Reflections from the Islamic Tradition


Reflections from the Islamic Tradition

GNRC Fourth Forum Report
Third Plenary: Reflections From Different Religious Traditions on How Poverty Affects Children

Professor Dr. Anis Ahmad, Vice Chancellor of the Riphah International University, Pakistan

Poverty is perhaps the most deadly and wide spread of all diseases. A Prophetic statement regards it as a threat to true faith. Its suffering and pain makes dependence inevitable. Its removal brings glimmer of hope, optimism, success and peace.

Is it simply an economic issue? Is it a natural consequence of a capitalistic mindset, or do all materialistic ideologies ultimately lead to economic disparity and control of resources by a few, reflected in the social conduct of the deprived and the marginalized?

How to alleviate poverty, particularly in the context of youth: what is the role of religious teachings and leader in saving the future citizens of the world from poverty, disease and corruption is the basic issue we discuss in this brief paper.

The paper suggests an ethical and moral paradigm shift in order to create peace within and peace without at a global level.


Poverty and lack of education is one major challenge in the developing world. Future of peace in the world is directly related with it. If youth of today are allowed to remain marginalized, their innate energies are about to take a rebellious course. Their spiritual and valuational vacuum shall be filled with terror, extremisms, violence and destructive ideas. Proper understanding of their needs, appropriate strategies to empower them ethically and engaging them in building a peaceful, just, and fair social order is the key to a sustainable future of mankind.

Lack of education, know-how, skills and techniques, presence of economic imbalance, unjust distribution of wealth ,exploitation and greed created by capitalist world order have made the present world a highly insecure place to live. Peace at the global level cannot be created by hollow slogans, it requires concrete, tangible and workable solutions. Children are the most directly hit part of the world community from poverty. Child labor, sexploitation of children, their use as mercenaries in ethnic and tribal wars adds to their misery. Since poverty has no religion, it can drag them into deviant behavior like drug addiction. Leaders of faith communities have a moral obligation to look critically into this situation and come forward with viable solutions.

Islam, a world faith, literally means peace, but do we experience this peace, in many Muslim societies? How does the Quran and Prophet (peace be upon him) respond to the challenge of global poverty, disease and ignorance. Can we apply Islamic solutions in this age of technology? What sort of guidance do we get from the hadith and the Quran in order to get rid of poverty is one of our major concern. In a hadith qudsi we find Allah s.w.t., in the day of reckoning, engaged in a dialogue with one of His servants. It relates directly with our topic: Allah s.w.t. will say on the day of Resurrection;

O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord and how should I visited You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant, so-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him?

O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: did you not know that My servant so-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found Me with him?

O son of Adam, I asked you to give me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant so-and-so, asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found Me with him. (narrated by Abu Hurayrah reported by Muslim).13

The hadith underscores three social issues directly related with poverty i.e. non- availability of drinking water to the poor, hunger and taking care of the sick. Success of a believer in the life hereafter, in this hadith, is linked with social responsibility. It calls for making effort for better health care, provision of fresh water and food to the hungry and underprivileged as a requirement of faith in Allah s.w.t.

Taking a proactive remedial position the Prophet (peace be upon him) says: No one has ever eaten better food than what he eats as a result of labor of his hand. And verily, Allahs Prophet Dawud (peace be upon him) used to eat by the work of his hand.14 Self reliance, learning skills, acquiring knowledge and to become an entrepreneur, in order to remove poverty, is the message conveyed by the hadith.

Renunciation of material benefits and comforts has been often associated with piety and spirituality. Islamic spirituality is not associated with asceticism, self- mortification or starving human body of food, sleep, rest and comfort. The Prophet (peace be upon him) in one hadith says: Allah I seek refuge against poverty; and I seek Your refuge from paucity and humiliation and I seek Your refuge that I do wrong or wrong is done to me.15 Seeking material benefit through ethical means, is considered a desirable activity. Poverty has to be alleviated at any cost.

