Right of the underprivileged

The story of India’s recent development has come in for great global acclaim. Rapid growth in various sectors pre-empts visions of India soon emerging a superpower.

However, this progress is often used to mask – indeed, question – the very existence of a fundamental social evil: the biting disparity between the rich and the poor.

In fact, many economists today believe that the lack of inclusive growth is the cause of widespread poverty and unemployment here. Consider our own lives in general: much of it is spent in amassing wealth to last not one, but several, lifetimes. Sure, this makes us hardworking citizens who contribute to the economy, but we also become indifferent to social obligations. Granted such a context, efforts in social inclusion find few takers. Islam’s remedy for this sickness makes for revolutionary change. Its welfare scheme, a prime obligation, stands tall among its basic tenets.

Indeed, the Qur’an holds charity to be one of the best acts of worship, and makes it obligatory on those eligible to pay it. This welfare obligation – indeed, the right of the poor – on the wealth of the affluent is termed Zakah. Extracted at the rate of 2.5% of one’s lawful income, Zakahinherently signifies the spiritual purification of one’s wealth.
It fosters a collective duty through which wealth is not hoarded, but is rather redistributed among society’s underprivileged.  Of course, a broader definition of charity in Islam encompasses even acts of seeming insignificance like a simple smile, indeed, any act of kindness.

The Qur’an (2: 162) states: “Those who spend of their wealth in the Cause of God, and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury; their reward is with their Lord.”   Prophet Muhammad, on whom is peace, proscribed vanity and asked people to give in charity discretely such that one’s left hand would not know what the right hand had spent. While such acts of charity are usually the best, the general rule and the raison d’etre of Muslim spending is given again by the Qur’an when it says (3: 133-134): “And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which awaits the God-conscious, who spend in charity in times of plenty and in times of hardship, and restrain their anger, and pardon their fellow men, for God loves those who do good.”

Obligatory charity (or Zakah) in Islam is an exchange in happiness, an encouragement in responsibility, generosity, and humility, while yet keeping miserliness at bay.

Zakah does not deter progress through dependency; instead, it encourages growth in a world filled with inequality, power-struggles and greed. Giving meaning to life, it provides for true fulfillment when it changes lives for the better, without making the beneficiaries feel indebted, for what they receive is, after all, their right.

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