Muslims Must Join the Oppressed
Zakat and Charity should be instruments for developing the poor
How Charitable are Muslims?
Islam: The Distorted Image
By Hasan Mansur
“On January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradiction. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality...We must remove this contradiction at the earliest moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this assembly has so laboriously built up”. These historic words of Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly spoke for all the poor of the country and Dalits in particular. What he had said 50 years ago, will hold good as India goes into the second millennium. He had also been prophetic in his assertion that persistent inequality will spell the demise of political democracy itself. The thoughts of Ambedkar are most relevant today and his analysis of the Indian society needs to be understood by all those who are deeply concerned with the destiny of the people here. He has laid bare the inequities of this society and the theology which has been its driving force. His critique of this theology popularly known as Manuvada, professed by the upper castes of the land, must be known to all who cherish the democratic ethos. Ambedkar characterised this society riven by caste as graded inequality because caste is an integral part of it. He found this caste-bound society bereft of social conscience and remarked on its moralistic unconcernedness. Ambedkar’s rhetorical question, “A population which is hide-bound by caste, which flouts equality of status, which is infected by ancient prejudices and is dominated by notions of gradations in life. A population which thinks some are high, that some are low, can it be expected to have the right notions even to discharge bare justice?” He made a fine distinction between class and caste, terming the former as non-social and the latter as anti-social. Ambedkar pointed out the devastating impact of caste on the Dalit community, which showed itself in the most obnoxious practice of untouchability. He said, “Dalits-not that they have large property to protect from confiscation. But they have their very persons confiscated. The socio-religious disabilities have dehumanised the untouchable and their interests at stake are the interests of humanity”. Apartheid of South Africa pales into insignificance beside untouchability and Ambedkar had to caution its practitioners thus, “To observe untouchability is a risk as dangerous as to bear live coals on their tongues”. That this shameless practice should be prevalent even to this day is a crying shame. Ambedkar described the most sacred book of the Manuvadis as neither a book on religion nor a treatise on philosophy, but a mere justification for war based on the spurious logic which holds killing a body does not amount to killing the soul because the soul is immortal! Hence there is neither regret nor remorse over killing. What was most damning about caste according to him was that it is an impediment to nationalism because caste loyalty over-rules all else. A society that had denied social intercourse, office or property is doomed; it is as though creation of caste was the end and aim of Manuvada. It is well to bear in mind that forces representing Manuvada constitute 5 to 10% of Indian populations; but these are entrenched in the body politic in all positions of power and wealth. They are found in the administration including the forces of law and order, the judiciary, industry and business and political parties. Caste is so ingrained in the Indian ethos that even the Christian, Sikh and either communities totally opposed to caste, have become its victims, what is worse even the backward castes and Dalits have not been immune, Manuvada has trained these communities too. To define Manuvada, inequality is built into the structure; its faith in violence is borne out in the alleged mortality of the body and the immortality of the soul. This inequality is extended to all women who are looked down upon as cattle. Then there is the macho stance, distorted model of masculinity that promotes militarisation of society, a culture of violence and aggressive communalised nationalism. Muslims have to confront this aggressive Manuvada, red in teeth and claw and seek allies amongst all those who feel threatened by this neo-fascism. This pernicious theology target the most backward classes and Dalits, seeking to use them as cannon fodder in genocidal war against minorities but eventually dominates them imposing its hegemony over the rest of society. The tribals and other minorities are targeted too. Muslims therefore must be an inalienable part of the vanguard combating the forces of Manuvada by making common cause with all the victims of these fascist forces. The ultimate objective is to set up a casteless society wedded to social justice, a democratic structure that assures all a place in the sun. The thoughts of Ambedkar will enable all those forces standing for life and hope to carry the battle against the forces of evil and destruction to a triumphant end.
The writer is a civil liberties activist and former professor of English
Prof. Dr.Mumtaz Ali Khan
One of the serious concerns of all those who have been blessed by Almighty Allah is the status of the poor. The wide gap between the rich and poor is alarming. It is not a reasonable argument that all this depends upon the will of God. What efforts are we, as human beings, commanding certain surplus comforts and luxury, doing for the comfort of the poor? Islam has rightly given a mandate to all believers that negligence of the incapable does not earn the good will of God. Sharing whatever one has with one’s fellow being will enrich the former in many ways.
The arrogance of affluence has totally punctured our social behaviour. Islam does not permit display of arrogance just because of possession of excess of wealth. Let us remember quite often what Oliver Goldsmith said, “Where wealth accumulates, men decay.” Muslims cannot be an exception to this universal truth. The rich in general tend to ignore the fact that wealth is a temporary phase in one’s life. How one uses wealth determines one’s later life. There are instances of great families who were millionaires once. But their children and grand children are seen suffocating in utter poverty. It was brought out by star T.V recently that the descendants of Akbar, the Great, the mighty emperor of Moghal dynasty, are struggling for survival. Who cares for them? How many Muslim individuals and groups have come forward to trace the descendants and rehabilitate them? It is in the nature of man “to take and not to give”. We may shed crocodile tears. We may show our concern and pride for Moghal dynasty. But when it comes to parting with our money, we take a retreat.
