Allah Gives Sustenance, But Does Not Distribute

Tree growing on pile of gold coins with blurred background (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

وَفِي أَمْوَالِهِمْ حَقٌّ لِّلسَّائِلِ وَالْمَحْرُومِ

(51:19) – And [would assign] in all that they possessed a due share unto such as might ask [for help] and such as might suffer priva­tion. [Asad]

It is quite right and practical what the Quran is saying here that the wealthy must share their wealth with the poor and needy. But the Quran emphasizes here an extremely significant point: that the poor and needy deserve this share as a matter of right. This is an important verse that requires some deeper thinking because it is related to the overall goal of the economic system of the Quran.

What is that goal? We will come to it shortly but first let us see: Who really creates the poor, the needy, the deprived, and the helpless? Does Allah create or humans do? Does Allah create the rich, or humans do? Does Allah create the socio-politico-economic inequalities in society or humans do? Does Allah create class differences and divisions, or humans do? Does Allah distribute wealth or humans do?

Well, all these differences and divisions and inequalities are created by humans and are the results of wrong distribution of wealth – by humans. Allah created all the sustenance. Allah provided the means of production. Allah created everything that is necessary for sustaining human life. Allah has created all the material goods, but He didn’t distribute them. It is humans who distribute these goods and it is their wrong distribution system that is at the very heart of humankind’s catastrophic problems. One who has more than he needs (i.e., his surplus wealth), in the final analysis, is the result of usurpation from the one who has been driven into an abyss and does not have enough to support himself. This cloying usurpation system is the creation of human beings.

Means of Sustenance Is A Trust Under the Quranic System          

The Quran’s goal is that no human being is to remain hungry; that no human being is to remain helpless; that no one’s basic needs should remain unmet. How to ensure that this is the case in real life? The Quranic system established in the name of Allah will have the means of sustenance under its control as a trust from Allah because He is the Creator and thus the real owner of all sustenance (2:22; 2:284; 7:128; 19:40; 55:10). Therefore, the Islamic government working on behalf of Allah is supposed to ensure that wealth distribution is fair and just; it is supposed to make sure that everyone’s basic needs of life are met properly (55:9; 56:73). In this system the dignity of every person is preserved because everyone – including those in charge of government – must obey only Allah’s commands and no one else’s (6:57;12:40; 12:67;18:26). If even our Prophet (PBUH) was subject to Allah’s commands (6:15) then how can anyone else be an exception?

All human divisions and inequalities therefore disappear in this system because no one will have surplus wealth:

يَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ

(2:219) – They ask you as to how much they should spare for the help of others. Say: give all that is surplus to your needs.

It is the surplus wealth that creates capitalism, plutocracy, and debt peonage system. The workers produce the crops with their blood, sweat, and tears, while the landlords sit at home and grab all the output and throw some crumbs at the workers. The workers run the factory with their blood, sweat, and tears, while the factory owners enjoy and acquire all the output and pay only a meager salary to workers that does not even cover their basic needs. In the Quranic system no one can become landowner or factory owner because it does not allow anyone to acquire surplus wealth (2:219).

So, it is the surplus wealth which is the root cause of most of the anomalies, crimes, and evils of the society. The turmoil and disorder that has taken over the world is the putative wonder of the surplus wealth. That is why the Quran – instead of treating the symptoms – cuts the very root of this evil tree by its economic system in which no one has surplus wealth. If this is the economic system of the Quran in which no one will be hungry, no one will be helpless, no one will be poor; – then why it has ordered individuals, to feed the hungry, to help the needy, to take care of the poor? This requires deeper analysis of the problem in order to appreciate Quran’s remedy for its solution.

Socioeconomic Condition of the Arab Society at the Time of the Prophet (PBUH)

When the Prophet (PBUH) announced his revolutionary program for improving the human condition, he was alone in voicing this revolutionary message in a society that was deeply entrenched in social and cultural inequalities. They did not want any change in the status quo. Majority of Medina’s population was based on slaves. They did all the physical work and the slave owners threw at them some scraps barely to keep them alive. The entire economy of Makkah (under the control of Quraysh) was based on slavery. This was the entrenched system that the Prophet (PBUH) faced when he made his revolutionary call for changing this system based on human exploitation to a system based on human dignity (17:70). One can very well imagine the long course that that entrenched inhumane system must pass through to gradually reach its final destination to a humane system based on equity and dignity for all.

Initially very few joined the Prophet’s (PBUH) movement for this revolutionary change. And, since the rich and powerful were against this system, those who initially joined this movement were the poor and the helpless of the society such as Bilal and Sohaib. Later some – very few –well to do also joined him because their hearts were moved by the powerful transformative message of the Prophet (PBUH).

Evolutionary Steps to Reach the Final Goal

Thus, the Prophet (PBUH) started his revolutionary journey from the entrenched highly unequal and extremely exploitative system of Quraysh towards the Quranic system of equal dignity for all (17:70). The root cause of all inequalities is driven by plutocratic economic system no matter what its form is. So, the Prophet (PBUH) raised his voice against the Quraysh’s predatory callous system based on slavery. As is obvious this road was very rocky, long, and uphill. This could not be traversed quickly and easily. Many intermediate measures need to be taken before reaching the final destination.

