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Envy, Part 2: What is envy? What are its roots?
By Jabril Muhammad
Updated Oct 28, 2007 - 4:33:00 PM

We first read of envy in the Bible in the history of Cain and Abel. Abel was divinely favored. Cain became envious of his brother. He came to hate his brother. Out of his envy and hate he killed his brother.

Abel did nothing to earn the envy of Cain. The envy of Cain sprang from his own heart. Cain’s envy gave birth to an unjust hatred of his brother. Abel’s death at the hands of his brother was totally unjustified. And Cain paid dearly for his wicked deed.

Joseph’s brothers were envious of him because God had favored him for His own wise purpose. Korah was the same towards Moses. Saul tried several times to kill David, out of envy. And it is written in the Bible that the main motive involved in the betrayal of Jesus to his enemies, according to the Bible, was envy.

Envy can be seen as a major factor affecting the destinies of men and nations in both the scriptures and in the writings of many about this world for the past 6,000 years.

Envy has been, and is, a major factor shaping the history of America and the Black people in her midst. It has been, and still is, a major factor in the relations between Black brothers and sisters in this country. Therefore, envy has been an evil reality that Messenger Muhammad has had to deal with from the start of his mission.

What is envy? What are its roots? Why is it so destructive? It is often said that envy is self destructive.

Why? How does envy differ from jealousy? How are envy and jealousy manifested?

Dictionaries are of little or no help in defining the state of mind and feelings that the word envy represents. The significance of this fact lies outside the scope of this book.

However, if you ever probe the study of morality you will find that the extent to which envy influences vital issues is avoided publicly by most writers, teachers, politicians, scholars in all fields, and so on.

Envy is sneaky. It wears many faces or disguises. Have you ever considered that it is all but impossible to depict a person posing by him or her self, in a picture in a manner that tells any viewer that the person is envious? If you were to draw an envious person, how would that person look? Why is it so hard? The reason is due to the fact that envy in a person cannot be detected apart from that person’s relation to the one he (or she) envies.

Envy is an emotion that is directed towards another. Without the other, (a target, a victim) envy cannot happen.

You can show fear, happiness, anger or grief, for example, far more easily than you can show envy, in such as pictures, sculpture, etc.

It is not easy to portray the state of mind of a person who despises another for having a reputation, or for having some skill which the envier not only lacks (to some degree), but would rejoice at the other’s loss of such assets; though that loss would not mean a gain for the envier.

In Unger’s Bible Dictionary we read this of envy:

“... is that discontented and mortified feeling which arises in the selfish heart in view of the superiority of another, nearly tantamount to jealousy (Psa. 37:1; 73:3; Prov. 24:1, 19; Phil. 1:15, etc.). (2) That malignant passion which sees in another qualities which it covets and hates their possessor (Prov. 27:4; Matt. 27:18; Rom. 1:29, etc.).”

From this alone it should be clear that envy is a complex thing. Complex though it is, it can be understood. Let us take our time and take a good look at this thing found in the human heart called envy. As we do, remember it is part of evil in general, which was permitted by Allah. And what Allah permits He permits for His own good reason. This is not to say that envy is good in itself. But this is to say that there is some good purpose that envy serves, as it is part of the whole of evil permitted by Allah. This tells us that we must take a good look as we ponder at this thing called envy. A good look, in this sense, is a look corresponding to God’s way of looking; since evil in general and envy in particular could not exist but by Allah’s permission.

Envy becomes possible when two people become capable of mutual comparison. It is how one compares his (or her) self to the other that determines whether or not envy occurs.

Again, envy is a drive or an urge to compare oneself invidiously with another. To compare oneself invidiously is to compare oneself to another in an unlikable, alien, hostile producing way. It is an envy producing comparison. Invidious once had the meaning of envy.

The envier sees the possessions of others; both material and immaterial. The envier would like to see the one he (or she) envies dispossessed or deprived of his or her possessions. Moreover, the envier would also like to see the envied humiliated and/or hurt for having had those possessions.

Yet, the envier wants no envy in return.

The envier feels that what you have in some way injured himself (or herself), regardless to how justly you may have gained what you have. You may have spent years developing that skill, or saving for that house, that you have. It makes no difference to the envier. He, or she, feels pained that you have what you have: The envier feels a lack or feels in some way inferior to you for the fact that you have whatever you have.

Vindictiveness, malice, aggression, unjust anger, self torment, and selfishness are elements of the frame of mind and state of emotion of the envious person.

The envier wants both to acquire and see destroyed the possessions of the one that is envied. The envier’s thinking is such that he feels if, for example, the envied one lost a an eye, or whatever, that he (or she) is somehow advanced. Insanity!

More next issue, Allah willing.

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