Poverty from Islam Perspective


Ayi Yunus Rusyana

To begin a discussion about poverty from Islam perspective, I will propose 2 questions: What is the Islamic notion about poverty? How does Islam response to alleviate poverty?

Ashgar Ali Engineer, in his essay Religion and Poverty: A Qur’anic Approach, point out that Qur’an uses the word miskeen for the poor and needy rooted from sakana (Arabic) that means he remained motionless. According to him, “a needy miskeen is one who is rendered immobilized due to a state of helplessness.” Thus, Qur’an proves a great sympathy with masaakeen, the poor and the needy. In other hand, Qur’an, according to Osman Guner in Poverty in Traditional Islamic Thought: Is it Virtue or Captivity?, mentions poverty as fakr, fakir and (plural form) fukara in twelve times. Furthermore, Engineer emphasizes that Allah chose Muhammad as a prophet, although he come from a poor and an orphan. He did not choose a rich person of Meccan society for spreading His Mission. In Engineer opinion, this fact shows that Allah send a message that poor have as much human dignity and are capable of spreading Allah’s mission as anyone else. Allah demonstrates His sympathy to the poor and the needy in Qur’an that declares “Allah is one the side of the poor, the needy, and the weak (mustad’afin) and it is these weaker sections of society who will be made leaders of this earth and would inherit it” (Qur’an 28:5).

Unfortunately, when discussing the poor and poverty Engineer did not explain about the term du’afa and mustad’afin (Arabic word meaning “weak”). In my opinion, discussing these terms is very important because both concepts are connecting with the poor and poverty. Du’afa is some weak persons weakened by internal factors, such as psychology, mental, stupidity, etc. and mustad’afin is some weak persons weakened by external factors, such as social structure, corruption, capitalism, etc. Due to both concepts, we can find the roots of poverty in Islam perspective and formulate the alternative way to solve the problem.

In this article, Engineer states that justice and equity are emphasized by Qur’an as the important aspect to solve the poverty problem. Qur’an, according to him, upholds the comprehending of a social justice order, irrespective of nature of state structure. I agree with his statement that if social structures are unjust and there remain poverty and suffering in the society, first priority would be enforcement of social, economic, and legal justice. However, he seems to neglect education as an important factor to solve the poverty. In my opinion, poverty is also caused by stupidity and laziness. Thus, to educate people is one of some important thing that has to do to solve the poverty problem among Muslim.

In addition, I agree with Osman Guner who state that Islam basically does not see poverty as a virtue, but as a social anomaly that must be alleviated, and a situation from which a Muslim should pray to Allah to be protected from its consequences. To eradicate poverty, Allah obligates zakat for rich Muslim. The lexicological meaning of zakat is “to purify.” It also comes with the connotation of “growth” or “increase.” Technically, zakat means to give up a fixed proportion of one’s wealth to certain determined recipients. The accumulation of wealth is meant to be purified; thus zakat is both a kind of tax on wealth as well as a pious act (`ibadah). Every Muslim who possesses or keeps certain liable assets such as gold, silver, jewelry, cash, livestock, or agricultural produce is to pay zakat for each one-year period of ownership of the asset. The required duty amounts to 2.5 percent of the asset annually.

Although Islam emphasizes to alleviate poverty, unfortunately the so-called Islamic states give more importance to punishments than poverty reduction program of the Qur’an. I agree with Engineer when he states that, almost all of modern Islamic states have strayed far from this Qur’anic ideal. The contemporary Islamic states are dominated by the powerful and rich and are oppressive and exploitative in nature and yet claim to be Islamic states by merely enforcing some Shari’a rules on punishment and personal law. In Indonesia, some Muslims will feel guilty when they do not pray in five times a day or do not past in Ramadhan. However, they do not feel guilty when they does not act zakat obligation.

One thought on “Poverty from Islam Perspective

  1. “Although Islam emphasizes to alleviate poverty, unfortunately the so-called Islamic states give more importance to punishments than poverty reduction program of the Qur’an. I agree with Engineer when he states that, almost all of modern Islamic states have strayed far from this Qur’anic ideal. The contemporary Islamic states are dominated by the powerful and rich and are oppressive and exploitative in nature and yet claim to be Islamic states by merely enforcing some Shari’a rules on punishment and personal law. In Indonesia, some Muslims will feel guilty when they do not pray in five times a day or do not past in Ramadhan. However, they do not feel guilty when they does not act zakat obligation.”

    My dear friend, any human society, any (regardless of religion: muslims, hebrew, christians, pagans…) is based upon oppression, greed and power. When people grows mor far than a dozen bunch of farmers, soon as ever, a bunch of people start to be oppressive, exploitative and cheating. Soon they stole more, increase their income. Wealth calls for bigger thieving, oppressing and cheating. So a natural society of equals rows as a hyerarchic system based on lies, violence, robbery! And here are the “societies” based on the State…. and social classes. Believe me, God, whatever may be your idea of god, has nothing to do with human society that is more complex than a bunch of huts. Best wishes!

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