The Holy Quran states:1
[Know, that the life of this world is only a sport and a pass time, and an adornment, and a source of boastings, and of rivalry in multiplying riches. This life is like the vegetation produced whereby rejoices the tillers. Then it dries up and then it becomes broken pieces of straw. In the Hereafter, there is severe punishment and also forgiveness from Allah, and His pleasure. And the life of this world is nothing but temporary enjoyment of deceitful things.]
This verse outlines the core motivations that lie behind the human urge to amass wealth.
First motivation is the desire for entertainment, play, amusement and recreations like gambling, betting, horse racing, etc. Man seeks wealth so he can satisfy his desire for entertainment.
Second motivation is the desire for leisure, i.e. to have so much that there is no longer a need to work. People with this motivation want to be completely free all day to laze around and spend time playing cards, drinking wine etc.
Third motivation is the desire for elegance, i.e. to have the most luxurious clothes, dresses, cars and food.
Fourth motivation is the desire to be able to boast. Some people desire to be famous and be acknowledged in the society as wealthy. I have observed that this obsession has so advanced in our country that people even take pride in acknowledging their subservience to those in power. For example, they would boast that, ‘I pay such a huge amount in tax to the British government’. Thus, instead of feeling ashamed of being the subjects of a foreign power, they boast about the amount of tax they pay. Some happily boast: ‘I am an orderly of such and such Bara Sahib (important person).’
Fifth motive is the mere addiction to accumulating wealth, i.e., when individuals start to compete with each other in accumulating greater wealth. If their neighbour has one million, they want 10 million, and if he has 10 million, they want 20 million.
As far as I have studied, these are the motivations for acquiring wealth that the Holy Quran has mentioned.
After describing these motivations, the Holy Quran says:2
The Holy Quran likens the pursuit of wealth to a cloud in the sky that gives a farmer the hope that there would be rainfall, which would turn his fields green with new crops. But when it actually rains, it is either too much or too little. In both cases instead of making a lot of money, the farmer witnesses the ruin of his crops because of too much or too little water.
The Quran then reminds us that not only is such wealth of little use in this world, it also leads to severe chastisement in the Hereafter for those who indulge in harmful occupations or pastimes. But those who restrain their base impulses are forgiven by God and are given the pleasure of His nearness.
The verses quoted above also contain a warning that a life given to worldly pursuits is no more than a mirage. We are thus cautioned against wasting our life in chasing fleeting and unreal shadows. We should not allow ourselves to be blinded by base passions; we must never lose sight of God’s pleasure, which should always remain our supreme goal.
In these verses Allah the Almighty declares that all motivations that lead a man to the accumulation of wealth are unworthy and harmful, and likens them to a crop that withers away. In other words, just as a withered crop yields no benefit, so is the case with wealth accumulation. Therefore, a Muslim must avoid accumulating wealth under such compulsions, as they displease God. Since Allah is the source of all grace, the better course is to seek His grace and to overcome base desires.
It is clear that a person who follows the Islamic teachings would shun above motivations. Any wealth that he might accumulate would be devoted to noble causes that help to bridge the gulf between the rich and the poor, instead of widening it. Such a person has little reason to covet wealth for selfish ends. A man’s desire to earn money arises out of basically three impulses.
To meet his own legitimate needs;
Beyond meeting the personal needs, he might desire money with a view to helping mankind and earning God’s pleasure; or
He might seek money to fulfil vain desires described above i.e., personal pleasure, self-indulgence, pride or plain greed.
It goes without saying that only persons driven by the third impulse would stoop to unfair and foul means, and would exploit others. This situation would be avoided if the first two reasons for earning money were dominant. Anyone who earns just enough to satisfy his own needs or who spends the excess wealth for helping others and other good deeds would not hurt other Individuals or his nation in general.
1 Surah al-Hadid, 57:21, (publishers)
2 Ibid. (publishers)