Islam’s economic policy is explained in unequivocal terms: so that this (wealth) may not circulate solely among the rich from among you (59:7). Equality of all people in wealth and comfort – even if it is ideal – does not promise to be an unmixed blessing. For example, since people do not have equal natural talents, even if complete equality were achieved, spendthrifts would soon fall into difficulties and begin envying and coveting other people’s good fortune. Furthermore, on philosophic and psychological grounds, it seems to be in humanity’s interest that their be differences in wealth.
Human livelihood is in constant progress, for humanity continues to dominate and exploit one thing after the other in God’s creation, whereas animals have changed nothing in their livelihood since God created their species. One cause of this difference, as discovered by biologists, is the simultaneous existence of a society – a cooperation and a liberty of competition among the people who live in that society. Perhaps the most developed social cooperation is found among bees, ants, and termites, all of which live collectively and with complete equality in livelihood. But there is no competition among its members, and so any bee which is more intelligent or industrious cannot live more comfortably than others. Thus none of these species evolves, changes, or makes any progress in the human sense of those terms.
Human history shows that every advance and discovery of how to become more comfortable came into existence through competition and the desire for improvement, as well as through the existence of grades of wealth or poverty. Yet absolute liberty would lead devilish people to exploit the needy and gradually draw them out. So each progressive civilization and healthy culture had to impose certain duties (e.g., paying taxes, forbidding oppression and cheating), and to recommend certain supererogatory acts (e.g., charity and spending for God’s sake), while nevertheless allowing a great deal of liberty of thought and action to its members, so that each person benefits his or her self, family, friends, and society at large. This is the exigency of Islam.
Islam has based its economic system on this fundamental principle. If it tolerates richness, it imposes heavier obligations on the rich. For example, they have to pay taxes to help the poor, and cannot engage in immoral economic practices (e.g., exploitation, hoarding, and wealth accumulation). To achieve this goal, it makes various laws, as well as some recommendations (e.g., charity and sacrifice), with the promise of a spiritual (other-worldly) reward. Furthermore, it distinguishes between the necessary minimum and the desirable plenitude, and between those laws that are accompanied by material sanctions and those that are not by persuading and educating.
We shall describe this moral aspect first through several illustrations. Islam has used very emphatic terms to show that begging charity from others is abominable and a source of shame. Yet at the same time, it highly praises those who help others, calling the “best of people” those who sacrifice and prefer others to themselves. Similarly, avarice and waste are prohibited.
One day the Prophet needed considerable funds for a public cause. One of his friends offered a certain amount and, when asked by the Prophet, replied: “I have left nothing at home but the love of God and of His Messenger.” This person received the warmest praise from the Prophet. But on another occasion, another Companion who was seriously ill told him, when he came to inquire about his health: “O Messenger of God, I am a rich man and want to bequest all that I possess for the welfare of the poor.” The Prophet replied, “No, it is better to leave your relatives with an independent means of livelihood so that they will not be dependent upon others and have beg.” When the man decreased it to two-thirds and then one-half, the Prophet still refused, saying that it was too much. When the man finally proposed one-third of his property in charity, the Prophet said: “Well, even one-third is a large amount.” (cf. Abu Dawud, “Zakat,” 45).
One day the Prophet saw a Companion in miserable attire. When asked why, he replied: “O Messenger of God, I am not at all poor, but I prefer to spend my wealth on the poor rather than on myself.” The Prophet remarked: “No. God likes to see on His servant traces of the bounty that He has accorded him.” (cf. Abu Tirmidhi, “Birr,” 63).
There is no contradiction in these accounts, for each has its own context and relates to distinct individual cases. Muslims are allowed to determine how much charity they will give after their wealth has exceeded the obligatory minimum.
Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.
- November 03, 2013
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