By Shaykhul Hadeeth Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmaani
Translated by Badrul Islam
[Translator’s note: The staggering level of food wastage in Britain was on the news today (16th March 2007). It was on the news not because of the fact that it was being wasted, but because it was causing financial difficulties for local authority refuse collection departments. The solution being suggested was that instead of the current practice of refuse collection once a week in most parts of Britain, it should be collected once every fortnight. It was shocking to know that approximately 6.7 million tonnes of food is wasted each year. It is estimated that we discard one third of the food we buy and that the average person wastes £424 worth of food each year . All this is happening when 854 million people across the world are hungry, up from 852 million a year ago . Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes – one child every five seconds . It was very disturbing for me to know these facts and figures but I was not surprised. It made me stop and contemplate the beautiful, eternal and universal teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the pure Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It reminded me of a thought-provoking article written by one of the leading authorities on Islam alive today – Shaykhul Hadeeth ‘Allamah Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani . What follows is a translation of that article.]
Maulana Asghar Hussain sahib (Rahimahullah), known to many as Hazrat Mian sahib, was from amongst those teachers of Darul ‘Uloom Deoband who kept themselves away from name and fame. He spent his entire life serving the Deen as a teacher of the Islamic sciences and benefited thousands of students with his vast knowledge and piety. Today there may not even be a single well-known scholar of the Indian sub-continent who is not his student either directly or indirectly. He has left behind innumerable small and large books, the topics of which are unique and the language so blooming that it is rarely found even in the writings of a century ago.
Despite his lofty station in knowledge and piety, the state of his simplicity and humbleness was such that he who saw him could not imagine that this was a man of such a high status. He lived in a small locality in Deoband (in the Indian district of Saharanpur) and his hut was made of mud. Every year when the rainy season came, different parts of his hut would collapse and, afterwards, a lot of time and money would be spent on repairs.
My revered father Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Shafee’ sahib (Rahimahullah) was a special student of Hazrat Mian sahib who was very friendly with him. One day my revered father said to him, “You have to repair your hut every year and, in doing so, you have to undergo a lot of hardship and spend a lot of time and money. If you rebuild it with bricks, you’ll be relieved of this constant hardship.” Hazrat Mian sahib had a good sense of humour. Upon hearing my father’s suggestion, he highly praised and applauded it exclaiming, “Excellent! Mufti sahib, excellent! What a logical suggestion! I’ve almost lived my whole life but such a thought never came to my mind.”
My father says, “Hazrat Mian sahib repeated this exclamation so many times that I felt deeply embarrassed. Eventually, I said “Hazrat, my intention was to only find out the wisdom behind your – despite having the financial means – not rebuilding the hut with bricks. Therefore, instead of embarrassing me any further, please tell me the actual reason behind it.”
At first Hazrat Mian sahib tried to avoid answering the question. But when my father kept insisting, Hazrat Mian sahib took hold of his hand and walked to the front door of his hut and said, “Look! Look on both sides of this lane. Can you see any hut built of bricks from one end of the lane to the other?” My father replied in the negative. Hazrat Mian sahib said, “Tell me, when all the huts of my neighbours are made of mud, how can it befit me to live in a hut built of bricks? I do not have the financial means to rebuild all their huts with bricks. The reason why I am not rebuilding my hut with bricks is because I feel uncomfortable at the thought of me being distinct from all my neighbours.”
This was Hazrat Mian sahib. I’ve related this incident as a short introduction to his temperament and disposition and, from this, the uniqueness of his character can be weighed. This unique character is – especially in this age of materialism – something beyond our imaginations. I actually intended relating another incident……
Once my revered father went to visit him in his hut. It was time for dinner and the dinner cloth was laid out. They sat down to eat and after they had finished my father began to fold the dinner cloth so that he could go out and shake off the bread crumbs and other remains. Upon seeing this, Hazrat Mian sahib enquired, “What are you doing?” My father replied, “Hazrat, I’m folding the dinner cloth so that I can go and shake it clean in a suitable place.” Mian sahib asked, “Do you know how to clean a dinner cloth?” My father asked, “Is the cleaning of a dinner cloth an art which has to be learnt?!” Mian sahib replied, “Of course this is an art and that is why I asked you if you know it or not.” My father appealed, “Hazrat, if that is the case then please teach me this art”. Mian sahib responded, “Come, let me teach you this art”. Saying this he began to gather all the meat-remains lying on the dinner cloth after which he did the same with all the bones and all the large and small bread crumbs. On finishing this he said, “I have allocated a separate place for everything. I put these meat-remains in a particular place where a cat comes everyday and eats them. I put these bones in another place which the dogs know and come to take them from there everyday. In this manner, I leave these large bread crumbs in another place where the birds come and make use of them, and I leave these smaller bread crumbs near any ants’ hole so that it becomes their food.” He finished by saying, “All this is Allah’s given ‘rizq’ and blessings. As far as possible, one should not waste any of it.”
