One World One Ummah

Social Responsibilities and Human welfare developments: an Islamic perspective

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Dr Rifai Naleemi

Pert-1-The primary objective of this short article is to highlight and pinpoint the significance of social responsibility and social welfare in Islam. A simple comparison is made between the social welfare and security systems of the west and Islam in order to compare and contrast similarities and dissimilarities.

The main postulate of this short article is that west’s material and socio welfare developments are not unattainable by Muslim countries. This needs hard work, dedication and freedom from political despotism in the Muslim world. This paper is divided into four parts: a). A brief history of social welfare developments in Britain. b) Islamic concepts of social responsibilities and welfare developments. c) The role of Christian missionaries in social welfare developments. d) The role of Islamic movements in social welfare developments

Indeed, any research attempt in these four parts demands an exhausting task to arrive into constructive conclusions. Yet, this is an attempt to draw attention of readers to these areas.

In his very first supervisory session at SOAS, University of London, professor A. Haleem drew my attention to the monumental work of Yusuf- al-Qradhāwi on the principles of Zakāt, encouraging me to explore some aspects of social responsibilities and fiscal system in Islam. The implications of such guidance may be that I should endeavourer to compare and contrast some aspects of Islamic principles of social responsibilities and justice with social welfare systems of Western countries. Unquestionably, the foundations of social responsibilities are explicitly and meticulously laid down in Islam.

The Holy Quran and prophetic Sunnah in numerous places allude to the significance of social responsibilities of Muslims to poor and weak. Indeed, prophetic missions of prophets are one way or another aim at liberating people from all types of injustices, aggression and economic and political exploitation: it was the mission of prophet to protect the rights of weak and poor people in the society and secure them a sense of social justice and protection from strong and affluent sectors of the societies. Although, many Muslims understand some aspects of social responsibilities at least at theoretical and conceptual level, the practical dimensions and implications of these are meagre in the Muslim World. The gap between rich and poor in Muslim world is widening.

Even in Muslim countries a few are getting richer and richer and the majority of people live in poverty lines. For instance, in Pakistan a few landlords own thousands of acres of land while millions people do not have any access for ownership of any land. This is very similar to an old European feudalism in which a few aristocratic people controlled the arable lands. Even, in most of middle countries with discovery of oil a few tribes and royal families control the entire oil revenues while thousands of people live in poverty line: Though Islam encourages the distribution of wealth by means of Zakath, Sadaqath and optional charities, a higher percentage of Muslims all over the world do not properly and systemically benefit form these Islamic institutions.

It is true that Muslim community is the most charitable community in the world in that each and every rich Muslim is obliged to pay 2.5% of his or her wealth annually by divine instructions. Yet, Muslims lack systemization and organization skills to distribute these charities in any cohesive and sophisticated ways. It is high time for Muslim political and religious leadership and welfare organization to review the collection and distribution of Islamic charities and religious dues in systematic and methodological ways to the greater interest of poor and weak people of Muslim communities in each Muslim country.

These charitable funds and religious dues should be unutilised as means of poverty alleviation and creating long term employment opportunities in the Muslim societies. Yet, even in this age of globalization we find that Muslims all over the world pay Zakath and Sadaqath in ad-hoc and impromptu ways individually in most of part of Muslim world: Though Muslims are a universal community we do not have a universal institute to collect and distribute Zakat, and Saqaqat. Even in local and national level we do not have a systematic organizations and institutes to collect and distribute these charities: It is regrettable to note that No Muslim country has yet contrived a cohesive institute to carry out these religious duties.

Western nations do not have any parallel religious institutions to these Islamic charities yet they do have political system and welfare mechanism to look after vulnerable and weak people in the society. It is religious duty and responsibility of Muslim leaders to look after weak and weak people in Muslim nations and yet they do not have political willingness and cohesive mechanisms to carry out these duties.

1). A brief history of the social welfare development in Britain

Unlike Muslims countries, we notice that in the western countries, the policies of social justice and social equalities are adequately implemented. Poor, weak and vulnerable people get their due share of material benefits and meet basic needs and necessities of day-to-day life through a social welfare and social security system. Therefore, no one starves to death in these countries.

