Alleviating Poverty in the Society Through Islamic Values 

Poverty is a very dangerous social problem. It puts man in trial, pushing him to compromise his religion, dignity and character. Imagine the agony that the poor go through, not able to make ends meet. A report indicates that nearly half of the world’s population (more than 3 billion people) live on less than 2.50 dollars a day and more than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day).[1]How then can there be peace and stability in the society when the poor are left with the free decision as to whether to cross the limits of religion and morality or not? 

 A man once approached me for help on the street. He claimed he had not eaten since the day before. He was in some kind of Ankara fabric that has long since grown too weak to keep up the design. “I do not have an obligation under the law to give him anything,” I thought;  but the words of Allah came to my mind: “Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”[2] I found my thinking very flawed and my conscience did not allow me to abandon a poor man who needs my help. A good deed was done, but I could not take credit for the kind act, because It was obvious I did not help the man – Islam did.

 From this experience and some other teachings of Islam, I have come to realize that, with the growing number of indigents in the society, Islamic values become one of the most important ways of alleviating poverty. 

Islam enjoins every individual to earn his livelihood by his labour. The prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Verily, for a man to carry a rope and gather firewood, then come to sell it in the market and make himself independent thereby such that he can spend on his needs, that is better for him than asking people who might give him or deprive him.”[3] He also emphasised  in the following tradition: “Everyone of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader of the people is a guardian and is responsible for his subjects: a man is the guardian of his family and is responsible for his subjects, a woman is the guardian of her husband’s home and of his children and is responsible for them, and the slave of a man is a guardian of his master’s property and is responsible for it. Surely, every one of you is a shepherd and responsible for his flock.”[4] It is, therefore, an obligation upon the state to provide employment opportunities for the jobless members of the society that are capable of working. However, in a situation where the state cannot provide jobs for its citizens, the public treasury will support them until their conditions improve.

Taking this into consideration, Islam has made compulsory the payment of Zakah as a means of sustaining the treasury. It is the portion of a man’s wealth which is designated for the poor. It is a tax incumbent upon all Muslims who has a nisab (a minimum of one’s holdings liable to Zakah). It is collected and distributed to the poor by the state.  It might also be used in building structures like hospitals, schools, etc., from which people, especially the poor, may benefit and be employed, because, islamically, the society ought not to comprise people who live in total dependence on the zakat. During the reign of Umar Ibn AbdulAziz (a companion of the prophet) as leader of the muslims, the collectors of zakat could not find anyone who would accept the Zakat, as everyone has been enriched therefrom. So, without any critical thinking, it could be ascertained that, as a result of the payment of Zakah, the poor will never suffer from starvation or lack of clothes unless the rich neglect their dues, and the rich would not be financially drained due to the cautious placement of the nisab.

 Aside from this, Islam also encourages voluntary charity which could be in form of support to parents and relatives, or by helping the needy in general.  Allah says, ” Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend (in charity)  out of the (substance) whereof he has made you heirs. For those of you who believe and spend (in charity),- for them is a great reward. [5]” Also, Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) reported that the messenger of Allah( peace be upon him) said, “Jubril kept recommending treating neighbours with kindness until I thought he would order me to make them as my heirs.”[5]

Furthermore, economic dealings and transactions like monopoly, unfair trade, hoarding of basic necessities and interest, to mention a few also play important roles in extending the arms of poverty. The burden of interest on those who fall into debt puts them in a situation where they cannot advance economically and socially, widening the gap between the rich and the poor in the society. Even countries in debt, as a result of the interest rates, have to face the problem of more budget deficit, which has a negative effect on the economy and the citizens.  Forced inflation, as a result of hoarding has a very negative effect in the distribution of income. The poor man whose means of sustenance is very limited will be forced to purchase inflated goods with the little money he has, leaving him with little or no money for his sustenance. He might not even have the wherewithal in this situation as the price is higher than what he can afford. Imagine the pain that this man has to endure in order to make ends meet. Allah says: “Those who consume interest cannot stand (on the Day of Resurrection) except as one stands who is being beaten by Satan into insanity. That is because they say, ‘Trade is (just) like interest.’ But God has permitted trade and has forbidden interest. So whoever has received an admonition from his Lord and desists may have what is past, and his affair rests with God. But whoever returns (to dealing in interest or usury)- those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein. God destroys interest and gives increase for charities. And God does not like every sinning disbeliever.”[6]

Islam, however, lays a very strong emphasis on equity and justice. Therefore, it forbids all economic activities or transactions that hinder the equitable distribution of income in the society. Allah says: ” O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your heart), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.”[8] The state should also protect rights of property, fulfillment of contracts and trusts, and legality of all dealings. It should punish anyone who usurps the rights of others by any means. This concept of equity and justice benefits the weaker members of the society; It would not only make it easy for people to obtain loans without the fear of being stuck in a cycle of debt, but also helps in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. 

We live in a society where the right to own and use things has tricked a lot of people into believing and practising extravagant and wasteful lifestyles. People spend money lavishly on frivolous acts, paying little or no attention to the poor. The situation has now become so bad that It is no longer considered morally unacceptable for the rich to extend their luxurious generosity to their thrash bins. These thrash bins have, thus, become mini shopping malls for those whose dignities have been compromised due to extreme poverty. This is however in total contrast to the Quranic model of modesty, simplicity and frugality. Allah says in the Noble Qur’an:  “O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel everytime and place of prayer: eat and drink: but waste not by excess for Allah loveth not the wasters.”[7] He also says: “And render to the kindred their due rights, as (also) to those in want and to the wayfarer: But squander not (your wealth)  in the manner of a spendthrift. Verily,  spendthrifts are brothers of the evil ones; and the evil one is to his Lord (himself) ungrateful.”[8] So, of what economic, social and religious importance is a man who enjoys his life to the fullest while his neighbour(s) sleep in hunger? 

Taking a deeper look at the message of the Qur’an, we would realize that the values we find in it are universally applicable to all of humanity, regardless of whether one is a Muslim or is an adherent of some other religion or not. This is because they were communicated to us through the actual words of God Almighty- the creator of humanity. Therefore, in a society where the number of impoverished people is on the increase, Islamic values, against all odds, will obviously go a long way in putting poverty in check. 
References

1. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-global-poverty

2.  Al-Quran ( Suratul Baqarah 2 vs 274)

3. Musnad Ahmad 1410, Grade: Sahih

4. Sahih Bukhari 6719, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

5. Sahih al-Bukhari 6014 (Good Manners and Form (Al-Adab))

6. Al-Quran (Suratul Baqarah 2 vs 275-276)

7. Al- Qur’an ( Suratul  Ar-Rad 7 vs 31)

8.  Al-Qur’an ( Suratul Isra 17 vs 26-27)
P. S: This is the second-prize essay for the 2016 GIC essay competition. 

Written by Akinyemi AbdulMalik Olumide