This was the spirit of a true Islamic society which had inculcated the beautiful teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah into it’s daily life. Since Allah has blessed us with infinite ‘rizq’, we not only tend not to appreciate and give due regard to the smaller and lesser parts of it, but very often we tend to depreciate it. Allah forbid! If we, at any time, fall in shortage of these blessings it is only then we realize the true value of every particle of it.
Everyone says, “We should not waste the blessings of Allah, we should appreciate them.” But sadly this has remained a mere saying in our modern lives and no real sign of it exists in the practical world. If the blessings which are wasted in our homes and restaurants each day in ceremonies and dinners were to be gathered, undoubtedly it would suffice many families. But our condition is that in a world where hundreds and thousands of households are crying out for the most simplest and basic foodstuff, our garbage dumps are seen filled with tonnes of luxury food items which many do not even get to see.
I remember when I attended an official dinner for the very first time I did not know if any arrangements had been made for all the drivers. As a precaution I gave my driver some money and told him that if there were no arrangements for them, he should go and eat in a nearby restaurant. When I entered the hall, I was seated next to a civil servant of a high rank. He was giving a heart-rending speech on the contemptible conditions of the poverty-stricken people of the country. In this speech he was explaining his grief and anguish over their distressing state. Besides this, he touched upon the critical state of our country’s economic system, spoke highly of the socialist countries of the world, criticised the capitalists, feudalists and opposers of socialism in our country. When eventually his talk came to an end and the meal began, I said to him, “It seems as if no arrangements are made here for the drivers.” He retorted, “Yes Sir! Usually at dinners of this level no arrangements are made for drivers.” I said, “It troubles me to know that we are engaged in eating here while our drivers are waiting outside with hungry stomachs.” He responded, with a bit of arrogance, “Yes Sir! Distressing it may be, but to make arrangements for so many drivers is quite a difficult task. Anyhow, these people are used to this, they eat in their homes on their return.”
In this dinner I estimated the amount of food in all the plates and dishes and it appeared to me that if the amount cooked was to be slightly increased, it would have sufficed the drivers too. After the meal there was a speech session which was so lengthy that we could only leave after eleven o’clock at night. On the way back I asked my driver, “What did you do regarding your meal?” He replied, “I and a few fellow drivers have eaten at a nearby restaurant.” He further said, “A few drivers did not have any money so they remained without eating.” As examples, he mentioned the names of a few drivers adding, “After driving their masters home they will reach their own homes by bus and eat at about twelve or one a.m.”
On the one hand we are treating those who know us and work for us in this cold-blooded manner while, on the other hand, the state of our depreciation of Allah’s blessings is that we are taking food on our plates in such quantities that it does not remain consumable for others, consequently, ending up as piles of garbage. This occurs especially in buffet lunches where all the dishes are set out on tables and all those invited are expected to serve themselves. In such lunches, people usually take more than is needed at one go in order to avoid coming up to the table a second time when needed. Consequently, a large amount of food is wasted.
We have seen the aforementioned incident from the life of Hazrat Mian sahib (Rahimahullah) who was not just concerned for human beings, but also for other creatures like cats, dogs, birds and ants. Contrary to this, our condition is that we can waste food in tonnes but we cannot bear arranging meals for our drivers and other employees. Can we not use our prudence in order to avoid this severe depreciation and wastage of ‘rizq’ and blessings? If we can do this then, surely, we will be able to satisfy the hunger of a number of individuals from amongst Allah’s servants, thereby saving ourselves from a grave collective sin.