Below is part 9 and the final part of article 'Eradication of Poverty from the Viewpoint of Shia Jurists', a research paper article written by religious scholar Ostad Daneshgar. You can read and review each part by going to Part 1, Part 2, Part3, Part4, Part5, Part6, Part7, Part 8. By: Mostafa Daneshgar To sum up, last article seeks to find the views of jurists and the way they have dealt with the issue of poverty and absolute poverty in particular. Therefore, the article has been trying to address such issues as the rulings with regards to combating poverty, the duties of the government and the wealthy in the fight, the limits of their responsibilities as well as the question whether battling absolute poverty comes before other levels of poverty. What follows are the results of the study in a nutshell.
- In case someone is in urgent need of food, it’s incumbent upon everyone in possession of food to save them. If there’s only one person available to do so, then it becomes Wajib-e-aini (an act whose performance is obligatory for all Muslims). If there is more than one, the obligation becomes Wajib Kafai (a Muslim duty that won’t be obligatory for others if done by somebody), because saving the life of a person in need is viewed as an obligation in itself. Still, since offering is an obligation only to a level which is enough to remove the risk unless doing beyond that is required.
- Apart from the urgent situation and needs, the duties of the rich with regard to the needy fall into two categories. First, financial obligations such as Zakat, Khoms, Fitrah Zakat, Kaffarahs, harvesting right, and even Nazr. And second, voluntary donations by the rich like loans, public donations and donations mentioned in a person’s will, which the wealthy believers do for the sake of God and the afterlife reward.
- According to jurists, governments have a responsibility toward the poor, and can make use of sources of funding in their possession. Part of that funding needs to be spent on battling poverty, while the amounts which have no defined target should be allocated to the public interests of the Muslim community. It’s the religious government which decides what amount to be spent on combating poverty and which level of priority that fight is has.
- Some of the sources of funding allocated to combating poverty have targeted eradicating absolute poverty. A loan is another source through which the needy put together a limited amount of money to run a business and save themselves from normal poverty and even absolute poverty. However, lending would make no sense for the needy who are unable to pay the amount back. Different forms of charity, such as cash donations and harvesting right are voluntary moves considered to be rewarding deeds which are aimed at eradicating absolute poverty, while Fitrah Zakat and Kaffarahs are obligations upon the rich for the same purpose.
- Zakat is considered as the crucial obligatory source of funding in the battle against poverty. It appears that jurists have not set a priority for the levels of poverty when it comes to Zakat, because neither Shia nor Sunni scholars believe in the extension of Zakat to different groups of the poor. Indeed, they have allowed the rich to spend their Zakat on any group of the poor which might not be the worst-hit by poverty. Second, aside from Sheikh Tousi in his Mabsout, no other scholar has addressed the question of insufficiency; that is when the amount paid is not enough to meet the demands. (One exception is late scholar Sadr in his treatise “Our Economy”). Such an issue has not been addressed probably because of the fact that the scholars do not consider a heavier responsibility for the rich and the government beyond what has been already set, no matter whether the payment suffices or not.
- The point mentioned above indicates that jurists in general have not set priorities as to what levels of poverty should be tackled first. In other words, taking into account the quotes which consider Zakat as a sufficient source to meet the demands of the needy, the scholars have found it unessential to address the question of insufficiency. Indeed, they say, in case everyone upon whom paying Zakat is obligatory does so, poverty will be definitely uprooted. To put it in another way, the existing poverty is not due to the Zakat being inadequate, it’s rather because not all the rich have lived up to their responsibility to pay it. If this is a logical reason, then it can justify the jurists’ refusal to address the issue of insufficiency and the necessity for extension. In fact, it is supposed that even if extension does not take place, Zakat in itself should be sufficient to eradicate poverty. And when prioritizing is on a time basis, that still does not necessarily mean combating absolute poverty does not come before the other levels. However, in case the prioritizing is not about the timing and rather about the payment only, that means insufficiency has been an assumption that contradicts the issue of sufficiency of Zakat for the needy. Another reason why jurists never raised the issue of insufficiency could be the fact that they do not recognize financial duties for the rich other than the os already defined and set. As a result, to them, it’s out of the question whether the set paid amounts eradicate poverty or not, because in either case what matters is that the rich have lived up to their duty. This very conclusion has been drawn upon quotes which are still being questioned by some.
