By Hamid Falahi, New Age Islam
June 3, 2013
The holy Quran has linked man’s salvation to the wellbeing of fellow human beings. One cannot find salvation without caring for the fellow human beings particularly those in distress, need and hunger. One of the acts of caring for the distressed is feeding them. This act of feeding the needy and hungry has been stressed in the Quran so many times and in such strong words that one might think that not feeding the poor regularly can even earn the wrath of God leading him to the torment of hell despite all his prayers, fasting and other good deeds.
Thus, the Quran envisions a society in which every member cares for the hungry, the distressed and the needy every moment of his being along with all his personal piety and righteousness. The rights of the neighbours have also been emphasised in the same sense so that a Muslim keeps the well being of his neighbours, especially those neighbours who are poor and needy. While stressing the right of the poor and hungry, the Quran does not specify the Muslims. It only stresses on the feeding of the hungry, suggesting that a hungry person may be a Muslim, a Hindu or even an atheist.
There are more or less seven occasions on which the Quran stresses on the feeding of the poor, the hungry, the orphans and the captives. Though some of the verses recommend the feeding of the poor as an act of penitence for some sins or skipping some religious injunctions like fasting or not keeping an oath, the other verses generally require Muslims to feed the hungry and the poor as a social duty regularly or whenever required. In fact, the stress with which the Quran instructs Muslims to feed the poor, makes it seem that feeding the poor should be one of the social habits of the Muslims. If not done, the Muslims may invite the wrath of God both in this world and in the Hereafter. The Quran says:
“And (ask) of the Sinners: What led you into Hell Fire? They will say: "We were not of those who prayed; Nor were we of those who fed the indigent; (Al Mudaththir: 41-44)
Thus feeding only to please God is the favourite acts of the believers:
“A Fountain where the Devotees of Allah do drink, making it flow in unstinted abundance. They perform (their) vows, and they fear a Day whose evil flies far and wide. And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive,- (Saying),"We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.(76: 6-9)
The Quran presents the picture of those who are thrown in hellfire because of not feeding the poor or the orphan while indulging in gluttony.
“This was he that would not believe in Allah Most High. And would not encourage the feeding of the indigent! (Al Haqqa: 33—34)”
In Surah Fajr, Quran lashes out at those who do not feed the hungry despite the fact that God has provided them with all the luxuries of life. It also suggests that Muslims should encourage the practice of feeding the poor and this way this practice should become a common and visible practice of the Muslims
“Nor do ye encourage one another to feed the poor!-(Al Fajr: 18)”
Apart from the verses that instruct Muslims to arrange for the food for the distressed as a general social obligation, there are verses that link feeding of the poor with some sins or non-observance of some religious duty. This way the Quran expressed its concern for the poor and the needy.
God knows that all the Muslims will not be so courteous and caring that they will feed the poor on their own free will and out of sympathy. So He gives feeding the poor as an option to the Muslims as the means of atonement or penitence of some mistakes or sins or non-observance of some religious duty. For example, if someone takes an oath and does not fulfil it, he has to feed ten indigent persons for expiation. Moreover, the Quran makes it clear that the food given to the poor should not be of an inferior quality. It should be of the level of the average food of the family of the person.
“Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths ye have sworn. But keep to your oaths. Thus doth Allah make clear to you His signs, that ye may be grateful.”(Al Maidah: 89)
Another occasion when a Muslim is asked to feed the poor as a punishment or as a means for atonement is when he kills an animal during pilgrimage intentionally as killing a game is prohibited during pilgrimage. So the penalty for this violation is the feeding of an indigent person.
Feeding of the poor is also prescribed for those who miss the obligatory fasts of Ramadhan.
Thus the Quran shows that ensuring the well being of the poor, the needy, the hungry and the orphans is an important religious and social duty of the Muslims. It has linked the help of the poor through Zakat and Fitrah which every capable Muslim does but the Quran or Islam wants that Muslims should take initiative on their own free will to always remain in the lookout for people who are in distress and in need of help. Helping and reaching out to people should not only be seen as an annual religious affair but should be their habit. Such a sympathetic behaviour is expected of the Muslims and appreciated by God as the following verse indicates:
“(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, - it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.”(Al Baqura: 184)
Therefore, the Quran not only asks Muslims to make it a habit to host the poor and the indigent all too often but also to encourage other Muslims to make it a practice to feed the poor. In this way, the practice of feeding the poor will become a common practice among the Muslims. They will regularly hold Langars for the poor in mosques, in community halls or at their own homes for the poor.
But ironically, instead of the practice of feeding the poor, the practice of holding of religious conferences where orators wax eloquence on the glory of Islam through the night has become commonplace. Muslims spend lakhs of rupees on such religious exhibitionism but do not bother to spend a small amount of their earning on individual or collective level on a practice that is greatly stressed by the Quran. There are communities other than Muslims in India who regularly hold Langars in public places and in places of worship for the poor where everyone irrespective of caste or religion can go and have food. But though the Quran wants Muslims to follow this practice, it is the practice of only some Good Samaritans among the Muslims.