All posts related to KL Conference on Islamic Wealth Management & Financial Planning 2018 - KLC-IWM-2018

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Sharing of one's income: A Quranic perspective

Since the earliest days of civilisation, the rich and the powerful have exploited the poor and assumed absolute ownership of their wealth. In all the major civilisations, a minority rich governed the economy while the masses toiled in poverty and deprivation. The slaves and the freeborn poor tilled the land, herded the cattle, rowed the boats that carried goodies for the rich and built the mansions and monuments that gave eternity to those in power. All the wealth of land and sea and the produce of human craft and ingenuity belonged to the rich and they gave the poor whatever they pleased -- as little as they wished. This situation might have continued indefinitely and, who knows, may be to this date, but for the greatest revolution of all times -- the advent of the Qur'an -- some fourteen centuries ago.

At an early stage of its revelation, the Qur'an declared that the poor had a share in the wealth of the rich:"Mankind has been created restless. He is panicky when evil befalls him, and ungrateful when something good happens, except for the prayerful, those who are regular in prayer, and in whose wealth, there is a definite (allocation) for (24) the needy and the destitute (70:19-25).In yet another early passage the Qur'an reminds the rich of their inborn arrogance and selfishness (90:4-8), and their propensity to keep away from the "steep path," which it describes as the freeing of slaves (90:13), feeding the destitute in famine (90:14), and helping the needy and those in distress (90:15-16). "We have created man in distress. Does he think no one has power over him? He says, I have wasted much wealth. Does he think that no one sees him? Have we not given him two eyes, and a tongue, and a pair of lips, and shown him the two highways? But he does not brave the steep (one). And what will make you understand what the steep (one) is? (It is) the freeing of a slave, or the feeding of an orphaned kinsman during famine, or of the needy (lying) in the dust. Then he will be of those who believe, who advocate perseverance, and enjoin mercy (90:4-17)."

During the Meccan period (610-622), the Qur'an reverts to this theme in several of its verses, and commands the rich to give what is due to three classes of people:
Qurba -- Traditionally connoted with a kinsman or relative, its epistemology permits its present day rendering as "ones own people" -- implying those people with whom we have direct dealings, including our direct employees and staff. However, since poor employees and staff fall under the needy category, we have maintained traditional connotation in this exercise.
Miskin (Pl. masakin) -- any needy person regardless of faith.
Ibn as'sabil -- literally son of the road, traditionally rendered to as wayfarer (ibn as'sabil) -- a traveler who has no financial means to return home, but its epistemology permits its present day rendering as destitute -- someone having no means of livelihood. "Those who persevere in seeking their Lord's approval, who keep up prayer and spend of what We have given them, secretly and publicly, and who repel evil with good -- such shall attain the eternal abode (13:22).""Give your relatives (qurba) their rightful due, and to the needy (masakin) and the destitute (ibn as'sabil), and do not squander wastefully, for those who squander are the brethren of Satan, and Satan is most ungrateful to his Lord (17:26-27).""Give your relatives (qurba) their rightful due, and to the needy (masakin) and the destitute (ibn as'sabil). This is best for those who seek God's approval: for its is they that shall attain to a happy state (30:38)." "Do you see the one who rejects the din (religion/moral law)? It is this (kind of person) who rebuffs the orphan, and has no urge to feed the needy (miskin) (107:1-3)."Come the Medinite period (622-632), the Qur'an consistently directs the rich to their broader social responsibility, by asking them to give a generous loan to God -- an expression that obviously implies generous attitude in helping out the poor and needy financially. "Who is it that will offer a generous loan to God, that He multiplies it for him? (Remember,) God takes away as well gives plenty; and you shall be brought back to Him (2:245)." "You who believe, spend of what we have given you before the day comes when there will be no bartering, no friendship and no intercession. As for those who deny the truth -- it is they who are evildoers (2:254).""Who is it that will offer a generous loan to God, that He multiplies it for him? Such shall have a noble reward (57:11).""Charitable men and charitable women who give a generous loan to God -- it will be multiplied for them; and they shall have a noble reward (57:18).""Spend out of what We have given you before death comes to any of you, and he says: 'My Lord, why not grant me a delay for a short while that I give in charity and be among the righteous' (63:10).""(Remember,) if you give a generous loan to God, He will multiply it for you, and forgive you, for God is Appreciative, Lenient (64:17)."The Qur'anic verses take account of the emotional and behavioural aspects and crafty machinations of the human mind to ensure that the rich do not take any advantage of their generosity and the poor are not condemned for receiving financial assistance from the rich. 

