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Economic disparity

June 21, 2012

IN all societies and in all epochs, human beings have been confronted by disparity. This can be observed in every aspect of life. One can see disparity in economic and social spheres and also in educational or intellectual spheres. But the most stressful is disparity at the economic level.

Every society consists of the haves and have-nots. Some people are born rich, with a silver spoon in their mouths while others strive to become rich. Similarly, there are people who are weak financially and desperate to make ends meet. The Quran recognises such a nature of society and declares it as God’s will. The Holy Book says “…It is We who portion out between them their livelihood….” (43:32). Thus a society is like a human hand whose five fingers are not equal, but they are part of one hand and their strength lies in their unity.

However, the gap between rich and poor should not be too wide. A wide gap tends to precipitate unrest and peace is threatened. The peaceful coexistence among different segments of society is possible if all of us think of humanity as one and adopt certain values ourselves such as caring and helping each other.

The rich class should realise the hardships of the poor and share a portion of its wealth to uplift the poorer class. All world religions, through their teachings, try to minimise the gap between rich and poor and exhort the well-off to help the less fortunate so that they may also lead a life of dignity.Islam, too, encourages its followers to be generous. Helping others and providing succour to the needy is regarded as one of the cardinal principles of Islam. The Quran declares that society has a right and stake in whatever the affluent possess. This is in contrast to the western notion which upholds the individual’s right of ownership over his or her wealth. The Quran says “And in their wealth there is the right of the beggars and the deprived”. (51:19).

The Quran uses different terms such as zakat, khairat, infaaq, sadaqa and qarz-i-hasana etc for spending in the way of Allah. All these terms imply a notion that one should be generous enough to share one’s wealth — material and non-material — with others and try to create harmony in society.

Zakat is considered to be an obligatory contribution that all affluent Muslims need to pay and provide for those who are in need. Its Arabic root signifies the purifying aspect, for it cleanses the giver of greed and excessive materialism, promoting, at the same time, the general level of well-being and happiness in society.

Regardless of disparity, Islam considers all Muslims equal in the eyes of Allah; there is no privileged class in Muslim society. However, keeping the human inclination of preferring one’s parents and relatives over others in view, Islam allows that man’s first charity should be to his or her family members, if in need. They should consider their parents and relatives first if they be in need of financial help, followed by other segments of society.

Despite these principles, in our present-day Pakistani society, one sees widespread poverty. With every passing year, poverty continues to increase. Millions of people slide into poverty because of the ongoing economic crisis. Begging has become common; the number of homeless persons continues to grow; migration from rural to urban areas in search of livelihood continues unabated. Crime and suicide rates are high in our country. This grim situation brings one to the conclusion that this society has failed in many ways.

In order to redeem the situation, we need to wage a war against poverty. Islam has provided us multiple ways of spending on the poorer segments to uplift them. Help should not make the poor even poorer and dependent on aid all the time. In other words, money should not be doled out; rather, people should be helped in a way so as to enable them to stand on their own feet, to earn their livelihood and later contribute to society.

To paraphrase a popular saying, if one gives a man a fish, he will have one meal. However, if a man is taught to fish, he will have meals for the rest of life. It is stated clearly in the Quran that all that is created on the earth is for humankind; it is for man to use the same for humanity’s collective benefit. Man’s mission would be incomplete till he uses God’s blessings beneficently. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) has also set such examples.

Poverty cannot be eradicated in one go; it needs a well-thought-out plan in which education has a vital role. Education should be made life-oriented; people should not only be literate but skilfully trained to earn their livelihoods. Every year, thousands of students pass their examinations but are unable to find jobs. They must be encouraged to acquire skills in various trades, take initiatives in the field of their choice and start serving society.

All fields are open, it is for man to sow the seed and reap the fruit. There are some NGOs that serve free meals to the needy on a regular basis. This is good, but the best way to serve society is to train unemployed youth and engage them in some fruitful service. Similarly, in each locality there should be a bureau tasked with searching for opportunities in new fields, training unemployed youth and engaging them.

The writer is an educationist.

amin.valiani@itrepb.org