Friday before last, the imam delivered a khutbah about envy, the evil of envy. That afternoon I pulled the book off the shelf and read (or, re-read) the chapter on envy, and formulated a question based on the poem and translation - a part of it I didn't understand - and intended to ask at his open question/answer session for sisters that evening. I asked, but he didn't have an answer; I didn't have the Arabic of the original available to really examine what was my question, which was over the meaning of a particular phrase (the title of this post in fact). But he did allow me to ask some on the subject in general. Now, don't call me a suck-up, but I'm sure that since he had just delivered the khutbah, this would be the best time to ask about this subject because it is very fresh in his mind. And it is important to worry about envy.
After reading a few dozen times and rethinking the phrase, I think it's just an epithet of sorts, another way of describing "envy" though marriage isn't mentioned at all in the commentary. I was trying to determine whether the affliction was affecting the wives, or it was causing them. More likely, the former. The latter doesn't quite make sense. So I consider, the affliction that second wives may suffer, or third wives, or fourth wives, and yes, even first wives.
What is envy? Hasad. The translation of the poem reads thus:
If you were to describe your desire that someone lose his blessing as "envy," then your description will be accurate.The commentary (the translation and commentary is by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, by the way) describes how Iblis envied Adam (as) of being vicegerent, and says that people who envy develop a mindset which makes it impossible for them to admit they are wrong. Then he gives the hadith that "Every possessor of any blessing is envied." And envy is that where the envier would, if possible, take that blessing for himself, or at least remove it from the other person.
In other words, if you yourself were able, through some ruse, to eliminate [someone's blessing[, you would utilize that ruse to do so.
A blessing (ni3ma) is something that God bestows. One of God's names is al-Mun3im, the Giver of Blessing. Envy, then is desiring that a person lose what God has given him or her. It is tantamount to saying that God should not have given this person a blessing or, worse yet, that He was wrong to do so "because I deserve it more."So is envy a problem in polygyny? Yes. Suppose there are two wives. The second wife may envy the first, even before the marriage, and wish that the blessing (i.e., the husband, the marriage) was hers, instead of belonging to the first. And so she would wish for the blessing to be taken from the first and given to her, or maybe even just taken from the first. That is envy, to wish she was married to the husband, and not the first wife.
The other envy is where the second wife is envied. That is to say, the first may wish that the marriage of the second wife to her husband be dissolved, thinking that she alone is deserving of the marriage and that the second has no right to the husband of the first. Envy.
Well what causes the envy? There is a list of causes given, seven actually. The first is animosity or enmity--hating someone creates an environment for envy. Another is vying for the love of others, like siblings for the love of one parents, or, dare I say, wives for the love of a husband? Another is arrogance, the attitude that "I deserve this" and the other person doesn't, for whatever reason--also dangerous. Fourth is poor self-worth, feeling that one's own worth is lacking because someone else has gained more. Vanity is fifth, kind of the opposite of vanity and in a way like arrogance too--because vanity is a manifestation of arrogance sort of inside only one person. Instead of feeling lofty over another person, the vain one has forgotten that his blessings come from God. The last two are a love of leadership, and severe greed. (Okay, so he said "avaricious cupidity.")
God is all-wise in what He gives to people. If one questions the blessing a person has received, then he or she is actually questioning the Giver. This makes envy reprehensible and forbidden.So what? There is treatment. There are actually two cures given here, the first of which is against against one's caprice. Hawaa. Whims, desires, passions. Even a name of Hell in the Qur'an (101:9) is haawiya, from same root as hawaa. Basically this means do the opposite of what you want to do because of the envy. So do something to benefit them, like give a gift, or a favor, offer praise. It's not hypocrisy because it starves the envy of the negative thoughts. And doing good causes the people to incline towards each other, which then makes it harder for envy to survive.
The other treatment is to just know that holding envy only harms oneself, because our instinct is to avoid harming ourselves. And envy does harm us, when we envy, by causing a preoccupation with the object of envy which will hinder success and progress, and it harms us in the next life because we will be punished for it. But rejecting envy motivates us to do better.
The basis of the remedy for envy is taqwaa or the awe of God. Having awe of God and awareness of His ultimate power over us defuses false notions of misappropriated blessings.
This ties in to some notes from another sister of a lecture she listened to recently. Three enemies we have in our battle for our soul--nafs, shaytaan, and dunya. And to battle the nafs, we need to constantly remember Allah.
So we should remember Allah, remember that Allah bestows blessings on whom He will, and all blessings are from Allah. And also, that Allah (as he says in the Qur'an what means) will not burden any soul with more than it can bear.