Our Responsibilities in the Post-Covid Economic Crisis
By Mohiuddin Ghazi
What are our responsibilities during the Covid pandemic? The most important thing is to realise that our nation is heading towards an economic crisis. The already plunging economy has taken a nosedive following the Covid pandemic, with experts fearing that the worst is yet to come.
In such circumstances, if we do not launch a fierce social campaign for poverty eradication and if we do not take concrete steps to stem the tide, our condition would go from bad to worse.
Collective efforts are required to counter the Covid situation. The country’s various organisations, student and youth bodies and NGOs should come up with a decisive programme. Groups should be formed at the locality, city and district levels. The participation of all stakeholders should be enlisted in this campaign.
a. The Government should be petitioned. Using constitutional means, the Central and State governments and District administrations should be pressurised into concentrating all their resources towards the assistance of the Covid victims and their families on a priority basis instead of splurging on unnecessary activities.
b. At the local and district levels, monitoring groups should be formed to keep a tab on the funds released for the Covid victims and to ensure that they are spent properly.
c. The victims should be made aware of those government and non-government schemes which have been launched to assist them. It often so happens that owing to the lack of information or access, those eligible do not receive any benefit from those schemes. A few weeks back, SIO had launched a call centre for those affected with Covid, through which they used to provide proper information to the patients regarding hospital beds, oxygen and medicine availability. Similar helplines can be initiated to guide Covid victims about financial schemes.
d. Public treasuries (bait-ul-maal) should be established to aid the poor. This would increase our reach, and thus the beneficiaries. Also, efforts should be made to make them financially independent.
e. A complete survey of the entire population needs to be conducted. In the current scenario, it would be very difficult for us to gauge the actual situation until we meet each and every person and get acquainted with his condition. This calls for a detailed survey.
f. Those who have been affected by the lockdown should approach local organisations and inform them about their condition. This is required in the current situation, and would be appreciated as a form of mutual cooperation.
g. But we should not always expect the affected people to walk to us. If someone knows about a person who is in distress, he should inform the help centres about him. Some people might not want to reveal their condition out of self-dignity or embarrassment, or they might not have access to the help centre.
h. Islamic teachings on poverty eradication need to be disseminated on a mass level. This can be done by means of public addresses, Friday sermons, online lectures, videos and social media posts.
i. Case videos should be made which can melt people’s hearts, promote compassion for the poor and encourage them to spend in charity.
j. The wealthy people of every locality should be met and they should be informed about the conditions of the affected folk and what Islam expects from them.
k. Even non-Muslim wealthy people should be roped in. The Islamic teachings related to poverty eradication should be shared with them too.
l. It would be great if all the wealthy people of a particular locality come together and take up the responsibility of improving the conditions of the affected people in an organised manner. Religious organisations and social bodies should strive towards this end.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF WEALTHY PEOPLE
The post-Covid conditions are actually a trial for those who are in possession of wealth. Their sense of social responsibility is being tested. They should feel assured that charity does not deplete one’s wealth. [Tirmidhi] They should also have a conviction that it is God who provides for them, and He is the best Provider. “Say: Indeed, my Lord extends provision for whoever He wills of His servants and restricts it for whoever He wills. And whatever you spend in His cause, He will compensate it, for He is the best of providers.” [Surah Saba, ayat 39]
They should also be convinced of the fact that the reward God would give them for their charity would be beyond their imagination. “Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you would be returned.” [Surah alBaqarah, ayat 245]
It is the responsibility of the wealthy people to make well planned efforts to help those families which have been affected by the pandemic and the lockdown.
• The wealthy people should make sure that their donations are being used properly. In order to ensure this, they need to participate in the project themselves.
• While helping poor Covid and lockdown victims, two things should be taken into consideration simultaneously. The first is the resolution of their immediate needs (food, clothing and medical treatment, school fees etc.) and the second is to make them financially independent by providing them with sewing machines, cattle etc.
The following incident can serve as a beautiful precedent:
Once a person approached Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for alms. The Prophet asked him, “Do you not have anything at home?” He replied, “Why not? I have a carpet, half of which I sleep on and the other half I use as a blanket. I also have a cup which I use to drink water.” The Prophet asked him to get both those things. He then took them from that person and called out, “Who would purchase these things?” One man responded, “I shall purchase them for a dirham.” The Prophet called out two or three times, “Who would pay more than a dirham for these?” Another man replied, “I shall purchase them for two dirhams”. The Prophet handed over the carpet and the cup to the man and gave those two dirhams to the man. He then asked him to use one dirham to purchase some food for his family and use the other dirham to purchase the head of an axe.
