Friday sermon: Iya Oniguguru as a Metaphor

By Babatunde Jose

And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth) in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily spendthrifts are brothers of the Evil Ones; and the Evil One is to his Lord (Himself) ungrateful. (Quran 17:26-27)

Iya Oniguguru abounds in all our surrounding. She is that relation or neighbour who is now old with gaunt back after decades of back breaking work; widowed with uncaring offspring and sentenced to living her lonely life in a rusted shark in the same tenement which has long been overdue for urban renewal. Iya Oniguguru might even be in the village where she has retired to after her sojourn in the city. Long forgotten by her patrons that only remember with nostalgia the fresh aroma and sweet taste of her guguru wrapped in old unsold newspaper. Iya Oniguguru could have been a Tapa woman from Bida, having come to Lagos during those days of migration from the hinterland. Iya Oniguguru died few years ago at the very ripe age of 99 and was buried in Lagos. If that were all, it would have been a befitting end to a chapter in living; but not so. Despite that her only son, Isiaka had gone to England since 1949 and never returned, but was said to have had 11 children, all ‘mulato’ residing in the UK; a ‘befitting’ 8th Day prayer and reception party was held at a rented venue to see her off.  It was the height of scandal. The waste and profligacy that was exhibited was unspeakable. Tons of food and drinks were on display so much so that even some attendees could not find space on the tables to put their glass of water; enough food and bottled water that could have provided the poor woman 50 years of three square meals a day. The most annoying and horrifying thing was the volume of wasted consumables that littered the space after the party. Iya Oniguguru’s funeral is axiomatic of our culture of waste and profligacy. We all have our own ‘Iya Oniguguru’s’.

Our society today has imbibed a most detestable culture when it comes to celebrating events. Dressing in garbs sometimes procured through debt, and winning and dinning on borrowed money, many have been sentenced to perpetual debt and in some cases bankruptcy as a result of excesses committed in the course of entertaining guests.

Unfortunately, this proclivity to profligacy is not limited to the rich; even the poor, and not so well to do indulge in this show of shame to the detriment of their personal well being.

The have-nots’ of the society, labouring under the delusion that the ostentatious path blazed for them by the haves’ is the right path, try to emulate the haves’ with disastrous results. The expenses of a wedding and extravagant reception with the inevitable dinners and so on, reduce a lower middle class family to the verge of ruin. At the end of the day, the poor parents have nothing left but to recourse to the begging bowl. A marriage becomes a disaster, a veritable curse. Sometimes, the marriage breaks up few months after the ‘road show’ of extravagance.

Ostentation and profligacy is not limited to our Moslem brothers, it rears its ugly head among our Christian brethren too, even among the so-called men of God; many years ago, a church fund raising was celebrated with King Sunny Ade on the band stand. Yet they were raising fund for the church. What a contradiction!

Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity. (Quran 3:104)

The religion of Islam is the religion of life and its precepts and rules set the grounds for human felicity and success, both for the individual, as well as the society. Islam has brought forth a complete program for every facet of human life and has advised balance and moderation to its followers in all affairs. Extravagance and waste means going past the proper boundaries and is the opposite of moderation. See (Surah al-Ar’āf 7:31); (Surah al-’An’ām 6:141); (Surah Ghāfir, 40:34; 43); (Surah Tā Hā, 20:127); (Surah al-‘Isrā’, 17:26-27). 

It is necessary to know that extravagance depend upon the calibre of the person involved, youth and old age, poverty and affluence, income levels etc. Extravagance therefore, depends upon the capacity of every person. It is possible that an expensive dress may not constitute extravagance for a person who can afford the same and who holds a respectable position in society: Whereas for one who is not having the same position and income, wearing the same dress will constitute extravagance. Kulayni has recorded a tradition from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq that he said; “There are some poor people who squander more than the rich. Because the rich squander from the wealth Allah has given whereas the poor squander what they have not.” Thus such poor people are always involved in economic problems and debts. They do not consider their circumstances and spend beyond their means. This is extravagance.

Islam is strictly against wastage of anything and even more so when wastage takes place due to extravagance. How can it be justified that on one hand there are people who are not able to get their daily meals, while on the other hand there are people who eat half of their plate and throw the remaining half in the trash bin? Extravagance is called ‘Israf’ and wasting is called ‘Tabdhir’ in Islam. … Both ‘Israf’ and ‘Tabdhir’ are Haram (prohibited) in Islam. ‘Israf’ or wasteful use of what is permissible is a major problem worldwide.

According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one out of every three food items produced for consumption in the world is thrown away. The global level of food wasted stands at 1.3 billion tons a year: Yet every year, 18 million people around the world die from hunger and malnutrition, while a staggering five hundred million people are undernourished. Every year, some two million children die from starvation, malnutrition and related causes. Enough food is thrown away by the developed countries to feed 15 times the number of people who starve to death every year. Although it has long been noted that waste can be prevented with good planning and the problem of hunger can be overcome through a more balanced distribution of the world’s wealth; yet, hunger still tops the list of ‘the world’s 10 greatest health risks.’

However, there is only one way to completely eradicate waste and profligacy from the world, and that is for people to become more sensitive to the tragedies going on all around them. That is what must become the primary issue for all of us. Only then can love, peace and security prevail everywhere and the world can become a better place to live in. 

Let the man of means spend according to his means: And the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allah has given him. Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. After a difficulty, Allah will soon grant relief. 

(Quran 65:7). 

Allah says:

O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters (Quran 7:31)

Extravagance means crossing the limits or spending wastefully.

Sayyid Abu A’lā Maududi writes in his book, Islam and the Economic Problems ,that: “All the evils in the world are due to the wasteful expenditure of rich people and their vain pastimes. In the face of such wasteful expenditure are the destitute and deprived masses who cannot have even their basic needs fulfilled.”

The Qarūns (profligates) have acted blatantly against humanity and against the principles of Islam by their wasteful expenditure. If only they had used their excess wealth for alleviating poverty and fulfilling the needs of the poor, they would have done a service to humanity.

May Allah guide us aright!

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend


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