[This treatise is about frugality and contentment, and wastefulness and extravagance.]
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Eat and drink, but waste not by excess. (7:31)
This verse gives most important and wise instruction in the form of categorically commanding frugality and clearly prohibiting wastefulness. The matter contains seven Points.
First Point: The All Compassionate Creator desires thanks in return for the bounties He bestows on mankind, while wastefulness is contrary to thanks, and slights the bounty and causes loss. Frugality, however, shows respect for the bounty and is profitable. Yes, frugality is both a sort of thanks, and shows respect towards the Divine mercy manifested in the bounties, and most definitely is the cause of plenty. So too, like abstinence, it is health giving for the body, and, since it saves a person from the degradation of what is in effect begging, is a cause of self-respect. It is also a powerful means of experiencing the pleasure to be found in bounties, and tasting that pleasure in bounties which apparently afford no pleasure. As for wastefulness, since it is opposed to these instances of wisdom, it has grave consequences.
Second Point: The All-Wise Maker created the human body in the form of a wonderful palace and resembling a well ordered city. The sense of taste in the mouth is like a doorkeeper, and the nerves and blood vessels like telephone and telegraph wires; they are the means by which the sense of taste communicates with the stomach, which is at the centre of the body, and informs it of the food that enters the mouth. If the body and stomach has no use for it, it says: “Forbidden!” and expels it. And sometimes the food is harmful and bitter as well as not being beneficial for the body, and it spits it out immediately.
Thus, since the sense of taste is a doorkeeper, from the point of view of administering the stomach and body, it is a master and a ruler. If the gifts arriving at the palace or city and those given to the palace’s ruler are worth one hundred liras, only five liras’ worth is appropriate for the doorkeeper in the form of a tip, lest he becomes conceited and is corrupted, then forgetting his duty he lets revolutionaries into the palace who will give him a bigger tip.
So, as a consequence of this mystery we shall now imagine two mouthfuls. One consists of nutritious food like cheese and egg and costs forty para, and the other is of the choicest baklava and costs ten kurush. Before entering the mouth, there is no difference in these two mouthfuls with respect to the body, they are equal. And after passing down the throat, they are still equal in nourishing the body. Indeed, forty paras’ 2 worth of cheese sometimes is more nutritious. Only, in regard to pampering the sense of taste in the mouth, there is a half minute difference. You can see from this what a meaningless and harmful waste it is to increase the cost from forty para to ten kurush for the sake of half a minute.
Now, although the gift arriving for the palace’s ruler is worth one lira, to give the doorkeeper a tip nine times bigger than his due will corrupt him. He will declare: “I am the ruler,” and will allow to enter whoever gives him the biggest tip and most pleasure; he will cause a revolution and conflagration to break out. Then he will compel them to cry out: “Oh! Call the doctor and make him put out this fire in my stomach and bring down my temperature!”
Thus, frugality and contentment are in conformity with Divine wisdom; they treat the sense of taste as a doorkeeper and give it its remuneration accordingly. As for wastefulness, since it is to act contrary to wisdom, it swiftly receives its punishment, upsets the stomach, and causes real appetite to be lost. Producing from the unnecessary variety of foods a false and artificial appetite, it causes indigestion and illness.
Third Point: We said in the Second Point that the sense of taste is a doorkeeper, and indeed, for the heedless and those who have not progressed spiritually nor advanced in the way of thanks, it is like a doorkeeper. Wastefulness should not be indulged in nor the sense of taste’s price be raised from one to ten for the sake of giving it pleasure.
