Strictly speaking, envy (hasad) is hatred and disliking the good condition of the envied one. This is of two types:
1. The blameworthy type of envy is unrestricted dislike of the blessings bestowed upon the envied. This is the type of jealousy that incurs blame, so when one hates something he is then hurt and grieved by the existence of what he hates, and this becomes a sickness in his heart such that he takes pleasure in the removal of the blessings from the envied even if this does not result in any benefit to him except the single benefit of having the pain that was in his soul removed.
But this pain is not removed except as a result of his continuously watching the envied so that the jealous person finds relief when the blessing is removed, but then it becomes more severe as is the case of the one who is sick, for it is possible that this blessing, or one similar to it, returns to the envied.
This is why the second group said: “It is a desire to have the blessings removed”, for indeed the one who dislikes the blessings bestowed upon other than him desires them to see removed.
2. That he dislikes the superiority of that person over him, and he desires to be like him or better, so this is jealousy and has been called “ghibta”, and the Prophet (sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam) called it “hasad” in the hadeth reported by both al-Bukhari and Muslim from the hadeth of ibn Mas`ood and ibn `Umar, radiyallahu `anhuma, that he s.a.w. said, “There is no envy except in two cases: a person to whom Allah has granted wisdom, and he rules by this and teaches it to the people, and a person to whom Allah has granted wealth and property along with this the power to spend it in the cause of Truth.”
This is the wording of Ibn Mas’ood. The wording of Ibn `Umar is, “A person to whom Allah has given the Qur’an and he recites it night and day, and a person to whom Allah has granted wealth and property from which he gives in charity night and day.”
So the Prophet s.a.w. forbade “hasad”, with the exception of two cases which are referred to as “al-ghibta”, meaning that a person love the condition of someone else and dislikes that this person be superior in this way (without his wishing that it be removed from that person).
So if it is asked: ‘Then why is this (ghibta) called envy when he loves only that Allah bestows these blessings upon him?’ It is said, ‘The starting point of this love is his looking towards the favors Allah has bestowed upon someone else and his disliking that this person be favored over him. So if this other person were not present then he would not have desired these blessings. So because the starting point of this love is this dislike that someone else be made superior to him, then this is called envy due to the love following the dislike. As for desiring that Allah bestows favors upon him without consideration of people’s material conditions, then this is not envy at all”.
This is why the generality of mankind have been tried with this second type of envy that has also been called “al-munafasah“ (competition) because two people compete in a single desired matter, both of them trying to attain the same good. The reason for their trying to attain it, is that one of them dislikes that the other be blessed with this matter over him just as any one of two competitors dislikes that the other beat him.
Competition is not considered blameworthy in general, rather it is considered to be praiseworthy when competing for righteousness. The Exalted said, “Indeed the pious will be in delight. On thrones, looking on. You will recognize in their faces the brightness of delight. They will be given to drink pure sealed wine. The last thereof (that wine) will be the smell of Musk, and for this let those compete who want to compete.” [Al-Mutaffifeen 83: 22-26]
So one is commanded to compete for these delights and not compete for the delight of this fleeting world. The souls do not envy the one who is in severe hardship and this is why the Prophet s.a.w. did not mention it even though the mujahid (the one who is fighting in the Way of Allah) is superior to the one who is spending wealth…. Similarly, the Prophet s.a.w. did not mention the one who prays, fasts and performs the pilgrimage, because there is no tangible benefit attained from the people for these actions by which the person can be exalted or disgraced, as can be attained in teaching and spending.
Fundamentally, envy occurs when someone else attains power and authority; otherwise the one who is performing these actions is not normally envied, even if this person be blessed with far more food, drink and wives than others, as opposed to these two blessings of power and authority, for they cause a great deal of envy.
Allah praised the Ansar with His saying, “And they have no jealously in their breasts for that which they have been given (the muhajiroon), and give them preference over themselves even though they were in need of that.” [Al-Hashr 59: 9]
As for the jealousy that is totally blameworthy then Allah has said with regards to the Jews, “Many of the People of the Book wish that if they could turn you away as disbelievers after you have believed, out of envy from their own selves even after the truth has become clear to them.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 109]
“They wish” means that they hope to make you apostatize from your religion out of jealousy. So jealousy was the deciding factor behind their wish even after the Truth had been made clear to them. This because when they saw you attain what you attained of blessings – in fact they saw you attain that which they themselves had never attained – they became jealous of you.
