I proceed now to elaborate on how Islam forbids the improper use of wealth. In regard to the true Muslims, the Holy Quran says:1
That is: Muslims are those who stay away from frivolous acts.
They stay away from pursuits or activities that are of little benefit, such as, playing chess, cards or other games wasteful of time. Islam directs all believers to desist from all such useless (laghw) pursuits. Accordingly, idleness, gossiping among friends or other useless activities are not approved in Islam. Indolent life style is also regarded as laghw.
Consider the case of a son who inherits considerable wealth from his father, but then spends his entire day with friends in idle gossip. His friends drop in for friendly chats. They come and go, flattering him with all manner of titles, and this continues all day. Such ‘friends’ are always there to entice him into other evil ways, involving women, gambling, alcohol and other extravagances. And the heir, of course, entertains them, offering tea with things to eat or sumptuous dinners, depending on the size of his wealth. However, these people are fed not because they are poor or need help, but because this is just a way of whiling away the time. Islam strictly prohibits such forms of recreation, and Muslims are admonished to stay away from pursuits that yield nothing worthwhile.
A man who lives off the income or inheritance of his parents and does not engage himself in useful work must weigh what benefit he or his country is deriving from his idleness. Certainly, his idle existence does no good to anyone — himself, his nation, or the world at large.
Islam enjoins such a person to not waste his time, but rather put his resources in the service of humanity and not allow his personal capabilities to go waste. If he has no need to work for a living, he might volunteer himself to help humanity, his country or his religion. He can thereby avoid wasting his time and, by spending time beneficially, he can turn into a useful member of society.
In short, Islam forbids activities that waste time and do not contribute to the betterment of one’s life. It is for this reason that the Holy Prophet(sa) asked men not to wear jewellery or silk. Similarly, he forbade the use of utensils made of gold or silver. Jewellery is not totally forbidden for women, but the Holy Prophet(sa) disliked its use in everyday life. While jewellery may help to embellish women’s beauty, Islam disapproves of excessive expenditures on it, as it might hinder economic progress of society, make them arrogant, or give rise to rivalries that feed on greed and avarice. Thus, women may use jewellery within certain limits; but men are totally barred.
The above comments also apply to articles that the rich keep for show and display, but which serve no purpose. Some people spend large sums of money on antique China and think that they have made a good investment. Old carpets and old China command exorbitant prices and many Europeans buy them not because they are of some use but because they are rare and a source of pride for the owner. Their prices are high only because of the antique value; otherwise, similar carpets or china can be purchased for a fraction of the price. Islam declares all such expenditures to be laghw — which provide no real benefit and are meant only for ostentation. The Holy Prophet(sa) by his own practice disapproved of such indulgences and admonished the believers not to waste time and money in pursuit of vain desires.
Cinema and theatre are another area of waste in this day and age. I once made a rough calculation and was astonished to discover the enormous amount the public spends on this pastime. In Lahore, I hear, there are some 25 cinema houses, each of which nets in about three thousand rupees [Rs.] a week. If one assumes the average weekly profit to be Rs. 2,500 per cinema, or Rs. 10,000 monthly, the annual revenue of an average cinema would come to Rs. 120,000. If we assume there are only twenty cinemas in Lahore, their total profit just in Lahore would come to some Rs. 2,400,000. If the whole of India was assumed to have fifty times the number of cinemas in Lahore (although it is likely to be more), there would be over a thousand cinemas in India, yielding a staggering sum of Rs.120 million annually. This expenditure does not include the substantial sums spent by cinemagoers on refreshments and related entertainment, which, in itself, could amount to a similar figure. In other words, cinema and related expenditures could account for some 250 million rupees every year, which equals one-fourth of the entire revenue of the Government of India. Thus a sum equal to one-fourth of what the entire government spends in India is spent on cinema — an activity that does not materially lead to any benefit either for the country or for cinema-goers.
The Holy Quran shuts the doors of all such avenues of wastage, and holds true believers to be those who stay away from such frivolous activities and do not spend a penny of their income on them. The European countries with democratic governments are eager to promote their economic progress but spend a fortune building cinema houses and theatres. In fact, it is quite likely that England would find the existing number of cinemas inadequate and would greatly increase their numbers after the war [World War II]. They would want everyone who is deprived of this luxury to partake of it and spend their time and money in cinemas. However, Islam categorically rejects all such activities that are not in the interest of mankind at large. If these teachings of Islam were adopted, the society would become largely egalitarian, as a big incentive to earn illicit wealth is the urge to satisfy vain desires.
1 Surah al-Mu’minun, 23:4, (publishers)