However, the sense of taste of those truly on the way of thanks, those seeking reality, and those who approach it with their hearts is like a supervisor and inspector in the kitchens of Divine mercy—as is explained in the comparison in the Sixth Word.3 Its duty is to recognize and weigh up the varieties of Divine bounties on the tiny scales present in it to the number of foods, and to send the body and stomach news of the food in the form of thanks. In this respect the sense of taste does not only look to the physical stomach, rather, since it looks also to the heart, spirit, and mind, it has a position and importance superior to the stomach. On condition it is not wasteful or extravagant, and is purely to carry out its duty of thanks and recognize and perceive the varieties of Divine bounty, and on condition it is licit and does not lead to degradation and begging, it can follow its pleasure. In fact, delicious foods may be preferred in order to employ the tongue which bears the sense of taste in giving thanks. The following is an instance of Shaykh al-Jilani’s wonderworking which alludes to this truth:
At one time, being instructed by Ghawth al-A’zam, Shaykh al-Jilani (may his mystery be sanctified), was the only son of an aged and anxious woman. This esteemed lady had gone to her son’s cell and seen that he had nothing to eat but a piece of dry, black bread. Her maternal compassion was aroused by his emaciated condition resulting from his asceticism. She felt sorry for him. Later she went to Ghawth al-A’zam in order to complain, and saw the Shaykh was tucking into roast chicken. Out of her concern, she said: “O Master! My son is dying of hunger while you are eating chicken!” Whereupon Ghawth al-A’zam said to the chicken: “Rise up, with God’s permission!” At this, the cooked chicken bones assembled and were thrown out of the dish as an entire live chicken. This has been related unanimously through many reliable and documented channels as a marvel of someone whose extraordinary wonderworking is world famous. Ghawth al-A’zam said to her: “When your son reaches this level, then he too can eat chicken.” Thus, the meaning of Ghawth al-A’zam’s words is this: whenever your son’s spirit rules his body, and his heart rules the desires of his soul, and his reason rules his stomach, and he wants pleasure for the sake of offering thanks, then he may eat delicious things.
Fourth Point: According to the Hadith the meaning of which is: “He who is thrifty will not have family difficulties as regards livelihood,”4 the frugal and economical person will not suffer undue trouble and hardship in supporting his family.
There are countless proofs that the consequence of frugality is plenty and good living. For instance, I have seen myself and I can say according to the testimony of those who have befriended and assisted me that through being frugal, I have sometimes seen a tenfold increase, and so have my friends. Even, nine years ago—and now it is thirty (i.e. in 1926), a number of the tribal leaders who were exiled to Burdur together with me did their best to make me accept their zakat so that I would not suffer privation and humiliation through lack of money. I said to those rich leaders: “Although I have very little money, I am frugal and economical and I am accustomed to being content with little. I am richer than you.” I refused their repeated and insistent offers. It is worth noting that two years later some of those who had offered me their zakat were in debt because they had not been frugal. Thanks be to God, seven years on from that, through the plenty resulting from frugality that small amount of money was still sufficient for me; it did not degrade me, nor compel me to present my needs to the people, nor make me deviate from my way of self sufficiency and being independent of people, which is one of the principles of my life.
Someone who is not frugal is certain to be abased and reduced to poverty and in effect to begging. At this time, money, the means of wastefulness and extravagance, is extremely expensive. Sometimes a person sells his honor and self respect and bribes are taken to receive it. Sometimes the sacred things of religion are sold, then some inauspicious money received in return. That is to say, material goods worth ten kurush are received in return for an immaterial loss of one hundred lira.
However, if a person is frugal and restricts and limits his needs to the essential, according to the implied meaning of the verse,
Indeed, it is God Who gives all sustenance, Lord of all power and strength, (51:58)
and the explicit meaning of the verse,
And there is no moving creature on the earth but its sustenance is provided by God, (11:6)
he will find enough sustenance to live on in unexpected ways. Because the verse guarantees it. Yes, there are two sorts of sustenance:
One is true sustenance, which is enough to subsist on. As the verse decrees, this sustenance is guaranteed by the Sustainer. So long as man’s inclination toward evil does not interfere, he will find this essential sustenance under any circumstances. He will not be compelled to sacrifice his religion, or his honor, or his self-respect.
The second sort is metaphorical sustenance. With this, through abuse, inessential needs become like essential ones, and through the calamity of custom and tradition, people become addicted to them and cannot give them up. Since this sustenance is not guaranteed by the Sustainer, obtaining it is extremely expensive—and especially at this time. These unfruitful, inauspicious goods are obtained with first of all sacrificing the self-respect and accepting degradation, and sometimes stooping to what is in effect begging, kissing the feet of the vile, and sometimes sacrificing the sacred things of religion, which are the light of eternal life.
Also, at this time of poverty and hardship, the distress those with consciences feel at the anguish of the hungry and needy sours any pleasure to be had from unlawfully acquired money. During strange times such as these, as far as doubtful goods are concerned, one has to make do with them to the minimum degree necessary. For according to the rule, “Necessity is determined according to its extent,” when compelled to, illicit goods may be taken to the minimum degree necessary, not more. Someone in dire need may eat dead meat, but he may not fill his stomach with it. He may only eat enough not to die. Also, more cannot be eaten with unspoiled pleasure in the presence of a hundred people who are hungry.