One could rightly argue that basic principles of Islamic concepts of social justice and social responsibilities stipulated by the Holy Quran and Sunnah are effectively put into practice in these countries to a great extend. It is true that most of developed countries are rich and prosperous due to rapid economic developments and surplus financial assets. Therefore, these countries can afford to allocate large proportions of money for the social welfare of poor, sick, disable and unemployed peoples. It can be said social welfare systems of developed countries are unique in theory and practice.

The system of social security in the western countries is designed and executed comprehensively to meet the burnings needs of poorest of poor in the community. The governments in these countries take direct responsibilities to protect vulnerable peoples and to provide the provisions of social services. Moreover, policy makers in these governments meticulously regulate people’s incomes. The financial institute of “Inland Revenue” in Britain for instance, systemically collect taxes from rich and working class people and large proportions these taxes are in return distributed to vulnerable groups in the society.

These taxes are in return distributed in the society in many forms. A cursory examination of financial support and services at hands in these countries should reveal to us beautiful nature of social welfare systems. The vulnerable people are legally entitled to following financial assistance and supports: Income-support, Jobseeker’s allowance, fostering allowance, incapacity benefits, statutory sick pay, carer’s allowance, severe disablement allowance, guardian’s allowance, window’s benefits, adoption pay, hardship loans, child benefits and family credit and child credit, pension credit and etc.

This system of regulating income is very much identical with “an assumed” Islamic concept of collecting and distributing wealth. Unfortunately, at present time, Muslim countries do not adopt any cohesive and systemic mechanism to regulate incomes to vulnerable groups. I hope that cohesive functional nature of social security and welfare systems in the western countries should open the eyes of Muslim rulers and policy makers to evaluate social welfare systems of Muslim countries in a comprehensive and systematic manner.

Although social welfare system works magnificently in the developed countries, the concept of welfare state is contrived very recently in the history of western world. As far as western world is concerned, the welfare state is very much new and a time bound concept. The specific term “welfare state” did not become popular in England until late 1940s. It was only on 5 July 1948 radical and dramatic welfare schemes were initially introduced in England by then, Labour government. This social welfare revolution was described by the Daily Mirror news on 5 July 1948 in the following sentences. “The great day has arrived. You wanted the State to assume greater responsibility for individual citizens. You wanted social security. From today you have it”1

This emphasis on the initial beginning of social welfare state does not mean that this system emerged abruptly out of blue air. This concept evolved and emerged in the western countries through a long process of industrialization and democratisation. Thus, the introduction of welfare state into British society is an end product of very long historical and revolutionary process of a century at least.2 A peculiar nature of this welfare state is that it is not based on any particular philosophy or ideology. It is an element of humanism, equality, morality and political will of people paved the way for the development of social welfare system in the western countries.

Thus, welfare state emerged in the western countries out of constant human struggle and demand for equal opportunities and basic human rights and it can be convincingly argued that welfare state is an end product of a long process of democratisation of societies, overriding the injustice of hierarchical social orders of the past. As it is documented in British historical books, until recent time, a few aristocratic people and Dukes owned the most of assets and properties, leaving working class people to struggle for their survival. The feudalism and aristocracy were the domineering force in the history of western countries until recent decades. Thus, today’s social welfare systems of the western countries are an end product of this long social struggle of class system.

It is true that benefits of such a welfare system are enormous. However, does really this system narrow the deepening gap between rich and poor people in western societies? Do the rich people morally obliged to spend his money on poor in these societies? Do the rich people have any religious or moral duty to fulfil the burning needs of poor people in the society? Even the very notion of welfare state is disputable in our modern time with privatization of public institutes. These questions have to be addressed to enhance our profound understanding of social responsibilities and welfare systems in Islam. Thus, social welfare systems of the western countries are not based on religious principles as in case of Islam: 


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November 19, 2010 at 10:44 am

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