Islamic concepts of social responsibilities and social welfare developments
Dr Rifai Naleemi
Part 2 –Against this brief survey of the evolution of the social welfare system in Britain in particular, we could evaluate the basic concepts and principles of social welfare systems and social responsibilities in Islam.
An Islamic concept of social justice and social responsibility differs from the western notion of social welfare system in many perspectives. First of all, it has religious dimensions and religious connotations. It is a fundamental religious duty of rich and prosperous Muslims to help poor and needy in the society. Until rich Muslims fulfil these religious duties, their faith and iman will remain incomplete and they will be accountable in the day of judgement for their failure to help the needy and poor in the society. Thus, social responsibilities get religious dimensions and meanings in Islam
Unlike western concepts of welfare state, Islamic faiths and ideologies encourage rich Muslim to spend in charities. Supporting orphans, poor, widows, disables, elderly and mentally retarded people in the society is part and parcel of Islamic faith and tradition.
The Holy Quran and prophetic traditions allude to the significance of supporting these people in many places and often in relation to the Day of Judgment. There is a logical and intricate relation between the notion of social responsibility and the true nature of our faith in the Day of Judgement.
(Have you seen him who denies the Day of Judgement? That is he who repulses the orphan harshly and urges not on the feeding of the poor). Chapter 107:1-3). Thus, these verses very clearly reveal the inherent nature of close relationship between our social responsibilities towards orphans and poor and our faith in the Day of Judgements: Islamic faith in the Day of Judgement is not mere philosophical or mystical faith rather it is practical and viable faith: if any Rich Muslim truly believes in the Day of Judgement he or she should help poor and orphans as a justification and manifestation of his or her faith. Otherwise, mere proclamation of people with Muslim names would not help them in the Day of Judgments.
Moreover, what we understand from these verses is that some people may not have money to help orphans yet they may have social influence and high level of intelligence to know the suffering of orphans and poor in the society and it is responsibility of those intellectuals to urge rich and affluent of society to spend on poor and orphans. Otherwise, these people will be also responsible in the Day of Judgement for their failure to encourage rich people to help and support the orphans and poor.
According to some classical Islamic scholars if someone dies out of starvation/ hunger in any village or township the entire village/ township should take responsibility for the death of such person. That is why we note that the rightly guided Caliphs were very much duty conscious and mindful on this issue of social responsibility towards poor and orphans. Historical accounts of many episodes can be narrated to demonstrate their kindness and support to poor and orphans during their times.
Though Islam encourages Muslims to share the wealth and money it does not do so in line with socialistic principles of Karl Marx. Islamic principles of social responsibility and social justice system are totally different from that of Karl Marx socialistic theories: Islam does not support the system of socialism that is advocated by Marxism. Marxism advocates “public ownership of means of production, distribution and exchange”. Karl Marx argues that the economic needs and forces are the basis of all human life and human beings are mere economic beings similar to that of animals and other creatures in the world.
Every one struggles in this life to meet mere economic needs. This is a mere materialistic interpretation to human life and almost all major religions reject such arguments. He disregards spiritual, moral and ethical needs of man with such materialistic interpretation.
Moreover to substantiate his argument Karl Marx disregards the role of religion that regulates economic life of man. Moreover he argues that religion does not give real happiness rather it is materialism that gives real happiness, He describes “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness”. Contrary to his illusory philosophy about Religion, religion of Islam guaranties peace and happiness for humanity. Internal and external peace of individuals and societies can be only sustained through submission to divine will: That is what really religion of Islam means. More importantly, It has a unique economic system that gives each person what is due to him rightful.
Unlike what Karl Marx argues Religion of Islam is the main source of happiness in this world and the next world. It is the main fountain of peace and tranquillity and it guides humanity in its all aspects of life: Whether it is spiritual or economical aspect and whether it is political or religious aspects of life. It is a comprehensive way of life unlike any other ideologies. In this sense, Islamic economic teaching does not go hand in hand with capitalistic philosophy of western materialism. The materialistic concept of capitalism is mere exploitation and accumulation of wealth for the excessive greed as in case of western nations today.
