Zakat, with its innumerable facets, is a bond between members of society, one wherein collective harmony is dependent on individual harmony. For zakat explicitly creates a virtuous setting that eliminates various social problems by establishing a harmonious atmosphere for both the rich and the poor. In a nutshell, zakat forestalls, reduces, or eliminates social conflicts, strengthens the growth of the middle class, and obviates all of the greatest social diseases pertaining to financial issues, especially interest and money-hoarding.
ZAKAT REDUCES CLASS STRUGGLES
The establishment and maintenance of social solidarity is maximized when the gap between social classes is kept at a minimum and the voids likely to cause social conflicts are filled. In other terms, relations between the rich and the poor must not deteriorate if anarchy is to be avoided. Undoubtedly, the most important power that upholds these crucial relations between the rich and the poor is zakat and other principles of assistance. In societies where zakat ceases to exist, the precipice between the rich and the poor widens to the effect where abhorrence and hatred replace love and appreciation for the poor, and concomitantly, disdain and scorn replace compassion and charity for the rich.
Leaves of history attest to the gradual deterioration of civilizations that have opted to divide themselves into conflicting classes. Their initial happiness, a fruit of uncompromising discipline, has always been, more or less, short-lived, a prelude to their swift exit from the world stage, under the debris of their own civilization, as they have paid the ultimate price for their social injustices.
By pronouncing, “Zakat is the bridge of Islam”42, the Noble Messenger amplified the importance of zakat in abolishing economic gaps between members of society. Zakat is a bridge used for passing over economic strife and when the whole community makes use of this bridge, class conflicts have the potential to become part of history. This bridge also constructs a stable middle class through which increasingly more recipients of zakat can become its donors and a possible clash between the rich and the poor is prevented.
ZAKAT STRENGTHENS THE MIDDLE CLASS
By the prevention of the polarization of society, Islam envisages the construction of a strong middle class. In providing an opportunity for the unemployed to embark on new business
ventures, zakat gains them back into society, stronger than ever, instead of deserting them to become burdens of the community. The strengthening of the middle class in Islam is not encouraged just through zakat and sadaqa; in actuality, there are more precepts pertaining to this issue. For instance, when dividing booty or the spoils of war among members of society, God declares:
That which God gives as spoil to His Messenger from the people of the townships, it is for God and His Messenger (for the State) and for the near of kin, orphans, the needy and the wayfarer so it will not become the property of the rich among you. (Hashr 59:7)
The circulation of capital solely in the hands of the rich inevitably leads to them becoming richer at the expense of the poor, who then become even more stricken. In actual fact, wealth has been created for the benefit of the whole of humanity, indiscriminately. In societies where individuals are deprived and usurped of the wealth bestowed by God, the existence of social classes is tolerated and the scorn of the rich towards the poor is sustained, riches never bring true happiness; on the contrary, financial resource easily becomes a profound source of conflict, even within families and close-knit groups. Additionally, in such societies, the poor remain in perennial anxiety in regards to attaining their sustenance whereas the rich foster a similar anxiety pertaining to the security of their wealth. The resort to dangerous alternatives can thus evolve into an option for the poor, a plight we have been so used to witnessing around the world. In contrast, zakat eliminates all of the illegitimate options, graciously providing the poor with an ethical way out of their strife—exhaling into the community a fresh breath of life.
ZAKAT CURES SOCIAL DISEASES
The prime hindrance of the formation of a harmonious atmosphere within societies is the existence of social classes based on wealth. It is self-evident that it is an impossibility for the poor to nurture love for the rich in a society where they are turned a blind eye on. As prevalent experience has shown, such a society is destined to become a hotbed for social conflict. The following verse corroborates this proposition:
Spend generously for the cause of God, and do not cast yourselves into destruction by your own hands. And know that God loves the doers of good. (Baqara 2:195)
The embracement of self-centeredness, at the expense of abandoning an altruistic life with social awareness, would be tantamount to trotting dangerously, as brilliantly illustrated by the Qur’an. Throwing one’s self into danger is due to deserting infaq or spending in the way of God and its grave outcomes that immediately c o me to mind, including anarchy becoming the dominant force over society that further leads to inextricable national and international complications. This dissipative demeanor of the aristocratic class, indubitably, remains the prime cause underlying anarchy. It is this shockingly irresponsible attitude of the rich, who squander astronomical amounts of money to attain luxuries in an attempt to satiate their interminable carnal desires, which causes the insurgence of crude souls, leading to anarchy and eventually turning the social welfare system upside down.
