By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
November 05, 2014
All the essential elements of self respect and dignity for mankind are anchored on the availability of basic necessities of life, such as a job, food, shelter, medicine, education etc.
The procurement process of these essentials however is the main issue addressed in the Quranic system called Zakaat- with the co-commitment in it of maintenance of dignity of mankind 17-70. This system cannot be distilled in one word “charity”, which grades the receiver and the giver in different socioeconomic strata.
Therefore charity is the antithesis of Quranic teaching. As Islam is the synthesis of all divine messages brought by the messengers of God- 7-31, their strategy was to turn the table on all the stratifications of mankind based on wealth and showiness of piety 107-6. The exception being those acts based on righteous deeds. But here too God reserves the right to Himself to be its judge.
The ordinance of equitable distribution of wealth, are lost among Muslim people including the Muslim majority and wealthy countries and even professedly ‘Islamic States’. Not one of the countries today has a social security system as is practiced in the West. The simple reason being that the Quranic obligations of dutifully proffering -- as opposed to grudgingly offering State dues, the taxes, and the fair distribution of that revenue by the State, are not obeyed.
In the ‘religion’ of Muslims, the entire responsibility of distribution of wealth is placed on the individual in the guise of religious tithe or charity. Pious acts propagated as Charity or Obligatory or even as Poor-due, cannot be a part of Islamic system just because there are poor people. The “later-day traditional” meanings given to Zakaat have enormously distorted the fundamentals of the teaching of Quran.
Imbalance in the distribution of nature’s enormous resources bestowed on mankind as a whole, (20-118,119) to provide for the development of its ‘self’, is a source of mischief- Fitnah- in the land.
Paradoxically this truth has been long recognised by the West and welfare systems have been devised there in the form of security. Hence the “Boat people syndrome”. There, State Tax regime ensures that those with extra income contribute equitably towards the welfare of less fortunate.
It is not a coincidence that the verse 2-3 occurs on the very second page of Quran following supplication for divine guidance. The believers are steadfast in their Salaat and spend out of what God has provided for them. This basic principle is enunciated over seventy times.
But in Muslim societies in particular, the word charity has the connotation of extra meritorious and self gratifying act when performed on poor. It falsely conjures up the impression that there are and will always be disadvantaged people in the world as a law of nature, hence the acceptance of beggars in society and particularly at houses of worship so that charity can be practiced to earn holy merit!
It could be argued that under this dogma, the poor too should consider themselves meritorious as they are providing the means for the rich to gain merit! With the above logic and in the context of charity being obligatory, it then becomes essential in any religion and State to maintain this unfortunate group.
This thought process, has sprouted the ideology of different forms of apartheid, and justified by some religions as a dogma. The corollary in the context of Muslim States and Statehood has resulted in the Charity of the Princes of States, to whom God’s gifts function as their personal fiefdom, rather than a trust from God for the benefit of humanity.
However in a system of a State based on Quranic principles, the development and elevation of ‘the self’ which is the main purpose of Zakaat, takes place when–those who spend their wealth for the increase in self purification 92-18; poverty should not exist. In a Muslim State, State Tax is offering part of one’s wealth (means tested), over and above ones needs to help the community as a whole to function in dignity.
Nowhere in the history of mankind has there been an example of this revolutionary shift that was displayed by the small community of Madinah during the very early stages of Muhammad’s migration there. The sharing of wealth by the Ansaars (Helpers) with the Muhajirs (refugees) would be called today as a paradigm shift in thinking, It was this sharing and not charity that assimilated the traumatised community from Mecca and thus was the trigger for the embryonic establishment of the City State which later became a great Islamic Empire.
There was an unseen interaction between the recipient of welfare and the larger community as the provider, ensuring the disadvantaged individual’s dignity was maintained, not by giving charity but sharing with the new comers in the spirit of brotherhood, eventually benefiting all in the glory that was there-after to follow. The promise made by God in 24-55 of establishing their authority in the world was fulfilled.