It is astonishing to note that a handful of people in the western nations possess the large percentage of wealth and money while the majority of people struggle to find ends meet. Contrary to this, Islam discourages the concentration of wealth and money in the hands of a few people: Islam encourages the circulation of the wealth and money among the people so that gap between the rich and poor will narrow gradually: The Holy Quran Says “So that this wealth should not become confined only to the rich among you” 59:7. The eternal ownership of the entire universe belongs to Allah alone: The creator and Maintainer of this universe.
Man is entrusted with temporary ownership of as a trust to benefit from the worldly resources in accordance with divine will. Islam also recognises differences in Human intelligence, skills and talent and therefore, people will have different levels of income and earnings in life. That is the nature of this life and Islam duly recognises this disparity in earning. The Holy Quran says that “We have portion out their livelihood among them in worldly life and have raised some above others in the matters of social degrees so that some may employ others in their work. 43: 32.
In Islam rich is obliged to share his wealth and money with the poor and the needy. The Holy Quran says that “in their wealth there is a certain portion for those who ask for and for those who are in dare need” (70:24, 25). There is no any religion or ideology that encourages sharing wealth and money as Islam does.
It is duty of each Muslim that he should strive in the path of the weak and poor to secure their right: Allah Almighty says that “What is wrong with you that you do not fight in the Cause of Allah and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is “ Our Lord, Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors and raise for us from you one who will protect and raise for us from you one who will help” 4:75. thus, fighting and struggling for the rights of poor and weak is a religious duty of Muslims individually and collectively: There are many social mechanisms in Islam to protect these people’s rights.
The institution of Zakāt, and principles of Sadaqāt are prescribed by divine commands to meet the social welfare of needy and poor in the Muslim society in particular and humanity at large. Unfortunately, present days, the institution of Zakāt malfunctions in Muslims countries. Had the Muslim ummah managed and executed this divine institute of Zakāt adequately and properly at national level in each and every Muslim country, it would have eliminated poverty and economic hardship from Muslim communities to a great extent.
It is regrettable to note that Muslims have failed yet to develop a systematic and pragmatic methodology to collect and disperse Zakāt in all Muslim countries. It is true that a large number of devoted Muslims pay their due Zakāt annually in very Muslim country in an add hoc way at their own choice.
But, Zakāt is not an optional duty of individuals rather it is a collective duty of Muslims. It is a regulated religious and social institution in Islam. It is the duty of Islamic governments to maintain this religious institution in a systematic and sophisticated way in order to constitute social welfare developments of Muslims1. Thus, an Islamic ideology is the bedrock of social welfare developments. Secondly, western concepts of social welfare systems are new concepts introduced due to constant demands of people for equality in these countries. However, Islamic concepts of social welfare developments are introduced by divine commands to meet basic needs of people. Even prophets are sent to promote and protect human interest and welfare. Therefore, it is a religious duty to involve in social welfare developments.
The Holy Qurān and Sunnah emphatically and constantly encourage Muslims to fully engage in the social welfare programmes and remind them of their social responsibilities, yet, social responsibilities and social welfare projects are neglected very much by contemporary Muslim communities. This negligence may be due to the lack political will on the part of our Muslims political leadership in all most all Muslim countries. Or, it may be due to the lack of comprehensive understanding of Islam itself. Or it may be otherwise, due to the poor economic conditions of Muslim countries. However, social welfare and charitable works have been an integral part of Islamic heritages. We read in Islamic history that even during caliphate period, Islamic institutes and Madarasa were financed and survived with charitable contributions of public. The institution of waqf was regulated by Islamic law in order to sustain welfare organisations of Muslim communities.
Regrettably, Islamic charitable works and social welfare projects are greatly marginalized in Muslim societies in the contemporary world. While there are hundreds of charitable organisations in the western countries we see only a few Muslim charitable organisations in Muslim world. This is despite of the fact that Islamic faith demands Muslims to engage in charitable works.
We no do have equivalents to Oxfam despite of the fact some of Muslim countries are rich with huge oil money. Though Muslim do have now some small international charities such as Muslim Aid, Islamic Relief, and some other charities yet there are in now way comparable with some of international charities in western world in terms of organization and systematic operation. It is high time that Muslim intellectuals and leaders to think about this noble task of initiating some solid Islamic charities in Muslim world to help the needy and poor people all over the world: srilankaguardian.org
To be continued next week