Throughout his life, Bediuzzaman strove to save belief and spread Islam, and resisting all oppression, on the one hand to display the attributes and conduct of a believer, and on the other to develop all the elements necessary for shaping society according to Islamic principles. He thus trained the ring of sincere people who gathered around him, and planted them throughout society, like shoots. These shoots grew and multiplied till finally they spread throughout the country and the world. His works were offered in various languages for the benefit of different peoples. The ideas Bediuzzaman put forward in all his works are based on the Qur’an and Sunna. To put it another way, he strove to expound and set forth the Qur’an and Sunna in a way this age would understand.
The subject of my paper today is Bediuzzaman’s Treatise On Frugality.* It will be useful to mention the following matter before embarking on the analysis and explanation of the treatise. Bediuzzaman based all his explanations and discussions on the Qur’an and Sunna, so when studying economic subjects he relied on the same sources and based his ideas on them. Explanation and analysis of economic matters based on the Qur’an and Sunna is now called Islamic economics. Thus, the ideas Bediuzzaman discussed about economic matters are investigations and analyses within the framework of Islamic economics. If we consider the subject in this sense, The Treatise On Frugality discusses one section of Islamic economics, and that is the Islamic model of consumption. Bediuzzaman touches on various questions related to Islamic economics in his other works, expounding and elucidating them in the light of Qur’anic verses and Hadiths. Basically, The Treatise On Frugality expounds the verse, Eat and drink, but waste not by excess (7:31), and explains why wastefulness in the consumption of things is unlawful, and its positive and negative effects. This is one of the chief questions facing mankind in the world today.
Wastefulness both upsets the balances of consumption and conservation on the individual level from the point of view of micro-economics, and affects the distribution of resources from the point of view of macro-economics, and the balance of conservation and consumption in the economy. It also paves the way for destroying the balances in the international field.
The modern world is dominated by an economy based on waste. People are continuously encouraged to consume. Consumption in excess of need is urged. Consumption of luxury goods is on the increase, and artificial needs are created by means of advertising. Instead of things being repairable and durable, the trend is for them to be used then thrown away. Due to the use of plastics, and as a result of the formula “use and throw away,” both the environment and nature are being polluted, and resources are being exhausted. It is consumerism based on waste that lies at the bottom of the environmental problems today.
In consequence of the balance of income being destroyed through increased income from interest and decrease of zakat, there is an increased tendency among the super-rich rentier classes towards luxury and extravagance, and production resources are being directed towards meeting their demands; methods of production are developing in that direction. On the other hand, insufficient resources are being allotted for the production of the essential goods to meet the essential needs of the masses with low incomes, and the balance of supply and demand is being spoiled, and since production is insufficient, prices are increasing in the face of excessive demand. For the flexibility of demand is low in essential goods. Despite this, it cannot meet the primary essential needs. However, since consumption is being continuously encouraged through the development of advertising, credit, bank cards, etc., and people are being encouraged by advertising to consume more, newer, and more highly developed goods, the balance of income and expenditure in the family budgets of the great masses is being spoilt. As a result of this, individuals and states are going into debt and in part losing their economic freedom. Those who give in to the compelling desires of their instinctual souls to consume, are obliged to sacrifice their dignity, and if necessary their honour, and even their religious and spiritual sensibilities. It is for this reason that bribery, preferential treatment, embezzlement, and adultery are increasing, and the family is breaking apart. One has to seek the effects of these misdemeanours at the base of inflation and foreign trade deficits, which beset the whole world.
These imbalances also affect ideologies, and were the cause of the emergence of socialist and marxist ideas. The world split into two, capitalist and socialist, and it was fought over tooth and nail. But since the basic rule of action in consumption, ‘homo economicus,’ did not change, wastefulness was not prevented in either system. In the socialist system, they tried through forced measures to make luxury and wastefulness widespread and to balance them. But this time too, since their production was unsuccessful, the macro-balances could not be maintained, despite current planning. In short, at the base of these deficiencies lie the habit of wastefulness, and lack of gratitude and contentment.
Thus, the principles that Islam brought produce the model of a Muslim who tries to regulate his consumption by rules based on the Qur’an and Sunna. Bediuzzaman expressed these very succinctly in his Treatise On Frugality.
Bediuzzaman puts the matter as follows in his treatise:
Man is charged with offering thanks while benefiting from the bounties bestowed by his Creator, and when using and consuming them. One who is grateful recognizes the bounties given to him by God, and knows their worth, and thinking of his fellow men, uses them to the extent of his need and in relation to it. According to Ghazzali’s categorization, production activities may divided into three groups:
1) Production of essential goods: These cover production of all goods and services which preserve man’s five basic attributes, which are belief, life, reason, productivity, and ownership of wealth.
