HUMAN societies are mostly heterogeneous. They consist of different people. Some are physically strong while others are weak. Some are intellectually superior while others are not, but the most crucial and stressful difference relates to finances. Some are economically well-off, born with a silver spoon in their mouths while others live hand to mouth.
In all societies, the economically weak are in the majority. They face tremendous difficulties to make ends meet. Often, they are severely hit by natural and non-natural calamities. Similarly, the present Covid-19 pandemic has jolted all segments of society but the worst-hit include the middle and lower classes.
The pandemic has increased the gap between the rich and poor and added a new layer to socioeconomic vulnerabilities. Many workers engaged in informal and non-formal business sectors have lost their livelihood due to prolonged lockdowns in cities. They have fallen in the poverty trap and become more marginalised, therefore they need immediate relief and financial aid from the government and also from well-off people.
Islam has emphasised the concept of giving charity. Charity must not be doled out in an insulting manner but be given in such a way that the needy do not feel relegated. Their self-esteem should not be hurt while gradually they should be enabled to stand on their own feet. It has also been emphasised that charity must be given to deserving ones in a dignified manner. This means that they should not be compelled to stand in long queues under an open sky to receive a few pennies. Islam is very particular about the self-respect of those receiving charity. The Quran urges the believers to not “cancel out your charitable deeds with reminders and hurtful words” (2:264).
Charity must not be doled out in an insulting manner.
Islam encourages people to share their wealth and resources with the needy. Those who are economically strong with much wealth and resources have been given extra responsibility to share their wealth with those who live hand to mouth. The Quran reminds us that there is a recognised right for the needy and the deprived to the wealth of well-to-do individuals (70:24-25).
The concept of giving charity is fundamental to the Islamic economic system. It aims at supporting the poor and needy. It emphasises social solidarity as an ideal that enjoins both justice and generosity (16:90) while condemning the hoarders of wealth (3:180).
The necessity and value of charity giving are articulated in the Quran through numerous terms. The meanings of these terms are integrated with one another and they are often used interchangeably. The most significant terms include ‘sadqa’, zakat, ‘khairaat’, ‘qarz-i-hasna’ and ‘infaaq’ etc. Every term has its own importance and needs clear understanding.
For example, the word ‘sadqa’ has been used in the Quran many times with its various forms. They have come to be interpreted in the more restricted sense of voluntary rather than obligatory giving. In its original context, ‘sadqa’ reflects the idea of righteousness or truth, endowing acts of giving with moral responsibility.
Zakat, meanwhile, is an obligatory annual tax due on an adult Muslim’s wealth. All Muslims belonging to different schools of thought have considered it as one of the five pillars of Islam. The Holy Quran enjoins at many places zakat giving, along with prayer ie salat. This indicates its importance in the overall system of social solidarity. In other words, one who pays zakat is not only purifying his wealth and property, but also playing his due role in social uplift.
The Holy Quran has compared giving zakat to rainfall reaching the soil, which further enriches the soul’s fertility, whose yield is multiplied further (2:265). It is a test for a believer to pay zakat out of his legitimate wealth to his Creator who enabled him to earn and accumulate wealth for his own well-being as well as for society.
In other words, one is to give according to one’s capacity, based on what is generated from resources. While generosity is commended, side by side due attention to family as well as personal needs is also emphasised.
Qarz-i-hasna is also a form of giving, associated with reward. The Holy Quran urges individuals to offer Allah — “a beautiful loan”, which through Allah’s bounty will be multiplied many times over (2:245; 57:11). Since Allah is deemed to be the ultimate Giver, such offerings are interpreted merely as acts of returning to Allah what is ultimately due to His generosity. Other similar terms like ‘khairaat’ (good spending) are also used to help others in need.
Applying the concept of giving charity will, hopefully, mitigate the adverse impacts of Covid-19 and result in peaceful coexistence in society. In the Quran’s words, those who spend from their resources to assist the needy are truly virtuous.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2021