The following is a story showing that frugality is the cause of dignity and distinction:
One time, Khatim Tay, who was world famous for his generosity, was giving a large banquet. Having given his guests a superfluity of presents, he went out to walk in the desert. There he saw an old poor man who was carrying a load of thorny bushes and plants on his back. The thorns were piercing his skin and making him bleed. Khatim said to him: “Khatim Tay is giving a large banquet and giving away gifts. You go there and you will receive five hundred kurush in return for your load worth five kurush.” The frugal old man replied: “I raise and carry this thorny load with myself respect; I am not going to become obliged to Khatim Tay.” Later, they asked Khatim Tay: “Have you come across anyone more generous and estimable than yourself?” He replied: “The frugal old man I met in the desert was more estimable, elevated, and generous than me.”
Fifth Point: Out of His perfect generosity, Almighty God makes a poor man understand the pleasure of His bounty the same as a rich man, and a beggar the same as a king. Indeed, the pleasure a poor man obtains from a dry piece of black bread through hunger and being frugal is greater than the pleasure a king or a rich man obtains from the choicest dessert eaten with the weariness and lack of appetite resulting from excess.
It is surprising but some dissolute and extravagant people accuse the frugal and economical of being “mean” and “stingy.” God forbid! Frugality is dignity and generosity. Stinginess and meanness are the inner face of the apparently noble qualities of the wasteful and extravagant. There is an event corroborating this fact which occurred in my room in Isparta the year this treatise was written. It was as follows:
One of my students insisted on my accepting—contrary to my rule and the principle of my life—a present of nearly two and a half okkas5 of honey. However much I stated my rule, he was not to be persuaded. Saying, with being economical let the three brothers with me eat the honey for thirty to forty days in the months of Sha’ban and Ramadan, and not be without something sweet to eat, and let the one who brought it earn the reward, I told them to take it. I myself had an okka of honey as well. Although my three friends were moderate and appreciated frugality, through offering the honey to each other, and each flattering the others’ souls, and each preferring the others to himself, which in one respect is a good quality, they forgot about being economical. In three nights they finished the two and a half okkas of honey. Laughing, I said: “I would have given you the taste of that honey for thirty to forty days, and now you have reduced the thirty days to three. I hope you enjoyed it!” Whereas I used my one okka of honey frugally. For the whole of Sha’ban and Ramadan both I ate it, and, praise be to God, I gave each of those brothers a spoonful, every evening while breaking the fast, and it became the means of significant reward. Perhaps those who saw this conduct of mine thought it was stinginess and my brothers’ conduct for three nights was generosity. But in point of fact I saw that concealed beneath the apparent stinginess lay an elevated dignity, increase and plenty, and great reward. If they had not stopped, it would have resulted in something much baser than stinginess beneath the generosity and excess, like beggarliness and watching another’s hand greedily and expectantly.
Sixth Point: There is a great difference between frugality and stinginess. Just as humility is a praiseworthy quality superficially resembling but different to the bad quality of servility, and dignity is a laudable virtue superficially similar to but different from the bad quality of haughtiness, so too frugality, which was one of the elevated qualities of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and indeed is one of the things on which the Divine wisdom in the order of the universe depends, bears no relation to stinginess, which is a mixture of baseness, avarice, miserliness, and greed. There is merely a superficial resemblance. The following is an event corroborating this fact:
Abdullah ibn Umar, who was one of the famous Companions of the Prophet known as “the seven Abdullahs,” was the greatest and most important of the sons of the Caliph Umar, Faruq al-A’zam, and one of the most distinguished and learned of the Companions. One day while shopping in the market, in order to be economical and to preserve the confidence and integrity on which trade depends, he disputed hotly over something worth a few kurush. One of the Companions saw him, and imagining the illustrious successor of the Prophet on Earth, the Caliph Umar’s sons’ wrangling over a few kurush to be an extraordinary stinginess, he followed him in order to understand his conduct. Next he saw that Abdullah was entering his blessed house and had spotted a poor man at the door. He chatted with him for a bit, and the man left. Then he came out of the second door of the house and saw another poor man. He chatted with him for a while too, and the man left. The Companion, who was watching from the distance, was curious. He went and asked the poor men: “Abdullah paused a while with you. What did he do?” Each of them replied: “He gave me a gold piece.” “Glory be to God!” exclaimed the Companion, and thought to himself: “How is it that he wrangled like that over a few kurush in the market, then was completely happy to give away two hundred kurush in his house without letting anyone know?”
