Eradication of Poverty from the Viewpoint of Shia Jurists – Part 5

December 23, 2014

Below is the continuation and part of three of previous article previous article, Eradication of Poverty from the Viewpoint of Shia Jurists – Part 4.
By: Mostafa Daneshgar

Jurists believe that the poor should be assisted to the extent that they become rich enough and they deserve assistance only to that extent. Richness in jurisprudence means that the individual’s income is sufficient to cover his conventional expenses and those of the people under his care. By conventional expenses, jurists mean an income by which a family can be run in a respectful way. (32) Hence, if, for some reason, a person’s income is not sufficient to cover the expenses, that person is regarded as poor.

Some jurists also refer to another element regarding the concept of richness. They maintain that a person is rich if he has an average income like that of ordinary people. (33) Hadiths also say Zakat should be paid if a person is at the same level as the public. (34) The absence of either element shall result in the income being less than the expenses; thus that person is considered penniless and deserves to receive Zakat. Therefore, those who deserve Zakat are, in the first place, the people who cannot satisfy their minimum needs and then those who can afford this but are not at the same level of ordinary people as well as people whose income is less than a decent amount.

Now the question is: Have the jurists given priority to those who are under more financial strain and cannot afford to cover their food, clothing and housing expenses and are, in other words, suffering from absolute poverty compared to the other two groups? To answer the question, in the first place, we need to make a conceptual comparison. It is necessary to compare the concepts of poverty and destitution with that of absolute poverty.

Absolute poverty

Absolute poverty means inability to earn the minimum income needed to live by and to satisfy one’s main physical needs, that is, food, clothes and housing. This concept was defined by the development economists of the 1970s. The two concepts of poverty and destitution have been discussed in jurisprudence particularly with regard to the spending of Zakat. These two words refer to the levels of income.

The first stage: the needy person who has no income and cannot satisfy his basic needs such as food and clothes. For this reason, he may ask others for help to be able to feed himself and his family.
The second stage: the person has an income but it cannot cover his and his family’s expenses. In other words, his income is less than that of the rich person. Therefore, it can be concluded that the first stage means absolute poverty. Inability to satisfy one’s minimum physical needs is compatible with both concepts.

(35) By relying on the above mentioned comparison and without mentioning absolute poverty in the history of jurisprudence, one can discuss the jurists’ attitude toward the phenomenon and their efforts to confront it, thus enriching the jurisprudential literature. In this section, we will try to figure out the jurists’ attitude toward absolute poverty and their strategy to fight it.  As mentioned in the first section, jurisprudential books have mentioned some resources for eradicating poverty. These resources are not the same. Thus, they can be divided into several groups.

The first group consists of resources which involve public interests. Spoils of war are the most important item in this group. There are also Jizya, public property and tax. These resources can be spent for the purpose of eradicating absolute poverty as public interest. Jurists argue that these resources must be spent in favor of public interests but have not given priority to absolute poverty. They believe that interests vary under different circumstances. Hence, they leave the responsibility to give some interests higher priority to the ruler.

Endowments and wills cover a large extent. Here, the person who endows something or makes a will can spend his wealth in favor of some interests. In fact, the responsibility to decide which interests come first lies with the person who endows or makes a will. In lending, someone gives something to the person in need provided that he pays it back. The recipient of the loan can either be rich or poor.  Since the loan is granted provided that it is paid back, it is given to those penniless people who are able to do so. These people have no means to work and they can provide the means through borrowing, thus ridding themselves of poverty.

A penniless person who is in need of a small capital for self-employment is another instance.  Under such circumstances, lending can save these people from poverty. Hence, lending is a powerful tool for creating jobs for the poor who are looking for employment. But lending does not make sense regarding the poor who are incapable of working and thus unable to pay back any loans.

The third type is resources which fully focus on absolute poverty. The harvesting right, the recognized right, Khoms, Fitrah Zakat and Kaffarahs are of this type. The harvesting right applies where a group of penniless people come to the farm at the time of harvesting. They are usually people who suffer from extreme poverty and their revenues from crops are not high, either. Hence, these people live in absolute poverty. The quality of recognized right shows that the target is the people who live in absolute poverty. Charity is also used for absolute poverty. The three resources above all fall in the category of the desirables. Khoms, however, is a compulsory financial obligation.

As it was said, if the share of Sayyids is not sufficient to end their poverty, the ruler will use other resources to save the needy Sayyids from poverty. Hence, it seems that generally Khoms is aimed at wiping out poverty. In the Fitrah Zakat and Kaffarahs, the criteria are feeding the destitute and in one case clothing them. This applies to anyone who needs food and clothing. Therefore, in these two financial obligations, absolute poverty is taken into account.  Although, the fact that jurisprudential books say the recipient of the Fitrah Zakat is the penniless person who receives the Zakat of the body causes some ambiguity. Therefore, in the first type, basically, public interests are taken into consideration and there is no priority for ending poverty.

In the second type, loans can be allotted to the poor who are in need of working tools and capital. However, loans are not used to fulfill the needs of people suffering from the extreme form of poverty.In the third type, the harvesting right, the recognized right and charity aim to end poverty but they are still among the desirables.

Meanwhile, Khoms is used exclusively for the penniless Sayyids, though it targets absolute poverty. Fitrah Zakat and Kaffarahs aim to end absolute poverty too, but they are not considered a bountiful resource for this purpose.  Thus, except for desirables in which case motivation is the main factor, financial obligations are not intended to wipe out absolute poverty. The fourth type is Zakat which is the most famous financial obligation. Hence, it needs to be discussed in a more detailed manner.

Recipients of Zakat (Coming soon)

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