Friday September 29, 2023

The virtue of contentment

September 21, 2020

The Holy Quran is accepted as a complete code of life. Every aspect of life has been dealt with in it. In addition to the five fundamental principles for becoming a Muslim, three aspects of life are considered to be very important – contentment, discontentment and ingratitude.

When someone has everything they could wish for, they are content. When they don’t have everything they would like to have, they are discontent. When they have almost everything they want but are still not content, then they are ungrateful to the Almighty. The Holy Quran is full of Divine Edicts stating that the Almighty favours whom He wishes, does not favour whom He does not wish to, gives honour and respect to whom He wishes and disgraces those he does not wish to honour. He never blesses a wrongdoer.

The Oxford dictionary defines contentment as: “In a state of peaceful happiness and satisfaction, accepting as adequate despite wanting more or better.” Let us see what that great man, treasure of knowledge and a true follower of Islam, Shaikh Sadi from Shiraz, has to say about the virtue of contentment (a free rendering of the translation by Richard Francis Burton).

“A Maghrabi supplicant said in Aleppo in the row of linen drapers: ‘Lord of wealth! If you were just and we were content, there would be no begging in the world.’ On contentment alone I will be rich because besides that no other wealth exists.”

“The sons of amirs were in Egypt, the one acquiring science, the other accumulating wealth. The former became the ulema of the period and the other the prince of Egypt. The rich prince looked with contempt upon the other and said: ‘I have reached the sultanate while you have remained in poverty as before.’ Came the reply: ‘O brother, I am grateful for having obtained the inheritance of prophets while you have attained the inheritance of Pharaoh and of Haman, namely the kingdom of Egypt.’”

“A poverty-stricken dervish, once again patching his robe, said to himself: ‘I am content with dry bread and a patched robe, for it is easier to bear one’s own trouble than to have to be grateful to others.’ One day someone said to him: ‘I have heard that a certain man in town is benevolent by nature. If he were aware of your case, I am sure he would assist you.’ ‘Hush’, came the reply. ‘It is better to die in poverty than to plead for one’s necessities from another man.’”

“One of the kings of Persia sent an able physician to wait upon the Mustafa. He remained in the Arab country for some years without anyone coming to him to be treated. He went to the Prophet (pbuh), greeted him and complained that, although he had been sent to treat the companions, none of them had required his services. The Prophet (pbuh) replied: ‘It is a law with these people not to eat until appetite overpowers them and when some of it remains, they stop eating.’ The doctor said: ‘That is the reason for their good health’ and he returned to Persia.”

“A certain man kept making vows of repentance and then breaking them. One day one of the shaikhs said to him: ‘I think you are in the habit of eating a lot and that your power of restraint is more slender than a hair while your appetite could rupture a chain. A day will come when your appetite will tear you up.”

“It is said that Ardeshir Babekan (the king) asked an Arab physician how much he should eat every day. The physician replied: ‘The weight of one hundred dirhams will be enough.’ ‘What strength will that quantity give me?’ the king enquired. ‘That quantity will carry you and whatever is more than that, you will have to carry.’ Eating is for living and praying; one does not live to eat.”

“Two Khorasani dervishes travelled together. One of them broke his fast every second night while the other, a much stronger man, consumed three meals every day. It so happened that they were captured at the gate of a town on suspicion of being spies. Each of them was confined in a closet and the opening walled up with mud bricks. After two weeks they were found to be guiltless.

"When the bricks were removed, the strong man was found to be dead while the weak one had survived. The people were astonished but a sage said he would have been surprised had it been the otherwise – the voracious man possessed no strength to suffer hunger while the other, used to abstaining, remained safe. When eating little has become the nature of a man, he takes calamity in his stride. When a man becomes strong in affluence, he will die when hardship overtakes him.”

A philosopher forbade his son to eat much because repletion keeps people ailing. The boy replied: ‘O father, it is hunger that kills. Have you not heard it said that it is better to die satiated than to bear hunger?’ His father said: ‘Be moderate – eat and drink, but not to excess.’”

"Some Sufis owed money to a grain dealer who used harsh language to them. They were weary of his reproaches but had no option other than to bear it. One of them, a pious man, remarked: ‘It is easier to pacify a hungry stomach with the promise of food than it is to pacify a grain dealer with promises of money.’”