Verses from Surah Tawbah (34-35)

In the name of Allah, most Compassionate most Merciful

[34] Believers! Surely, many of the priests and monks64 devour people’s wealth by false means65 and hinder from the way of Allah.66 As for those who treasure up67 gold and silver and do not expend in Allah’s cause, give them glad tidings of a painful chastisement.68


64. According to Suddi, the reference by the word “ahbar” is to the Jewish priestly class, and by the word “ruhban” to the Christian priestly class (Ibn Jarir). Accordingly, Sufyan b. `Uyayna used to say, “Whoever of the scholars of this ummah became corrupt, will be found on the pattern of the Jews, and whoever of the Muslim masses got corrupt will be on the pattern of the Christians.” And the Prophet (saws) has said, “You will follow the ways of those that preceded you, inch by inch.” They asked, “You mean Jews and Christians?” He replied, “Who else?” (Ibn Kathir).

Zamakhshari writes that it is possible that the criticism is directed against Muslims, and the crime of those who do not pay out the Zakah is compared in seriousness to the wealth‑devouring attitudes of the people of the Book. 

65. The allusion is to the tilth and other taxes and fees the Jewish and Christian religious scholars, priests and monks received from their masses for issuing religious decrees. This practice prevented them from embracing Islam although they were convinced of its truth (Ibn Kathir).

Majid quotes from the Biblical and Christian sources: “As regards the Jews: – `The heads thereof judge for reward and the priests thereof teach for hire’ (Mi. 3: 11).’ `Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses (Mt. 23: 14)’… As regards the Christians: – `The morality of the clergy was exposed to no ordinary temptation by their growing power and wealth; and specially by the right which the Church acquired under Constantine of holding landed property and inheriting it by bequest.’ (DCA. II. P. 1916)” 

66. Imam Razi points out that if someone closely watched the deceptive behavior of those who profess to be highly religious among the Muslims, he would think that this verse was revealed in reference to them. 

67. The textual term is “yaknizun” which means those who treasure or hoard up. Now what does a treasure constitute? That is, when can a hoarded amount be called a treasure? 

Kanz: According to Ibn ‘Umar, any kind of wealth of which Zakah has not been paid is treasure (kanz), even if kept open and, conversely, any kind of wealth over which the Zakah has been paid is not treasure even if it is buried deep in the earth. Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Ikrimah and Suddi are with him in this opinion. (‘Umar b. al‑Khattab and ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al‑‘Aziz were also of the same opinion: Ibn Kathir). In fact, Bukhari and Ibn Majah have a report of Ibn ‘Umar which says: “This was before the revelation of the Zakah verses. Now Zakah is the purifying agent. So, I don’t care if I have a huge treasure of wealth over which I pay the Zakah and expend the rest seeking Allah’s Good Pleasure” (Shawkani).  ‘Ali’s opinion however is that any wealth above 4,000 Dirham is a treasure. (But this is a rare opinion: Ibn Kathir. But ‘Ali was stating the preferable situation. Otherwise, there were many among the Companions who were rich. Nobody ever criticized them for their wealth. But, of course, everything has a limit: Zamakhshari). A third opinion is that anything that is beyond one’s needs is treasure. It is reported that when the above verse came down the Companions got worried. ‘Umar (ra) told them that he will get their doubt cleared. He asked the Prophet, “What kind of wealth can we keep.” He replied, “A tongue that remembers Allah much, a heart that is grateful, a believing woman who helps out in religious affairs.” (The hadith is in Ahmad, as also in different words in Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. A similar report declared sahih on the conditions of Bukhari and Muslim by Hakim, has been recorded by Abu Hatim and Abu Da’ud. In that report the additional words of the Prophet are, “Zakah has not been instituted but to purify the remaining wealth and Allah (swt) has instituted the laws of inheritance for what you leave behind.” Then he added, “May I not tell you what is the best of wealth? It is a woman who pleases you when you look at her, when you ask her to do something she does it, and when you are away from her, she guards [the property and her own honor]”: Ibn Kathir). It is also reported that once one of the people of the Platform died. They found a Dinar on him. The Prophet (saws) said, “That is one stamping (in the Fire).” Later, another died and they found 2 Dinar on him. The Prophet (saws) said, “That’s two stampings” (Ibn Jarir, Razi, Alusi). One version of the hadith above has come through ‘Ali b. Abi Talib as in Ahmad (Ibn Kathir).

It is clear from the Zakah rules, adds Ibn Jarir, that whatever amount of wealth over which the Zakah has been paid, cannot be the treasure of the above verse. For, when a man was asked to pay the Zakah, over say a mountain of gold, and he did it, then he is blameless and cannot be punished for keeping the rest. This is also supported by a hadith which tells us in clear terms as to who it is who will be stamped with their hoarded wealth on the Day of Judgement. The Prophet (saws) said, “Whoever did not pay the Zakah over his wealth will have it turned to hot plates with which he will be stamped throughout the Day which will be 50,000 years long ‑ until the people’s Judgment is over. It is then that he will know what his destination would be. If it was camels they will bite him and stamp him with their feet until the people’s Judgement is over. It is then that he will know what his destination would be. And if it is goats they will gore him with their horns and stamp him with their feet.” (In different words the hadith is in Muslim also: Ibn Kathir).

