If you were to ask your friends what they want more of, the chances are they will say money. As the adage goes: money makes the world go around. Of course, this is a debate in itself, but on this occasion I want to look at whether money changes people. There is an implicit assumption here that we’re not talking about someone’s usual salary; we’re talking about wealth greater than that. The topic of money attracts fervent discussion; there are those who suggest that wealth leads to evil, while others say wealth is a reward for hard work. (Both are probably true)
There are famous examples of people acquiring great wealth and in the process, heading towards self-destruction. But can wealth lead to good and the betterment of society? I feel that when wealth is being used for something good it doesn’t quite attract the same level of attention. Meanwhile, philanthropists of the past are barely known for their generosity. It is well known that the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) are well respected, celebrated even, by Muslims today.
The first person to accept Islam, the Prophet’s wife Khadija, was a wealthy businesswoman with a lofty status. With Makkah as their base, Khadija’s caravans would travel to Syria in the summer and Yemen in the winter. Though it is difficult to imagine how the caravans might have looked like, a medieval caravan could be equated to several trucks laden with goods to be sold. The size of Khadija’s caravans alone were said to be larger than the combined size of her whole tribe’s caravan’s. Despite her status and wealth, Khadija was well known for her generosity and good character towards the less fortunate. She used to feed and clothe the poor, assist her relatives financially, and provide for the marriage of those of her kin who did not otherwise have the means to marry. It seems that her financial prowess made her more active in her community, working for the good of the people.
The story of another companion, Abdur-Rahman Ibn Auf (r.a), is perhaps more interesting. Like Khadija, he was also one of the first to accept Islam. He escaped the turbulent phase of early Islam in Makkah, characterised by torture and persecution of Muslims and emigrated to Abyssinia. When he eventually returned to Makkah the situation had not improved, and this time the whole Muslim community prepared to emigrate to Madina. Abdur-Rahman Ibn Auf found himself without any wealth or belongings, yet he became well acquainted with one of the wealthiest residents of Madina. This acquaintance of his offered him a portion of his wealth, but Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf could not accept such a large offering. Instead, he found the nearest market so that he may begin to make his own living through trade. His decision was a good one. Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf started to make good profit in a very short space of time. In fact, he was such a good trader he himself remarked that if he lifted a stone, he expected to find gold or silver under it. He was fast becoming one of the most distinguished and successful businessmen of Madina. In one event, his caravan entering Madina numbered 700 camels – an unprecedented number. The same event would also consolidate his position as one of the most generous of Muslims, in the same league as Khadjia and others. In an astonishing show of generosity, Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf ordered the goods from his caravan to be distributed amongst the poor.
From these two distinguished companions of the Prophet it is easy to see why modern day Muslims should want to emulate them. Khadija, despite her immense wealth, never looked down upon the less fortunate, and instead, became an active member of society. She used her wealth to effect greater social wellbeing and parity. Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf, meanwhile, displayed unparallel financial selflessness and used his wealth to help his community when needed.
In my view, it is inevitable that money will change a person’s character, or even one’s state of mind to an extent. Perhaps it is awareness of this fact that prompted Jennifer Lopez to release the song ‘Jenny from the block’, reminding people that she hasn’t changed from who she used to be. Whether you’re a Muslim, Christian, or ascribe to other philosophical beliefs, there will always be someone from the past that you can look up to. Someone who has demonstrated that money can change us for the better. That’s certainly the type of lesson I think we should pay attention to, should we acquire wealth.
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