In another hadith the Prophet (peace be upon him) seeks Allahs refuge from infidelity and destitution (faqr). And when asked mentions that shirk and faqr are equal.16 Underscoring the value of work and earning with ones hand, the Prophet (peace be upon him) condemns vegarism and begging. When a man is always begging from people he would meet Allah (in a state) that there would be no flesh on his face.17 Considered collectively these Prophetic statements persuade a believer to earn livelihood with ones own hand as an entrepreneur. He compares poverty with associationism (shirk) which is opposite of tawhid, the basis of Islam. This simply means poverty can lead a person to lose state of tawhid and bring near to the boundaries of polytheism because poverty stricken person may be compelled to act unethically.

All world religions, in one way or another, recommend giving away, sharing with others and making offerings to get redemption or please their God. Islam builds its faith on five pillars, in which, one pillar is zakah. Faith cannot be complete unless one declares Allah as the Ultimate Authority in all personal, social, political and economic matters and the Prophet as the only role model for living an ethical life. This is called shahadah. Second pillar is salah or five times daily prayer in congregation, which brings cohesiveness, brotherhood, and unity in the community of the believers and an effective means to alleviate poverty. Third pillar is zakah, an obligatory contribution to be made by every believer on yearly savings. The Quran does not calls it a charity nor a favor but a right of the poor and needy, in the wealth of the better off. And in their wealth there was a rightful share for him who would ask and for the destitute.18 It further commands: Give to the near of kin his due, and also to the needy and the wayfarer.19 The Quran refers to zakah in conjunction with salah at around seventy places, to ensure its importance and its role in eradication of poverty, development of self-reliance and reduction of gap between the poor and rich. It fights against poverty at a spiritual, social, economic and cultural level.

The institution of zakah has been, unfortunately neither understood properly by common people, nor introduced appropriately at state level due to inheriting a colonized mind-set by Muslim rulers. They are made to understand that zakah is a matter of religion and personal faith while state has no role in religious matters. The Quran if ever read with an open mind states clearly (they are) those who, if we give them power in the land, establish regular prayers, and (system of ) regular zakah, enjoin the right and forbid wrong. With Allah rests the end of (all) affairs.20 Here the Quran makes the state responsible to collect zakah, which is not a tax but a mean of spiritual enhancement, a worship (ibadah), disciplining of mean of earning and spending, and a pre-requisite to complete ones faith.

An often overlooked aspect of zakah is their persuasive roles in educating those on the receiving end to use it for self- reliance and economic development and within shortest possible time try to achieve financial stability in order to complete faith by becoming able to pay zakah. If one is only on receiving end the pro-active role of zakah shall not be achieved. Help given in the form of zakah is not a charity but a seed money needed for economic self-reliance of the poor. This in built mechanism is unfortunately not followed by many Muslim states under the influence of secular ideologies, which confine faith to personal life of the faithful. Islam rejects this colonialist approach. It wants faith to be reflected in money matters, public policy and in international relations. If children and people with old age are suffering from hunger not only in Muslim society but also in the farthest corner of the world, it is an Islamic obligation to feed them and relieve them from their suffering; it is not a matter of charity.

Faith in practice means taking care of the hungry, poor, uneducated, oppressed and marginalized. It never means personal salvation alone. It calls for a protective approach and development of strategy for eradication of poverty and hunger in youth.

The way forward

It is to develop a comprehensive, concrete and viable remedial strategy, to offer necessary education to the future citizen of the world, to teach them how to live life with dignity, honor, self-respect and with an attitude of giving away. Unfortunately, due to lack of proper understanding of dynamic teachings of Islam and presence of a colonial baggage Muslim countries, in Africa and Asia, lag behind in education and in holistic understanding of their faith as agent of social, economic and political change. On the contrary global media, secularized elite and statesmen invariably accuse religion of inculcating extremism, violence and terrorism. Those who blame religion for rise of terrorism never look critically on global tragedies caused by the so-called secular, modernized and civilized world. Terrorization of the Iraqis was not done by religious fanatics but by the so-called champions of human rights who killed over six million innocent children, old age people and youth in the name of exporting western secular democracy.

