In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Grantor of Mercy
All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is His servant and Messenger.
Dear brothers and sisters, first of all, you should know that the subject of poverty and unemployment is a long one, and many books and researches were published in its regard, hence it is not possible to discuss this matter in details here. However, I may say the following in brief:
1. Islam is especially distinguished for connecting the worldly matters with the Hereafter, and it confirms that both richness and poverty are a test and trial from Allah to His servants, and a person will be rewarded or punished according to his reaction. When a poor person realises this fact, prescience becomes easier for him and thus he will have a good fate in this life and in the Hereafter.
2. The reasons and causes of poverty are various: poverty might be a pure test from Allah, and it might be a punishment for some sins, and it could result due to unemployment. It might also be due to a given group of people looting or exerting a monopoly on the money (public treasury) and preventing others from it; there are many other reasons.
3. Poverty has bad consequences: it could lead to many bad social and moral circumstances, like the spread of insecurity, crisis, theft, armed robbery, kidnapping, ethnic crisis, bribery and corruption, and so forth. The poor hating the rich is yet another consequence of poverty.
4. Islam legislated many solutions for poverty, the most important of which is to be steadfast on the Religion of Allah and encourage people to work and abandon unemployment.
Respected brothers and sisters, among other solutions for poverty as well, is legislating Zakah and encouraging people to give charity so that the money will not be monopolised by the few or the rich. The donations by the public treasury [Baitul-Mal] is also another solution which was practised during the brilliant ages of the Muslims, and this has had a good effect on the society at that time.
Poverty in the simplest terms can be defined as a lack of basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. In other words, it is the absence of the means, of course money, to fulfill those needs.
It is a matter of great concern that poverty is rampant in the world. What is the reason behind that and how to eradicate poverty? Muslim intelligentsias and economic gurus must think about this issue.
As a matter of fact, poverty among societies should have been nonexistent because Islam strongly advocates helping others and encourages philanthropy. There are five pillars of Islam. Of them, four deal with one’s relationship with Allah. The fifth, which unfortunately Muslims tend to forget, deals with ties between fellow Muslims. In numerical order, it is third in number. It is Zakah. Although, it is also between Allah and His servant but directly impacts others. As a matter of fact, Islam has created this institution to fight poverty. This is why Allah has put Zakah after Shahadah and prayer but before Fasting and Hajj. As all of us know, the five pillars of Islam are:
1. Shahadah: There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.
2. Salah: The five daily prayers.
3. Zakah: Social responsibility is considered part of one’s service to Allah; the obligatory act of Zakah enshrines this duty. Zakah prescribes payment of fixed proportions of a Muslim’s possessions for the welfare of the entire community and in particular for its neediest members. It is equal to 2.5 percent or 1/40 of an individual’s total net worth, excluding obligations and family expenses.
4. Sawm: Fasting from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.
5. Hajj: A once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Makkah if one can afford it.
After understanding the concept of Zakah a bit, the question arises as to why then there is poverty among Muslims. Despite being rich in all kinds of natural resources and with a fairly large number of billionaires, majority of Muslims are living in poverty. Zakah on one billion dollars is around $25 million and this amount can go a long way in helping many to manage for food, clothing and shelter. Zakah can eradicate poverty and when you eradicate poverty, you can eradicate insecurity, corruption, social injustice, human trafficking, reduce crimes and most important is that you save the dignity of Muslim brothers and sisters and all human beings.
There are many countries in the world that are rich in resources but poverty is beyond imagination. Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen etc, are examples of how poverty is destroying the social fabric. In the past, these countries were the main food and livestock exporters. We can also cite the examples of Iraq and Libya, which are two of the richest countries in natural resources and still their people are suffering from poverty.
Wallahi poverty can be eradicated from the world if all Muslims start taking the institution of Zakah seriously, which is mandatory. It would be pertinent to mention here that Sadaqah is not obligatory but a form of charity that even the poor can give the poorer. Muslims around the world have simply forgotten the third pillar of Islam.
Zakah and Saqdah cannot only help eradicate poverty but can also bring people closer — not only Muslims but also even people from other faiths. Umar Bin Al-Khattab, one of the rightly guided caliphs of Islam, helped an old Jew from the public treasury (Baitul-Mal). Umar Bin Al-Khattab once said:
“If poverty were a man, I would have killed him.”
It is a shame to see many cities across Nigeria full of beggars. And I am not talking about the organised phony beggars. I am talking about those who are left with no other choice. Nigeria is full of resources and has many rich people but it is very important to be part of society and pay our dues. It is our responsibility to fight poverty, and Zakah is the Islamic solution to this problem.