2) Production which facilitates life: The production of these is not necessary for the preservation and continuation of the five basic attributes mentioned above, but are production activities which eliminate the difficulties and hardships of life, and increase its comforts.
3) Production activities which raise the quality of life: Rather than ensuring comfort, these are related to the production of goods and services which gratify the aesthetic sense, and senses of beauty and art.
According to another classification, needs may be divided into seven groups: 1) food; 2) clothing; 3) expenditure; 4) health; 5) education; 6) (social, economic, and administrative) security; 7) transport. Of these, individuals work to secure the first three through their own efforts and enterprise. While organs responsible for the order of society are charged with securing the last four. These responsible organs may be either central or local government or various public institutions, or they may be foundations or trusts founded to serve society in God’s way. These are also called the third sector, in addition to the private and public sectors. These functions may be met either by individuals, by means of zakat or charity, or by public organs, by means of taxes and zakat.
Thus, the wealthy believers and affirmers of Divine unity in a society are charged, while meeting their own needs, to do so to a reasonable extent, and to offer what is left over of their means for the benefit of their fellows who do not have such means. For God’s Messenger (PBUH) said that one of the types of people that God will not forgive is “he who is unaware of the responsibities he has towards others.” There are numerous verses of the Qur’an and Hadiths on this subject. We may mention some of these immediately.
1) And the likeness of those who spend their substance, seeking to please God and to strengthen their souls, is as a garden, high and fertile; heavy rain falls on it but makes it yield a double increase of harvest, and if it receives not heavy rain, light moisture suffices it. God sees well whatever you do. (2:265)
2) Whatever of good you give benefits your own souls, and you shall only do so seeking the face of God. Whatever good you give shall be rendered back to you, and you shall not be dealt with unjustly. (2:272)
3) [Charity is] for those in need, who, in God’s cause are restricted [from travel], and cannot move about in the land, seeking [for trade and work]: the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. You shall know them by their [unfailing] mark: they beg not importunately from all and sundry, and whatever of good you give be assured God knows it well. (2:273)
4) Those who [in charity] spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with the Sustainer; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:274)
5) God will deprive usury of all blessing, but will give increase for deeds of charity; for he loves not creatures ungrateful and wicked. (2:276)
6) O You who believe! Spend out of [the bounties] we have provided for you, before the Day comes when no bargaining [will avail], nor friendship nor intercession. (2:254)
7) The parable of those who spend their substance in the way of God is that of a grain of corn; it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. God gives manifold increase to whom He pleases; and God cares for all and He knows all things. (2:261)
1) “Whoever strives to help his brother, God will help him.”
2) “Assist one another is good and righteousness, but avoid helping each other in sin and evil.”
3) “If in a country any person dies of hunger, all the people of the country are responsible.”
4) “The best of men is the one most useful to men.”
So long as people’s essential needs are not met in a society when directing resources towards production, its authorities should beware of gratifying needs that are in second and third place. In today’s world, everyday hundreds of thousands of people die because they cannot meet their essential needs. For people whose stomachs are full feel strangers towards their neighbours who are hungry. However, God’s Messenger (PBUH) said: “If a person feels unconcerned while his neighbour is suffering hunger and deprivation and he has the means to rectify it, he is not one of us.” Bediuzzaman says the following in explaining this matter:
“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 unspoilt pleasure in the presence of a hundred people who are hungry.”
It was for this reason that in former times, believers and those who affirm God’s unity would eat nothing openly in the street, in order to not to stimulate the appetites of the people around, and would not even carry foodstuffs openly; they would cover them. With this idea, the fortunate people who have the means to satisfy their needs should know the worth of this and constantly thank their Creator. In our daily lives while meeting these needs of ours, the thanks we offer our Creator, in Bediuzzaman’s words “shows respect for the bounty and is profitable.” This is called ‘frugality,’ ‘thrift,’ or ‘economy.’ One who does not practise this, is wasteful. Wastefulness is the opposite of thanks “and slights the bounty and causes loss.” Since this is so, while eating the bread we buy and put on our tables, we should think first of this bounty’s being sown in the ground, then becoming wheat, then being milled and made into flour, then being baked and distributed, all of which is brought about through the co-operation and labour of numerous people. Eating it with this awareness, we will be “showing respect” for this Divinely bestowed bounty and “making it profitable.” That is to say, we should not waste and degrade it by leaving half of it on our plates and throwing it away, thus “slighting it and causing loss.”