Religion on the contrary, has always been the most effective source of peace, compassion, dignity of man and unity of mankind. Secular fundamentalism by assuming secularity as the ultimate truth, has done more harm to the world community than collective harm claimed to have been done by people with true holistic faith.

Ethical social change

First concrete step to be taken is to educate people in true dimensions of faith as agent for ethical social change. This shall have to be done by introducing moral and ethical principles universally recognized in world religion. Ethical social change is possible when family values are introduced in early life of youth. The techno-culture we have introduced, in our society has encouraged a self-centered world view. Individualism, personal glory, and glamour becomes the objective of life. Care, love, sharing, sacrifice, mutuality, which are universal ethical values inculcated as constituent values of the family are set aside in favor of individual satisfaction and pleasure. Success story means accumulation of wealth and power. It is new view from the perspective of giving away and family proud and thankful after sacrificing for fellow human being, may it be a blood relation or a stranger.

Ethical social change calls for revival of family values in order to give future generation a sense of responsibility and ethical accountability in fear of Allah, the Creator of mankind. Curricular modifications shall have to be made and instead of projecting Tom and Jerry or Micky Mouse as childrens role model, which, in my view are one major source of inculcation of violence in the soul and mind of children, we shall have to introduce humanistic, compassionate, upright and dignified role models, from different religious cultural traditions.

Second, value to be inculcated is to earn with ones own hand, and not to stretch hand for aid, even toward so-called World Bank or other such blood sucking institutions. No foreigner has ever helped in removing misery of the poor and wretched of the earth. All aid packages have added more to the gap between the poor and the rich.

Culture of giving

What is more vital in my view is, not just removal of hunger and poverty but more importantly poverty of soul and mind and heart. If we succeed in removing poverty of mind, and soul and heart we shall have achieved a major part of our target of building a new generation who do not look toward others for help but who observe a culture of giving which Islam calls infaq, sadaqat and auqaf. All three categories stand for giving away as a religious obligation. With the marginalization of religious world view due to secularization of space, and time, the inner urge to do good for the sake of pleasing Allah, with whatever name one may call him, has been marginalized and a utilitarian mind, a self-centered, individualistic, rather selfish world view has taken over the otherwise humanistic self of mankind.

Religious scholars have a moral obligation to correct this disoriented vision of life and guide the youth in search of meaning of life, goal of life and goal of mankind. Peace within alone can bring peace without. The dilemma of post-modern youth is loss of trust in his own being. Escalation in suicide rate in youth, juvenile crime, sex related deviations, drug culture, street violence, alarming divorce rate, are only a few indications of absence of peace within. No billions of money can bring this inner peace. It is only though an ethical paradigm shift youth and others can have a taste of inner peace. Inner peace does not mean withdrawal from society to join a solitary spiritual journeys. It on the contrary means drawing satisfaction from serving Allahs creations only for His sake and pleasure and not for any recognition or reward in this world.

In the Muslim societies, ethical and moral teachings of the Quran and Prophet (peace be upon him) dealing with interpersonal human relations, economic and social behavior, political and public policy should be made part of curriculum. Lecturing on these areas is not enough unless an activities based curriculum is introduced. Youth volunteer force should be mobilized at national level in order to let youth take active part in conflict resolution, and offer their helping hand to others, while joining confidence to stand on their own feet.

