Religion Commands Us to Protect
the Needy and Orphans
Those of you possessing
affluence and ample wealth should not make oaths that they
will not give to their relatives and the very poor and those
who have left their homes in the Way of Allah. They should
rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive
you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
(Surat an-Nur: 22)
poverty is no longer a problem restricted to some particular countries.
The world agenda is dominated by children who make their living
on streets collecting trash, who spend freezing nights out on the
streets and have dangerous jobs in return for which they receive
little money, risking their lives. So, much of the world is not
safe from the child deaths stemming from malnutrition and other
Statistics on poverty and on street children alone reveal
the serious dimensions of the situation.
In 1982, UNESCO reported 200,000 street children in Istanbul, 10,000
in Bogota, and 2 million in Rio de Janeiro. In Africa, this figure
is estimated to be 5 million and is steadily increasing. Civic dislocations
and wars, scarcity, AIDS and rapid urbanisation are factors increasing
the number of street children. Around the world, 30 to 70 million
street children are homeless on any given night.5
In America, the number of children living
in poverty tripled in only two decades. In 1989 one of every six
children in America were officially recognised to live in very poor
conditions. In 1993, one in every five children younger than 6 years
old was living in very poor conditions - more than 5 million children.
In 1994, one of every four children under three years old was estimated
to be living on the breadline. In 1980, this figure increased from
1.8 million to 2.3 million.6
As the statistics above suggest, even the developed world
is not immune from poverty. The unemployment from economic depressions
and inadequacy of social security systems are, by and large, responsible
for this poverty.
The values of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, however, demand
the protection of the poor and the needy. There are many hadith
of Allah's Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (saas) that bid the believers
to protect the poor. One of them reads thus:
Love the poor and be near to them. If
you love them, Allah will love you. If you take care of them, Allah
will take care of you. If you clothe them, Allah will clothe you.
If you feed them, Allah will feed you. Allah will be generous to
you if you are generous.7
In the former socialist countries we see another dimension
of poverty: the living standards of almost all individuals are low,
independently of particular conditions unlike as in developed and
third world countries. In these countries, there is a general poverty
influencing almost all the population. Consequences of poverty have
an overall impact over the whole country. The infrastructure of
cities and the social security systems prove to be inadequate, for
instance. Food is scarce. Unlike most countries, even if you can
afford it, food and goods are not available in the marketplace.
...They will ask you about the property
of orphans. Say 'Managing it in their best interests is best.'
If you mix your property with theirs,
they are your brothers...
(Surat al-Baqara: 220)
It is possible to list many reasons accounting for poverty.
However, it would be more helpful to discuss the impact of poverty
on society and ways to eradicate it. In the following chapters,
problems pertaining to poverty are dealt with under particular sub-topics.
|Give your relatives
their due, and the very poor and travellers but
do not squander what you have.
(Surat al-Isra': 26)
Today, thousands of people sleep on
the streets. If everyone acted conscientiously, this poverty
would end. No one has the right to disclaim responsibility,
saying, "Am I the one who must help?"
THE DESTRUCTIVE EFFECTS OF POVERTY ON SOCIETY
No doubt, children suffer most from the consequences
of poverty. Poor children, especially the homeless, are often turned
away by public schools because they lack permanent addresses, proof
of age and immunisation records. They hardly find food to eat. Mostly,
they are forced to work under difficult conditions. In some countries,
children are even sold by their families to workplaces as "slaves".
For the most part, these children earn
little money, in the most health-hostile environments imaginable
that can prove lethal in some cases. The population of India is
940 million and there are 44-100 million child workers in the country
- more than the total number of working children in the rest of
the world. In Pakistan, a country with a population of 120 million,
there are approximately 8 million working children.8
The sad state of poor children is no different in the rest of the
Not only Indian children shoulder
great burdens. All over the world, many people spend
their childhood working.
All over the world we are familiar with
the situation of underage children forced to work, and the harsh
conditions surrounding them in the workplace. Despite this, however,
rather than bringing these children the social services and educational
support so essential to their development, these countries are concerned
about the competitiveness of their economies with the cheap products
produced by the child workforce. In their meetings, they even discuss
how to increase their competitiveness and not how to save these
Many countries in the world allocate
important portions of their budgets to defence. India and Pakistan,
countries where education, health and industry call for urgent reform,
are no exceptions. For instance, Pakistan allocates 60% of its budget
to armaments and to defence spending. That the majority of the public
is blighted by poverty does not alter the situation in Pakistan.
Nuclear armament spending in the USA is 35 billion dollars a year.
From 1946, the year when programmes linked to the atom bomb were
initiated, until the year 1996, approximately 5.5 trillion dollars
No doubt, these budgets allocated to defence and armaments
could simply be offered to bring relief to the problems of poverty-stricken
people. However, despite the fact that the lives of little children
are at stake, political concerns and calculations of vested interests
have long hindered the development of viable solutions to these
One point deserves special mention here: under the following
conditions, defence spending is unavoidable. Because disbelief brings
more conflicts, chaos, outrages and violence, it seems that these
problems will persist. Therefore, a country will have to rely on
her defence to maintain its existence.
Children will be forced to work as long as people do
not acquire the wisdom and conscience the Qur'an brings.
However, misery is everywhere. Evidently delivering speeches
on problems will not produce any solutions. Nor will merely avoiding
side-stepping beggars and giving charity. Co-ordination of regular
programmes addressing the educational, health, shelter and clothing
needs of poor people is essential.
