Zakat and Charity should be instruments for developing the poor
by 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. Trustworthy 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.

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Muslims Must Join the Oppressed
By Hasan Mansur,  a civil liberties activist and former professor of English

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 driven 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.

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