He went to Abdullah ibn Umar and said: “O Imam! Solve this difficult for me! In the market you did that, while in your house you did this.” Abdullah replied to him saying: “In the market it was not stinginess, but conduct arising from frugality; it was perfectly reasonable, and to preserve confidence and honesty, which are the basis and spirit of commerce. And the conduct in my house arose from the heart’s compassion and the spirit’s perfection. Neither was the first stinginess, nor the second immoderateness.”
Alluding to this, Imam Abu Hanifa said: “There can be no excess in good, just as there is no good in excess.” That is to say, just as in good works and benevolence there can be no excess or wastefulness—so long as they are for the deserving, so too there is no good at all in wastefulness and immoderateness.
Seventh Point: Excess and wastefulness lead to greed, and greed has three consequences:
The first is dissatisfaction. As for dissatisfaction, it destroys endeavor and enthusiasm for work, and causes the dissatisfied person to complain instead of giving thanks, and makes him lazy. Such a person abandons possessions which though few in number are licit,6 and seeks possessions which are illicit and free of trouble. And he sacrifices his self-respect on that way, and even his honor.
The second consequence of greed is disappointment and loss. The greedy person drives away what he wishes for, is found disagreeable, and is deprived of assistance and help. He even confirms the saying: “The greedy person is unsuccessful and suffers loss.”
Greed and contentment have their effects in the animal kingdom in accordance with a most extensive law. For instance, the natural contentment of trees needy for sustenance makes their sustenance hasten to them; this shows the huge benefits of contentment. While animals’ running after their sustenance greedily and with difficulty and deficiency demonstrates the great loss of greed.
Also, the contentment apparent through their tongues of disposition of all helpless young and a pleasant food like milk flowing out to them from an unexpected place, while wild animals greedily attack their deficient and dirty sustenance, prove our claim in clear fashion.
Also, the contented attitude of fat fish being the means of their perfect sustenance, and intelligent animals like foxes and monkeys remaining puny and weak because they cannot find sufficient sustenance, although they pursue it with greed, again show to what a degree greed is the cause of hardship and contentment the cause of ease. Also, peoples in history who have found through greed, usury, and trickery their degrading, miserable, illicit sustenance only at subsistence level, and the contented attitude of nomads and their living with dignity and finding sufficient sustenance, proves decisively what we say once more. Also, many scholars7 and literary figures8 being reduced to poverty because of the greed arising from their intelligence, and many stupid and incapable people becoming rich through their innate contentedness proves decisively that licit sustenance comes through impotence and want, not through ability and will. Indeed, licit sustenance is in inverse proportion to ability and will. For the more children increase in ability and will, the more their sustenance decreases, the further it is from them, and the more difficult to obtain. According to the Hadith, “Contentment is an unfailing treasure,” contentment is a treasury of good living and ease of life, while greed is a mine of loss and abasement.
The third consequence: Greed destroys sincerity and damages actions in regard to the Hereafter. For if a God-fearing person suffers from greed, he will desire the regard of others. And someone who considers the regard of others cannot have complete sincerity. This consequence is extremely important and worth noticing.
In short: Excess and wastefulness lead to lack of contentment. And lack of contentment destroys enthusiasm for work; it causes laziness, opens the door to complaining about life, and makes the dissatisfied person complain continuously.9 Also, it destroys sincerity, and opens the door to hypocrisy. And it destroys self-respect, and points the way to begging.
As for frugality and economy, these result in contentment. According to the Hadith, “The contented person is respected, and the greedy person despised,” a consequence of contentment is self-esteem. Also, it encourages effort and work. It increases enthusiasm, and leads to work. For example, a person worked for one day. Because of his contentment with the petty wage he received in the evening, he worked again the second day. But because the wasteful and immoderate person was not content, he did not work again the following day. Or if he did work, he did so without enthusiasm.
Also, the contentment arising from frugality opens the door of thanks and closes the door of complaint. Throughout his life, the contented person is thankful. And in so far as he is independent of others through his contentment, he does not seek their regard. The door of sincerity is opened, the door of hypocrisy closed.