Today, however, as I said, let alone the very rich countries, in societies like ours which are middling rich, we see, hear, and read that every day thousands of loaves are not eaten and left-overs are thrown away. This is what is known as wastefulness; it “slights the bounty and causes loss.” While what we should do while consuming bounties is “show respect” for them, which is profitable. Our believing forefathers knew of this, and would put any bread that fell to the ground to their foreheads and kiss it, and would be careful that not a single crumb fell to the ground when they were eating.
This is what Bediuzzaman calls ‘frugality’ (iktisad). The science of economics (iktisad), which is so popular to day, is based on this meaning. If we recall then, that in the books of economics, economics is defined as the science which investigates the most efficient ways limited resources can meet the unlimited needs of people, we shall have understood better the aptness and depth of Bediuzzaman’s definition.
If we divide economics or frugality, which explains “profitably showing respect” for the bounties God bestows, into its various elements, we see that it comprises six important attributes:
1) “Frugality expresses the meaning of thanks”
Man does not consist of only a body, he should therefore avoid wastefulness and practise frugality when meeting his essential daily needs. For he feels a pleasure welling up from the depths of his spirit when he offers thanks to his Creator for the bounties bestowed on him, the chief of which is the need for food.
2) Frugality “shows respect towards the Divine mercy manifested in the bounties”
Man should think of the bounties offered to him as Divine mercy, in the awareness that like himself, the universe is created and all its beings have been appointed to man’s command by the Creator. For Almighty God has guaranteed man’s sustenance, and has determined who will receive plentiful sustenance, and who will receive scanty sustenance. Someone who is aware of this should consider the bounty he receives to be Divine mercy.
3) Frugality “is the cause of plenty”
Because of their recognition of Divine mercy and thanks for the bounties He bestows, God Almighty makes abundant and plentiful the bounties of those who practise frugality, while he takes away the plenty from the wasteful who do not practise frugality. Bediuzzaman relates an anecdote on this subject:
“...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 situation in the Islamic world today is generally thus. There is poverty and deprivation in the midst of wealth. Although today the Islamic world possesses considerable resources, due to lack of thanks and contentment among the poor and wastefulness and extravagance among the rich, no co-operation has been secured through the division of labour, and it is falling into debt and becoming dependent on the swindlers. Within the Islamic world are the richest and poorest countries, and both rich and poor are sunk into debt. For while the Muslims should be brothers, they are arming against each other in their mutual hostility, and since they cannot produce the arms themselves, they buy them and go into debt, and losing their pride at the hands of the arms-dealers, are degraded and insulted.
4) To practise frugality while meeting the need for food is health-giving from the medical point of view, besides affording spiritual benefits and other profitable aspects
The consumption of food in a reasonable and necessary amount assists in carrying the body, but if excess is consumed the body carries it. Excessive food makes the body into a porter, wearing it out. Frugality “is health-giving for the body, like a diet.” In Bediuzzaman’s words:
“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.”
If we note the feeding habits of some of us or most of us today, we see that rather than the food we take in carrying the body, the body has to carry the food, and to store it without digesting it. If we recall that the accumulation of fats and so on formed through the excessive intake of food, that is, wastefulness in eating, and through excessive nutrients like sugar, chloresterol, and total liquids, is the cause of various illnesses, we shall understand this fourth virtue of practising frugality in food and avoiding wastefulness.
5) Fifth virtue
In Bediuzzaman’s words, frugality “saves a person from the degradation of what is in effect begging, and so is a cause of self-respect.” “According to the Hadith the meaning of which is: ‘He who is thrifty will not have family difficulties as regards livelihood,’ 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, 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 honour 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 liras.”
It is seen if noted carefully that the countries that are poor today, or consider themselves to be thus, have lost much of their national sovereignty and national pride because of their huge external debts, and suffer the abasement of in effect being beggars due to their continuously having to incur debts. The reason for this is that the people of those countries and those who have been appointed to govern them do not practise frugality and contentment, and get carried away by wastefulness. Whereas God’s Messenger (PBUH) prayed to God: “O God! I seek refuge with You from committing sins and incurring debts.” It is seen here that becoming indebted is held to be equivalent to committing sins, so long as there is no necessity, of course. Believers and those who affirm Divine unity should therefore conform to the following principles in their consumption, suitably to the Qur’an and Sunna:
1) In their consumption, they will not spend their income on things that are illict, and will increase their knowledge of those areas that are lawful. God Almighty commands the following in a verse, O you who believe! eat of the good things that We have provided for you and be grateful to God...(2:172; 2:168; 5:87-8; 6:142; 16:144)
2) In their consumption, they will avoid luxury and conspicuous consumption. It says in the verse Nor those who spend of their substance, to be seen of men, but have no faith in God and the Last Day; if any take the Evil One for their intimate, what a dreadful intimate he is!(4:38; 2:64; 2:70)
The Muslim will live according to the standard of living of the society in which he lives, and will not consume ostentatiously in a way that will make the poor covetous or excite their envy.