When the man returned with the axe-head, the Prophet himself fixed its handle and asked him to use it to collect firewood and sell it in market. He also asked him to come back to him after fifteen days. That man went to the forest and began collecting and selling firewood. When he returned, he had earned ten dirhams, with which he had purchased some food and clothes. When the Prophet saw this, he remarked, “This is far better than you arriving on the Day of Judgment with the mark of a beggar on your forehead. Begging is not permissible for anyone but three persons – a starving person, a person burdened with debt and a person who is struggling to arrange blood money.” [Tirmidhi]
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ sent for his assets, and could manage in getting him twice the price of those things. He then made arrangements for food (immediate relief) and his financial independence. He also advised him on what he should do for a living, what we today call career counselling and guidance.
We should not rely solely on Zakat to counter the destruction left behind by Covid; we need to add in sufficient amounts of Sadqa too. Islamic jurisprudence allows a man to pay his annual Zakat in advance if the situation so demands. He can then calculate his Zakat accordingly when the actual time of his Zakat arrives. Some religious scholars have even allowed people to pay several years’ Zakat in advance to counter the aftermath of the Covid crisis.
But this, too, is not enough. It is feared that the post-Covid economic crisis has reduced the number of people who are rich enough to pay Zakat. Nevertheless, everyone can still donate in charity. Small contributions can come together to make a huge amount. And if some generous people empty their pockets, it would become very easy to tide over this economic crisis. We have an excellent example in the life of Usman Ghani (May God be pleased with him):
Abdullah ibn Abbas relates that once there was a severe drought during the caliphate of Abu Bakr Siddiq. Usman Ghani’s trade caravan was returning from Syria, which included a hundred camels loaded with food grains. People assembled at his doorstep and knocked at his door. When he stepped out and noticed a huge gathering of people, he asked them what they had come for. They replied, “A famine has gripped the land. Neither is there rain, nor is there any vegetation. People are reeling under extreme distress. We have been informed that you have a stock of food grains. Please sell it to us so that we can satiate the hunger of needy Muslims.
Usman replied, “O traders, how much would you pay me over and above the amount with which I have purchased these grains from Syria, so that I am able to earn maximum profit?” The traders replied that they would offer 12 on 10. Usman replied that he has received a better offer elsewhere. They asked him how anyone could offer him anything more when all the traders of Madinah were already assembled there. At this, Usman replied, “My Lord has promised me 10 dirhams for every dirham. Can you give me more than that?” They replied that it was beyond their capacity to pay ten times the price. Usman proclaimed, “I call Allah to witness that I have donated all these grains as charity for the poor Muslims.”
By the grace of God, there is no scarcity of wealthy Muslims in the Ummah. If they are gifted the generosity and magnanimity of Hazrat Usman too, there can be a sweeping change in the situation.
Given the trying circumstances, money earned from fields and orchards, and the rent obtained from properties can also be pledged (waqf) for the poor. Some religious scholars suggest that this pledge can be time-bound for a few years, and need not necessarily be permanent.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE COMMON MAN
• It should be kept in mind that helping the poor is not the exclusive privilege of the rich and wealthy. We should give in charity from whatever God has given us and prepare our perpetual home in Paradise. It often so happens that faith in the hereafter drives a middle class man to surpass even rich men in charity.
• People should do whatever they can to help the needy on an individual and personal level. Along with this, they should also try to involve three natural community institutions in this task. The first of these is the family. If someone from the family has been affected, we should try to encourage all our family members and relatives to help him. The second is our neighbourhood. If someone from the neighbourhood has been affected, we should try to encourage the entire neighbourhood to contribute to the cause. The third circle is that of our friends and colleagues. If any of our friends or colleagues is facing tough times, we should encourage all our friends and colleagues to run to his aid. The 36th ayat of Surah anNisa’ guides us in this regard.
• If you know anyone who is in need, you should not only help him on a personal level, but also get him in touch with those people and organisations that can help him. This is also a part of helping him.
• Whenever possible, instead of purchasing from big showrooms and online portals, we should purchase from small shop owners. Their shops were closed in the entire lockdown period. Now that they have been able to open their shutters, we should make it a point to buy from them.
• Labourers should be given full payment. They have not had any source of income during the lockdown. Now that they are getting opportunities to earn, we should pay for their services with open hands.
REGULAR CHARITY IS BETTER THAN SPORADIC CHARITY
When it comes to helping the poor and needy, one advice that I would like to share is that instead of giving them money just once and forgetting them thereafter, it would be far better if we keep our charities and courtesy calls regular. This fosters strong relations. The poor person feels assured that there is someone keeping his back. History testifies to the fact that Abu Bakr Siddiq and Umar Farooq (May God be pleased with them) used to sponsor some poor families before they became the Caliph and continued to do so even after they became the Caliph. This also allows you the opportunity to strive towards the moral reformation of the beneficiary and his family members. If they regard you as their well-wisher, they would trust and respect you, and pay heed to your words. (concluded)
[The writer is Editor of Urdu monthly Zindagi-e-Nau. Translated from Urdu by Dr. Parvez Mandviwala.]