"To God the dearest places are the mosques, and the most unpleasant places are markets." (Reporter: Hadthrat Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim, Riyadus lSaeheen, #1841)
There are plenty of references in the Qur’an and the Hadith which teach Muslims how to conduct business in an honest, respectable way. Even a cursory examination of Islam shows that it is not anti-business, and Muslims throughout history have been prosperous businessmen and women. But this hadith does make an important point about what our priorities should be. The markets aren’t just described in this hadith as unpleasant—they are actually contrasted with the ‘dearest places’ to God, our houses of worship. That’s because there is nothing that works against our spirituality like the pursuit of worldly wealth. For most of us, our work tends to take up more time than our worship, our family time, and our creative pursuits combined. This hadith is a call for us to re-examine that inequality of spirituality in our lives and to keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective.
Keeping our focus on worship rather than on the pursuit of wealth is also a central tenet of Christianity. All four of the Gospels include the story of Jesus clearing the Temple of money changers, who were selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging foreign coins at exorbitant rates. In addition to taking advantage of poor pilgrims who had no choice but to accept their terms, the money changers turned the Temple into a marketplace rather than a place where people could meet and worship God. It is this perversion of sacred space – and subversion of sacred intent – that so incensed Jesus. This hadith and the Gospels seem to suggest that we cannot simultaneously be concerned with worldly commerce and religious reflection. As Amanda states, business isn’t bad. But our primary focus in a holy place must be the glory of God. How does our perspective change if we consider our lives a sacred space like the Temple, best suited for worshiping God instead of pursuing monetary gain?
Judaism is also rich in teachings and practices that guide us to conduct business in honest, respectable ways. Ideally, everything we do—including our monetary, worldly pursuits—is done with perfect kavanah (intention) and a spirit of holiness. But Judaism recognizes, too, that we humans are limited creatures, and it is all too easy for us to forget and go astray. Accordingly, many Jewish teachings and practices make a clear distinction between the holy and the ordinary—none more important, perhaps, than the practice of keeping Shabbat. On the ordinary days of the week—Sunday through Friday—we work and engage in worldly commerce; but on the Sabbath, we do not. On Shabbat, we are prohibited even from carrying money, in case having it handy would tempt us to spend it. The observance of Shabbat helps us more easily connect with God and the wonders of creation. This dedicated, holy time is designed to help us keep the pursuit of earthly success in perspective, even during the other, ordinary days of the week.