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Were There Poor People Throughout History?

12 April, 2017
Q The Quran talks about money and wealth and poor people, but there wasn’t money, and there wouldn't have been poor people as such, in the degree like now, because everyone was kind of poor and on the same level lifestyle, and the same class, if you know what I mean, in Adam and Noah’s day. Jazak Allah.



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Disparity in the levels of wealth in human society has been present since time immemorial. This is one of the decrees of Allah.

He has mentioned the wisdom behind this disparity in the Qur’an, which is that it allows human beings to find means of livelihood, and to provide goods and services to each other:

{But is it they who distribute your Sustainer’s grace? [Nay] it is We who distribute their means of livelihood among them in the life of this world, and raise some of them by degrees above others, to the end that they might avail themselves of one another’s help. And your Sustainer’s grace is better than all [the worldly wealth] that they may amass.} (Quran 43:32)

In any society, not all of the people are poor, and not all of them are rich. Rather, a disparity exists across several levels that might vary from era to era, and location to location, depending upon certain factors & circumstances.

However, to say that all of the people dwelling in the world during the era in which certain Prophets of Allah lived, were poor, would not be an entirely correct statement.

In each era of humankind, there have been rulers and chieftains who possessed inherited authority and kingship over their lands. They were undoubtedly very wealthy and powerful, and practiced much control and influence over the masses whom they ruled.

The Qur’an refers to these rich and influential people using different Arabic words, such as “mutrafeen”, “saadat” and “kubaraa” (Quran 33:67). These words mean well-off/prosperous, princely/chiefs, and great (respectively).

Moreover, there were poor people in the societies as well, who have been referred to in the Qur’an using the Arabic words “araadhil”, “ardhaloon” and “mustad’afeen”. These words mean lowly, spurned/derided, and economically weak.

The above two sets of antonymous words have also been used to refer to the two classes of people that existed during the time of Prophet Noah, i.e. the weak ones (who believed in his message), and the powerful ones (who rejected him). (Quran 11:27)

Furthermore, Allah has also mentioned the Arabic word “quintaar” in the Qur’an, referring to the dower given to a wife by a Muslim man during the era of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) (Quran 4:20).

This word means “great sum of money”, indicating that there were some husbands during the time of Prophet Muhammad, who could afford to give such an amount of money to a wife.

It has also been recorded in the history of Islam, that the companions Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, Khadijah bint Khuwailid, and AbdurRahman bin Auf, were very well-off. They used to spend their wealth in the way of Allah and to serve the cause of Islam.

Abu Bakr, for example, paid for the emancipation of Muslim slaves who were being persecuted in Makkah, such as Bilal, from his own wealth.  

Last but not least, let us not forget the description of the wealth of the man called Qaroon, who lived during the time of Prophet Musa (peace be upon him).

His enormous worldly fortune and the awestruck admiration of it by the common masses have been described in the Qur’an (28:79). It was an era in which the Bani Israel (children of Israel) were the powerless, subjugated slaves of Pharaoh who did not possess the freedom to escape his tyranny.

Qaroon was so powerful on earth, that he proclaimed that he was the “god” of his people (Quran 79:24).

All of these evidences from the Qur’an and Islamic history indicate that, during the era of each Prophet of Allah, there existed different social and economic classes in human society.

Human beings were not all poor, nor all rich. Rather, there existed different social classes and levels of wealth. Also, there was no paper money, and financial transactions were carried out by the exchange of gold and silver coins (dinars and dirhams).

Lastly, it is possibly true that during the first few generations of the offspring of Prophet Adam, the levels of wealth were somewhat uniform, since the earth was not inhabited by many human beings during that time. The first few generations of human beings thrived by tilling the earth and raising livestock. (Source: IslamReligion)

And Allah knows best. I hope that this answers your question.

Salam. Please stay in touch.

Reference for meanings of Arabic words:

Edward William Lane’s Lexicon

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Empathy With The Poor

Prophet Muhammad’s Care for the Poor

Dubai Fridges Serve Poor In Ramadan