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Islam And Looking After the Poor

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One of the greatest human acts of kindness is giving charity for the poor, the needy, and the weak. In Islam, the act of charity, and helping those in need is one of its central tenants. Such a tenant becomes all the more valuable and important especially in today’s modern age, where poverty exists in very large numbers.

One of the main themes of the Quran is its emphasis on giving charity; in fact it is an obligation and command on the Muslim to do so. The Quran repeatedly commands the Muslims to give Zakat, which you can essentially call a charity tax, in which Muslims give a portion of their income to the poor.

Here are the many Quranic verses that command this act of giving:

And be steadfast in prayer; practise regular charity; and bow down your heads with those who bow down (2:143)

The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise. (9:71)

Believe in Allah and His messenger, and spend (in charity) out of the (substance) whereof He has made you heirs. For, those of you who believe and spend (in charity),- for them is a great Reward. (57:7)

And We made them leaders, guiding (men) by Our Command, and We sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practise regular charity; and they constantly served Us (21:73)

and spend something (in charity) out of the substance which We have bestowed on you, before Death should come to any of you and he should say, "O my Lord! why didst Thou not give me respite for a little while? I should then have given (largely) in charity, and I should have been one of the doers of good". (63:10)

Those who establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity, and have (in their hearts) the assurance of the Hereafter. (31:4)

Not only does the Quran command the Muslims to give in charity, it also forbids the Muslims from doing this generous act in order to simply show off:

Not those who spend of their substance, to be seen of men, but have no faith in Allah and the Last Day: If any take the Evil One for their intimate, what a dreadful intimate he is! (4:38)

The Quran wants the people to give charity out of pure sincerity to help those in need, not to feed their egos.

One of the great reforms that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) brought to his society was in regards to the rights and treatment of the poor. Prior to the advent of Islam, the pagan Arabs used to disregard the poor, they would look down on them, and couldn’t care less about them; the poor people were basically an insignificant portion of society that did not matter.  However so, with the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that all changed, the Muslims were now obliged to look after the poor, and were required to spend of their wealth to help the poor. For instance the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught the following:

Bukhari Volume 7, Book 64, Number 264:Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Allah said, 'O son of Adam! Spend, and I shall spend on you."

The basic meaning of this hadith was that Muslims should spend from their wealth in giving charity to the poor. This teaching of the Prophet, to spend and to give in charity, was a very common message that he would often give as we read in another hadith:

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 492:Narrated Haritha bin Wahab: I heard the Prophet saying, "O people! Give in charity as a time will come upon you when a person will wander about with his object of charity and will not find anybody to accept it, and one (who will be requested to take it) will say, "If you had brought it yesterday, would have taken it, but to-day I am not in need of it."

As I wrote earlier, the poor people of the time were completely disregarded, especially by the elite of society, those at the top of society, the very wealthy, did not care at all for the poor people, and they would look down on them. So what did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) say in this regard? The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) specifically commanded the wealthy people to give in charity and gave a very dire warning to them if they didn’t do so:

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 486: Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever is made wealthy by Allah and does not pay the Zakat of his wealth, then on the Day of Resurrection his wealth will be made like a bald-headed poisonous male snake with two black spots over the eyes. The snake will encircle his neck and bite his cheeks and say, 'I am your wealth, I am your treasure.' " Then the Prophet recited the holy verses:-- 'Let not those who withhold . . .' (to the end of the verse). (3.180).

So the above hadith was a warning to the wealthy people of the consequences of not looking after the poor and giving in charity. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also taught the following about wealthy people giving in charity:

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 507:Narrated Abu Huraira : The Prophet (p.b.u.h) said, "The best charity is that which is practiced by a wealthy person. And start giving first to your dependents."

In a longer version of this hadith we read:

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 508:Narrated Hakim bin Hizam The Prophet said, "The upper hand is better than the lower hand (i.e. he who gives in charity is better than him who takes it). One should start giving first to his dependents. And the best object of charity is that which is given by a wealthy person (from the money which is left after his expenses). And whoever abstains from asking others for some financial help, Allah will give him and save him from asking others, Allah will make him self-sufficient."

So the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught the best of charity is the one given by those who are rich, the wealthy people. The reason for this was because the prophet wanted to give a very strong incentive for the rich to start giving in charity, something they didn’t really care about before. As well as this it was also to show the great reform of society, that now, the rich of society are giving for the poor, unlike before, when they weren’t all that concerned.

We also read in another hadith, what the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would do when he encountered poor people:

Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 512:Narrated Abu Burda bin Abu Musa:that his father said, "Whenever a beggar came to Allah's Apostle or he was asked for something, he used to say (to his companions), "Help and recommend him and you will receive the reward for it; and Allah will bring about what He will through His Prophet's tongue."

So whenever the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would encounter with a poor person, he would tell his companions to help and give for that person, and they would be rewarded for it. The prophet would not simply ignore them and let them be, as would have been the custom of the time, rather he gave advise and teaching to his companions to help these people.

And in another hadith we also read the following;

Bukhari Volume 7, Book 64, Number 265:Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "The one who looks after a widow or a poor person is like a Mujahid (warrior) who fights for Allah's Cause, or like him who performs prayers all the night and fasts all the day."

So the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) compared the one who looks after a poor person, with the one who fights in the cause of God. As anyone knows, the one who fights in the cause of God has a very high place and status in Islam, it is one of the highest honors one can have, yet the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explicitly states that a person who looks after a poor person is like the one who fights in the cause of God. Thus one can see the very high value and importance Islam attaches to helping and looking after the poor. This teaching is a major incentive and motivation for the people to take care, and to look after the poor.

I think the best way to conclude this article would be to quote the early Muslims, to see how they themselves had changed for the better:

Then he summoned the apostles companions, and when his messenger came they gathered together, saying one to another, What will you say to the man when you come to him?' They said, We shall say what we know and what our prophet commanded us, come what may.' When they came into the royal presence they found that the king had summoned his bishops with their sacred books and exposed around him. He asked them what was the religion for which they had forsaken their people, without entering into his religion or any other. Ja'far b. Abu Talib answered, O King, we were an uncivilized people, worshipping idols, eating corpses, committing abominations, breaking natural ties, treating guests badly, and our strong devoured our weak. Thus we were until God sent us an apostle whose lineage, truth, trustworthiness, and clemency we know. He summoned us to acknowledge God's unity and to worship and to renounce the stones and images which we and our fathers formerly worshipped. He commanded us to speak the truth, be faithful to our engagements, mindful of the ties of kinship and kindly hospitality, and to refrain from crimes and bloodshed. He forbade us to commit abominations and to speak lies, and to devour the property of orphans, to vilify chaste women. He commanded us to worship God alone and not to associate anything with Him, and he gave us orders about prayer, charity (for the poor), and fasting (enumerating the commands of Islam). We confessed his truth and believed in him, and we followed him in what he had brought from God, and we worshipped God alone without associating aught with Him. We treated as forbidden what he forbade, and as lawful what he declared lawful. (Alfred, Guillaume. The Life of Muhammad, A Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasu Allah. Oxford University press, 2002. PP. 151-152)

Now if all of us around the world could follow these teachings in regards to the poor people, then this would be a much better place.

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