Question [to Shaikh Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ Al-ʿUthaimīn, may Allāh have mercy on him]:
This listener, Umm ʿAbd Al-Raḥmān, is [asking]:
Esteemed Shaikh, we read a lot in the Qurʾān about the prohibition against isrāf [being excessive or extravagant in giving or spending] and, similarly, the prohibition against bukhl [stinginess or miserliness]. Bukhl is known, but how do we know that this is isrāf, and how can we tell what the differences are among al-isrāf, al-karam [magnanimity], and al-sakhāʾ [generosity]?
Al-Isrāf is going too far in giving or spending [on] food, drink, housing, or clothing. So, for example, if [a particular] man were a man of moderate [means], and then he called a gathering to a big meal [like a wedding dinner] that no one but wealthy people [could] arrange, this would be isrāf, [but] if a wealthy person were to arrange [the same], this wouldn’t be isrāf because isrāf is a matter that’s determined according to the [spender’s personal] situation.
As for al-sakhāʾ and al-karam, [they both mean] a person’s being generous such that he gives easily and generously what should be given easily and generously in the manner that [such giving] has been commanded [in Islam]—but without isrāf, as Allāh the All-High says:
وَٱلَّذِینَ إِذَاۤ أَنفَقُوا۟ لَمۡ یُسۡرِفُوا۟ وَلَمۡ یَقۡتُرُوا۟ وَكَانَ بَیۡنَ ذَ ٰلِكَ قَوَامࣰا
And those who, when they spend of their wealth, are neither excessive nor restrictive, but in between that, moderate [and good]. (Al-Furqān, 67]
This is a praise of them. And Allāh the All-High says:
وَلَا تَجۡعَلۡ یَدَكَ مَغۡلُولَةً إِلَىٰ عُنُقِكَ وَلَا تَبۡسُطۡهَا كُلَّ ٱلۡبَسۡطِ فَتَقۡعُدَ مَلُومࣰا مَّحۡسُورًا
And don’t [be tight and stingy], keeping your hands tied [from spending anything on anyone], nor be excessive, [spending or giving more than you are able to or more than you make] so that you end up stuck and full of regret [without anything left to spend], blamed and criticized [by others]. (Al-Isrāʾ, 29)
As for bukhl, it’s holding back from giving what must be given freely and generously from [one’s] wealth, influence, or deeds. So if a person holds back from what’s required of him, this is one who’s stingy or miserly. If he were to hold back from what’s required [of him] of spending on his family, he’d be miserly; if he were to hold back from [paying] zakah [a yearly Islamic charity due upon those above a certain means], he’d be even more severe in his miserliness.
And similar to that is being stingy or miserly about exercising one’s position or influence. When it’s [Islamically] required of him to use his position or influence on behalf of someone, he’s stingy about [using that]—this is indeed miserliness.
[Miserliness] is even [as] is it has been reported from the Prophet ﷺ that a miserly person is someone before whom [the Prophet ﷺ] is mentioned, and then he doesn’t ask Allāh to increase His praises of Him among the highest gathering of angels; this is being miserly with [one’s] deeds in that [this] person was stingy about asking Allāh to increase in His praises of the Prophet ﷺ among the highest gatherings of angels, despite his [ﷺ] having been mentioned before him.
Nūr ʿalá Al-Darb, 261.