The Qur'an prefers confidentiality when it comes to giving financial assistance: "If you spend in charity openly, it is fine -- but if you keep it secret and give it to the needy, it is even better for you, and will offset for you (some of) your sins. (Remember,) God is Aware of all your deeds (2:271)." "Those who spend their wealth -- by night and by day; in secret and in public -- they have their reward with their Lord; they have nothing to fear nor will they regret (2:274)."The Qur'an cautions against hurting the recipient's sentiments: "Those who spend their wealth in the way of God, and do not follow up with reminders of their generosity, or with abuse -- for them the reward is with their Lord. They have nothing to fear nor will they regret (2:262).""Kind word and forgiveness is better than an act of charity followed by abuse. (Remember,) God is self-sufficient, most gracious (2:263)." "You who believe, do not nullify your charities with reminders of generosity, or with abuse -- like those who spend their money only to be seen by the people … (2:264)."Past ill feelings must be ignored while helping others: "Let not those of you who have been graced (with God's favour) and have abundance, swear against helping out those among their own people (qurba), the needy (masakin), and those who fled along God's way. Let them forgive and overlook. Don't you wish that God should pardon you? (Remember,) God is most forgiving and most merciful (24:22)." To help others out with only the good things: "They ask you (O Muhammad,) what they should spend. Say: 'Whatever fair (earnings) you spend, shall be for your parents and relatives (aqrabin), and for the orphans, the needy and the destitute (ibn as'sabil).' (Remember,) whatever good you do, God has full knowledge thereof (2:215).""You who believe, spend of the good things you have earned, and from what we produce for you from the earth. And do not choose the bad things for spending (in charity), which you would not receive yourselves without averting your eyes in disdain, and know that God is self-sufficient, most worthy of praise (2:267)." "You shall never attain to piety unless you spend (on others) what you cherish yourselves. (Remember,) anything that you spend, God has full knowledge of it (3:92)."The Qur'an warns against overspending out of generosity: "Spend in God's way, yet do not expose yourself to ruin by your own hands, and be generous -- for indeed, God approves of the generous (2:195).""Do not keep your hands bound to your neck, nor stretch it as far as it extends -- lest you find yourself blamed, and destitute (17:29)."The Qur'an also introduced a notion of shared possession of wealth/income, complementing its call for sharing one's income with the others (4:32). "Do not covet the bounties of God, which He has bestowed in different measures to either of you: men will have a portion of what they earn, and women will have a portion of what they earn. Ask therefore, God of His bounty, and (remember,) God knows everything (4:32)."This verse removes the common misconception regarding absolute ownership of one's income, complements clear Qur'anic dictates on broader financial responsibilities of both men and women of the affluent class. It, thus, requires either of the spouses in a conjugal relationship to share income, particularly with parents (2:215 above), and generally with personal relatives in need of financial support, and the needy. The verse also legitimises state taxation as a compulsory way of sharing of income with the community, although in many Muslim countries even good practicing Muslims try to evade taxes for want of any specific Qur'anic instruction to pay income tax. 

This is not all. The Quran introduced the notion of compulsory charity (sadaqa), that was later institutionalised as Zakat. Finally, to give no benefit of doubt to those who are very particular about their prayers, the Qur'an declares: "Woe to those prayerful (musal'lin) (4), who are heedless of their prayers (5), who aim to be seen (in public) (6), but hold back from helping out (others) (107:7)."Soul searching: Despite the Qur'an's clear exhortations on the social responsibility of the rich towards the poor and on the corporate nature of wealth, there are many rich Muslims, particularly in the developing world including this golden land, who believe in the absolute ownership of their wealth, apply foul and fraudulent means to multiply it as fast as they can, and are bent on giving the poor -- their own relatives and employees included -- as little as they can and as late as they can. It is time for all such voracious lovers of wealth to search their souls before it is too late.

(by Muhammad Yunus, a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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