Some Basic Islamic Principles

Before elaborating on the Islamic concept of poverty alleviation, we need to be clear about certain facts and fundamental principles of Islam. First, Islam is not merely a religion in the commonly misunderstood sense; it is rather a system — an organic whole — that guides the human life in totality. Because of being religio-political in nature, there is no dichotomy in it even regarding the temporal and spiritual lives. In Islam, the outcome in the Hereafter depends on what has been done here.

Second, ‘adl (justice) is the essence of all decisions and actions and fraternity eliminates all distinctions of caste, colour, creed, race, class, etc. Egalitarianism, therefore, provides the foundation of the body politik in the Islamic state and is the source of its strength.

Third, in any scheme and activity, human being is the and his or her welfare is assigned priority over all other objectives, realised in such a manner that basic needs of all (or most) are satisfied with equality of opportunity for everybody. In this regard, three guiding points must always remain in sight: (i) that larger interest of the society takes precedence over the individual interest; (ii) that relieving hardship is more important in Islamic Shari’ah than promoting benefit; and (iii) smaller harm can be inflicted to avoid a bigger loss. That is why individual freedom within  the  ethical  limits  is  sacred  as  long  as  it  does not come into conflict with larger interest of society or does not transgress the rights of others.

Fourth, in the Islamic framework, economic development will be goal-oriented and value-realising activity, involving a confident and all-pervading participation of individual and directed towards maximisation of human well-being in every field of life. Development would thus embrace moral, spiritual and material growth, all taken in an integrated manner and leading to the ultimate good of mankind. Accepting these policy objectives, we have to abandon the use of all those simplified aggregative models which concentrate on growth as the sole index of development. This will further necessitate overhauling the whole field of investment planning, incomes and wage policy, regional and area development and the tax structure. A series of composite indices will have to be developed to measure both the economic and social outputs.

It will be easier to understand from the above points the Islamic approach to poverty alleviation, yet we must at the outset be very clear on one thing: There has never existed a purely Islamic state after the golden age of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his four Rightguided successors. Varying in degree, Whatever forms of state and government came into being in the Muslim countries after that earlier period, were polluted by ideological deviations from the erstwhile simplicity and clarity of Islamic law and practice. We may identify and pickup one or more models from the Islamic history, yet they would not really deserve the epithet “Islamic”. Solution to the problem is that we always refer to the original source of guidance — the Qur’an and Sunnah.


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