Institution of Zakah
Zakah is the third pillar of Islam which ushers the person in the fold of Islam after professing the Oneness of God and offering prayers. Allah says: “If they repent, establish regular prayers and pay zakah, they are brethren in Faith. Fiqh books abound with zakah regulations, its sources, the amount to be paid, its expenditure, etc. Muslim economists gave priority to its economic and social significance for the poor. The main purpose of decreeing zakah, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, is to alleviate poverty from society. When the Prophet (pbuh) sent Mu’adh b. Jabal to Yemen, he said to him: “Tell them that Allah has decreed upon them alms on their wealth, to be taken from their rich and be given to their poor.” Allah has entrusted this duty to Muslim rulers as they are more capable of performing it. Hence the role of zakah in alleviating poverty cannot be minimised. Before discussing how zakah alleviates poverty, it is appropriate to summarise, first, the Islamic view of poverty compared with the Western traditional outlook, the magnitude of poverty in the world and in the Muslim world and how the West attempted to solve the problem of poverty vis-a-vis Islam.
Islam views poverty as a test of man’s allegiance to his Creator and a dreadful affliction. Allah says: “Be sure we shall test you with something of fear, and hunger, some loss in goods, and the fruits (of your toil) but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere” [2:155]. It is a calamity with which Satan scares human beings while Allah promises them forgiveness and fortunes. At the same time to be free from Fear and hunger is a blessing from Allah who deserves thanks and worship. The Qur’an says: “Let them worship the Lord of this House who provides them with food against hunger, and with security against fear (of danger)” [106:3-4]. Islam looks upon poverty as a religious and social problem which pushes a person to lowliness, sin and crime. That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) sought the refuge of Allah from it; “O Allah, I seek your refuge from poverty, insufficiency and lowliness.” It may even lead to killing an innocent soul. The Qur’an says: “Kill not your children for fear of want, we shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. Verily, the killing of them is a great sin” [17:13]. The Prophet (peace be upon him) linked poverty to unbelief: “Poverty is almost like unbelief in God.” So, poverty is threat to man’s beliefs and character, and to the security and stability of society. That is why it is incumbent on society to confront poverty as a social threat by all possible means in order to establish a healthy community.
The traditional capitalistic theory proclaimed that if progress were to occur, economic life should be regulated only by the natural market processes of supply and demand. Poverty itself offers an incentive to better one’s self and that a guarantee of the means of survival removes that incentive. Thus, poverty was accepted as the necessary price for economic growth and progress. The late 18th and early 19th century Protestant theology was dominated the concept of predestination. Material success is an indication that one was favoured by God, and the failure to succeed was seen as the “will of God” that ought not to be interfered with. Social Darwinists in the late 19th century justified the existence of poverty on the basis of their coined phrase “survival of the fittest,” that those at the bottom of the social ladder were there because they were inferior or unfit to engage in social life, “To aid them would retard their extinction, hence retard progress itself.” This arrogant fatalistic attitude to the poor started to change by the late 19th and beginning of 20th century when socialist thought evolved calling for the equitable distribution of wealth and the revolt against the exploitation of the poor by the rich. There were some social disturbances by the low-packed workers in a number of urban centres especially in France and Germany. By obtaining the right to vote, forming trade unions, negotiating pay increases and improvement of working conditions, the right to strike, all these developments compelled Western governments to take some measures to improve the conditions of the poor. By the end of the Second World War when cities were destroyed and unemployment became rampant, social security for the poor became an official policy all through Europe.
Dr. Tayyib Zain-Al-Abidin
Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.