Throughout the more than 1400-year history of Islam, some Muslims have embraced great wealth while others have dedicated themselves to lives of poverty. However, most Muslims believe that Islam's teachings oppose both these extremes, as can be seen in Quran passages such as the first half of Al-Nisa' 4:171: "O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion."
Unlike many Christians, most Muslims do not see inherent virtue in living an impoverished life. While spiritual poverty, which includes awareness of your dependence on God, is encouraged, physical poverty rarely is. One exception is some orders of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, which sometimes encourages asceticism. However, most Muslims criticize them for this practice, pointing out that this lifestyle has often led to excessive and inappropriate reliance on others.
While Islam teaches that there is nothing wrong with the lawful possession and use of material wealth, Muslims do oppose its excessive accumulation or abuse. They believe that too much wealth can lead to believers forgetting their dependence on God and becoming too attached to this world. However, if Muslims give thanks for their wealth and use it as means for doing good, rather than an end in itself, then moderate wealth is acceptable.
Treatment of the Poor
Islam's treatment of the poor rests on two legs: encouraging self-reliance to those who can achieve it and giving alms to those who cannot. The Prophet Muhammad forbade begging except for those in desperate need. On the other hand, giving money to the poor is one of the five pillars of Islam, making it one of the actions that all Muslims are expected to perform. Therefore, people who can support themselves are expected to do so, but those with wealth are expected to support those who need it.
Attitudes Toward Money
Islam has many other teachings about money. Earning a profit from lending money at interest is forbidden, which has led to the creation of special Muslim banks that hold money without making interest on it. Gambling is forbidden, which many Muslims extend to a prohibition on the lottery. Similarly, Muslims are not supposed to profit from alcohol, prostitution, fraud or theft. Many Muslims will refuse to take charitable donations that come from the profits of those acts.
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