By Mahrukh Rizvi
Comparison. Wishing one has what others have. It is an inherently destructive part of human nature as it depresses us, damages interpersonal harmony, and divides us. It inevitably brings forth one’s envy. The vines of envy grow swiftly, entangling all those involved in this negative experience tightly, allowing its poison to seep out and destroy these relationships.
Envy. Wishing one had a car, a house, a salary, spirituality, health, school grades as well as someone they know. The destructive abilities of this negative emotion have reigned over us for as long as humanity itself. [5.27] “And relate to them the story of the two sons of Adam with truth when they both offered an offering, but it was accepted from one of them and was not accepted from the other. He said: I will most certainly slay you. (The other) said: Allah only accepts from those who guard (against evil).” That being the beginning of human kind, over and over people compared themselves with others and envied what others had, making this phenomenon so pervasive throughout history and to date.
Imam Ali (as) says: “…Do not be like him who feigned superiority over the son of his own mother without any distinction given to him by Allah except the feeling of envy which his feeling of greatness created in him and the fire of anger that vanity kindled in his heart. Satan blew into his nose his own vanity, after which Allah gave him remorse and made him responsible for the sins of all killers up to the Day of Judgment…” Then why does today’s society allow such a corrupt social emotion to destroy their lives and leave them with everlasting depression?
One plausible explanation is highlighted in the fact that we are so drowned in worldly affairs, that man-made law appeals to our understanding more than the Divine explanation of the reason for this life. The second paragraph of the U. S. Declaration of Independence begins with “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is a man-made political statement, but close to the hearts of many more than a Divine scripture has ever been. Believing that we should all be equal, the modern man feels the right to comparison, and feels unhappy to find that people are in fact not equal. Eventually the feeling of envy sprouts, leading to endless self-torment, and if fed well, its appetite increases, leading to greedy fantasies that are projected.
As Aristotle defined it, “envy is the pain caused by the good fortune of others.” Unfortunately with that pain accompanies one’s will to pull the other person down. This can further progress to what has been termed by contemporary psychoanalysts as “malignant envy” in which the person feels with a “delusional intensity that what the envied one has is not only urgently wanted but has been stolen from the self–an intensity that is reacted to defensively by projection and delusion formation” (Shengold L et. Al).
Although this destructive emotion infests most of our society, people have little insight into the illness of their soul. Imam Ali (as) on various occasions said: “Envy is worst of diseases … the envious person is permanently sick… the envious person has many unfulfilled desires and his sins are double” Envy is one of the deadliest diseases of the soul as it promotes other vices such as backbiting, torturing, slandering, abuse, hypocrisy.
In the modern society, only if our philosophy of life would follow that of the Prophet (Pbuh) rather than political declarations will we obtain immunity from this pandemic. The Prophet of Allah (swt) said: Beware! Don’t be enemy of blessings of Allah (swt). (He was asked: Oh Prophet of Allah (swt) “who are those who keep enmity with the blessings of Allah (swt)?” The Prophet of Allah (swt) replied: “Those who are envious.”
Few people actually admit their sin of envy, and deceivingly move forth with life in misery. The gain of that insight with repentance is the first step towards relief from this grievous condition. One should keep in mind the following saying of our 6th Imam, Imam Jafar Sadiq (as): “Satan (Iblis) says to his gang: ‘Instill envy and disobedience among them (human beings) because these two are equal to shirk (polytheism)… Beware of envying each other for indeed the basis of disbelief (kufr) is envy.” Therefore, always remember the personal, social, and spiritual harms envy instills. Secondly, one must discipline their soul to avoid comparison to those that have more than them, and rather be thankful of the countless bounties one already has. We should only wish best for those that have more than us, as they are also servants of Allah (swt), and the blessings they have are not but the will of Allah (swt). Thirdly, compare only to those that have less, compare your salary to the homeless, compare your sight to those who are blind, compare your might to those who are paralyzed. This brings about gratitude for the Creator, for you begin to recognize the innumerable bounties you have been awarded with. Lastly, never fool yourself into thinking that through jealousy, and desiring malice for others will you ever be able to grab bounties.
Provider of all bounties is Allah (swt). Ask from none but Allah (swt). Desire from none but Allah (swt). We must remember that all achievement are but Allah’s blessings. All “apparent” disappointments and sufferings are but “hidden” blessings. Both are deserving of an equal amount of gratitude to Allah (swt). Believe that He does for us what is best for us, as temporally He (swt) can see farther then we can ever imagine. Although we may not be “apparently equal” materialistically, Allah (swt) is Just, and recognition of this fact cleans ones heart and soul from envy, and compels one to bow down in prostration in thankfulness to the Provider.
“O Allah, Bless Muhammad and his Household and provide me with a breast safe from envy, such that I envy none of Thy creatures and in anything of Thy bounty and such that I see none of Thy favors toward any of Thy creatures in religion or this world, well-being or reverential fear, plenty or ease, without hoping for myself better than it through and from Thee alone, who hast no associate!” Imam Zainul Abideen (as).
- Shengold, L. “Envy and malignant envy .” Psychoanalytic quarterly 63.4 615-40. Web. 13 Feb 2011.
- Sahifa-e-Kamila: His Supplication in Hardship, Effort, and Difficult Affairs (Dua’a 22)