The Evil Vice of Envy
Allah rebukes the nonbelievers in the Quran by stating: “Or do they envy the people for what Allah has given them out of His grace…and of them are some who deter [others] from him; and hell suffices for a blaze.” (Quran, 4:54-55)
The following are lecture notes of a lecture that Shaykh Hamid Waqar delivered as part of the series Weighing Down the Soul; a commentary of Sahifah Sajjadiyah, supplication 8:
Malicious envy (hasad) is a psychological state in which a person wishes for the deprivation of a blessing, talent, or merit possessed by another person (the mahsud).This is different than jealousy. Envy occurs when one lacks a desired attribute enjoyed by another, while jealousy occurs when something we already possess (usually a special relationship) is threatened by a third person. Sometimes jealousy is used to mean envy, but not the other way. Hence, “I’m feeling jealous” can mean both envy or jealousy.
Imam Sadiq (a) related that Luqman told his son: “There are three signs of the envious (hasid): 1) He is a backbiter at the back, 2) he is a flatterer in front, and 3) he is happy when a misfortune befalls (the envied). (al-Khisal, p.121) Becoming happy when misfortune befalls another person is called schadenfreude (shameful joy) in German.
Envy is even considered to be one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity, which include: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride.
What effects does envy have?
Envy can lead to hypocrisy, backbiting, slandering, abuse, taunting, and torturing. It even led to the murder of Imam Jawad (a) by Mutawakkil (may Allah’s curse by upon him). It narrows the heart by decreasing spiritual illumination. The more envy strengthens the more it diminishes the brightness of faith. Envy can also destroy relationships because it causes one to lash out using hurtful words or actions creating rifts amongst friends.
Imam Ali (a) said: “Envy is a great trap of Satan.” (Gharar al-Hakam, h.1133)
The Prophet (s) said: “Beware, a sickness that was in previous nations has been found amongst you. Know that this is a terminal disease; it is a disease that destroys your religion.” (Safinah al-Bihar, v.1, p.251)
Imam Baqir (a) said: “Envy devours faith as fire consumes wood.” (Kafi, v.2, p.306)
The Causes of Envy
Almost all of the causes of envious are the products of a feeling of inferiority and dejectedness. When a person perceives others to be more perfect than himself, a feeling of inferiority seizes him, which, with the help of external factors and inner propensities, generates the feeling of envy in his heart. Ayatollah Dastghayb adds that one of the principle causes of envy is anger.
The Five Causes of Envy – Allamah Majlisi:
1. Enmity: For example, enmity against another family, tribe or group can cause one to envy the successes they achieve.
2. Sense of Supremacy: The hasid (one who envies) anticipates the pride of the mahsud on account of a merit the mahsud enjoys. Not having the patience to put up with this pride, the hasid feels a sense of superiority and earnestly desires the loss of this merit.
3. Pride: The hasid high‑handedly treats the person who is conferred some merit, favour, or talent, and may wonder to see a great blessing enjoyed by the object of his envy. For example, a wealthy individual outwardly looks with disdain upon the respect enjoyed by a poor person believing that he deserves to be the recipient of such admiration.
4. Fear and Love of Authority: the envious man is fearful of some hindrance on the part of the person enjoying an advantage or talent or merit that may frustrate his cherished objectives. Such fear manifests itself when one’s acquiring or preserving authority over others requires that nobody should share his advantages or merits. For example, one who wishes to be re-elected as the leader of an organization may desire that no other member step forward and exhibit leadership skills such as eloquence of speech and efficiency of organization and mobilisation.
5. Viciousness: A human being of vicious nature does not like to see others enjoying any kind of good whatsoever.
1. Realise that envy does not harm the envied; the envious suffers while the envied remains happy. Imam Sadiq (a): الحاسِدُ مُضِرُّ بِنَفْسِهِ قَبْلَ أَنْ يُضُرّ بِالْمَحْسُودِ – An envious person sustains a loss to himself before causing a loss to the one he envies. (Bihar, v.73, p.255)
2. Force yourself to be affectionate with the envied with the intention of curing your envy. This means you will have to fight your inclinations.
Realise his virtues are blessings from Allah; force yourself to speak good of him to others, same intention and same fight.
3. Hope; this vice is curable, never loose hope of that. Satan will attack here and say that there is nothing you can do, don’t even try.
4. Incentive: Imam Ali (a) said: “The person who gives up envy is loved by the people.” (Bihar al-Anwar, v.88, p.237)
Can Anything Good Stem from Envy?
Negative emotions provide signal value; they tell us that something is wrong. The signals that envy gives us are:
Desire: you desire the characteristic that you are envious of; if this desire is negative, you need to change; if it is positive, you need to find a different way
Deficit: envy stings because it reminds us we have a deficiency. We are not what we want to be (intellectual, beauty, spiritual, wealth)