Wasteful displays as such will, no doubt, wet the appetite of the poor, inculcating in them an insurmountable feeling of hatred for the rich and perhaps, an excuse to usurp their property upon the first chance given. Obstinately abiding by the notion that enormous financial gaps between individuals do not cause an implicit or explicit upheaval is simply ignoring the realities of life.
The inveterate enmity the poor have for the rich, through zakat, providentially evolves into love and respect, patching up the wounds initially caused by greed and selfishness.
By responding to hate with love, the rich will attain an immense respect, and consequently the
bond of fraternity throughout society will be reinforced. Those who do not spend in the way of God impede the rights of others by depriving them of what is theirs and simultaneously, wrong themselves by evading an obligation. God, indeed, dislikes wrongdoers and following such a line of action would ultimately attract the dislike of the Creator.
“Indeed God does not wrong humankind in any way; but humankind wrong themselves” (Yunus 10:44) underlines how human’s worst enemy is, ironically, himself. Those who indulge in “self-oppression” by avoiding zakat will suffer an assault of another form of oppression. “The oppressor is the sword of God; taken revenge with and then taken revenge of”43 is a vital principle of social life. Thus the wealthy that are in denial of their duty with regards to alms are prone to suffering onslaughts from the poor as immediate punishment for their ignorance. The poor, given they partake in such an upheaval, are also punished in turn, as the realization of the celestial cycle enunciated by the Prophet of God. God may delay a punishment, but when His verdict is decreed, there is no turning back.
Those who furtively stockpile wealth and withhold it in fear of zakat are bound to receive an uncalculated slap in the face as their insatiable greed generates unavoidable calamities from their wealth.
By fixing the problem before it spreads, zakat forestalls the potential complications of society, establishing a firm social structure. Looking from this perspective, many current issues could be avoided if zakat is effectively utilized.
ZAKAT LIBERATES SOCIETY FROM INTEREST
Interest has come to be an essential method of exploitation for the happy minority in their quest for greater wealth. While attempting to establish a society where benevolence reigns, it is inevitable that an effective antidote be applied to extirpate interest, to its very last residue, to prevent the upsurge of many social predicaments.
God, the Almighty, has explicitly forbidden all types and forms of interest, the chief catalyst in causing the rich to become richer and the poor to become poorer—repudiating the common notion that interest increases wealth. The Qur’an, which had aimed to put end to the widespread use of interest and liberate the believers from its fetters, again, makes use of the principle of gradualness, which was discussed earlier:
That which you give in usury in order that it may increase on people’s property has no increase with God; but that which you give in charity, seeking God’s countenance, has a manifold increase. (Rum 30:39)
Though, on the surface, wealth may seem to increase with interest, in actual fact, it fails to deliver prosperity which is, instead, promptly taken away by the Creator and replaced with gradual deterioration. Riba, the Arabic term for interest, holds various meanings, almost all of which are negative, like destruction and devastation; and it also refers to something that carries with itself misfortune. A sharp comparison is made above between, on the one hand, riba or interest that bestows the wealth perennial depreciation and, on the other, sadaqa, the prime inviter of prosperity. What’s important is the actual prosperity bestowed by God on the riches, not the ostensible increase. Seeing that God has given this assurance, it is unthinkable for Him not to realize this assurance, and He will perpetually shower prosperity on wealth out of which sadaqa is given, as confirmed by a copious amount of verifications. Abandoning all forms of interest and embracing sadaqa is a key step towards realizing social justice.
Interest contributes to an apparent increase in wealth but this increase is nothing but a veil put over its eventual depreciation. The above verse, through comparison, implicitly alludes to h o w sadaqa generates a prosperous economy for a society, as opposed to the overall deterioration caused by interest, in the purest sense of the word.