3) In areas in which consumption is lawful, they limit it to meeting essential needs. They will endeavour to preserve the bounties to the last drop or crumb, and will not waste them. For God does not love those who are wasteful.
4) Neither will they be extravagant and wasteful, nor will they incur debts so long as they are not compelled to do so.
6) Practising frugality allows one to experience the pleasure in bounties
In a comparison, Bediuzzaman likened the sense of taste, the sense which receives pleasure, to a doorkeeper, and the stomach to the master, and says that if the gifts which arrive at the palace for the master are worth a hundred liras, only five liras would be assigned to for the doorkeeper, by way of a tip.
Here, Bediuzzaman is alluding to the famous law of economics, the law of decreasing utility. If we practise frugality in consumption, the usefulness or utility of marginal consumption units is high. If we practise wastefulness and increase consumption, in accordance with the law of decreasing utility, the utility of the marginal units decreases, diminishing to nothing the more wastefulness increases, even becoming less than nothing.
Bediuzzaman continues as follows:
“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.”
In Bediuzzaman’s words:
“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 baklava eaten with the weariness and lack of appetite resulting from excess.”
It is for this reason that for those who do not live in conformity with Islamic rules, income and sustenance are in inverse proportion. As income increases, sustenance decreases. In the Qur’an, Almighty God guarantees the sustenance of all creatures. Here, Bediuzzaman expounds the verse in reply to an implied question. That is, if God has guaranteed people’s food, why do hundreds of thousands of them die of hunger? He replies as follows:
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 towards evil does not interfere, he will find this essential sustenance under any circumstances. He will not be compelled to sacrifice his religion, or his honour, 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.”
The calamities suffered by the poor in the world today is due to their reducing their essential needs to the level of “metaphorical” sustenance, or supposing “metaphorical sustenance” to be essential. As in numerous backward countries, in Turkey today goods are imported from abroad, which gives rise to debts, and are of the category of “metaphorical sustenance” rather than that of “true sustenance.” As a result of advertising, custom, and lack of contentment, we attempt to import these goods, which are in fact to facilitate life or beautify it. But our true productive power, that is, our income, is insufficient to buy them. Because of our lack of contentment, we buy the goods by going into debt. And the more we go into debt, the more we sink into the bog of interest, and the poorer we become. In numerous backward countries, ‘false sustenance’ was forced on the rulers by the colonialists, if only in part. For example, in some African countries, the land, which should have been used to produce essential foods like wheat and maize, was turned to the production of cocoa etc., and the people were made dependent on the colonialist power to obtain their true sustenance.
It is important when discussing frugality to mention an important difference, and that is the difference between frugality and stinginess.
7) The difference between frugality and stinginess
God does not like either wastefulness or stinginess. In Bediuzzaman’s words,
“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.”
Avoiding wastefulness leads to being economical, and being economical prevents us being entirely without means at the moment of need. A bright penny is for a dark day. In the following verse, Almighty God commands: The Evil One threatens you with poverty and bids you to conduct unseemly. God promises you forgiveness and bounties; and God cares for all and He knows all things. (2:268)
“Abdullah b. 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. ... ‘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 compassion of my and the perfection of my spirit. 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 no excess or wastefulness—so long as they are for the deserving, so there is no good at all in wastefulness and immoderateness.”
The result of wastefulness: the incitement of greed
8) Wastefulness leads to greed, and greed has three consequences:
2. Disappointment and loss.
3. It destroys sincerity and damages actions in regard to the hereafter.
1. Dissatisfaction destroys endeavour and enthusiasm for work
“[Greed] causes the dissatisfied person to complain instead of giving thanks, and makes him lazy... 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.”
It is for this reason that in Islam games of chance, gambling, etc., and easy gains, and feathering one’s nest are forbidden. (5:90-1)
Increased dissatisfaction and complaint instead of thanks, and abstention from labour gave rise to socialism. While giving up having few possessions which were lawful and seeking to own many possessions with little trouble, and unlawfully, gave rise to capitalism.
2. The second result of greed is disappointment and loss
“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 digest. According to the Hadith, ‘Contentment is an unfailing treasure,’ contentment is a treasury of good living, while greed is a mine of loss and abasement.”
3. 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.”
The above is very noteworthy and important. In conclusion:
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. 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. ... Moreover, 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.”
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