Who’s Got the Money by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedAfter doing my usual pre-travel research (expected weather, electrical plug usage and currency exchange rates) I tried to amply prepare for a continuous trip between India and Switzerland on one ticket: not too many clothes in my suitcase, but enough for the climate disparity. At the time I checked in, that disparity was something like 90 to 60 degrees (F) respectively. I opted for cotton clothes with layers and sandals with or without socks. As it turned out, India got hotter (nearly 100F) and Switzerland got colder (45F) with biting rain and winds. So I spent a LOT of my down time in my hotel room.

I had stuff to read, casual and work related and managed to keep myself busy. On occasion, I would turn on the TV. All the stations in Fribourg were in French or German with one exception: the financial news channel. I could only take that news for so long. My last day in Fribourg, there was a break in the news and instead they played back-to-back episodes of some program about the “super rich”. It turned out to be more distressing than the news. You’d expect people with so much money to have one thing you might wistfully dream about. But nope, I really have no interest in private planes or huge yachts with custom fitted gold faucets, or Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Yes, I would like to live near the beach, but a small bungalow would do me just as well—no need for the 25,000 square feet vacation home they were showcasing.

In Islam, there is no inherent value linking poverty to spiritual liberation, but still, I have a very low estimation of “wealth”. Two of my daughters are consciously meditating on how to change their attitudes about money: to THINK positively about abundance. I guess they inherited my low interest in material things. Here’s the thing though, even if I had money, I have already constructed that I would be forming institutes, facilitating environmental friendly projects, supporting starving thinkers, and of course, that bungalow on the beach.

What would you do if you had more money than you could ever spend, even living luxuriously?

I cannot seem to dwell on acquisitions just for the sake of having more things. I don’t think that’s going to change for me because I cannot stop thinking about how much poverty there is in the world. Plus, I spend a lot of time with grassroots organizations and non-profits, which have to train themselves in the gentle art of finding funds, writing proposals for funds, and then following up by justifying their usage of the funds when they’re done.

At the high end, the business of philanthropy is a business (which is probably why it is apt to have a word other than “charity” to refer to it.)

I was invited to a meeting once, by one philanthropy foundation when it was revamping its 5 year plan. I admit, I mostly went out of curiosity. I mean, just how does this sort of thing work? They paid a nice honorarium for two days of meetings, plus travel, accommodations and incidentals. In other words, I lost nothing in the experience. It was informative.

If one has lots of money to give away, they form a company, which pays excellent salaries and gives quality benefits. From there, the company has the responsibility to generate just the right kind of giving opportunities. Occasionally, the company knows it needs help and so they invite persons like myself—experts in related fields—to advise them or to help them gain knowledge so their giving projects are effective. It was interesting to learn about that end of it.

It’s confirmed: some people have more money than they could EVER use in their lifetime (and that of their progeny). So why not make a concerted effort to give some of it to those who do not? But to keep giving above mere hand outs also becomes a project.

Recently, it was announced that Sheryl Sandberg  joined the ranks of those who have pledged to give away much of their vast wealth to philanthropy. The Giving Pledge  was formally launched in 2009 by two of its major donors: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Warren Buffet. So far, there are over 120 billionaires committed to “dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy”, according to their website.

When I first heard about this, I found it really redeeming. I mean, it wasn’t only about acquiring things anymore. It doesn’t mean the specific project someone is working will necessarily be the beneficiary of the funds ear marked for philanthropy, because, as I said, it is a business. They have the proper stop gaps and gate keepers (just check out the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation web site for the caveats and conditions.) But, if you had more money than you could spend, even on golden faucets, how you would spend it? How would you imagine working to change the world? How would you help make the world a better place?

There are caveats to giving. Imagine people only wanting to meet you because they want a hand out.

Maybe we cannot imagine it, but we do live in a world of abundance. What is not missing are sufficient funds to support the planet. What is missing is the generosity of thinking and acting that teaches each of us, whether in large or small measure, to provide for ourselves, our families, our needs and even wants, and THEN turn it over to others. I don’t know, perhaps that which is needed to make so much money kills off that which some of us can never let go of: how to share the money.

It’s important not to give up hope though. Maybe one day there will be no value in money at all and we can then go about the task of mutually supporting the ways we can and must share the earth’s valuable resources.

That’s the kind of plenty with which I could really live.


amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking  answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives.  Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.

Author: amina wadud

amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives. Author of Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.

11 thoughts on “Who’s Got the Money by amina wadud”

  1. Having money is a huge responsibility, one that too many wealthy people simply ignore. I know one non-profit group that will soon come into a substantial amount of money, and the only thing they can think to do with it is invest it in Wall Street. I believe we should look to projects that “invest in people”, and there are slews of them, from education to health to eradicating abuse of women and children to protecting Mother Earth. We have squandered our wealth miserably. We need a whole new way of thinking.


