Greed and Contentment
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Surely God it is Who is the All-Provider, the Possessor of Strength, the Steadfast. (51:58)
How many a creature that bears not its own provision, but God provides for it and you! He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. (29:60)
Greed is another great disease, as harmful for the life of Islam as enmity
O people of faith! You will have understood by now how harmful enmity is. Understand also, that greed is another great disease, as harmful for the life of Islam as enmity. It brings about disappointment, sickness and humiliation, as well as deprivation and misery.
Greed demonstrates its evil consequences throughout the world of animate beings, both at the level of species and of particular individuals. Seeking one’s provision while putting one’s trust in God is, by contrast, a means to tranquility and demonstrates everywhere its good effects. For example, fruit trees and plants, which are a species of living beings and accordingly need provision, stand still where they are, ‘contentedly, putting their trust in God, showing no impatience’. That is why their provision hastens to them of itself and why they reproduce more vigorously than animals. The animals, by contrast, are able to attain their provision only insufficiently and at the cost of great effort since they pursue it with impatience. In the animal kingdom only the young, who ‘demonstrate their trust in God through their weakness and impotence’, receive in full measure their rightful and delicious provision from the treasury of the Divine Compassion, while wild beasts that leap greedily at their provision are able to obtain an ‘illicit’ and coarse food at the cost of great effort. These examples show that greed is the cause of deprivation, while trust in God and contentment are the means to Divine Mercy.
The likeness of a contented and greedy one
The contented and the greedy can be likened to the two men who enter the audience hall of a great personage. One of them thinks: ‘It is enough that he should admit me so that I can escape from the cold outside. Even if he seats me in the lowest position, it will be a favor to me.’
The second, in his arrogance, 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 of the audience hall turns him back and seats him in a lower position. Instead of thanking the owner, the man is angered against him in his heart and criticizes him. The owner of the hall is annoyed with him.
The first man enters most humbly and shows his willingness to be seated even in the lowest position. His modesty pleases the owner of the hall and he invites him to sit in a higher position. This increases his gratitude.
Now this world is like an audience hall of the Most Merciful One. The surface of the earth is like a banquet laid out by Divine Compassion. The different degrees of provision and grades of bounty correspond to the seating positions in the audience hall.
Even in the most particular of affairs, everyone can experience the evil effects of greed. For example, everyone will have noticed how, when two beggars ask something of him, he is offended by the one who importunes greedily, and is inclined therefore to refuse his request; whereas he will give to the other, peaceable one out of pity. Or to give another example, if you are unable to sleep at night and wish to go to sleep at once, you may succeed if you remain indifferent to it. But if you desire with impatience to get to sleep immediately, you may lose your sleep completely.
In the arrangement of all things there is a certain deliberation decreed by Divine Wisdom.
Yet another example is this, that if you await impatiently the arrival of someone for some important purpose, continually complaining that ‘he has still not come’, ultimately you will lose patience and get up and leave. But a minute later the person will come and your purpose then remains frustrated.
The reason for all this is as follows:
In order to produce a loaf of bread, you must cultivate the field, harvest the crop, take the grain to a mill and bake the loaf in an oven. In the same way, in the arrangement of all things there is a certain deliberation decreed by Divine Wisdom. If, because of impatience, one does not act in compliance with this deliberation and neglects to follow all the steps in the arrangement determined for all things, one will either overleap or omit some step, and so fail to achieve the desired result.
O brothers, dizzied by preoccupation with your livelihood, and stupefied by your greed for this world! When greed is so harmful and injurious, how is it that you do all kinds of humiliating deeds for its sake; that you accept all kinds of wealth without distinguishing between what is allowed and forbidden by your religion and sacrifice much of the Hereafter. In order to satisfy your greed, you have even abandoned the payment of zakat, which is one of the most important pillars of Islam and a means of being blessed with increase and fertility and of repelling misfortunes. The one who does not pay zakat is bound to lose the amount of wealth equal to the amount that he had to pay as zakat; either he will spend it on useless things or it will be taken from him by some misfortune.
During the fifth year of the First World War, I was asked the following question:
What is the reason for this hunger, this financial loss and bodily trial that now afflict the Muslims?
From the wealth He grants to us, God Almighty demands from us, as zakat, either a tenth or a fortieth1 so that we may benefit from the grateful prayers of the poor and avoid being the target of their rancor and envy. But we have not paid the zakat because of our avarice, so God Almighty has taken from us the accumulated amount of the zakat, thirty out of forty or three-fourth where a fortieth was owed, and eight out of ten or four-fifth, where a tenth was owed.
He wanted us, as fasting, to endure, for no more than one month each year, a hunger that has as many as seventy beneficial purposes. But we took pity on ourselves and did not endure that short and beneficial hunger. As a punishment, God Almighty compelled us to fast for five years, with a hunger that combines almost seventy kinds of afflictions.
God also required of us, out of each twenty-four hours, one hour to be assigned to a form of Divine training, pleasing and lofty, illuminating and beneficial. But in our laziness we did not perform five prayers a day and wasted that one hour along with the rest of the hours of the day. God Almighty, in return, chastened us by making us undergo a form of training and physical exertion for five years.
All immorality and disturbances in human social life proceed from two sources, from these two attitudes:
- Once my stomach is full, what do I care if others die of hunger?
- You work and I will eat.
What perpetuates these two attitudes is the prevalence of usury on the one hand and the abandonment of zakat on the other. The only remedy for these two awful diseases can only be provided through implementing zakat as a universal principle and duty and banning usury. Zakat is a most essential pillar not only for individuals and particular communities, but for the whole of mankind to live a happy life. Mankind usually comprise two classes; the elite and the commonalty. Only the obligation of zakat can arouse compassion and generosity in the elite towards the commonalty and respect and obedience in the commonalty towards the elite. In the absence of zakat, what will come to the commonalty from the elite is oppression and cruelty and what will rise from the commonalty towards the elite is rancor and rebellion. That will give rise to a constant struggle and a constant opposition between the two classes of mankind, resulting finally in the confrontation of labor and capital, such as happened in Russia at the beginning of the century.
O people of nobility and fairness! O people of munificence and liberality! If acts of liberality are not performed in the name of zakat, they bring no use; they may even cause three harmful results. For, if you do not give in the name of God, you are actually making a poor man indebted to you, imprisoning him in some feeling of obligation. Thereby you deprive yourself of his prayer which would be acceptable in the sight of God. Also by not giving in the name of God, you are imagining yourself to be the real owner of the wealth which God has bestowed on you to distribute among His servants, and thus committing an act of ingratitude for the bounties you have received from God. If, by contrast, you give in the name of zakat, you will be rewarded for having given for the sake of God Almighty and you will have offered thanks for the bounties received. What is more, the needy person will not feel obliged to flatter you or fawn upon you, so his self-respect will not be injured and his prayer on behalf of you will be accepted.
See, then, how great is the difference between on the one hand, giving as much as or more than the amount one would give in zakat, only to earn, in return, the harm of ostentation, fame and the imposition of obligation, and on the other hand, performing the same good deed in the name of zakat, and thereby fulfilling a religious duty, and gaining a reward, the virtue of sincerity, and the acceptable prayers of the poor.
Glory be to You, we have no knowledge save that which You have taught us. Surely You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
O God, bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, who said: ‘The believers stand together like a firm building, one part of which supports the other’, and who also said: ‘Contentment is a treasure that will never be exhausted’; and on his family and his Companions. And all praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds.
1. A tenth of wealth such as corn which every year yields a new crop; a fortieth of whatever yields a financial surplus in the course of the year, or of the pasturing animals (such as sheep or goats) numbering at least forty.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.