Abu Dharr however was of the opinion that any wealth over and above one’s needs is treasure. It is said that Zayd b. Wahab passed by Abu Dharr who was living in Rabdha (some 20 km off Madinah.” He asked him, “What brought you here.” Abu Dharr replied, “I was in Syria. But I and Mu`awiyyah disagreed over the verse concerning the treasure. I said it applies to every kind of wealth. Mu`awiyyah said it applied to the people of the Book. He complained to (the then Khalifah) `Uthman. He asked me to come back to Madinah. But when I arrived at Madinah people followed me like flies. I complained to `Uthman. He told me to go out of Madinah a little bit, but not too far. But I shall not give up saying what I was saying (Ibn Jarir). Alusi adds that some people had pointed out to Abu Dharr that if savings were disallowed in Islam, why did Allah (swt) institute the laws pertaining to inheritance.

Ibn Kathir adds: The above report of Tabari is in Bukhari also. And Abu Dharr’s opinion is well known. He believed that any hoarding, small or big, deserved the warning the verse pronounces. He used to openly preach that opinion in Syria and crowds followed him until Mu‘awiyyah felt that he might cause commotion and so wrote to ‘Uthman. Mu‘awiyyah also tested Abu Dharr if he practiced what he said. He sent him a thousand gold pieces. Abu Dharr promptly spent it in charity by the end of the day. Next day the man returned and said, “I made a mistake about the gold pieces I gave you yesterday. They were meant for someone else. So, do you think you can return the money?” Abu Dharr told him, “It’s all gone. However, give me some time, until I get some money. When that happens I shall return you the money.” Abu Dharr has also reported a hadith (collected by Bukhari: Hussain b. Ibrahim), which says that the Prophet (saws) told him, “It doesn’t please me that I should have gold equal to Mount Uhud, three days pass over me, and I am still left with any of it, except for maybe a Dinar or two to safeguard my religion.” Imam Ahmad has another report of ‘Abdullah b. Samit who says that he was with Abu Dharr when he received his allowance. His slave girl was with him. He began to pay off for various needs until he was left with seven. He told his slave‑girl to dispose it off in charity. “I said,” says ibn Samit, “You could have saved them for your needs.” Abu Dharr replied, “My friend (meaning the Prophet) told me that any piece of gold or silver that is hoarded will be a piece of fire, until he spends it off in the way of Allah the Mighty.”

Imam Razi writes that although it is true that the wealth left after the payment of Zakah cannot be treated as “kanz,” and that some of the Companions of the Prophet (saws) were extremely rich, there are several reasons why one should not go after wealth: (1) When a man works hard to earn wealth, it is because it is of pleasure to him to be possessing it. So, every time he adds wealth, he adds pleasure. It goes on without end. Therefore, it is better not to start the cycle. (2) Earning wealth itself is hard but maintaining to be rich is harder. So, the man tires himself out, either for obtaining wealth, or for maintaining it, although he makes use of very little of it. (3) Increase in wealth normally leads to rebellion against Allah’s commands. Allah (swt) said (96: 6): “Man rebels because he sees himself self‑sufficient.” (4) Allah (swt) has declared Zakah as obligatory, which results in the decrease of wealth. Had an increase been of advantage, He wouldn’t have prescribed the Zakah.

Imam Razi also mentions that according to the school of Law he follows (Shafe‘i), Zakah is due on the jewelry that women wear. A single report from the Prophet (saws) against this has been declared weak by Abu ‘Isa Tirmidhi.

68. Yusuf Ali writes: “Misuse of wealth, property, and resources is frequently condemned, and in three ways: (1) do not acquire anything wrongfully or on false pretenses; (2) do not hoard or bury or amass wealth for its own sake but use it freely for good, whether for yourself or for your neighbors; and (3) be particularly careful not to waste it for idle purposes, but only so that it may fructify for the good of the people.”

Sufi commentator Thanwi adds: The threat in this verse is also applicable to the Shuyukh who accept gifts from their followers but fail to tell them the bitter truth (concerning their religious situation), from fear of losing their following.

[35] The Day when it will be heated up on the Fire of Jahannum, their foreheads, sides and backs will be stamped therewith.69 (It will be said), ‘This is what you hoarded for yourselves. Taste then what you were hoarding.’70


69. It has been said that there is a relationship between the stamping on the foreheads, sides and backs and the attitude of the rich toward the poor in this world. When in their earthly lives they encountered a poor person, they displayed lines of scorn on their “foreheads,” when asked for help, they turned “sideways” and when persisted, showed their “backs” (based on Zamakhshari). 

70. Ahnaf b. Qays says, “I traveled to Madinah. One day I found a group of Quraysh sitting together. A man turned up. He was coarse of countenance, coarse of gait, coarse of clothes. He stood over them and, after a while said, `Give glad tidings to the hoarders of stamping with the fire of Hell. It will be placed on the breast and it will emerge from his shoulder blades. It will be placed on the shoulder blades and will emerge from the breast.’ I noticed,” continues Ahnaf, “that the folks lowered their heads. Not one of them spoke a word. The man who had spoken those words turned back. I followed him. He sat down a little distance away. I told him, `I don’t think they liked to hear what you told them.’ He replied, `These people have no sense’” (Ibn Jarir). That was Abu Dharr (Au.).

However, and to repeat, there is general agreement that the warning in the verse is for those who do not pay their Zakah. A hadith reported by Thawban says, “Whoever left a treasure behind him will have it turned into an extremely poisonous snake. It will follow on the Day of Judgement. He will say, `What’s with you?’ The snake will say, `I am the treasure you left behind.’ It will keep following him until it will chew his hand and then proceed to the rest of the body” (Ibn Jarir). The hadith is in the Sahihayn coming from Abu Hurayrah in different words.”

(To be continued)

About YMD

Past Issues