- Putting the above mentioned points together, it’s concluded that according to the jurists the necessity to combat poverty has been addressed in such obligations upon the rich as Zakat, Khoms, Kaffarah and Fitrah Zakat as well as government funding. Now, if even after those payments are made and obligations lived up to, poverty still exists, that would not create a new obligation on the rich to pay beyond the levels already defined. Nevertheless, combating poverty could be strengthened with extra charitable activities which the jurists have advised the rich to turn to on a voluntary basis, emphasizing extra financial assistance and observing brotherhood rights for good reasons and in an effort to gain divine reward and blessings in the afterlife.
Below is part 8 of 'Eradication of Poverty from the Viewpoint of Shia Jurists' research paper article written by religious scholar Ostad Daneshgar. There will be one last part coming after this post concluding the entire research paper. You can read the previous parts by going to Part 1, Part 2, Part3, Part4, Part5, Part6, or Part7 By: Mostafa Daneshgar 2) Issue of food: according to Shahid Thani in his Sharh Lame’h, the following are considered as emergency cases about food: a) When a person fears he might die if he is not given food on time. b) When a person is sure that if he fails to eat, he may fall ill or his illness may deteriorate. c) When failure to eat causes severe body weakness and makes the person in question lag behind fellow passengers on a trip and puts him in trouble. 50) A review of the way the Islamic scholars have addressed these special cases could help one understand them better. When a person fears he may die if he fails to eat, or he may get sick or his illness may worsen, then if there’s no food donation around, he’s allowed to eat a limited amount (enough to remove the risk) of the meat of dead or Haram animals. Now, if a food supply is available, there will be two possibilities: first the person may afford to pay for the food in which case it’s obligatory upon the owner of the food to accept the deal because the other party’s health is at risk. The same holds true when the person in question is sick or a lack of food may deteriorate his health condition. When the person is able to afford to pay, the payment becomes obligatory, because failure to do so is considered inflicting a loss on the food owner, unless he willingly and voluntarily refuses to receive the payment. But now the question is what should be done when the food owner offers it for a price higher than the normal rate? In such a case, Sheikh Tousi argues, the person in the emergency situation is allowed to take the food by force, because legally and basically that food is considered his share when the other party refuses to offer it. He goes on to say that if the person is not able to do so by force, then he can resort to a trick so that he won’t have to pay an amount bigger than the real price. Still, if that doesn’t work either, then he should pay the price which the owner demands. Tousi has found that there are differences among scholars regarding this last issue. He says a group of them has accepted the last resort while others contend that the person in emergency should not pay beyond the normal amount, because they believe the case of such a person is like the case of a person who’s forced to do so. And that’s the view which Sheikh Tousi himself finds better. 51 Allameh in his Mokhtalef, Mohaqiq in his Sharaye’ as well as Saheb Javaher all believe that if the person in emergency affords to pay the price above the normal rate, he can do so, but in case that price is beyond his power, then it’s not incumbent on him to pay. Another question is, now, what if the person in emergency has no money to pay, would it be then obligatory on the one in possession of the food to offer it for free? The answer by such scholars as Sheikh Tousi in his Khalaf and Ibn Idriss in Sara’er is negative. They argue that first of all donating one’s property does not come before losing it. Therefore, that doesn’t make it forbidden for the owner if he refuses to offer the food. Secondly, protecting the other person’s life is obligatory only when there’s “consensus” on that and consensus becomes convincing only once the reasons are strong enough. As a result, it cannot be asserted for sure that protecting the other person’s life in exchange for someone’s property is absolutely obligatory, because the conventional ways and rules negate that. For instance, when a person’s life can be saved by paying money for his release or someone who is ill can be cured by donation, the common rules have not made such payments obligatory, meaning that protecting the other person’s life is not an absolute must. Still, unlike what Sheikh Tousi and Ibn Idriss argue, other scholars believe that donating food to a person in emergency is obligatory. They have cited different sources and quotes, one of them by Imam Sadiq as narrated by Ibn Abi Amir in his Mo’tabareh: “Anyone who utters a word which may contribute to the death of another fellow Muslim will be deprived from Allah’s compassion on the Day of Judgment.” 