The concept of poverty in Islamic sources
The concept of poverty in the Holy Qur’an:
The words for poverty [faqr, faqir (plural form of) fuqara’] are mentioned in the Qur’an twelve times. When these verses are examined, it is seen that:
· There are two categories of poverty:
1. Spiritual poverty.
2. Material poverty.
· The majority of these verses deal with material poverty.
1. Spiritual poverty:
It means that:
· Men are [Fuqaraa’ ila Allah], i.e.: they are unable to sustain themselves and their absolute need for Allah.
· Allah Himself is al-Ghanyy, i.e.: He does not need anybody.
Poverty [Faqr] to Allah means to have no need of anything or anyone except Allah. With this meaning, the poor [Faqir] is not a person who is far from material things and without daily food, but one who lives keeping constantly aware only needing Allah.
Two out of twelve verses speak about [spiritual poverty]. Allah says:
· [Men, it is you who stand in need of Allah. Allah is self-sufficient and self-Praiseworthy].
· [You are called upon to give in the way of Allah. Some among you are ungenerous; yet whoever is ungenerous to this cause is ungenerous to himself. Indeed, Allah does not need you, but you need Him].
How to express our spiritual poverty to Allah?
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
One of the most beautiful supplications in the Qur’an is the supplication of the Prophet Moses: [My Lord, I am poor enough to accept good You may grant me]. One day, Moses saw two men fighting, one of his own people and the other of his enemies, then, the one belonging to his own people, i.e.; the oppressed man, asked his help against the one belonging to the enemy, i.e.; the oppressor man, then, Moses gave him a punch and the man dropped dead. After that a man came hurrying up from the further end of the city; he said, [the councilmen were holding a consultation to kill you, clear out! I am giving you sincere advice]. Then, Moses left Egypt in a state of anxiety and fear, feeling helpless. Moses made his way towards Madyan. As he arrived at the water of Madyan, he found a large crowd of people watering the flocks. Among them he found two women to keep back their flocks, he asked them, [What is your trouble? We can not water our flocks,] they said, [until the shepherds have driven off their flocks, and our father is an old man]. Moses watered their flocks for them, then turned away to the shade and prayed, [O Allah, My Lord, I am poor enough to accept good You may grant me].
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
After leaving Egypt in a state of fear; after a long trip, during which he was very tired and lonely; and after doing a great effort for watering the flocks of the two women, Moses laid down beside a tree, and invoked Allah. In such state of weakness Moses directed his face towards Allah. First Moses gave his thanks to Allah, because Allah protected him from those people who were planning to kill Him. Second, Moses expressed his poverty to Allah, because he has no family, a tribe, or friends to help him in this new country. Moses gave thanks to Allah who granted him with good and then asked Allah his help for livelihood. [O Allah, My Lord, I am poor enough to accept good You may grant me].
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
This case, in which Moses was in, is the same case for every human being. Every one who lives in this world has to feel that he is in need to Allah in all of his affairs. He has to communicate with Allah, expressing his poverty to Him, and let Allah to be the best witness for his situation. Every man has to ask Allah to solve his problems because He is the Ghanyy [The Self-Sufficient]. Allah said in the Qur’an: [Whoever has trust in Allah, He is enough for him] [Whosoever has Taqwa of Allah ‘fears Allah’ in whatever he does, Allah will grant a way out of his difficulties] [Allah makes His matter easy for anyone who has Taqwa of Allah ‘fears Him’].
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Allah asked us to express our poverty to Him, why? Because, when some people have power; either physical body, wealth, authority, etc, then such people feel that they are in no need to Allah; they forgot their creator. This is the case of Qaroon, [Qaroon belonged to Moses’ tribe, and he treated them unjustly. We had given him so many treasures that their very keys would have weighed down a band of strong men. His people said to him; do not exult in your riches; Allah does not love the exultant. But seek, by means of that which Allah has given you, to attain the abode of the hereafter. Do not forget your share in this world. Be good to others as Allah has been good to you, and do not strive for evil in the land, for Allah does not love the evil-doers]. [Q: 28/76-77].
What was the reply of Qaroon? He said, [I am in no need to Allah; This is mine, not Allah’s]; [These riches were given me on account of the knowledge I possess]. [Q: 28/77]. I am an expert in my field. I am a smart. I am a business man. Then, what was the consequence? Allah replied: [We caused the earth to swallow him, together with his dwelling, so that he found none besides Allah to protect him; nor was he able to defend himself] [Q/ 28-81].
Allah said: [However, man acts so arrogant, for he sees himself self-sufficient] [Q; al-alaq/6-7]. This means that man transgresses in thinking himself his own master, when he has a power. Righteous men used to say, on entering the Mosque: [O Allah! I am your servant at the gate of your house. I am the poor, standing before your house].
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Nowadays, Humanity is more than five billion. If Allah wills to remove them and replace them with a new generation, it is not impossible for Him.
Some people say that I am in no need for Allah. I have money, offspring, authority and so on. I have all means of power. I have all means of livelihood. For such group of people, Allah said; [It is We Who have created you; will you not believe then in Our power? Behold the semen you discharge: did you create it, or are We the Creators? It was We who ordained death among you. Nothing can hinder Us from replacing you by others like yourselves or transforming you into beings you know nothing of. You surely know of the first form of creation. Why, then, do you not celebrate His praises? Consider the seeds you grow. Is it you that give them growth, or We? If We pleased, We could turn your harvest into chaff and you would then be left lamenting, [We have incurred penalties! Ah, we are undone. Consider the water which you drink? Is it you who send it down from the clouds, or are We the senders? If We pleased, We could turn it bitter. Why, then, do you not give thanks? Observe the fire which you light? Is it you that create its wood, or are We the creators? We have made it a reminder for man and an advantage for the wayfarers of the desert. Praise, then the name of your Lord, the Supreme One] [56/ 56-74]
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
When Moses asked Allah, Allah responded to his call: [One of the two girls came towards him and said: my father calls you. He wishes to reward you for watering our flocks. And when Moses came to him and narrated the story, he said: Fear not! You secure from the unjust people. One of the two women said: O my father! Hire him! Surely the best of those that you can hire is the strong man, the faithful one. He said: I desire to marry one of these two daughters of mine to you on condition that you should serve me for eight years; but if you complete ten, it will be of your own free will, and I do not wish to be hard to you; if Allah please, you will find me one of the good].
This is what happened. Moses had a wife, a job, security and shelter. Then after a while he became a prophet.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We have to live in the shade of this small verse; [My Lord, I am poor enough to accept good You may grant me]. We have to believe in it, ponder upon it, and act according to it. There is none but Allah alone: [Every hardship is followed by ease. Every hardship is followed by ease].
2. Material poverty:
It means helping, protecting, and sheltering poor people.
Ten out of twelve verses are related to material poverty. In these verses, those who are not rich have material needs and require other peoples’ help.
The concept of poverty in the purified Sunnah:
The words for poverty in the hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad are generally used in the same way. There are many hadiths related to poverty and the poor in the Zühd [the ignorance of the world life] and Riqaq [giving sensitivity to the heart] chapters of hadith sources.
In these hadiths the poor mainly refer to [material poverty] as it is in the Qur’an.
The Islamic view of poverty:
First, we have to know that Islam is not against gaining property and commodities. As long as property does not become of a source of pride, arrogance and oppression or cause people to be enslaved to it (abd ad-dinar), Islam does discourage but actually encourages people to gain property.
On this point, the Qur’an reads as follows:
· O Muhammad, ask them, [Who has made it unlawful to maintain beauty and to eat the pure foods which Allah has produced for His servants? Say, [They are made for the enjoyment of the believers in the life of this world, but they shall be theirs alone in the Day of Resurrection [such articles and objects, material and immaterial, were given to both believers and disbelievers in this world. Thus, do We explain the signs in detail for those who know].
· Again, according to the Qur’an, [women and offspring; hoarded treasures of gold and silver; splendid horses, and (wealth of) cattle and plantations] are not accused in and of themselves, but because of causing greed and passionate desires in people. Thus, when prosperity does not cause them to have these negative behaviors, it will be a means of blessing both in this world and the next world.
Second, we have to know that Islam considers that struggling for a living by producing something or by commerce is a meritorious job.
In order to sustain humanly life in this world, working and having enough property is imperative for everyone in Islam. Moreover, working to obtain property and maintain a good life is accepted as a valuable effort and worship.
It is stated in the Qur’an that while the night is created for the rest, the day is created for the maintenance of life and it is accepted as a principle, [That man can have nothing but what he strives for]. Furthermore, the Qur’an, in the Surah of Jumu’ah, commands that when Muslims finish their prayers they should disperse through the land and seek the bounty of Allah. Saying [a person does not eat anything better than he earns by himself] the Prophet Muhammad also indicated the importance and holiness of working.
