Islam’s Stance on Poverty and Wealth

26 June, 2016
Q Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. Please, kindly shed more light on the issue of poverty and wealth through the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah (Prophetic Tradition).

Answer

Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear brother, thanks for this interesting question; we really commend your keenness on knowing the Islamic teachings that regulate man’s affairs. May Allah help us keep firm on the Right Path!

With regard to Islam’s stance on poverty and wealth, the following is the statement issued by a prominent Muslim scholar:

Islam does not go against the fact that a clear distinction exists between human beings in terms of property and means of sustenance, this is the nature of life, which is in the form of stairs; some people on the top while others at the bottom.

Thus, it is no strange to witness disparity in people’s income and wealth since such distinction exists in other highly valued gifts of grace, like intellect, beauty, physical strength and other things that characterize every individual. On this aspect, Almighty Allah says: “And Allah hath favored some of you above others in provision.”(An-Nahl 16:71)

So, it is fact of life that some people are given preeminence over others in terms of material gains, as Allah Almighty says: “We have apportioned among them their livelihood in the life of the world, and raised some of them above others in rank that some of them may take labor from others.”(Az-Zukhruf 43:32)

However, this does not mean that those who have upper hands in everything should abuse this power in exploiting their subordinates; not at all, this is not the theme of the mentioned Qur’anic verse. Rather, what Allah means in that verse is that those endowed with extraordinary gifts should make use of it in catering for the interest of others and for development.

For more elaboration on this issue, we can portray the life as a big factory where division of labor is put into practice in order to run the factory successfully. But it must be borne in mind that as Islam sanctions the principle of having distinction in material gains, it does not approve of having wealth as the monopoly of certain individuals, that is why it shows great keenness on bridging the gap between the haves and have-nots in order to prevent the rich from oppressing the poor, and to upgrade the living condition of people, for all this will help create stability and shields against enmity and friction between members of the same society. That is why Islam strictly condemns that wealth should be under the control of some individuals to the detriment of the majority. Thus, to avert these dangerous effects, it sets down the following principles:

1- Forbidding all unlawful means of money investment, such as riba (usury or interest), monopoly of wealth, fraudulent deals, unlawful trades, and so on. The motive behind this is to limit the act of investing money as not to lead to widening the gap between the rich and the poor.Enjoining Zakah (obligatory charity) on the rich; to take a portion of their wealth and give it to the poor. The system of Zakah, set down by Islam, is just to help the poor find means of sustenance through what they receive from Zakah, be it in

2- Enjoining Zakah (obligatory charity) on the rich; to take a portion of their wealth and give it to the poor. The system of Zakah, set down by Islam, is just to help the poor find means of sustenance through what they receive from Zakah, be it in the form of annual payments or through granting them permanent financial security.

Imam An-Nawawi and other Shafi`i scholars say in this regard: “Every needy person has to be granted what will sustain him and instill in him some sort of constant financial security. This ranges according to each individual’s need: a worker, whose main concern is how to get equipment for his work, must be assisted in obtaining such equipment no matter how costly it is. A trader, in need of capital, must be given money to carry on his business. But this assistance should be within the range of acquiring profits that will sustain him. As for a person who does not know how to make a living through business or profession, he should be given some sort of life means of sustenance; this can be done by giving him money that will help him purchase a land from which he will earn a living.”

Zakah in this way is a perfect means of increasing the number of propertied classes among the poor, for as we have seen, it caters for every individual to purchase means of production: equipment for workers, land for farmers, shops for traders and businessmen, and estates for others through which they will earn a living; in fact, Zakah brings nothing but good for all! But it is compulsory for those in charge of Zakah to manage it in a proper way that will bring benefit for all people.

3- Besides Zakah, Islam also enjoins on the rich some other monetary assistance, such as relatives maintenance, fulfilling vows and religious duties of expiation (for law violations), Al-Udhiyah (or `Eid sacrifice) (which Hanafi jurists deem obligatory), good neighborliness and maintaining ties of kinship, good hospitality, feeding the poor, assisting the distressed, releasing the prisoners, providing medical care for the sick and rending assistance during calamities, like wars, starvation and so on. All this is in pursuance of the hadith:“He will never be deemed a true believer, he who fails to aid his starving neighbor, despite his affordability to do so.”

4- Islamic rules of inheritance are also an indirect means of having a just distribution of wealth. Also serving the same function is well made for people who have no share in one’s bequest. That is deemed obligatory according to some early Muslim scholars on the ground of Allah’s words: “It is prescribed, when death approaches any of you, if he leave any goods, that he make a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable usage; this is due from the God-fearing.” (Al-Baqarah 2:180)

This is the basis of what is known as the law of “Compulsory Will” meant to assist grandchildren whose father passes away while their grandpa is alive.  Moreover, in addition to all what is mentioned,

5- Moreover, in addition to all what is mentioned, a Muslim ruler is given discretion to make some interference in creating balance to the economy by distributing some portion of public property to some people who are in dire need of assistance. This is clearly different from expropriation of property, which is also lawful if it follows Islamic guidance. We have a good example in the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) on this aspect. It happened that the Prophet (peace be upon him) distributedAl-Fay’ (i.e. war booty received without fighting) belonging to Bani An-Nadeer, to Al-Muhajireen (Muslim emigrants) solely, excluding the Al-Ansar (Al-Madinah Helpers) save two Ansari men who happened to be very poor. The reason for this Prophetic act was due to the condition of Al-Muhajireen who were forced to leave Makkah, leaving behind all their properties. Thus upon reaching Al-Madinah, there was some sort of wide gap between Al Muhajireen and Al-Ansar in terms of wealth, for the majority of the latter were in good condition owning immense property. So to bridge this gap, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) introduced the mentioned economic measures to stabilize this situation, and a Qur’anic verse was later revealed to endorse the Prophet’s action, as Allah says: “that it become not a commodity between the rich among you.” (Al-Hashr 59:7)

So, all Muslim rulers have to follow this good example laid down by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).”

Almighty Allah knows best.