October Halaqa: Wealth in the Qur’an

There is a lot in the Qur’an about how people with wealth should give it away and use it to benefit those with less but there isn’t much that addresses people in receipt of that money. Why is that?

This was the central question one of our volunteer imams was grappling with as she approached her own reading of the Qur’an. So we dived head first in the October Halaqa, Wealth in the Qur’an.

This was our first hybrid halaqa where people could join online and in-person. Our aim was to make it feel like one space, bouncing back and forth between contributions from folks joining via Zoom and folks in the in-person space. Badly timed, we held it on the same day as a huge march in support of Palestine so people sidled into St Luke’s Community Centre in Islington after the march began to disperse and people who joined online were bang on time as expected.

We began by looking at different translations and interpretations of the Quran as well as our subjective ‘keys’ into the Qur’an i.e. the hadiths, concepts, experiences or surahs that have shaped our approach to the text. This is our way of being honest about where we’re at in our relationship to our sacred text and all the beauty and complexity and contradictions that come with those relationships. At Inclusive Mosque we centre the idea that we can’t understand the relevance of the Qur’an without understanding one another. Next, we look at the context around the chosen theme, and then the verses we’re discussing.

We looked at verses 2:261-2:263 and poured over interpretations by Muhammad Asad, Laleh Bakhtiar, Ahmed Hulusi and the contributors to The Study Qur’an (see below for the interpretations side by side). The scholars have very different interpretive methods and very different reasons for attempting to interpret the Qur’an. Laleh Bakhtiar used dictionaries to get to what she considers to be a more objective reading though she also admits she is reading for gender equality, inclusivity, and universality. Muhammad Asad by contrast, centres the soul of the Arabic he’s working with and he interprets with a Western audience in mind shaped by his perception of Western sensibilities which he lays out in the introduction to the text. Ahmed Hulusi positions his interpretation within Sufi mysticism and highlights the quote from Ali ibn Abu Talib (ra) “The secret of the Quran is in al-Fatiha, the secret of al-Fatiha is in the Basmalah, and the secret of the Basmalah is in the letter B ب And I am the point beneath the ‘ ب” – emphasising that there are seemingly small parts of the Qur’an that contain untold wisdom: “the whole is contained in the part…”.

The conversation, as always, was shaped by the people in the room and their contributions. This month our community highlighted the experience of poverty experienced by 80% of disabled households in the UK. We talked about concepts of giving and receiving help and what it means to have ‘wealth’. What assets and capital do we hold? What counts as generosity and what do we need to understand about the way that we give, not just what we give? We also reflected on how it feels to ask for help and not receive it. We shared personal reflections on times that we have been on the receiving end of rejection and the receiving end of baraka.

One of the most memorable parts of the discussion was about the narratives on need and the alleviation of need that a) prevents us giving in the way of Allah and b) prevents us feeling ok about receiving the help that Allah swt sends us. The words scarcity and abundance came up again and again. So too did the objectification of humans in their time of need. We spoke about the ways that campaigns against poverty often exploit the emotional satisfaction that can come with the act of giving. We explored how this feeling is reliant on a binary, fixed perception of who is a helper and who is helped. Disabled members of our community highlighted the way disability inspiration porn and the dehumanisation of disabled people is normalised and justified because it supposedly inspires compassion and charity. It was an incredibly nuanced and thoughtful discussion thanks to the participants and we left with a renewed understanding and commitment to wealth justice through our Islamic faith.

We asked attendees to pay £5 to attend this event and we included a promo code for free tickets for anyone who needed it. This halaqa cost £350 for the room hire and the technology needed for a hybrid event. Had we paid our volunteer imam for their time, this would have cost an additional £400 for a day of their time to prepare and deliver this halaqa on a consultancy contract. We currently don’t have enough donors to sustain this work on a regular basis. If you can support Inclusive Mosque’s work with a regular donation which would make it possible to us to run these events more regularly, please see our Inclusive Mosque donations page.

Muhammad Asad interpretation:
The parable of those who spend their possessions for the sake of God is that of a grain out of which grow seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains: for God grants manifold increase unto whom He wills and God is infinite, all-knowing (2: 261)   They who spend their possessions for the sake of God and do not thereafter mar (do not follow up) their spending by stressing their own benevolence and hurting [the feelings of the needy] shall have their reward with their sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve (2: 262)   A kind word and the veiling of another’s want (for the rendering of maghfarah, literally ‘forgiveness’ in this context as ‘veiling another’s want’ I am indebted to Baghaw’s explanation of this verse) is better than a charitable deed followed by hurt; and God is self sufficient, forbearing (2: 263)
Laleh Baktiar interpretation:
A parable of those who spend their wealth in the way of God is like a parable of a grain. It puts forth seven ears of wheat. In every ear of wheat, a hundred grains. And God multiplies for whom He wills. And God is One Who is Extensive, Knowing.  (2:261)   Those who spend their wealth in the way of God and, again pursue not what they spent with reproachful reminders nor injury the compensation for them is with their Lord. And there will be neither fear in them nor will they feel remorse. (2:262)   An honourable saying and forgiveness are better than charity succeeded by injury And God is Sufficient, Forebearing. (2:263)
Ahmed Hulsi interpretation:
The example of those who spend their wealth unrequitedly out of their faith in Allah is like a single wheat seed that grows seven spikes, in each spike a hundred grains. And Allah multiplies it even more for whom He wills. Allah is the Wasi and the Aleem (2:261)   Al-Wasi: The All-embracing. The One who embraces the whole of existence with the expressions of His Names.   Al-Aleem: The One who, with the quality of His knowledge, infinitely knows everything in every dimension with all its facets   Those who, out of their faith in Allah, unrequitedly spend their wealth on people, and who don’t remind and taunt people with it later, will have special rewards in the sight of their Rabb (the compositions of Names constituting the essence of their being). They will have nothing to fear or grieve (2:262)   A kind word and to cover a fault is better than a charity followed by an offence. Allah is the Ghani and Halim. (2:263)  

Al-Ghani: The One who is beyond being labelled and limited by the manifestations of His Names, as He is Great (Akbar) and beyond all concepts. The One who is infinitely abundant with His Names.  

Al-Halim: The One who refrains from giving sudden (impulsive) reactions to events, but rather evaluates all situations in respect of their purpose of manifestation.