There are two cardinal causes of social turmoil: the ideas of “let everyone work so I can eat,” and “I don’t care if others die of hunger so long as I am full.” Islam eliminates the first by banning all interest-based and usurious transactions, and the second through zakah,1 which serves as a bridge between a society’s various economic levels.
Zakah must be paid by every Muslim whose financial situation is above a specified minimum amount, and must be given only to gain God’s approval through serving people. God does not need or receive it, for He is above any need or desire. In His benign Mercy, He promises manifold rewards to those who pay it, provided that they do so only in His name. Those who pay it should not expect any worldly gain from the beneficiaries or an enhanced reputation as philanthropists, for:
Those who spend their wealth in God’s cause and then do not follow up what they have spent with putting (the receiver) under obligation and taunting, their reward is with their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will 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 the charity of people), All-Clement (Who shows no haste in punishing). (2:262–63)
Zakah is as basic to Islam as the five daily Prayers and the obligatory fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Its fundamental importance, in addition to its socioeconomic functions, lies in fostering the Islamic qualities of sacrifice and ridding Muslims of selfishness and avarice.
Muslim society gains immensely from zakah, for every wellto- do Muslim must help those who are less fortunate. Devout Muslims realize that their share in their wealth is very small when all factors are taken into account, such as God’s direct gifts of sun, rain, soil, and “natural” resources. Therefore they cannot use their wealth just for their own comfort and luxury, for others have just claims upon it: widows and orphans, the poor and sick, and those who for whatever reason cannot support themselves or become useful members of society. Islam regards it as a great injustice to fill one’s own stomach and coffers while others die of hunger or are unemployed, and strongly condemns such selfishness and greed. Muslims share their wealth with others, and help them stand on their own and become productive members of society.
Dr. Laura Vaglieri, a well-known Orientalist, writes that: The spirit was liberated [through Islam] from prejudice, man’s will was set free from the ties which had kept it bound to the will of other men, or other so-called hidden powers, priests, false guardians of mysteries, brokers of salvation; all those who pretended to be mediators between God and man, and consequently believed that they had authority over other people’s wills, fell from their pedestals.
Because the Unity of God embraces all other unities, this religion was born with the unique feature of amalgamating the secular with the religious, the worldly with the other-worldly, and with a clear approach to socio-economic affairs and with a well-defined administrative system.
Man became the servant of God alone and towards other men he had only the obligations of one free man towards another. While hitherto men had suffered from the injustices of social differences, Islam proclaimed equality among human beings. Each Muslim was distinguished from other Muslims only by his greater fear of God, his good deeds, and his moral and intellectual qualities.2
- September 30, 2013
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