Each one teach one

A five years strategy for youth with a target each one teach one can lead to remarkable results. Teaching means more than pedagogy. It means sharing values, ethical conduct, inculcation of peace, justice, dignity, faith and discipline in youth, through informal and formal means. Every year the month of Ramadan, is dedicated to excel in performance of obligatory prayers, contributing financially to projects for the needy, offering breakfast at pre-dawn and at sunset to neighbors, friends and even strangers. In this month special effort is made to identify needy persons in society and be as much generous as possible. This whole month providing training to mind, soul and body to respond to hunger, thirst, needs of the marginalized and the poor.

First step

For this year one practiced step the Muslim communities can easily take is to offer, not only to those who fast during the month, but any poor and hungry in the community to join in dinner. This can be institutionalized by offering one dish hot dinner to the poor in society irrespective of their faith. Community masjid can become the meeting point and those who join in congregational prayers can contribute mutually toward this cause. If a middle class family feeds only one more person a small community of hundred households can easily feed one hundred hungry persons.

Once we start this act of virtue, it shall motivate many others to come forward and contribute their share in eradication of hunger, poverty and ultimately extremism from society. An ethical and moral revolution of this nature alone can save mankind’s future from extremism, violence, hunger, terrorism and hollowness of the soul of post-modern man.

The Quran summarizes the strategy for social change in one rather long ayah (sentence) of chapter two al-Baqarah: Righteousness does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or towards west; true righteousness consists in belief in angels, the Book and the Prophets, and in giving away ones property in love of Him to ones kinsmen, the orphans, the poor and the wayfarer, and to those who ask for help, and in freeing the necks of slaves, and in establishing prayer and dispensing zakah, (true righteousness is achieved by those) who are faithful to their promise once they have made it and by those who remain steadfast in adversity and affliction and at the time of battle (between Truth and falsehood). Such are the truthful ones, such are the Allah fearing. (emphasis added).

The above commandants are not specific to the Muslims, these have direct relevance to the human condition we are facing today. Righteousness, religiosity and spirituality is not a matter of facing toward Makka or Rome, but faith coupled with an ethical social behavior and fulfillment of obligations toward the poor, illiterate and those suffering from physical, moral, and spiritual ailments.

The recipe lies in action, in translating ethics into practice through a humble beginning like plantation of a date seed in a desert. The small kernel that sprouts faces many hardships in a desert yet survives, straightens and becomes a strong tree which, in due time, produces plenty of delicious dates.

To take lead in doing good to humanity is highly underscored by the Quran. As for those who had believed and did good in the world, they shall be admitted to the Gardens beneath which rivers flow. Then with the leave of Allah, they shall abide forever, and will be greeted with “Peace” (salamun). Do you not see how Allah has given the example of a good word (kalma tayyiba). It is like a good tree, whose roots are firmly fixed and whose branches ever yielding its fruit in every season with the leave of its Lord. Allah gives examples for mankind that they may take heed.22

A small initiative taken with sincerity to remove pain from one person, poverty of one individual, sickness of one fellow human being shall multiply peace, love, justice and care at not only national but global level. Let poverty and ignorance be removed with the humble efforts of those who are conscious of their social responsibility and do not expect any reward for their work except from the Lord of the universe.

Wama tawfiqi illa, bi Allah, wa Allahu
Alamu bi alsawab.

13. Ezzedin Ibrahim, translated and selected, Forty Hadith Qudsi, Beirut, Dar-al-Koran al- Karim, 1980, P. 88-90.
14. Reported by al-Miqdam, Sahih of Bukhari, Book 34, Ch. 15
15. Reported by Abu Hurayrah Sahih of Muslim, Book 47, hadith 25
16. Nisai, Sunan, Book 50 Chapter 19, reported by
Abi Said al Khudri
17. Narrated by Hamza son of Abdullah, Reported by Muslim in his Sahih, Book 12, hadith 130 also Bukhari, Book 24, Chapter 52
18. The Quran, al-Dhariyat 51:19
19. Bani Israil 17:26
20. The Quran al-Hajj 22:41
21. The Quran, al-Baqarah 2:177
22. The Quran, Ibrahim 14:23-25

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