Economic Justice in the Qur’an; Our Personal Responsibility
When it comes to the practice of ‘American’ Islam, it seems that there is a hyper-focus on building, maintaining, and expanding mosques. While there is no doubt that mosques represent the heart of Islamic life, where we seek guidance and education, as well as spiritual rejuvenation; it is however necessary to state that we cannot assume that achieving a mosque is the be-all and end-all of our duties as Muslims. In fact, the Almighty rebukes those with this mentality in the Qur’an:
أَجَعَلۡتُمۡ سِقَايَةَ ٱلۡحَآجِّ وَعِمَارَةَ ٱلۡمَسۡجِدِ ٱلۡحَرَامِ كَمَنۡ ءَامَنَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلۡيَوۡمِ ٱلۡأَخِرِ وَجَـٰهَدَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِۚ لَا يَسۡتَوُ ۥنَ عِندَ ٱللَّهِۗ وَٱللَّهُ لَا يَہۡدِى ٱلۡقَوۡمَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ
“Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims and the maintenance of Masjid al-Ḥarām (at Makkah) as equal to the worth of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah? They are not equal before Allâh. And Allah guides not those people who are wrong-doers.” (9:19)
As the historical records explain, the uncle of the Prophet Muḥammad (s), ʿAbbās b.ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib was assigned the duty of Siqāyat al-ḥājj, to provide water and care for the pilgrims. Which meant his role was not at any mosque, but to Masjid al-Ḥarām itself, the central and most sacred site for all Muslims. ʿAbbās had supposedly boasted to his nephew, Imām ʿAlī, of the importance and honor of his assigned role, he assumed that by serving in this role he was thus performing his due diligence to the faith. This angered the Almighty, and he revealed that while maintaining mosques are virtuous tasks, they do not at all compare with the acts of those like ʿAlī who engage in jihād, striving to implement righteousness in society. Likewise, we cannot afford to conclude that by building and maintaining mosques we have somehow performed due diligence; no, we need to escape the confines of our respective mosques.
We need to explore and find issues to solve in society, we must strive to make our surroundings better. To do this we need to firstly delve into the Qur’an, understand the divine ethos, and then take action. The Almighty thus directly addresses the believers:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأَقْرَبِينَ
“O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin…” (4:135)
Therefore, one of, if not the central ethos of Islam, is the upholding of justice. Correspondingly, without any doubt the greatest injustice in America and possibly the world is economic inequality. Thus our jihād is to actively fight against income inequality, to become warriors for the impoverished; this is our personal [wājib al-ʿAynī] responsibility outside the mosque.
However, when it comes to this issue, we find Muslims to be utmostly confused, becoming lost in the arguments between capitalism and socialism, and my response to this bewilderment is that we Muslims recognize neither. Without getting into the messy discussion of statehood, and governance, we can all agree that in the life of the Prophet (s) and within the divine revelation- the Qur’an, there are enough directives and injunctive examples for us to determine our individual economic philosophy. It simply is, that fundamentally humankind owns nothing, whatever it is belongs to Him:
وَهُوَ ٱلَّذِى فِى ٱلسَّمَآءِ إِلَـٰهٌ۬ وَفِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ إِلَـٰهٌ۬ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ ٱلۡعَلِيمُ (٨٤) وَتَبَارَكَ ٱلَّذِى لَهُ ۥ مُلۡكُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَمَا بَيۡنَهُمَا وَعِندَهُ ۥ عِلۡمُ ٱلسَّاعَةِ وَإِلَيۡهِ تُرۡجَعُونَ (٨٥)
“It is He, Allah, Who is the only deity in the heavens and the only deity on the earth. And He is the All-Wise, the All-Knower. And Blessed is He to Whom belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between them, and with Whom is the knowledge of the Hour, and to Whom you (all) will be returned.” (43:84-85)
Nevertheless, Islam does recognize the concept of private property, in that the Almighty deputized humankind over the [material] earth (إِنِّى جَاعِلٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ خَلِيفَةً۬ۖ); meaning that ownership is a divinely protected right. Whatever one has gained through just means, it cannot be taken from them by any other human. However, this ownership cannot be understood as ownership in the capitalistic sense, ownership herein refers back to that primordial deputization; in essence ownership in Islam is managerial, the owner is God, the manager is human. Therefore, there is no qualm in seeking wealth, in fact it can be considered encouraged, albeit the ultimate decider over that wealth is God, and humankind manages it accordingly. The divine instructions for the management of wealth are thus expressed through the Islamic system of rights, or Ḥuqūq.
For those of us who possess wealth, Qur’anically we are informed, that there are other human beings who have a ḥaqq (right) over ‘our’ wealth:
وَٱلَّذِينَ فِىٓ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ حَقٌّ۬ مَّعۡلُومٌ۬ (٢٤) لِّلسَّآٮِٕلِ وَٱلۡمَحۡرُومِ (٢٥)
“And those who possess wealth within it there is a recognized ḥaqq (right), a [right] for the needy who asks, and for the downtrodden” (70:24-25)
The very existence of needy and the downtrodden informs us that, those with wealth are not giving the ḥaqq to their rightful owners. Nevertheless, the question thus arises here, what percentage of our wealth is this ḥaqq? How much must be given away, and the Almighty responds:
وَيَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ ٱلۡعَفۡوَۗ
And they ask you [O Muhammad (s)] what they ought to spend [in the way of Allah]. Say: “That which is beyond your needs.” (2:219)
Meaning, that after we account for the needs of our household, whatever is superfluous we return to the Almighty, hence this ḥaqq is actually from the rights of God (Ḥuqūq Allah). It is thus completely antithetical to the spirit of Islam for one to hoard their wealth, yet we live in a society where millions starve, whilst individuals possess billions. If Islamic economic philosophy were to be considered anything, it would most definitely be militantly against this perversion.
God’s ḥaqq is our fulfilling of the needs of the impoverished, of the suffering; it is our personal [and societal] responsibility to answer to the Ḥuqūq Allah (rights of God), by tending to the poor. If Ḥuqūq Allah belongs to the impoverished, to the suffering, then we can say that this poverty this suffering in this world in itself is a divine manifestation, when we see the hands out-stretch on the streets of Manhattan, when we see pictures of starving emaciated children in Yemen, when we see the refugees crossing the Mediterranean, we should understand this as the Almighty Himself demanding His rights; and we must not deny the Almighty.
Please also read:
Young Muslims Need to be Radical, Capitalism is Jāhilīyyah!