I observed the fearsome harm of wastefulness and excess on a broad scale. It was as follows: nine years ago, I visited a fortunate town. Since it was winter, I could not see its sources of wealth. Several times the town’s Mufti, may God have mercy on him, said to me, “Our people are poor.” These words touched me. For the following five or six years, I felt continual pity for the people of the town. Eight years later in the summer, I again visited it. I looked at the gardens and recalled the words of the late Mufti. “Glory be to God!” I said, “These gardens’ crops are far greater than the needs of the town. Its people should be very rich.” I was amazed. Then I understood through remembering a fact which has never deceived me and is my guide in understanding other truths, that the abundance and plenty had disappeared due to wastefulness and excess, so that although the town possessed such sources of wealth, the late Mufti used to say: “Our people are poor.”
Indeed, just as giving zakat and being frugal and economical is proven by experience to be the cause of increase and plenty in goods and possessions, so too are there innumerable events showing that wastefulness and failure to give zakat cause increase and plenty to be taken away.
The Plato of Islamic sages, the shaykh of physicians, and master of philosophers, the famous genius Abu Ali Ibn Sina explained the verse, Eat and drink, but waste not in excess, (7:31) just from the point of view of medicine, as follows: “I concentrate the science of medicine in two lines, the best word is the shortest; when you eat, eat little, and do not eat again for four or five hours. Health lies in digestion. That is to say, eat so much as you can digest easily. The heaviest and most tiring thing for your stomach and yourself is to eat many things one on top of the other.” 10
An Extraordinary and Instructive “Coincidence”: 11 In all the copies of the Treatise on Frugality written by five or six scribes—three of whom were inexperienced, who were in different places far from one another, were writing it out from different copies, whose handwriting was all different, and who did not take the Alifs12 into consideration at all, the Alifs which “coincided” numbered fifty-one, or “with a prayer,” fifty-three. These numbers coinciding with the date the Treatise on Frugality was written and copied, which was 51 according to the Rumi calendar13 and 53 according to the Hijri (lunar) calendar, undoubtedly cannot be chance. It is an indication that the blessing of plenty resulting from frugality has risen to the degree of wondrousness, and that this year is fit to be named “Frugality Year.”
Indeed, this wonder of frugality was proved two years later, during the Second World War, by the widespread hunger, destruction, and waste, and humankind and everyone being compelled to be frugal.
Glory be unto You! We have no knowledge save that which You have taught us; indeed, You are All-Knowing, All-Wise. (2:32)
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
2 There were forty para to a kurush, and a hundred kurush to a lira. (Tr.)
3 See Nursi, The Words.
4 Musnad i, 447; al-Munawi, Fayzu’l-Qadir v, 454 no: 7939; al-Hindi, Kanzu’l-‘Ummal iii, 36; vi, 49, 56, 57.
5 That is, a fairly large teaspoon.
6 Consumers increase and producers decrease as a result of wastefulness and lack of economy. Everyone fixes his eye on the government’s door. Then industry, trade, and agriculture, on which social life depend, decrease. And the nation declines and is impoverished.
7 It was asked of Bozorgmehr, the Vizier of the Persian Shah Nushirvan the Just and scholar famous for his intelligence, “Why are the learned to be seen at the doors of rulers and rulers not to be seen at the doors of the learned, whereas learning is superior to rulership?” He replied: “Because of the knowledge of the learned and the ignorance of the rulers.” That is to say, due to their ignorance, rulers do not know the value of learning so that they approach the doors of the learned to seek it. But because of their knowledge, the learned know the value of their rulers’ goods and possessions and seek them at the rulers’ doors. Explaining thus wittily the greed resulting from the cleverness of the learned, which causes some of them to be impecunious and in want, Bozorgmehr replied in a refined manner.
8 An event corroborating this: in France, a beggar’s license was given to literary figures because they were so proficient at begging.
Signed: Süleyman Rüştü
9 Indeed, whenever you meet a wasteful, immoderate person, you hear complaints. No matter how rich he is, his tongue still complains. But when you meet even the poorest, but contented, person, you hear only thanks.
10 That is to say, the most harmful thing for the body is to eat without having had a break of four to five hours, or to fill the stomach with a variety of foods one on top of the other just for the pleasure of it.
11 “Coincidence” (tawafuq): the correspondence of things or events in an unexpectedly convenient way. (Tr.)
12 Alif: the first letter of the Arabic alphabet. (Tr.)
13 A modified lunar calendar adapted to solar calendar by subtracting584 from the year of the Common Era.