Islam views wealth realistically – as an essential aspect of life and the main means of individual and group subsistence. God Almighty says: Do not give to those devoid of good judgment and sanity your property, which God has put in your charge as means of support for you (and the needy) (4:5). This amounts to saying that wealth is to be distributed to meet basic needs (e.g., food, clothing, lodging, and other indispensables), and that no one is to be lost, forgotten, or left without support. The best way to distribute wealth so that everyone’s basic needs are met is through zakat, for it places no burden upon the wealthy, meets the basic needs of the poor, and relieves them of life’s hardships and deprivation’s pain.
Zakat is not a favor of the wealthy to the poor; rather, it is a due that God entrusted to the rich so that they might deliver it to the poor and distribute it among the deserving. This establishes the following truth: Wealth is not exclusively for the rich, but for the rich and the poor. This is what is meant by God’s saying: so that this (wealth) may not circulate solely among the rich from among you (59:7). Zakat must be paid by those who can pay it, and must be given to the poor and the needy so that they can meet their basic needs, not go hungry, and acquire a sense of security and general well-being. If there is not enough zakat to meet such needs, the rich can be subjected to further taxation. How much should be taken is not specified, for that depends upon the needs of the poor.
The Qur’an urges the wealthy to spend in God’s way and for His cause. For example, in praising the believers, it declares:
They spend in God’s way (of whatever God has bestowed upon them) both in ease and hardship, restrain their rage (even though they are able to retaliate and avenge), and pardon people their offenses. God loves (such) people devoted to doing good, conscious that God always sees them. (3:134)
They establish the (prescribed) prayer (in awe and veneration of God and in conformity with its conditions), and spend as subsistence out of what-ever We provide for them (of wealth, knowledge, power, and so on to those really in need purely for His good pleasure and without placing others under obligation). (8:3)
The Qur’an tells us to give from what we love and not to place people under obligation because of what we spend in God’s way or give to them:
Those who spend their wealth in God’s way and then do not follow up what they have spent with placing under obligation and taunting, their reward is with their Lord. There shall be no fear on them (both in this world and the next, for they shall always find My help and support with them), nor shall they grieve. A kind word and forgiving (people’s faults) are better than almsgiving followed by taunting. God is All-Wealthy and Self-Sufficient, (absolutely independent of people’s charity), All-Clement (Who shows no haste in chastising). (2:262-63)
You will never be able to attain godliness until you spend of what you love (in God’s way or as sustenance to the needy). Whatever you spend, God has full knowledge of it. (3:92)
Spend (of whatever you have) in God’s way, and do not cast yourselves into destruction with your own hands (by refraining from doing so). Whatever you do, do it, conscious that God sees it, and in the best way possible. God loves those who are devoted to doing good, conscious that God always sees them. (2:195)
God promises great reward to those who spend their wealth in His way, and warns against being miserly and spending only to attract people’s attention:
The example of those who spend their wealth in God’s way is like that of a grain that sprouts seven ears, and in every ear there are a hundred grains. Thus God multiplies for whomever He wills. God is One Who embraces all (with His mercy), All-Knowing. (2:261)
Those who act miserly (in spending of what God has granted them) and urge others to be miserly, and conceal the things God has granted them out of His bounty (such as wealth and certain truths in their Book), We have prepared for (such) disbelievers a shameful, humiliating chastisement. And (also) those who spend their wealth (in charity or for another good cause) to make a show of it to people and be praised by them, when they believe neither in God nor in the Last Day. Whoever has Satan for a comrade, how evil a comrade he is!! (4:37-38)
Another point to stress here is that generalizing certain matters sometimes has caused great misunderstanding and wrong applications, as in the cases of condemning the world and asceticism. Humanity is God’s vicegerent on Earth, meaning that people have the right to interfere with things (i.e., the ecological equilibrium and ‘nature’s” universal laws) within the bounds established by God, improve Earth, and rule it in God’s name and according to His laws. This duty falls first of all upon believers, because denying God in any way severs the link between God and humanity and makes people beings who shed blood and cause unrest upon Earth.
Since maintaining human existence depends upon belief and the existence of a formidable group of believers with the potential to bear the Divine Trust, Earth’s Divine bounties belong, first of all, to believers. In return, they are obliged to administer them and distribute them justly among people. Thus, they are to use Earth’s bounties in accordance with God’s Will, and to thank Him in return. However, they are forbidden to go beyond the lawful limits in benefiting from them and make eating and drinking the goal of their lives.
In addition to engendering competitive clashes over such items, overconsumption also leads to accumulated energy that, if not controlled, causes such destructive sins as adultery and prostitution. So, to avoid such destruction, individuals can adapt, and are even advised to embrace, asceticism. But the Muslim community cannot leave earthly bounties, as well as their administration and distribution, to others in the name of asceticism. As Bediüzzaman Said Nursi puts it, believers must not set their hearts on the world but must work and earn to maintain themselves, uphold God’s Word, and spend in His way.
Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.
- December 16, 2013
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