54 Deprivation from God’s compassion comes when the person commits a forbidden deed. And for the case mentioned above, the food owner commits a forbidden act when he utters the words “I’m not giving away”, which leads to the death of the other side that is in urgent need of the food. Meanwhile, Saheb Javaher says the absolute necessity and obligatory nature of protecting another person’s life is so obvious that it does not demand any reasoning or explanation. 55) Now, having accepted the argument by the majority of scholars that offering food is obligatory, now the next issue is the amount. How much is the food owner obliged to donate? Should he offer only a limited amount, enough to remove the risk and save the life of the needy person, or should he give a share big enough to make the other side feel full? Shahid Thani raises two possibilities and offers explanations for both. 56 Saheb Javaher has found obvious faults in the argument that it is obligatory for the food owner to offer an amount which makes the needy person feel full. Thus, he maintains that the limited amount to save the person’s life in emergency would suffice and beyond that, is not an obligation upon the food owner. 57) What makes the issue challenging is the fact that two major contradictory points have to be taken into account, that is the necessity to protect the life of the needy person on one hand, and the notion that “any body has the freedom and legal power to decide about his possessions”. Now the contradiction arises when one has to observe both notions. However, the protection of the other person’s life is a priority over the second notion. Still, the amount being offered does not have to go beyond the emergency level. In fact, beyond that level would no longer make the first notion a priority over the second one. Therefore, offering an amount beyond the risk level is not an obligation. If the owner does so, however, he will be doing thawab that’s a deed deserving divine reward. Now, another question is about the case in which the person in need is in an emergency situation and there is more than one person in possession of food to meet his demand. Apparently, this has not been addressed. But jurists’ understanding says it’s Wajib Kafai upon them i.e. if the demand is met by a few, then it’s no longer an obligation for the rest. Conclusion (Last part Coming)
Recipients of ZakatThe holy Qur'an says Zakat should be paid to 8 groups among them the poor and the destitute (36) These two concepts deal with two stages before reaching what is defined as richness. The first stage can be adapted to abject poverty. The question is whether, while deciding on distributing Zakat, the jurists consider a priority for those who are poorer and unable to provide the bare essentials of life such as food, clothing and housing, in other words, those who live in absolute poverty. There is evidence that shows they consider no priority. The evidence can be categorized as: A) The priorities for paying Zakat to the needy, B) The lack of necessary conditions for receiving Zakat, and C) The failure to consider the principles of insufficiency of Zakat for the poor. A) Priorities for paying Zakat to the needy There is consensus among the jurists over priorities for paying Zakat to the needy. However, they are not based on only the living conditions of those eligible to receive it. Many jurists maintain that a key priority is whether the individual who is eligible to receive Zakat has justice as a key personality trait. Saheb Javaher says if an unjust person lives in harsh conditions to such a degree that he cannot even provide himself food, he’s entitled to receive Zakat. He says what has made this possible is the Quranic verse that says: "give away to the fasiq (impious) an amount". This is because the word amount indicates the payment of small sums to the fasiq needy so they could provide clothing and food. He believes that the status of the fasiq person is not the same as that of the just person in terms of receiving Zakat. Having mentioned this, Saheb Javaher emphasizes that the safest thing to do by considering all those conditions is, however, not to pay Zakat not to the fasiq person. This is out of cautiousness, he says, because we are not absolutely certain about all the reasons, thus the payee of Zakat may not be freed from duty by paying to such a person. As a result, it’s better for Zakat to be paid to the just person rather than the fasiq one.(38) Hence, although Saheb Javaher in the beginning authorized the payment of Zakat to the fasiq person and his family to provide food, he says it is safest not to do so later in his script. With regards to the precondition of justice, there is consensus among contemporary jurists that there should be no conditions on who is really eligible to receive Zakat. (39) Jurists believe that it is desirable to give priority to a certain group of individuals who are eligible to receive Zakat over others based on certain clear reasons. For instance, Saheb Hada'eq contends that Islamic scholars believe that prioritizing a certain group of people eligible to receive Zakat is desirable for certain reasons. Examples include the fact that there are some more eligible people or the fact that some people may be so humble that they won’t ask others