The Qur’an, by introducing the prohibition on interest, slowly prepared the early Muslim society for the total acceptance of zakat, by articulating how the Jews, due to partaking in forbidden interest, were deprived of many things which were otherwise previously permissible:
Because of the wrong-doings of the Jews, We made unlawful for them certain good things which were otherwise lawful; and because they hindered many from God’s way, and of their taking usury when they were forbidden from it, and of their devouring people’s wealth by wrongful means. (Nisa 4:160-1)
O you who believe! Do not live on usury, multiplying your wealth many times over (as compound interest). Have fear of God, that perhaps you may be successful. (Al Imran 3:130)
This last revelation proved to be an unambiguous declaration, comprising serious threats for indulgers in interest:
Those who swallow usury shall rise up (from their graves) before God like the men whom Satan has bewitched and maddened by (his) touch, for they assert that usury is just like trading, although God has permitted trade and forbidden usury. He that receives an admonition from his Lord and mends his way may keep what he has already earned; his affair will be determined by God. But those that return (to usury) will be the rightful owners of the Fire. They will abide there forever. God blights usury and makes almsgiving fruitful; He does not love the impious and the guilty. Those that believe and do good works, and establish salat and pay zakat will be rewarded by their Lord; and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve. O you who believe! Have fear of God, and give up what is still due to you from usury, if you are true believers. And if you do not, then be warned of war (against you) by God and His Messenger. If you repent you may retain your principal (without interest). Wrong not, and you shall be not wronged. And if the debtor is in straitened circumstances, then grant him a postponement until a (time of) ease; but if you remit the debt as almsgiving it will be better for you, if you did but know. (Baqara 2:275-80)
As stated above, God and His Messenger deem interest-oriented transactions as a reason to wage war, which in effect, means an exile from Divine Mercy for the rebellious perpetrators. By retorting, “Shall I bow to him (Adam) whom You have made of clay?” (Isra 17:61), Satan had become the first rebel through his denouncing the Divine Command. Such a seditious demeanor, therefore, iscommensurable with that of Satan’s who ultimately was branded with the curse and expelled from the Eternal Compassion of God.
Looking from a transactional perspective, it becomes evident that those who knowingly indulge in usury face the threat being doomed to a fate similar to that of Satan’s, vis-a-vis, expulsion from the mercy of God. Insisting on dealing with interest is to come into conflict with the Creator. The result of such an action is evident: Those who are adamant in delusively claiming right over others’ wealth or money will live as if struck by Satan, the very same state in which they will resurrect.
The reason for this punishment is that they iniquitously equate usury with trade, claiming its permissibility; this is a case of an incorrect perspective yielding conclusions that are immensely wide off the mark. By paying close attention to the Qur’anic instruction instead, we can gain a better insight to the very psychology that affords them this misunderstanding. In other words, by asserting that, “Trading is just like usury”, usurers actually dare to suggest that trading and usury are ethical equals. Yet the clear Qur’anic directive, “God has permitted trade and forbidden usury,” unambiguously puts an end to all possible debates. Usury and interest are an assault on property and wealth, whose protection is just as essential as the protection of life and chastity. In fact, all religions highlight, in one way or another, a person’s duty to protect the five essentials of faith, mind, property, life and progeny. The hadith, “A believer’s property, blood and chastity are forbidden to another believer,”44 amplifies this outlook. In this context, usury is an attack on property from which we are compelled to protect ourselves, and a sinister means of exploiting the sweat of others. From another perspective, allowing usury to operate means the ultimate blow to production as men will preponderantly prefer to adopt methods that provide them easy earnings in their quest for satiating their natural inclination for wealth. With usury, this inclination is wastefully exploited, instead of cultivating the world, and many
promising talents are laid waste on by the embracement of the motto “Invest in interest, and lay back!”
Usury, a practice that destroys qard al-hasan, (i.e lending money to those in need just for the sake of God, a pivotal part of the Islamic spirit) concurrently terminates the social bond, leaving each person to solve financial problems individually rather than seeking a communal help. As a result, nobody is left with a problem-free opportunity to borrow money. Qard al-hasan, a vehemently emphasized facet of Islam, is given eighteen times more reward than sadaqa.45 This precious practice reinforces the belief that whatever the expected surplus is, it should strictly be expected from God. Together with forbidding participation in sin and enmity, the Qur’an strongly encourages virtue and goodness46 as the principal causes of action, whether it is good or bad, necessarily attracts the same degree of responsibility.
Simply put, the acceptance of usury in public life means siding with the rich and immorally leaving the poor to fight their own desperate battle. This, indeed, represents complete deviation from Divine Mercy and Compassion. Although God grants wealth to the rich, He also provides a sanctuary for the poor through decreeing alms and charity.
