, they react cruelly, but they feel no hesitation about criticising others. They are overly sensitive to insults and can neither forgive nor forget any perceived slight against them. They harbour resentment and hatred very easily.

Parents can take measures to minimise feelings of jealousy and envy in their children. It is crucial for parents to show equal affection to all children and act justly between them in all matters. Indeed, justice between children is a religious obligation. Prophet Muhammad said: “Fear Allah and be just among your children.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim]

This justice applies equally to boys and girls. It is obligatory to be just between your son and daughter. You do not know which of them will be a greater blessing to you. Many people have reached old age and infirmity who have no one but daughters to care for them.

Envy typically occurs between people who are engaged in the same work or who pursue the same goals. For instance, an Islamic preacher is susceptible to envy when a colleague has a larger following. However, that preacher will not envy the even larger following enjoyed by a sports star. A shop owner will envy the owner of a nearby shop that has more customers, but that envy will not extend to the shareholders of a multinational corporation.