This is the fate of the descendants of Tippu Sultan. Tippu, the tiger, is acclaimed world over for his heroic deeds. But his descendents are living in huts, driving Tonga’s. Apart from lip sympathy, there is no concrete and visible sign of sincerity in taking up any rehabilitation measures.
Well, if this is the fate of the great ruler’s descendants, what about small men? The poor are suffering and continue to suffer. Rich may give charity and zakat once a year. How many rich, eligible to give zakat as an Islamic mandate do give every year? How many give happily and voluntarily? Should they confine themselves only to 2.5% of the admissible amount? Should they not be liberal? Well, it all depends upon the attitudes and mental make up of the rich. How much food do their children waste? How many pairs of dress do they need? These people adopt reckless and extravagant ways of expenditure totally prohibited in Islam.
What next? Should we not think of some measures through which we can find out medicine for this type of social pathology? One such measure which I instantly bring to surface is that, while the capable and eligible be encouraged to be liberal in giving zakat and charity, the tendency to enable poor to become parasites should be curbed. The poor should be motivated to work hard and earn their livelihood. The amount collected from zakat and charity should be pooled and operated. There is a need for control mechanism. Our Baitulmaals can be effective agencies. But at present they are too weak and poorly managed. This system which is a trust created for the benefit of the poor should be restructured and its role well defined. There should be statutory controls. Law should be operative with punitive action. Trust worthy and capable Muslims should manage these institutions. Let every Muslim make some contribution in the name of God to this Baitulmaal. Zakat amount should be ploughed into this with proper accounting and auditing system.
Thus the pooled amount can be best used for starting programmes for deserving able-bodied person to help earn his bread through efforts. Dropouts from schools can be assisted to undertake economic activities. By the time they grow into adulthood, they should be capable of earning meaningful income. Experts with a sense of commitment should be roped in. There are eminent economists and industrialists who can be involved in preparing blue-prints for economic rehabilitation of the poor.
It should be underscored that besides economic inputs what is equally required is a social outlook in life. Such concepts as self-respect, self-reliance, honesty, hard work, avoidance of wastage, futurity and aspiration in life to become something better than the present status would help a lot in social development. These are not at all alien concepts to Islam. All that we require is to propagate a minimum message of Islamic blueprint for socio-economic development. The religious leaders too have a vital role to play in taking up practical measures while they give their sermons to ensure a slow but steady radical socio-cultural transformation to ensure blissful family life. Perhaps a day may come when the poor do not perpetuate poverty. They may come out of the shackles of poverty and see rays of better future. This is not a myth or an Utopian theory. This can be a social reality. Let us work together to see this glorious day.
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is an organisation devoted to building up a national presence in the United States. ISNA, along with other local centres, provides an avenue to give Zakat, in fulfilment of Allah’s command. It also opens an opportunity to excel by giving sadaqa and volunteering time.
However encouraging all this may seem, efforts by ISNA to raise $ 1.5 million for Islam can hardly compare with Americans who were giving $ 87 billion to charitable institutions. Individuals ordinary people paid an incredible $ 71.72 billion, 82 percent of the total! That is an average of $ 286 per person in the United States, according to a sensus.
Where did Americans spend their time and money? Brian O Connel writes in his book Philanthropy in action that there are nine spheres for funding and service and they are, perhaps surprisingly, very Islamic; to discover new frontiers of knowledge, to support and encourage excellence, to enable people to exercise their potential, to relieve human misery, to preserve and enhance politics and institutions, to make communities a better place to live, to nourish the spirit, to create tolerance, understanding, and peace among people, and to remember the dead.
The figures relating to volunteer work by Americans for religious and charitable purposes is even more staggering American’s 1.2 million non-profit organizations get about 264 billion hours of volunteer work a year! That is as if they had 6.6 million full-time, 40 hour a week workers promoting their causes for free. Infact, for every 38 people in America one is a full-time volunteer worker.
Now let us see what Muslims can do to compare with these figures. It is estimated that there may be as much as $ 1.5 billion in Zakatable income among Muslims in North America. That is $ 37.5 million due annually. If Muslims give Sadaqa at the average rate of American charity, plus pay Zakat, that is a staggering $ 1.03 billion.
We Muslims not only have lost the spirit to give charity but also lost the enthusiasm to do volunteer service for the cause of Islam and the community. The Qur’an and the Holy Prophet’s (Pbuh) teachings and action require, encourage, and motivate Muslims to give for enhancing humanity’s welfare. For as Muslims, we know that we are not true believers unless we love for our brothers and sisters what we love for ourselves.