And yet, the vices of usury are not limited to what has already been mentioned. Perhaps the ultimate motive should be sought in a more profound domain. What is important is that the Creator has sternly forbidden usury and has given permission for trading. In reality, the key factor that paves our direction is the simple commands or prohibitions of God, not the entailing beneficial results that surface upon their application. Therefore, the benefits are subordinate to our efforts and striving to achieve the blessing of the Almighty, through abhorring what has been decreed as being abhorrent, and embracing what has been decreed as being worthy of embrace.
Sadaqa, an initiator of blessings and prosperity with all its types, is also the golden key to the copious treasures of Divine Compassion. By virtue of a miraculous style of articulation, the Qur’an illustrates charity as an act that brings the provider closer to God, so to speak; incorporates him or her into Paradise; reinforces the spiritual bond between believers and humankind in general; and takes the providerfar away from Satan and hellfire, as opposed to amplifying the numerous harms inherent in interest. Such harms, whenever and wherever they are incurred, become a motive or means for distancing one’s self from the Compassion of the Creator and from the entrance into Paradise; for coming closer to Satan and the hellfire; and for erecting insidious walls between people.
The Qur’anic declaration “God blights usury and makes almsgiving fruitful,” at once destroys the possibility of exploiting others’ earnings through usury, a practice which aims to demolish the very foundation of social justice; one could say that it provides a cure for a disease before it takes hold of the whole body. The realization of this cure is through an uncompromising establishment of the institutions for alms and charity, and forever shutting the door on iniquitable practices whose menacing effects are extensively renowned. The number of investors whose dreams of riches and luxury have become horrendous nightmares through the manipulations of interest are by no means few. Opposed to these, there are countless souls whose wealth has multiplied in great magnitudes thanks to sadaqa, not to mention the love they have earned from the masses. By now, it should be blatantly evident that usury is a destroyer of social balance and a spoiler of the mutual harmony which is the unbending backbone of human life.
Not coincidentally, this verse relating to usury is among the final revelations of the Qur’an; its prohibition was declared during the concluding days of the Prophet’s (upon whom be peace) life. The Messenger of God, during the Farewell Pilgrimage, put the prohibition of usury into effect, first by abolishing his uncle Abbas’s interest, thereby setting a perfect example.
Throughout those sermons, addressed somewhat as farewells to his Companions, he abolished blood feuds and then pronounced, “Beware! All previous usury is now under my feet, and the first interest I abolish is that of Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib.” 47 Absolutely nobody hesitated, including Abbas, in abandoning their anticipated hoards of interest; moreover, they started agonizing over possible divine penalties for their prior indulgence in usury. A soothing edict, however, was revealed soon after, dispersing the noble Companions’ anxiety:
There is no sin on those who believe and do good, righteous deeds for what they might have partaken (in the past), provided (henceforth) they fear (the end of their previous creeds and misdeeds) and come to faith and do good, righteout deeds, then keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety and believe (more profoundly), then be more meticulous in obeying God in greater reverence for Him and piety and be devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them. (Maida 5:93)
Belief and sincerity have been reiterated three times in the above verse. This reinforces the importance of abstaining from the forbidden for protection from the hellfire, and in turn, the value of refraining from doubtful cases in order to avoid falling into the domain of the forbidden, thereby causing the inner self to decay. The the Noble Prophet declared, “Leave what gives you doubt,stick to what is certain.”48 In another hadith that follows a similar trait, the Messenger has evidently stated that the halal (i.e. permissible) and the haram (i.e. non-permissible) have unequivocally become clear; thus the doubtful must be evaded, a recommended course of action that places emphasis on one’s spiritual life.