This is only possible, however, through the sensitivity
people will develop when living by the Qur'an. Again, Qur'anic values
will ensure a peaceful environment which will make countries sensitive
enough not to violate other countries' rights. Consequently, defence
spending can be limited and the resources allocated to them can
be invested in related fields to secure welfare, peace and quality
education for the public.
Surely, defence spending is only an example. Many other
similar solutions can be provided. As in all other issues, it is
essential to see that the solution lies in living by the Qur'an
and the Sunnah. That is because only a person endowed with the values
of the Qur'an and the Sunnah could give his own share of food to
the needy or an orphan when he, himself, is hungry. By the same
token, that person is the one who does not offer things he dislikes
to others, and he is the one who offers help without demanding anything
in return. Allah explains in Surat an-Nur how wealthy people should
Those of you possessing affluence
and ample wealth should not make oaths that they will not give to
their relatives and the very poor and those who have left their
homes in the Way of Allah. They should rather pardon and overlook.
Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving,
Most Merciful. (Surat an-Nur: 22)
Pakistan and India are only two of the countries where the
majority of the people are blighted by poverty.
Allah, in the Qur'an, explains how the wealthy should
address the needs of the poor. For instance, Allah says that some
portion of the properties of the wealthy belongs to the poor. Allah
says that some people do not disclose their poverty and that the
rights of these people should be protected:
And in their wealth and possessions
(was remembered) the right of the (needy), him who asked and him
who (for some reason) was prevented (from asking). (Surat adh-Dhariyat:
It (Charity) is for the poor who
are held back in the Way of Allah, unable to travel in the land.
The ignorant consider them rich because of their reticence. You
will know them by their mark. They do not ask from people insistently.
Whatever good you give away, Allah knows it. (Surat al-Baqara: 273)
THE SUFFERING OF THOSE WHO ARE FORCED TO LEAVE
One of the important consequences of world poverty is
the refugee problem. Hope for better job opportunities or better
living standards or struggle and scarcity have produced mass displacements,
thereby causing serious conflicts between countries.
The flow of refugees from third world countries was initially
favoured by many host countries, and was originally arranged through
high-level international treaties in order to provide a cheap supply
of labour to the west. The low wages paid to foreign workers and
their readiness to work under difficult conditions accounted for
this ready acceptance. Indeed for long, foreign workers contributed
enormously to the economies of these countries, but in time, as
these countries attained economic stability and welfare, they no
longer required the foreign workforce and tended to employ their
Malaysia, for instance, forced veteran foreign workers
within her borders to leave. These people, who arrived in Malaysia
with the hope of a better life, had to return to their home countries
after years of service.
The reasons for dislocation are not restricted to the
desire for better living conditions. Struggles between countries
also produce dislocations. In a country devastated by post-war poverty,
a majority of the population can be uprooted. Witnessing the plight
of people fleeing from war, a few countries show some willingness
to accept refugees. In freezing cold, refugees in need of resettlement
walk for weeks toward a destination they hope to be secure but are
often not admitted.
In March 1998, the dislocation experienced by more than
300,000 Kosovar refugees left almost all the cities of Kosovo desolate.
Meanwhile, the severe cold caused the loss of many lives during
In November 1990, Chechens who fled from Russian attacks
on foot sought shelter in neighbouring countries, but these countries
tightened border controls and set rules of transit, showing their
reluctance to host any Chechens. By the time the refugees arrived
at the Turkish border where they were finally admitted, many women,
children and elderly people had been lost due to the severe cold.
The values of the Qur'an and the Sunnah
lay the foundation of a totally different social structure.
In this structure, the rights of the poor and of those forced
from their homes are protected. All means are used to prepare
better conditions for them and to lessen their pain. For this
cause, people do not avoid making sacrifices.
In Africa, conflicts between tribes are responsible for
the flight of tens of thousands of people. In Zaire, the conflict
between Hutus and Tutsis is an example. These displaced persons
suffered from starvation and epidemics. They tried to take refuge
in other countries but they were usually not admitted. (For details
see chapter "Racism")
The values of the Qur'an and the Sunnah, however, lay
the foundation for a totally different social structure. In this
structure, the rights of the poor and of those forced from their
homes are protected. All means are used to prepare better conditions
for them and to lessen their pain. For this cause, people do not
avoid making sacrifices. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad,
may Allah bless him and grant him peace, this value structure was
most apparent in the attitude of believers towards those who left
their homes for Allah's cause:
Those who were already settled
in the abode, and in iman, before they came, love those who have
left their homes in the Way of Allah and do not find in their hearts
any need for what they have been given and prefer them to themselves
even if they themselves are needy. It is the people who are safe-guarded
from the avarice of their own selves who are successful. (Surat
It is for the poor fugitives (muhajirun)
who were driven from their homes and wealth desiring the favour
and the pleasure of Allah and supporting Allah and His Messenger.
Such people are the truly sincere. (Surat al Hashr: 8)
As is obvious from the verses, the values depicted in
the Qur'an are far removed from those experienced today. In the
Qur'an, a request for help is always responded to with a generosity
and benevolence. Believers render the most thorough help to those
in need. While giving assistance to the needy, the Qur'an demands
that the provider not display any moral weakness such as expressing
his own needs or to setting his eye on the aid provided. These values
will bring solutions to many problems.
7. Ramuz al-Hadith,
vol 1, p. 17, Salman al-Farisi (ra)
8. Time, April 15,
9. Time, April 15,
10. Nando Times, 1