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Poverty & Islam

Concern for the poor and the destitute is the hallmark of Islamic economic agenda. In this respect zakah (and ushr) constitutes the most prominent and basic institution that addresses the needs of all those who are poor and needy, in the form of a permanently working social and economic security system. Zakah is not the only institution for this purpose. Poverty is approached through application of a number of instruments, which are evolved around infaq, nafaqat-e-wajiba, waqf, aaqila, etc., or those that aim at eliminating different forms of exploitation, more specifically the interest on loans.

The Islamic approach is unique in that it defines the targets as well as provides the modus operandi for these goals. For instance, Qur’an lays down very clearly that wealth should not circulate only among the rich of the society. This statement is then followed not merely by persuading individual but by concrete actions that ensure wider distribution of wealth and assets. Other than zakah, ushr and nafaqat the institution of inheritance plays a major role in providing distributive justice.

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We need to look at the subject from three angles; that will give us a fair idea of the Islamic concept of poverty alleviation:

  1. To note some general points about the Islamic approach;
  2. Study the conceptual framework in which policy action has to be anticipated; and
  3. Dwell upon certain policy prescriptions.

It will be wrong to rule out the possibility of poverty occurrence in an Islamic state, Qur’an has repeatedly stated that some people are better endowed than others. With respect to material welfare, the Divine Providence, while forbidding all exploitative modes, does accept for many good reasons, the natural differences and disparities within certain limits. The primary reason being that absolute equality is neither possible nor desirable; hence some degree of relative poverty, which was also necessary for the individual’s test — the rich in their affluence for gratefulness (shukr) and the poor for their patience (sabr) and human dignity.

Another important aspect of Islam’s vision of poverty is that it is just an economic state which does not at all decide the social status and privileges of a person. Poverty does not constitute the basis of social stratification. In Islam, the social recognition of an individual has nothing to do with one’s wealth; it is rather linked with his or her moral behaviour stemming from Allah-consciousness (sense of accountability) and as manifested in one’s practice of  the  tenets  of  Islam  and  the  contribution  one  makes  for  the welfare of society.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.