Assallamualeykum! Could you please share your opinion on spending a lot of money on building beautiful mosques instead of using that amount to help the people who are really in need?
Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,
When Imam Ahmad was asked about a rich and powerful man who had spent 1000 dinars (a large sum of money at the time) on a decorated book of Quran, he said, “Let him, for this is the best way to spend his money.” He said this despite the fact that he considered it a religiously disliked thing for people to make or spend money highly decorated and expensive books of Quran. His point was that this rich man was going to waste his money anyway, so he might as well waste it on something that has a better value than other things.
My opinion on beautiful mosques is similar. Their beauty has a positive value, but spending money on helping the needy is better than spending money on expensive mosques. However, as Imam Ahmad recognized, the choice is not between helping the needy and wasting money on expensive religious items. The choice is between wasting money on religious items and wasting money on non-religious items. This means that if a rich person is going to waste his money anyway, he might as well waste it on building a beautiful mosque.
So while technically it is better to help the needy, realistically, there are many rich people who would spend money on an expensive mosque but who would never consider giving that money away to the poor. For such people, building an expensive mosque is the best use of their money. If they do not spend it on a mosque, they might spend it on a big palace.
We should therefore not judge the matter as if expensive mosques are created in a social vacuum. They are often created by rich and powerful people who already waste money on many other things. Once the mosque has been built, we should appreciate it even if we think the money could have been used better. We should thank God that this rich and powerful person was moved to build something beautiful and valuable when they could have spent their money on something that was useless or harmful to society.