Greed and Its Consequences
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
O people of belief, now you understand how harmful enmity is. Greed is another great disease, and just as harmful for Islam’s [social] life, for it causes
disappointment, sickness, humiliation, deprivation, and misery to arise. The humiliation and misery of those nations who leap at this world more avidly than any other people proves this.(1)
Greed shows its evil consequences wherever there are animate beings. In contrast, seeking one’s provision while trusting in God is a means to tranquillity and displays its good effects everywhere. For example, fruit trees and plants need provision and yet remain stationary, “contentedly trusting in God and showing no impatience.” And so their provision hastens to them and they reproduce more vigorously than animals. Animals attain only an insufficient provision after great effort, since they pursue it with impatience.
Only young animals, who “demonstrate their trust in God through their weakness and impotence,” receive in full measure their rightful and delicious provision from Divine Compassion’s treasury. On the other hand, wild beasts that leap greedily at their provision obtain “illicit” and coarse food at the cost of great effort. These examples show that greed causes deprivation, while trusting God and contentment are the means to Divine mercy.
Contented and greedy people can be likened to two people entering a great one’s audience. One thinks: “It is enough that he admits me so that I can escape from the cold outside. Even if he seats me in the lowest position, it will be a favor.” The second person arrogantly hopes for the highest position, as if he had some right to it and as if everyone were obliged to respect him. He enters with greed and, fixing his gaze upon the highest position, attempts to advance toward it. But the owner turns him back and seats him in a lower position. Instead of thanking the owner, the man is angered and criticizes him, thereby annoying the owner. The first one enters most humbly and shows his willingness to be seated even in the lowest position. His modesty pleases the owner, who invites him to sit in a higher position and thereby causes his gratitude to increase.
This world is like the Most Merciful One’s audience hall. Earth’s surface is like a banquet laid out by Divine Compassion, with the different degrees of provision and grades of bounty corresponding to the seating positions.
Everyone can experience the evil effects of greed. For example, you are offended by a beggar who importunes greedily and are inclined to refuse the request, whereas you give to the peaceable one out of pity. Or you may fall asleep quickly if you do not think about sleeping, instead of trying to fall asleep immediately. If you are impatient, you might lose your whole night’s sleep. Or, if you impatiently wait for someone and complain continually, finally you will lose patience and leave. But a minute later the person will come, and so your purpose will remain frustrated.
The reason for this is as follows: A loaf of bread is produced only after cultivating the field, harvesting the crop, taking the grain to a mill, and baking the loaf. Similarly, Divine Wisdom arranges everything according to a certain deliberation. If you do not comply with this deliberation and neglect to follow all the arranged steps, you cannot achieve the
I had a true, highly interesting, dream during the fifth year of WWI. In it, I was asked the reason for this hunger, financial loss, and bodily trial afflicting the Muslims. I replied:
From the wealth He grants to us, God Almighty requires, as zakat,(2) either a tenth or a fortieth so that we may benefit from the poor people’s grateful prayers and avoid their rancor and envy.(3) As our greed did not allow us to pay, God Almighty removed its accumulated amount: three-fourths where a fortieth was owed, and four-fifths where a tenth was owed.
He asks us to fast for a month each year so that we may benefit from as many as 70 beneficial purposes. But we pitied ourselves and did not fast. And so God Almighty compelled us to fast for 5 years with a hunger that combines almost 70 kinds of afflictions.
God requires believers to spend no more than one hour out of 24 in prayer, a pleasing and lofty, illuminating and beneficial form of Divine training. But we were too lazy to observe the five daily prayers and so wasted all 24 hours. In return, God Almighty chastened us by making us undergo a form of training and physical exertion for 5 years.
I awoke after this and, pondering over it, realized a very important truth. As The Twenty-fifth Word indicates, by comparing modern civilization’s principles to the Qur’an’s commands, all immorality and disturbances in human social life proceed from two sources and two attitudes: “Once my stomach is full, what do I care if others die of hunger?” and “You work and I will eat.”
These attitudes are perpetuated by the prevalence of usury and the abandonment of zakat. The only remedy is to implement zakat as a universal principle and duty and then ban usury. Zakat is a most essential pillar for individuals, particular communities, and humanity to live a happy life. Humanity usually comprises two classes: the elite and the masses.(4) Only zakat can arouse the elite’s compassion and generosity toward the asses, and the masses’ respect and obedience toward the elite. Without zakat, the elite cruelly oppresses the masses and thereby often engenders revolt. Such a development gives rise to a constant struggle and opposition, finally resulting in labor and capital confronting each other, as in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century.
O people of nobility and fairness, of munificence and liberality! If you do not act generously in the name of zakat, your acts are useless and potentially harmful. If you do not give in God’s name, you make poor people feel obliged to you and so deprive yourself of their prayers, which are acceptable in God’s sight. Also, your subsequent belief that you own your wealth shows great ingratitude.
But if you give zakat, you are rewarded for giving for His sake and thank Him for the bounties received. What is more, its recipients will not feel obliged to flatter or fawn, and thus damage their self-respect. Moreover, their prayers for you will be accepted.
See the vast difference between giving to earn fame and impose obligation, and giving as zakat to fulfill your religious duty, gain a reward, be sincere, and have poor peoples’ prayers for you accepted.
Glory be to You, we have no knowledge save what You have taught us. You are All-Knowing, All-Wise. O God, bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, who said: “Believers stand together like a firm building, one part of which supports the other” and: “Contentment is a treasure that will never be exhausted,” and on his Family and Companions. And all praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds.
1 The Qur’an says: Ignominy shall be their portion wherever they are, unless they (seize) a rope from God or a rope from people (3:112). This means that those nations can make progress when they begin to obey God’s commands or are backed by some powers, as is the case today. Otherwise, ignominy shall follow them. Regardless of their current status, when compared with their long history of ignominy, they still live in constant fear, insecurity, and uncertainty about their future. (Tr.)
2 Zakat: This word literally means purification and growth, for Muslims believe that it purifies their possessions. For most purposes, it consists of setting aside 2.5 percent of one’s capital, provided that this capital reaches a certain minimum amount after its owner’s needs have been met, to help those who qualify for it and to benefit the local community in general. Zakat is considered so important that those who ignore it are not considered part of the Muslim community. (Ed.)
3 A tenth of wealth that annually yields a new crop; a fortieth of whatever yields a financial surplus during the year, or of at least 40 pasturing animals (e.g., sheep or goats). (Tr.)
4 Said Nursi uses elite for those who can give zakat, and the masses for those eligible to receive it. These designations are relative, for they depend upon local standard of wealth. As Islam does not allow a deep socioeconomic gap to form between Muslims, the gap between these groups is not very great. In many Muslim societies today, members of both groups can be found within the middle class. As the main purpose for zakat is for the poor to receive enough money to provide for their families, we should consider the living standard envisaged by Islam when considering zakat. (Tr.)
Fountain Magazine: Issue 37 / January - March 2002