for help.The individual entitled to receive Zakat could also be a family member or a relative. He then quotes Sheikh Mofid through Allameh Helli that the priority given to certain people in receiving Zakat is an obligation. Sheikh Mofid believes that the needy should be given priorities based on their scholarly knowledge, their insight, their pureness and their faith. Therefore, the degree of neediness has no place among the priorities to be considered for receiving Zakat in the eyes of Sheikh Mofid. Nevertheless, the desirable priorities that Saheb Hada'eq says the religious authorities have clearly indicated in religious texts are the ones that define a needy person as somebody who fails to ask others for help even though he or she is in the harshest conditions because he is too humble to do so.Still, they do not clearly say that the degree of neediness is one of the priorities. In one of his scripts, Allameh Helli has discussed this, saying it is desirable for the individuals who are needier to be given a priority over others. He also believes that giving priority to the people who are educated is also a virtue. Allameh Helli also regards the people who refuse to ask others for help as people who should be given priority. This is because those individuals live in poverty due to the same attitude. (41) Grand scholar Sayyid Mohammad Kazem Yazdi says in his Orvat-ul-Vuthqa that the degree of poverty is considered to be among desirable priorities after justice and virtue. He emphasizes that in paying Zakat, the recipient’s being the most just and the most virtuous is more important. In case of a conflict between the two as in cases when one is more just and another more virtuous or one is more just and the other needier, there should be a careful examination of all the cases and the one should be picked as per the nature of the case. (42) On the same notion, Ayatollah Montazeri makes references to scholarly texts that testify to the abovementioned priorities. However, he says there is a conflict between references that attach a higher significance to values such as justice and virtue and the references that give priority to the degree of neediness and, as he says, are against the philosophy of Zakat. (43) Therefore, with regard to priorities over spending Zakat, for the individuals who have lived in absolute poverty and are unable to provide their very basic needs like food, clothes and housing, are not necessarily given priority. Nonetheless, renowned jurists like Allameh Helli and Yazdi emphasize that the degree of neediness as a desirable factor is equal to other priorities like justice and others. Still, none of the scholars believe that the degree of neediness is a mandatory condition for giving priority to an individual. B) The question of extending Zakat. (coming soon)
By: Mostafa Daneshgar
The present research aims to offer an insight into the views of Shia jurists on how poverty, particularly absolute poverty, should be encountered. Hence, the study will try to answer such questions as: How should poverty be tackled? What is the duty of the rich and rulers in the fight against poverty? What is the extent of this duty? Should fighting absolute poverty be prioritized over fighting other levels of poverty or not?
Human societies have always suffered from poverty. After the industrial revolution, human capabilities developed in an unprecedented way. In spite of spinning the wheels of industry through strenuous labor and mass production, workers were deprived of minimum rights. Under such circumstances, poverty is bitterer and causes more suffering. The disasters that befell the workers during the industrial age ushered in anti-capitalist ideologies.
Marxism was the most lasting and outstanding offspring of the situation. Meanwhile, workers and the poor unrelentingly fought to achieve their rights. Today, the capitalist system has managed, after many ups and downs, to considerably alleviate the suffering of the poor through the establishment of an efficient social security system. The success of the capitalist system has posed this question to the rival schools of thought as to how they viewed poverty and what tool they devised to fight the heinous phenomenon.
Islam and Muslim Poverty
Muslim scholars are pursuing the issue with special interest. This is because all Muslim nations are among underdeveloped or developing countries and large numbers of people in these societies suffer from poverty and backwardness. Rampant poverty in Muslim countries has prompted some individuals to point the finger at Islam, blaming the dire conditions on Islamic ideology and beliefs. Hence, it is necessary to study the views of Islam and Muslims about poverty. Muslim jurists and scholars have been the most prominent religious figures of Islam throughout history shouldering the responsibility for discovering and outlining Islamic rules. The jurists have served as a link connecting people to Islam and playing a key role in the development of religious views. Thus, it is important to study and assess their views on how poverty should be fought.
This research aims to delve into the standpoints of the jurists on the issue of poverty and seek their answers to the following questions: