It is the responsibility of the individual to take part in poverty eradication. Achieving the goals of poverty eradication is of utmost importance. Hence, it has been obligated on the individual first and then on the state. Thus, if there is an Islamic government, it would be the responsibility of the state to channelise state resources and public funds towards poverty eradication. But in the absence of an Islamic government, the individual is expected to discharge his responsibility towards poverty eradication at the personal and collective level.
The Qur’ān says, “And in their wealth there was the right of those who asked and those who were deprived.” [Surah azZariyat, ayat 19]
“And those in whose wealth is a known right for those who ask and those who are deprived.” [Surah alMa’arij, ayaat 24 and 25]
The Poor are also expected to play a role in Poverty Eradication
This mission of poverty eradication is so crucial that it cannot be left to the discretion of the wealthy folks alone. Even the poor people have been instructed to contribute to it as and when possible.
“And they prefer others over themselves, despite being in need themselves.” [Surah alHashr, ayat 9]
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had told his wife Aishah, “Protect yourself from the fire, even if by means of half a date, for even half a date can satiate a hungry person to some extent.” [Musnad Ahmad]
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ also said, “If a traveller has more food and water than he requires, he should give it to those who have nothing to eat and drink.” [Saheeh Muslim]
Partaking in the cause of Poverty Eradication is akin to being faithful to the Lord. “Birr (being faithful, honest, upright, loyal) is not that you turn your faces towards east or west. Rather, true birr is to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your sustenance, out of love for Him (or despite the love for money), for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to establish prayer and offer zakat; to fulfil the contracts which you have made; and to be firm and patient in pain and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God-fearing.” [Surah alBaqarah, ayat 177]
This ayat begins with a detailed explanation of faith, followed by a detailed explanation of charity. This shows that spending in charity out of love for Allah and despite the love for money is an essential part of faith. This is followed by a call to establish prayers along with a call to offer Zakat. This shows that offering Salat and Zakat go hand-in-hand.
This ayat also tells us that when believers get wealthy, they spend a lot in charity. And when they are faced with penury, they exercise Sabr.
Decide upon your stand on Poverty
The will to eradicate poverty should emanate from a conscious decision and eventually form an integral part of a person’s attitude. Restricting his expenses to his needs, a person should offer financial aid to the poor. Whenever he gets an opportunity to spend money, he should weigh in the benefits of purchasing something and spending in charity instead. This should be a balanced and just approach, wherein the person is neither negligent of his own needs and those of his family members, nor is he so extravagant that he splurges money on vanities.
Launch a Campaign for Poverty Eradication
The Qur’ān uses the word ‘hadz’ (which means to encourage someone to do something) only in reference to feeding the indigent.
Consider the following ayaat: “Nor were we of those who fed the indigent.” [Surah alMuddaththir, ayat 44]
“They would not encourage the feeding of the indigent.” [Surah alHaqqah, ayat 34]
“Nor do you encourage each other to feed the poor.” [Surah alFajr, ayat 18]
In the first of these ayaat, the polytheists have been held to account for not feeding the indigent. In the second ayat, the charge upon them is that they did not encourage feeding the indigent. And in the third ayat, they have been taken to task for not encouraging each other to feed the poor. This shows that Islam mandates that men should feed the poor, they should encourage others to feed the poor and create a society where each and every person encourages each other to do so, such that the entire society rolls ups its sleeves to eradicate poverty by its speech and action. It is but obvious that poverty cannot survive in such a conscious society.
Consciousness and Resolve are indispensable to the cause of Poverty Eradication
1. The poor should be made conscious of the need to earn money and guided towards the same through counselling programmes.
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “If any of you takes his rope to a mountain and returns with a load of firewood mounted on his back to sell it in market and thus makes his ends meet, that would be better for him than begging before people who would either give him alms or turn him away.” [Bukhari]
He also said, “No one has had a better meal than that earned by his hands. The messenger of God, Dawood, used to eat food earned by his hands.” [Bukhari]
He also said, “If the doors of sustenance are opened before any of you, he should hold tight to it; he should not let it go away.” [Baihaqi]
2. The poor should be made conscious of spending wisely. These days, big industries are promoting vain consumerism among the poor folks as well.
3. The poor should be liberated from those traditions and customs which are draining away their money and plunging them into debt.
4. We should keep an eye on the changing scenario and the changes expected in the near future. Society should then be forewarned against the dangers which can make them slip into poverty.
5. They should be asked to discard old and outdated means of trade and industry, and opt for more productive and advanced ones.
6. Local employment schemes and programmes should be chalked out. Campaigns should be held at the locality, village, city and district levels.
7. Wealth based class system should be abolished. Every legitimate profession should be regarded with dignity and respect.
8. Remaining unemployed even for a single day should be denounced as being dangerous. Every penny counts. Once the pennies stop coming, so would the generation of wealth.
9. Society should felicitate the people who have struggled their way out of poverty, so that they can serve as examples for others to emulate. Instead of making icons out of the rich, we should make icons out of those people who have earned money with their honest sweat and taken themselves and their society out of poverty.
10. There is a difference between aspiring to become rich and aspiring to enter the rat-race to earn more and more. The former is positive and constructive, while the latter is negative and destructive. The former is essential for the land to prosper, while the latter leads to corruption in the land.
11. The urge to become rich overnight without having to toil for it and to earn easy money should be discouraged. Such urges lead people to invest and eventually lose their money in fake schemes. It is such people who usually fall prey to fraudsters.
12. Fraudsters become more active when they see people reeling under poverty. They deceive the people by promising insanely high returns on paltry investments, thus snatching away whatever savings the poor person had. Hence, warning the people about such thugs is also a form of community service.
13. Poor people are sometimes compelled to sell their properties. It is often seen that the rate of property takes a nosedive during a distress sale. But this exploitative and selfish attitude needs to be replaced with an empathetic and compassionate one. We should come up with a community policy that whenever a poor person is forced to sell off his property, that property should be purchased at the highest possible rate. We should of course try to ensure that he never has to reach that state of penury in the first place, and that he manages to tide over the situation without having to take this step.
14. It is seen that people bargain a lot while purchasing things from poor people or while paying for their services, and seldom relent. But the same person purchases overpriced merchandise from big showrooms and shopping malls without indulging in any bargaining, when the contrary should have been true. We need to be lenient with poor hawkers and labourers, so as to help and encourage them out of poverty. (to be concluded)
[The writer is Editor of Urdu monthly Zindagi-e-Nau. Translated from Urdu by Dr. Parvez Mandviwala.]