The following verses from the Qur’an and the Hadith must certainly make us think; Never will you attain to the highest degree of virtue unless you spend out of that which you love.
O, You who believe, spend out of the good things that you have earned and of that which we produce for you from the earth, and do not select out of it for charity that which is useless.
They feed the poor the orphan and the captive for the love of Allah.
The Prophet (Pbuh) said: “Everyday that rises, two angels descend, one of them saying. O Allah, bestow increase upon the spender, and the other saying ‘O Allah ruin the miser”.
“If a person gives away in charity to the value of even a date out of his lawful earnings and Allah accepts only that which is pure Allah accepts it with His right hand and fosters it for him, as one of you tends foal, till it becomes like a mountain.” “No one’s wealth is diminished, by charity”.
Muslim communities all over the world require seminars, workshops, and other forums for public expression and training. There are adults to educate and children to school, books to be written and communication lines to be filled, poor to be fed and houses. .. When will we take heed?
(Courtesy Islamic Horizon)
(Pbuh - Peace be upon him)
By D.A. Sait
Deafening sound of firecrackers at my very doorstep caused me to step out and take a look. It was Diwali night all right. But what took my breath away was the sight of all varieties of crackers at the entrance to the stairs leading to my apartment. What was more shocking was the fact that this colossal load of fire crackers had been assembled by a Muslim for the enjoyment of his brood of children. None of the Hindu neighbours had gone to the extent of sinking a small fortune on crackers. It was left to a Muslim to celebrate a Hindu festival on such a colossal scale. If this had been an isolated incident it wouldn’t have pained me so much. There are many Muslim households that celebrate Diwali in this fashion and on such a scale. Money which could be spent on worthy causes like helping a poor family to educate a child, marry off a daughter, is being squandered to celebrate a festival which has nothing to do with Islam, a religion which forbids excesses and wastes of any kind. Where do these Muslims, if they are Muslims, get permission to indulge in such excesses ? Certainly not from the Qur’an, Hadith, or the Sunnah, nor the lives of the Sahaba, which apparently are not good enough for them. Then what kind of Muslims are they?
I have to repeat this question again when I think of the many Muslims who can’t do without the taking or giving of interest. Many of them have bank accounts, Savings, Current and Fixed deposit accounts. What do they do with the interest accrued? Presumably it all goes into the family budget. Is it ‘halal’ for them?
There are many Muslims in business who borrow from banks or Marwaris at high rates of interest. Their business needs or family needs depend on money borrowed against interest. Their businesses cannot flourish without interest given and taken, while their lives in the Hereafter can do very well without adherence to Allah’s commands. Has interest been made ‘halal’ for them by a special decree from Allah?
Superstition and dilution of Islamic principles with anti-Islamic practices is another common malady afflicting the ‘Ummah’ these days. This was brought home to me during a visit to a long-forgotten sister-in-law, a resident of Chittoor. When I arrived at their door-step accompanied by my wife and children, the sisiter-in-law’s daughter came to the door to greet us. But what knocked us all of a heap was this daughter asking us to look at our own reflections in the mirror she was holding and then wash our feet before entering the premises. ‘To hell with you and your mirror,’ I felt like hollering at her. But with a Herculean effort I restrained myself, though I refused to look at any mirror or wash my feet, for I couldn’t imagine the logic behind it or the religious sanction for it. Where on earth is this injunction to be found anywhere in the Qur’an? Again, there are Muslims for whom Tuesdays are not good enough for any business deals involving the giving of cash. Why, what harm can a Tuesday do? Mustn’t a Muslim believe that any day is good enough for any deed or deal provided you begin in the name of Allah?
Now, matters have come to a head with Muslims going in for Vastu specifications when they want to build a house, which reminds me of an incident where a man, a non-Muslim, lost everything he had after building a house in keeping with Vastu and finally had to mortgage the property with a bank to get out of a debt-trap. But the redeeming feature of the story is that a Muslim bought this property after clearing the bank mortgage and built a house as per his own ideas, and has been living therein happily eversince. So much for Vastu and its aherents.
About the way Muslims squander money over marriages, ‘shadi mahals’ and all the wasteful extravaganza the less said the better. One would think that Muslims are forbidden to celebrate marriages anywhere except in shadi mahals and without proper video coverage. Why shouldn’t we perform a ‘nikah’ in a mosque? And why shouldn’t we use the money thus saved for some charitable purpose? But charitable deeds don’t bring in popular adulation. This reminds me of a ‘nikah’ ceremony I attended recently at a mosque. A simple ceremony with no frills, no hassles. No waste of time or money. No after-nikah dinner at the expense of the bride’s people. The whole thing over and done with in a matter of an hour. How refreshingly different from the present-day Muslim weddings! When will our brethren wake up to the merits of a nikah like this?