An implicit illustration is also to be found through a brilliant depiction of the perennial indolence of usurers and the consequential anxieties of their parasitical lives. Those who lead such a life suffer a similar ending, facing a fitting penalty for their unjust insistence that usury constitutes normal trade. According to the interpretations of Ibn Abbas, an illustrious Companion, usurers will be resurrected in a state of strangulation. The words articulated by the Messenger of God illustrate a symbolic scene he witnessed during the Miraj, or Ascension, and offers us an enlightenment: “Then I saw a group whose bellies were like houses and who happened to be on the path which the Pharaoh and his folk were taken to hellfire day and night. Each time they saw Pharaoh and his folk, they would leap forward from repulsion, only to fall down face-first from the weight caused by their stomach, after which the Pharaoh and his folk would start trampling on them. I asked ‘O Jibril? Who are they?’ and he replied ‘They are usurers.’”49
In another similar hadith, the Prophet mentions having seeing a group comprised of people who would fall down face first every time they attempted to get up; thus he was again informed they were usurers.50
This destiny is the final result of obstinately insisting on a satanic path. The Messenger of God clearly pronounced that the curse of God will indiscriminately afflict the indulgers of usury,51 including the provider, the acceptor, the witness, the proxy, the secretary and whoever takes active part in such a dealing,52 the doomed outcome of impudently declaring war on God and His Messenger. In fact, the fate of the entire group—the instigators and his or her various supports—is captured perfectly in a very short and powerful chapter near the conclusion of the Qur ’an: “Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he! No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains! Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame! His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood – As fuel! A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!” (Tabbat 111:1-5) May God protect us all from such a destiny.
Addressing the giant mass gathered around him eighty days prior to his eternal migration from Earth, the Messenger of God pronounced that God had now perfected the religion and finalized His blessings on the Muslims, stressing that the only way to procure the blessing of God is through Islam, the submission to the will of God.
Thus, the Prophet encapsulated the basic tenets of the Qur’an, the miraculous guide for those in possession of a magnanimous spirit, as magnanimousness is perhaps the most ideal word to describe the precious state of mind of the believers who successfullyeschewed usury and adopted zakat. In fact, the Companions who had, at that time, gained utmost maturity after a 23-year period of stringent development unconditionally surrendered to those exquisite tenets. This, in turn, underlines the significance of corrective maturity before the embracement of the principles required to annul immorality. Even though societies may achieve a head-spinning development in technology, for example, or an apparent increase in welfare through solutions to minor economic problems, no matter how happy they seem on the surface, their life-spans will never realize their full potential and they will be utterly helpless, in an imminent shake of social upheaval, as long as they carry on the practice of usury that is so fundamentally contrary to human nature. In effect, systems that move us against the tide of righteousness are no more than “sparks in the pan” and cannot provide a long-lasting illumination.
The Qur’an eloquently states, “God invites to the Abode of Peace, and guides whom He wills to a straight path” (Yunus 10:25). As certified by the Qur’an, the prohibition of usury was personally elaborated by the Prophet (upon whom be peace) and then additionally, he commissioned Abu Bakr and Ali to explain the prohibition accordingly to hinder possible misunderstandings. If humanity carries the serious intention of curing itself from the leech-like effects of usury, it inevitably must wake up in the illuminative realm of iman, belief in God, and lend an ear to the commands and prohibitions of the Almighty Creator. Observing morality in f inancial transactions is a virtue of believers. Thus, in a society of believers, it becomesnecessary to establish alternative systems where all exploitable loopholes are firmly covered, and whereby charity-oriented institutions become established, rescuing the poor from the throes of despair.
In a nutshell, zakat and interest are two opposite and dichotomous poles. While zakat is aimed towards acknowledging the rights of the poor and eliminating obstacles that impede these rights, the essential crux of interest entails the rich ignominiously becoming richer, leaving the poor stranded in destitution. Contrary to such a devastating outcome, by preventing the exploitation of the poor, Islam also shows the rich alternative ways to make use of their wealth, free of fear and anxiety. The application of zakat ultimately means the extirpation of usury, endowing the society with genuine, long-lasting bliss.
THE OTHER SOCIAL BENEFITS OF ZAKAT
Indubitably, the benefits of zakat do not end there. Among the other benefits of zakat are that it is a social insurance on public life, an aura maintaining tolerance between social groups, a catalyst that puts fire in the economic life and a balancing factor that emphasizes both the importance of worldly earnings and the eternal importance of life in the eternal abode.
Each aspect which has been delineated above, as one may guess, is also a positive step towards building an unshakeable social structure. Moreover, the totality constitutes a prelude to other innumerable benefits that will arise through the utilization of zakat—benefits both seen and unseen, in this world and the next. God, the Exalted, is remote from indulging in any activity void of meaning and distant from negated attributes: “Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between!” (Anbiya 21:16) Therefore if zakat has been decreed by Him, then it unquestionably must contain a copious load of purposes, all of which will unravel in time.
Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.
Dec 14, 2013 @ 12:41
- July 03, 2016
- 1 Comment