Third, it must also be noted that while Islam encourages Muslims to work and to gain their livelihood, it has also brought some regulations and restrictions related to gaining income and ownership.
In this context, it has brought two important principles:
· Gaining income and ownership should be by legal means.
· Income and wealth should be spent on legal aims and the common good.
Islam is against those who accumulate property for the purpose of greed and oppression as well as those who gain thorough unlawful business practices.
Fourth, Islam does not have any negative attitudes towards property; instead it places great value on prosperity as long as it is used properly.
Again, Islam basically does not see poverty as a virtue, but as a social anomaly that must be alleviated, and a situation from which a Muslim should pray to Allah to be protected from its consequences.
In addition, Islam provides some guidelines to eliminate its negative effects. In fact, other world religions also try to solve this serious problem by establishing some regulations and giving advice to her followers such as [protecting the oppressed people from the oppressors’ cruelty, helping needy persons, and maintaining the lives of aged, orphan and other handicapped persons in the society].
Fifth, there are no verses in the Qur’an nor any hadith related to the Prophet that advocates poverty.
Indeed a devout person is a person who has adequate wealth, but never puts it into his/her heart. The Prophet indicates this when he says: Even if I had had gold as much as the Mount Uhud, I would not have kept it in me].
Additionally, the Prophet says: [Worldly wealth is sweet and attractive]. However, He meant by this hadith that everyone could not behave as he did in terms of property. Indeed, He approved that Muslims should have property and saw richness as a grace of Allah as long as they fulfilled their responsibilities towards other people and society. In this context, He said: [A clean property (goods) that is acquired by legal means is a beautiful grace for a devout Muslim]. Although the Prophet Muhammad states that a true richness is the richness of heart it should not be understood from this that He is saying that He does not reject the property of the world, for he says [Allah loves those who are devout, rich and vow themselves to worship].
The issue of poverty is spoken more comprehensively in the hadiths. The authentic hadiths related to the Prophet indicate that poverty is an important danger and threat for both individuals and societies.
The Prophet clearly points out that poverty is an unwanted situation from which every Muslim should protect himself/herself.
Indeed, while He himself prayed, [O my Allah, I refuge to you from the evils of poverty] he advised his friends with the following prayer: [Refuge to Allah from the evils of poverty, famine, degradation, oppressing and oppressed].
It is also known that some serious precautions were taken to hinder poverty and to maintain the prosperity of the society during his lifetime. Making the needy people brothers and sisters with those who are rich, freeing of slaves, encouraging the Islamic foundations for the common good, atonement, giving alms for the poor, and voluntary spending etc. are just a few examples.
Although Islamic sources approve of benefiting from the world and of being rich, and see poverty as a social illness and threat that must be eradicated, it cannot be said that this has been properly understood or applied by Muslim societies in history.
The historical events show that while a part of society lived in luxury, forgetting the Islamic teaching of modesty and the middle road, others preferred to live in poverty and withdraw themselves from any of the benefits of the world.
Islam, revealed to humanity over 1400 years ago, came with the most just and easy solution to the problem of poverty, hunger and starvation in this world.
Islam is the religion and way of life that was revealed to humanity by our creator, Allah.
Islam was revealed as a practical religion that covers all aspects of our lives, and it is intended to be implemented in our lives. When implemented honestly and correctly, Islam provides solutions to all problems that are faced by humanity.
One of the most widespread and dangerous problems faced by humanity is that of poverty, hunger and starvation.
There is nothing more horrifying than the realization that as we live our happy lives here, millions of our fellow human beings live in hunger and face starvation. The majority of the world population today lives in poverty.
It is clear that the world system we have set up today is unjust and inhumane. Otherwise, how can we allow this situation to continue with less than 10% of the world population controlling over 90% of the wealth and resources on this earth?
If Islam is implemented in the world today, the problem of poverty, hunger and starvation would be completely eliminated within a year.
The Obligatory Zakah:
Islam makes it obligatory on every Muslim to pay a certain “tax”, called Zakah, on their accumulated wealth. The money collected from this Zakah is to be distributed among the poor and needy.
The Arabic word “Zakah” means both ‘purification’ and ‘growth’. One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to Allah, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. Our wealth is purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth in our wealth.
