“We have bestowed upon you the source of abundance. So to your Sustainer turn in prayer and sacrifice.” (Qur’an 108:1-2)
“Do not barter away your bond with God for a trifling gain!” (Qur’an 16:95)
I am fascinated by all the verses in the Qur’an that use economic metaphors when talking about our relationship with Allah. Several times in various places in the Qur’an we are asked, “Who is the one who will loan to God a beautiful loan? Allah will double it to his credit and multiply it many times.” (2:245) And here we are admonished not to barter away our bond with God for a trifling gain! I believe these metaphors are used because at the time and place of the revelation of the Qur’an, a major portion of the population was involved with business, and various tribes were vying for economic control which led to political power. Economic power – used and abused – was a major part of life in 7th century Arabia. Sound familiar?
The Prophet himself was a successful businessman in his younger days, and he married his boss, Khadijah, who was not only a successful businesswoman, but also 15 years his senior. And she was the one who proposed the marriage to this young man (age 25) who had been an orphan, typically someone shunned in that society since he had no family protectors and little economic standing in the community. But the Prophet Mohammad had something better than economic standing: he had an impeccable reputation for honesty, good judgement, and humility which earned him the titles of “the honorable, trustworthy and reliable.” The marriage proposal came after he had completed a particularly complex and successful business journey on Khadijah’s behalf. Her proposal is precious: “Son of mine uncle, I love thee for thy kinship with me, and for that thou art ever in the center, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that; and I love thee for thy trustworthiness and for the beauty of thy character and the truth of thy speech.” (Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, p. 35) Their monogamous marriage lasted 25 years, until Khadijah’s death. Once Muhammad became a Prophet, he left the business world behind and became a moral and spiritual leader of his community, but he was always sensitive to and troubled by extreme class differences among his people, and the tendency for people to use economic gain and power in unethical and domineering ways.
A major aspect of the message of the Qur’an and of Islam as a way of life is to help people of all times and places understand that economic success in the life of this world is not as valuable as the life of higher consciousness, noble principles, and righteous deeds. All of these “valuables” bring lasting benefits not only now, but in the life to come. If people could approach their economic dealings in the world with an attitude of reverence, as if they were approaching God Himself, they would necessarily make better decisions which would benefit not only their clients but themselves. Similarly, if we could learn to place the correct value on people’s souls, including our own, and on the qualities of human beings that reflect divine qualities, we would have a much better chance of living a life of true and lasting abundance, both here and in the Hereafter.