  2. I think I would first ask the people who are the recipients from these NGO’s “What do you need?” And check if organizations are answering that need. Too often we are “rescuing” but not building the infrastructures that would make the long term difference. I always remember one young man’s experience in the Peace Corps in the late 60’s. He was sent to a country in South America to start a credit union. The people of the area didn’t have any money at all. They were farmers. They needed roads, irrigation, education for their children and books. He reported these needs to those in higher rank , but they told him he was there to start a Credit Union. So there he sat with an empty building. Eventually he did learn the skills of the very people he was sent to help. He openly admitted that he came back with more than he had ever given. There are good activists in every country in this world. If only we asked for their input and followed it , money could then make a difference.

    Sharing. It was the first lesson instilled in me. A sacred value of connection and community. And now voices are saying “if you keep giving people what they need you are keeping them down. They will never learn to make good choices” ????? When heirs inherit money what good choice did they make??? It is a strange and unnatural idea to stop caring and acting in whatever way we can. Sharing never feels like charity. It feels like friendship, communicating empathy without superiority. Sharing, I love that.


    1. Bungalow on the beach. And a few good books. That’s all I would need (want). And then search out individuals I could help. I don’t trust most of the organizations set up specifically for charity – but there are lots of ways to help those who need help without going through the big organizations.


  3. A timely post for me, Amina. I’ve just sold my house – no golden faucets and just over 900 sq feet of floor space – but I’ve never had so many 000’s in my bank account. I’ve been donating small amounts monthly to some groups so off the top, some “lump sum” donations. One of my favourite groups is the Children of Bukati, working with the people of one village at a time, to help them become sustainable in a real way. Then there are the social justice orgs so much needed today. It all takes some research! I’m just glad I didn’t sell a mansion!


  4. Ahh the money myth. It has always amazed me that we all continue to agree that specifically patterned ink splots on paper (and now specifically patterned electronic bits and bytes) have value. Truly an ingenious legal fiction that has become another hierarchical religion to so many. Still, like technology, it can be used for positive or negative, so it is up to us to choose how to spend it wisely, whether we have a little or a lot.


  5. You can use my mantra: Income Is Useful. It’s useful for the important material things in our lives–utility bills to keep my computer plugged in, books to read (which I usually buy from a remainder house on the east coast), and of course cat food. It’s good to have enough. Thanks for writing this blog.


  6. I was in line at a grocery store in Connecticut years ago and there was a huge national megaball or something lottery that week. The line was long, the cashier was waiting on a return or something, so we began to talk. I was surprised and happy to hear that all of us–and there was a spectrum of wealth and lack of it in that line, the grocery store served several distinct neighborhoods–all of us only wanted enough to be able to give the kids what they need, not be in debt, to be safe, to go on a decent vacation once a year, and not worry about emergencies. Of course, all of us had different ideas about what a “decent” vacation would entail, etc. But the sentiment was that of a middle way. I remember that whenever I despair of the seeming greed of the society around us. And the wealthy who agree to give away the majority of their wealth may be in the same league. Their idea of a decent vacation is probably an Italian villa on a lake in the Italian Alps with a chef and the rest, but they can live decently by their own account and give most away. It’s a middle way in its own stream of things and gives me hope.


  7. Thanks one and all for your comments. They more or less support what my daughters are teaching me about abundance. As “have-nots” we tend to think small, generous and charitably, but still small.

    Rita Nakashima Brock once gave a lecture where she pointed out that the granting mechanism on the left, tends to be incremental, short term and specific. On the the far right, they give grants systemically and long term. It’s something to think about. How do we INVEST in producing the ideas of compassion and caring?

    Also, I honestly cannot IMAGINE what is was that inspired Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffet to think of the big give away they are now involved in.

    Never before has the collective idea that the most wealthy should focus their efforts to DO something with their wealth other than acquire more of it, squander it or waste it, with that collective idea GENERATING a particular model of giving.

    For example there is even a link directly to the Gates web page for “What we do not fund”. Among which is “individuals”, and another is “religion only” projects. The former one prevents people from contacting them for a non-systemic hand out. That latter one MIGHT prevent religious based organizations that I have worked with all my life, from applying. Instead, we would have to show the LINK between our work and policy changes, especially international human rights agendas. But I can imagine that just to say there is a religious LINK might get the grant-reading end of the company to reject our proposal.

    it IS SO interesting to think about.


  8. Great post, Amina. I give to social justice and environmental organizations that have a track record of bringing about change (quite a few of which are feminist), self-help organizations like Finca and the Grameen Bank, my UU church (which in turn is very involved in social justice work in my community), and music organizations that produce music that wouldn’t exist without my help and the help of others like me.


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