Written for Muzlimbuzz.sg | October 31st 2012 | Link
According to a recent report, the number of cases of hunger throughout the world in 2010 stands at a staggering 925 million people. What this means is that for every 7 people, at least 1 person is in dire need of food and facing malnutrition stemming from poverty.
This trend combined with the fact that every 1 in 4 people are Muslims only point to one thing – that whilst most of us in Singapore have eaten our fill and place our hands on our stomach due to over-satiation, somewhere around the world, our Muslim brothers and sisters place their hands on their empty stomach due to extreme hunger and poverty.
This, in essence, was what Shaykh Ninowy was trying to communicate during his talk entitled The Prophet and Poverty – that perhaps we Muslims have forgotten that poverty is a major issue that we have to combat for the sake of our own deen, as seen from the hadith:
A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
The Qur’an and Poverty
Allah SWT, though the Qur’an, mentioned countless times the need to feed the poor. In Surah al-Ma’idah verse 89 for example, the Qur’an orders for the feeding of ten needy people or the freeing of a slave in response to breaking an oath. It is also important to note that again and again, Allah SWT talks about being thankful for His feeding us when we had nothing, as mentioned in Surah Quraysh.
Shaykh Ninowy added that to fulfill two of the tenets of Islam – the payment of zakat and the performance of Hajj – wealth is but an essential requirement. Hence, Muslims should actually strive to avoid poverty because being in such a state is not in tandem with our fitrah.
Essentially, the Qur’an advocates having wealth for the right reasons – that is to combat poverty which leads to imbalances in society. The economic setup placed in Islam is not so much of a redistribution of wealth as understood today, but rather, a by-effect of living together as one ummah, as a family of brothers and sisters who are keen to help one another by giving opportunities and hope.
The Prophet (S) and Poverty
Contrary to certain beliefs, the state of being poor is certainly not part of the deen. The Prophet Muhammad (S) was never in need of anything except Allah SWT and he constantly made du’a for people to have wealth. In fact, many from of the companions were people of immense wealth, such as Abu Bakr as-Siddique RA, Uthman bin ‘Affan RA and Abd Rahman bin ‘Auf RA.
The difference between the companions and the rich of today is that they did with their wealth what the Prophet Muhammad (S) did with his – they kept it in their pockets and not their hearts.
Shaykh Ninowy elaborated that the Prophet Muhammad (S) during his lifetime was constantly given wealth in the form of dirhams or even land etc, but by the time of his death, his own shield was left as a collateral for food. The Prophet (S) literally channeled entirely what Allah SWT gave to him to others who were in need; whatever that comes to him, goes to another without delay.
In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (S) used to make du’a to be protected from disbelief (kufr) and poverty (fakr) at the same time, highlighting the correlation between the two. The Prophet (S) understood that when there is poverty in society, there is likely to be a lack of education, a rise in crimes and eventually, an increase in ignorance. Hence, as another hadith relates, poverty will thus eventually lead to disbelief.
With the above knowledge in mind, Shaykh Ninowy said that the best solution to tackle poverty is to reflect on what Imam As-Shafiee mentioned about zakat – that it should suffice the need of a man not just in a certain year, but for his whole life so that he eventually becomes a zakat payer, and not just a zakat consumer.
What this means is beautifully captured in the lesson taught to us by the Prophet Muhammad (S):
Anas RA said that when a man of the Ansar came to Prophet Muhammad (S) and begged from him, he asked him whether he had nothing in his house.When he said that he had a piece of cloth, which he used for wearing as well as for spreading on the ground, and a wooden bowl from which he drank water, he told him to bring them to him, and when he did so he took them in his hand and asked, “Who will buy these?” When a man offered a dirham he asked twice or thrice. “Who will offer more than a dirham?” and he gave them to a man who offered two dirhams. He then took the two dirhams and giving them to the Ansari he said, “Buy food with one of them and hand it to your family, and buy an axe with the other and bring it to me.”
When he bought it, the Prophet (S) fixed a handle on it with his own hand and said, “Go gather firewood and sell it, and don’t let me see you for a fortnight.” The man went away and gathered firewood and sold it. When he had earned ten dirhams he came to him and bought a garment with some of them and food with others.
May Allah SWT protect us from the trials of poverty, allow us to take only what we need, and increase us in wealth that will be beneficial to the Ummah.