Zakah is due on accumulated wealth that has been in the possession of a person for at least one year. There are rules on how to pay Zakah on each type of possessions, such as gold, animals, crops, shares and so on. A certain percentage of each type of these possessions is to be paid as Zakah. Note that the Zakah is taken from excess wealth that a person is accumulating and has had in their possession for over a year. It is not paid on income. Therefore, people whose save nothing after covering their expenses with their income do not pay Zakah, and in fact may be eligible to receive Zakah money from others if their income does not cover all their needs.
The Zakah is to be distributed among people of the following categories, depending on need:
(1) The Destitute: Those who don’t have material possessions nor nor means of livelihood.
(2) The Poor: Those with insufficient means of livelihood to meet basic needs.
(3) The Indebted: Those who are in debt and have difficulty repaying it.
(4) Stranded Traveller: The traveller who does not have enough money to complete their journey.
(5) To Free Slaves: Zakah money is to be used to purchase slaves and free them.
(6) New Muslims: Those who are new to Islam and require help to integrate themselves into the Muslims community.
(7) In the Path of Allah: Zakah money can also be spent in the path of Allah. This can include many things, basically any project that helps Muslims or Islamic causes.
(8) Zakah Workers: Those whose job it is to collect and re-distribute Zakah money get their salary from the Zakah money.
How can Zakah eliminate Poverty and starvation?
If Islam was implemented in the world today, starvation would be eliminated from the planet within the first year. The Zakah due on agricultural products ranges from 5% to 10% of the produce. There is also Zakah due on various types of animals such as sheep, cows and camels. Imagine if 5%-10% of all agricultural production in the world, plus the required amounts on animals are distributed among the hungry and starving people of this world. The problem would be solved immediately.
In the system we have today, some nations intentionally spoil a part of their agricultural production in order to maintain high prices for their produce. Can you see the difference between the system driven by human greed and the Islam which was imposed by Allah (swt), the most gracious and most merciful?
In addition, Islam can solve the problem of poverty. Consider the Zakah due on money. Zakah is due at 2.5% on money that has been in one’s possession for over a year. Now consider this simple fact: Forbes Magazine reported that in 2004 there were 587 billionaires worldwide, with a combined net worth of $1.9 trillion dollars. If in 2004 these 587 richest people in the world paid zakah, we would have had $47.5 billion dollars distributed among the poor.
This calculation has just considered less than 600 individuals on this earth. What about if everyone contributed to a global Zakah fund in the same way?
The total world GDP (summation of gross domestic product of all countries in the world) was estimated in 1999 to be $27,357.9 billion dollars. The 2.5% Zakah on this would amount to $683.95 billion dollars annually. These are just ball park figures to give the reader an idea of how much money Zakah can generate.
This Zakah money should not only be distributed for immediate relief to the poor. It can also be given in the form of small business loans. For example, poor farmers can be given loans or even grants from this Zakah money to enable them to purchase the equipment and materials they need to lift them out of poverty. The same can be done for small business owners, or for the poor to set up small workshops or factories to lift them out of poverty once and for all. Within a few years, poverty would be eliminated or at least greatly reduced.
As discussed earlier, the obligatory Zakah imposed by Islam can easily solve the problems of poverty and starvation in the world. However, in addition to that, Islam greatly encourages Muslims to give extra charity. For example, the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) once said that the person who sleeps full while his neighbour sleeps hungry is not a true believer.
Islam also always encourages charity in all situations. For example, for the persons who are not able to fast in Ramadan, they are required to feed some poor people for each day they do not fast. And there are many such examples.
Examples of Charity in the holy Qur’an and the Sunnah:
Allah said: [And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity].
Allah said addressing the messenger of Allah, Mohammad (pbuh): [Of their goods take alms (charity), so that you might purify and sanctify them, and pray on their behalf].
When the messenger of Allah, Mohammad (pbuh), sent one of his companions to call the people of Yemen to Islam, he asked him to tell them the basics of Islam, among which was: [… and tell them that Allah has made obligatory on them a charity that is taken from their rich and given to their poor…].
Allah said: [So he who gives (in charity) and fears (Allah), and (in all sincerity) testifies to the Best, We will indeed make smooth for him the path to Bliss. But he who is a greedy miser and thinks himself self-sufficient, And gives the lie to the Best, We will indeed make smooth for him the Path to Misery; Nor will his wealth profit him when he falls headlong (into the hell fire)].
Allah said: [By no means shall you attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which you love; and whatever you give, Allah knows it well].
Allah said: [O believers! Cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in Parable like a hard barren rock, on which is a little soil; on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guides not those who reject Faith].