All immortality 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 prescribed purifying alms in Islam. 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. Only zakat can arouse the elite’s compassion and generosity toward the masses, and the masses’ respect and obedience toward the elite. Without zakat, the elite cruelly oppress the masses14 and thereby often engender 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 people’s 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.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi
14 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.)