There is a great difference between frugality and stinginess. Just as humility is a praiseworthy quality superficially resembling but different to the bad quality of servility, and dignity is a laudable virtue superficially similar to but different from the bad quality of haughtiness, so too frugality, which was one of the Prophet’s (UWBP) elevated qualities and indeed is one of the things on which the divine wisdom in the order of the universe depends, bears no relation to stinginess, which is a mixture of baseness, avarice, miserliness, and greed. There is merely a superficial resemblance. The following is an event corroborating this fact:
‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, who was one of the famous Companions of the Prophet known as the seven ‘Abdullahs, was the greatest and most important of the Caliph ‘Umar, Faruq al-A‘zam’s sons, and one of the most distinguished and learned of the Companions. One day while shopping in the market, in order to be economical and to preserve the confidence and integrity on which trade depends, he disputed hotly over something worth a few kurush. One of the Companions saw him, and imagining the Illustrious Successor of the Prophet on Earth, the Caliph ‘Umar’s son’s wrangling over a few kurush to be an extraordinary stinginess, he followed him in order to understand his conduct. Next he saw that ‘Abdullah was entering his blessed house and had spotted a poor man at the door. He chatted with him for a bit, and the man left. Then he came out of the second door of the house and saw another poor man. He chatted with him for a while too, and the man left. The Companion, who was watching from the distance, was curious. He went and asked the poor men: “‘Abdullah paused a while with you. What did he do?” Each of them replied: “He gave me a gold piece.” “Glory be to Allah!,” exclaimed the Companion, and thought to himself: “How is it that he wrangled like that over a few kurush in the market, then was completely happy to give away two hundred kurush in his house without letting anyone know?”
He went to ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar and said: “O Imam! Solve this difficulty for me! In the market you did that, while in your house you did this.” ‘Abdullah replied to him saying: “What I did in the market was not stinginess, but arose from frugality; it was perfectly reasonable, and to preserve confidence and honesty, which are the basis and spirit of commerce. And what I did by my house arose from the heart’s compassion and the spirit’s perfection. Neither was the first stinginess, nor the second immoderateness.”
Alluding to this, Imam Abu Hanifa said: “There can be no excess in good, just as there is no good in excess.” That is to say, just as in good works and benevolence there can no excess or wastefulness – on condition they are for the deserving, so there is no good at all in wastefulness and immoderateness.