Some time back a Senator from an Islamic Republic visited Australia. At a picnic in a park he commented upon the beauty, manicured lawns and flower-beds with many amenities for the public, available free of charge and added that it was so peaceful and a joy to be here.
He was reminded that these things do not drop from the sky or maintained by angels but are paid for from the rates and taxes of the citizens. There upon he sighed- “Alas! Nobody pays their taxes in my country!” No point asking him if he himself paid his fair share.
The global requirements of the needy cannot be fulfilled on individual basis. They can only be provided by the State as its obligation. It must establish the systems of social justice including revenue collection, its management, administration, and to legislate for its equitable distribution to its citizens for their welfare and progress.
But for the State to fulfil its obligations, the citizens must, also as their obligation, willingly and equitably contribute to the State coffers as legislated by the State. In this respect, all the individuals in the State, including those in power form part of the civil society and are bound in the social contract. In this contract every individual is obliged to take that one step extra to help out in emergency and extra ordinary situation. This act is termed as Khairaat/Sadaqah.
History tells us that the First Khalifa, Abdullah Abu-Baker Siddique spent most of his two years in office campaigning against the rebels, who refused to contribute to the state revenue. He made no concession to them in the matter of Zakaat as it forms a complementary part with Salaat, the system of governance. His campaigns were to collect State Taxes for the running of the State. No fair minded person can allege that he acted to enrich himself or his family. History in fact tells us that the opposite was the case.
This action on the part of the State establishes the precedent that Zakaat is a compulsory State Tax and the government has the legal right to collect it even by force, so that the State can provide for all the legitimate basic necessities of the society and ensure that the dignity of its citizens is maintained in order that they can progress and develop to their potential at their own pace, free of fear and anxiety of losing their dignity.
Equally it is obligatory upon the citizenry to fulfil its duties by paying the Taxes for the benefit of all. To receive State help, where it is legitimate and deserving, is a right of the citizen. In such a system Security and peace is the natural outcome as given at 22-55.
In a wider sense the principal of equitable distribution of wealth is not limited to the economics and to the citizens of a particular State but the whole of mankind. Amassing Strategic Reserve, in reality is hording.
Hoarding and squandering is inhumane and rightfully condemned, as is wilful wastage. Zakaat therefore is a universal tenet, not just religious tithe of the religiously imposed dogma of two and half percent ‘obligatory charity’ which has become the main stay of religions of Muslim’s. However the quantum 2.5% is nowhere referred to in Quran!
Majority of the world today lacks even the basic necessities of life such as clean water, food, shelter and medicine and above all education- which is generally the case with the poor in Muslim majority countries.
A famous English magazine once published a cover feature and commented upon Tanzania’s socialistic development strategy and paternalistically advised that on the contrary what the country needed was to lift itself by the ‘boot straps’.
The then President Nyerere correctly reminded the writer that Tanzanians cannot afford boots in the first place! A profound statement and an indictment on the rich world’s financial system in which food, shelter, clothing and education is denied to a large portion of humanity; particularly when it is realised that its former colonies and subjects have immensely contributed to the richness of the now rich countries. Having signed on in the seventies to distribute only 0.7% of their GDP, these rich countries fall very short of their commitment to date.
Although, foreign Aid by the rich countries in the form of political charity is a common place practice, it extracts more than the pound of flesh from the recipient countries, often at a great loss of sovereignty, national pride and dignity of the recipient nations, as witnessed in many a so called developing world. The donor’s conditions attached upon the recipients for ‘pay back’ are such that they are termed as mischievous in Quran. Its message therefore is for all to:-
28-77, “But seek, with the wealth which God has bestowed on you, the home of hereafter. Nor forget your portion in this world: but do good, as God has been good to you, and seek not occasions for mischief in the world, for God loves not those who do mischief.
Mischief – Fitna- today is not only spread militarily, politically and ideologically but by economic subjugation as well!
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is an Indian-origin Engineer (Retd.) based in Australia for over forty years.