Respected brothers and sisters, sincerely, Islam dealt with the problems of poverty and unemployment and urged the Muslims not just to address them but to prevent their occurrence in the first place. This is due to the grave ethical and behavioural hazards that inflict any society suffering from these two problems in particular. Statistical figures prove that poverty and unemployment have serious effects on the physiological wellbeing of human beings; specially those who have no faith to deter them, so they resort to intoxicants and drugs which leads to the increase of crime in the society. For this reason the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) used to seek refuge in Allah from poverty because of its danger, and he made it a daily supplication:
“Allah, I seek refuge in you from atheism and poverty…” [Abu Dawud]
Just as the world is suffering so much today from the consequences of poverty and unemployment it used to suffer a lot in the past and the Prophetic solution came to relieve this problem gradually through the wise rulings of Islam. It started by encouraging the people to work in some vocations and industries (like all the previous Prophets did). It is said that the Prophet Dawud (AS) never ate except from the work of his own hands.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was a role model and he started out his life as a shepherd, then he traded for Khadijah before the revelation (Wahy). It is narrated that he said:
“No Prophet was ever sent except that he was a shepherd first.” [Al-Bukhari]
He always regarded work with such respect and appreciation; no matter what this work is, it is always better than begging and asking. He (Peace be upon him) said:
“It is better for anyone of you to take a rope and bring a bundle of wood (from the forest) over his back and sell it and Allah will save his face from Hell because of that, rather than to ask the people who may give him or not.” [Al-Bukhari]
By this he connected work with the rewards of the hereafter. He also encouraged the Muslims to conduct economic projects and especially the agricultural projects. It is narrated that the Ansar said to the Prophet (Peace be upon him):
“Divide our date palms between us and our emigrant brothers.” The Prophet said, “No.” The Ansar said to the emigrants, “You may do the labour (in our gardens) and we will share the fruits with you.” The emigrants said, “We hear and obey.” [Al-Bukhari]
He (Peace be upon him) prohibited usury because of the grave harms it has on the poor people and the whole society. He said:
“Avoid the seven great destructive sins.” The people enquire, “O Allah‘s Messenger! What are they? He said, “To worship others along with Allah, to practice sorcery, to kill the life which Allah has forbidden except for a just cause, to eat usury…” [Al-Bukhari]
He practiced these teachings throughout his life, as Anas narrated that:
“A man of the Ansar came to the Prophet and begged from him. The Prophet asked, “Do you have something in your house?” He replied, “Yes, a piece of cloth, a part of which we wear and a part of which we spread (on the ground), and a wooden bowl from which we drink water.” The Prophet said, “Bring them to me.” He then brought these articles to him and he (the Prophet) took them in his blessed hands and asked, “Who will buy these?” A man said, “I shall buy them for one dirham.” He said twice or thrice, “Who will offer more than one dirham?” A man said, “I shall buy them for two dirhams.” He gave these to him and took the two dirhams and, giving them to the Ansari, he said, “Buy food with one of them and hand it to your family, and buy an axe and bring it to me.” He then brought it to him. The Messenger of Allah fixed a handle on it with his own hands and said, “Go, gather firewood and sell it, and do not let me see you for a fortnight.” The man went away and gathered firewood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams, he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with the others. The Messenger of Allah then said, “This is better for you than that, begging should come as a spot on your face on the Day of Judgment. Begging is allowed only for three people: one who is in grinding poverty, one who is seriously in debt, or one who is responsible for compensation and finds it difficult to pay.” [Abu-Dawud]
When things get so difficult and people find no work and hence become poor and needy, the Islamic solution for this is that the rich in the society must sustain their poor relatives. Allah ordered us to do this in saying:
“So give the relative his right…” [Qur’an, 30:38]
And the Prophetic Hadith comes to confirm this in the narration of Jabir who said:
“A person from Banu Udhrah set a slave free after his death. This news reached the Messenger of Allah and upon this he said, “Do you have any property besides him?” He said, “No.” Upon this he said, “Who will buy (this slave) from me?” Nu’aim Ibn Abdullah bought him for eight hundred dirhams and (this amount was) brought to the Messenger of Allah who returned it to him (the owner), and then said, “Start with your own self and spend it on yourself, and if anything is left, it should be spent on your family, and if anything is left (after meeting the needs of the family) it should be spent on relatives, and if anything is left from the family, it should be spent like this, like this.” He continued, “In front of you, on your right and on your left.” [Muslim]
If rich relative can’t cope up with the needs of their poor relatives then the whole society must intervene in the form of Zakah (charity) which is a prescribed portion of the wealth of the Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) gave the Zakah only for the disabled who can’t work or can’t earn a living. He said:
“Zakah is not lawful for someone who is rich or for someone who has a strong body able to work.” [Abu Dawud]
So lazy people are not liable to get any Zakah which is only prescribed for the disabled or those who can’t win their own bread.
When Zakah can’t handle the problem then the whole treasury house of the government with all its resources has to take care of the problem (whether the poor were Muslims or non-Muslims) and the best example is what the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) used to do with the poor people of the Suffah (Ahlus-Suffah).
If the society has someone poor and unable to work then it is this society’s responsibility to give him charity as the Prophet (Peace be upon him) taught his Companions. Jarir Ibn Abdullah narrated that:
“Some desert Arabs clad in woolen clothes came to Allah’s Messenger and he saw them in sad plight as they had been hard pressed by need. He exhorted people to give charity, but they showed some reluctance until (signs) of anger were seen on his face. Then a person from the Ansar came with a purse containing silver. Then came another person and then other persons followed them in succession until signs of happiness could be seen on his face. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger said, “He who introduced some good practice in Islam which was followed after him (by people) he would be assured of reward like one who followed it, without their rewards being diminished in any respect. And he who introduced some evil practice in Islam which had been followed subsequently (by others), he would be required to bear the burden like that of one who followed this (evil practice) without theirs being diminished in any respect.” [Muslim]
With these high values any society can be sound and healthy without the ailments of insecurity, envy and malice eating it’s body. Islam was successful in finding optimum solutions for all these problems and the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) made himself an example to follow in every teaching and lesson he taught; proving the very authenticity of his Prophethood.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah alone. And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true and sincere followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected] or +2348038289761.