Similarly this is mentioned in another verse, “Or do they envy men for what Allah has given them of His bounty? Then We have already given the family of Abraham the Book of Wisdom, and conferred upon them a great kingdom. Of them were (some) who believed in him (Muhammad) and of them were some who averted their faces from him and enough is Hell for burning (them)…” [An-Nisaa’ 4: 54-55]
“Say: I seek refuge with the Lord of the Daybreak. From the evil of what He has created. And from the evil of the darkening (night) as it comes with its darkness. And from the evil of the witchcrafts when they blow in the knots. And from the evil of the envier when he envies.” [Al-Falaq (113): 1-5]
So the one who is jealous, hating the favours bestowed by Allah upon someone else is an oppressor, going beyond bounds due to this. As for the one who dislikes that someone else be blessed and wishes to be blessed in the same way, then this is forbidden for him except in that which will bring him closer to Allah. So if he were to wish for something that has been given to someone else which would help bring him closer to Allah, then there is no problem in this. However, his wishing for it in his heart, without looking to the condition of someone else is better and more excellent.
Then if this person were to act, dictated by this jealousy, he would be an oppressor going beyond bounds, deserving of punishment unless he repents.
Jealousy is one of the sicknesses of the soul, and it is an illness that afflicts the generality of mankind and only a few are secure from it. This is why it is said, “The body is never free from jealousy, but debasement brings it out, and nobility hides it.”
It was said to Al-Hasan Al-Basri, “Can a believer be envied?”. He replied, “What has made you forget Yusuf (Prophet Joseph) and his brothers, have you no father? But you should keep (this envy should it occur) blinded in your heart, for you cannot be harmed by that which you did not act upon in speech or action”.
So the one who finds that he harbours jealousy in his soul towards someone else, then it is upon him to treat it with patience and taqwa (piety) of Allah, and dislike it being in his soul… As for the one who actually takes a stance against the envied, either with words or actions, then he will be punished for this, and the one who fears Allah and is patient and does not become one of the oppressors – Allah will benefit him for his taqwa.
In the hadith there occurs, (Reported by Ibn Abi Ad-Dunya from the hadith of Abu Hurayrah) “There are three sins from which no one can be saved: jealousy, suspicion and omens. Shall I tell you of what will remove you from this: When you envy do not hate, when you are suspicious then do not actualise your suspicions, and when you see omens then ignore them.”
In the Sunan from the Prophet (SAWS) “You have been afflicted with the illness of the nations that came before you – jealousy and hatred. They are the shearers, I do not mean the shearers of the hair. Rather, they are the shearers of the religion.” [At-Tirmidhi, at-Tabaranee and al-Hakim who said it was sahih]
So he called jealousy an illness just as he called miserliness an illness in his saying, “And what illness is worse than miserliness.” [Ahmad, Hakim and others, sound]
In the first hadith jealousy was mentioned along with hatred. This is because the envier, first of all dislikes the bounty bestowed by Allah upon the one who is envied, and then begins hating this person. This is because the hatred of the thing being bestowed leads to hatred of the one upon whom it is bestowed, for when the blessings of Allah are bestowed upon an individual, he would love that they go away, and they would not go away except by the one who is envied going away, therefore he hates him and loves that he not be there.
Jealousy necessarily leads to desire and hatred just as Allah informed us of those that came before us that they differed, “After there came to them knowledge out of mutual hatred and desire.” [Aal `Imran 3: 19]. “Do not envy one another, do note hate each other, do not oppose each other…” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] “By the One in Whose Hands is my soul, none of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Greed is a sickness as is miserliness, and jealousy is worse than miserliness, as occurs in the hadith, “Jealousy eats away at good deeds, just as fire eats away at firewood.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
This is because the miser only stops himself from having good but the envier dislikes the favours of Allah bestowed upon His servants.
[Excerpted and Adapted from “Diseases of the Hearts and their Cures”]