The first step in this process must be education and training to make people aware of the entire program so that they could appreciate that this journey, although extremely difficult, is for their own benefit; it is for their own self-development. Therefore, this first step is about changing mindset:

وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ

(2:129) – to teach them the Book of divine Code of Laws and to explain to them the wisdom behind those laws. This teaching is essential to change people’s outlook and mentality. Those who accepted this mission wholeheartedly got bonded together by the power of Iman (conviction) for the universal goal of human equality (3:103; 48:29). After this, the next step was the encouragement to help each other by sharing and caring for one another because the system was not yet established. Once the Quranic system got established then it took care of everyone’s needs because all surplus wealth went to the state Bayt-al-Maal (the treasury department).

Establishing the Quranic system is a long and hard process because it is an open challenge to the forces of status quo. But until that happens people committed to the Quranic system will help each other on individual basis during the transition phase. So, these injunctions of the Quran to help the poor and the needy were meant only for this transition phase. This was the only way this movement could move ahead. During the thirteen years of Makkah in the life of the Prophet (PBUH), there was no question of establishing this system. Even the seven years of his life in Medina were mostly spent in wars. However, the establishment of the Quranic system in Medina was moving ahead slowly. Eventually this system in Medina reached a point when the Prophet (PBUH) mentioned that if a single person sleeps hungry in a town then Allah’s protection is lifted from that town.

So, this system had already started during the Prophet’s life. History tells us that the Quranic system of universal sustenance had started during the Prophet’s life in Medina and reached its pinnacle during Khalifa Umar’s (R) time when he declared: what to say of a human being dying of hunger, even if a dog were to die of hunger then he would be accountable for its death. So, after a long and hard process, this system eventually reached the final goal of قُلِ الْعَفْوَ (Qulil ‘Afwa) when neither anyone was hungry, or poor, or helpless, nor there was anyone with surplus wealth.

Thus, the mission started by the Prophet (PBUH) finally reached its goal of human equity and dignity during Khalifa Umar’s period, when Allah’s universal sustenance became a living and breathing system in the world.

The question then is: what happens to the Quranic injunctions of helping the poor, feeding the hungry by giving charity, and trying to remove inequality by individual صدقہ (Sadaqa)? Do they become abrogated? No, not all. These injunctions do not become abrogated. They remain in abeyance and will be activated when they are needed just as when water is available then the injunction about tayammum does not get abrogated. When water is not available then it is activated. So, when the society is unequal, when there are poor and needy people – then there is a transition period for taking that unequal society to a society where everyone’s need is met by the Islamic government. These individual injunctions for helping the poor, feeding the hungry etc. are for only this transition period. Every system goes through a transition period in the beginning until it reaches its end. Once it reaches its end the injunctions of the transition phase are not needed.

After the Quranic system reached its pinnacle of قُلِ الْعَفْوَ (Qulil ‘Afwa), the kingship raised its ugly head and derailed this Quranic system and brought back the plutocracy and priesthood that the Prophet (PBUH) had demolished. In the Quran’s economic system there is no question of oligarchy or plutocracy or priesthood where few become ultra-rich and a vast majority remains poor and helpless.

How was this oligarchic/plutocratic system justified as being perfectly legitimate and in accordance with Islam? Well, the injunctions of the Quran that came to demolish oligarchy/plutocracy and priesthood were turned upside down. Proponents of this system – kings, priesthood, and capitalists – argued that if the rich and poor do not exist in the society then how the rich will fulfill the injunction of the Quran which says that the rich must help the poor, feed the hungry, and take care of helpless people? As we saw this injunction was only for the transition period, but the priesthood turned it into a perpetual injunction; and made the goal of قُلِ الْعَفْوَ (Qulil ‘Afwa) disappear from people’s mind. Priesthood (in cahoots with kings) fabricated many hadith to justify oligarchy/plutocracy as being part of Islam and thus strengthen its position as the custodian of Islam. The Quran, on the other hand, declares their existence in Islam illegitimate:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الْأَحْبَارِ وَالرُّهْبَانِ لَيَأْكُلُونَ أَمْوَالَ النَّاسِ بِالْبَاطِلِ وَيَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۗ وَالَّذِينَ يَكْنِزُونَ الذَّهَبَ وَالْفِضَّةَ وَلَا يُنفِقُونَهَا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ فَبَشِّرْهُم بِعَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ ﴿﴾ يَوْمَ يُحْمَىٰ عَلَيْهَا فِي نَارِ جَهَنَّمَ فَتُكْوَىٰ بِهَا جِبَاهُهُمْ وَجُنُوبُهُمْ وَظُهُورُهُمْ ۖ هَـٰذَا مَا كَنَزْتُمْ لِأَنفُسِكُمْ فَذُوقُوا مَا كُنتُمْ تَكْنِزُونَ

(9:34-35) – O you who have attained to faith! Behold, many of the rabbis and monks do indeed wrongfully devour men's possessions and turn [others] away from the path of God. But as for all who lay up treasures of gold and silver and do not spend them for the sake of God - give them the tiding of grievous suffering [in the life to come]: on the Day when that [hoarded wealth] shall be heated in the fire of hell and their foreheads and their sides and their backs branded therewith, [those sinners shall be told:] “These are the treasures which you have laid up for yourselves! Taste, then, [the evil of] your hoarded treasures!” [Asad]

The Quran declares here that majority of spiritual and religious leaders devour people’s property and become a barrier in the path of Allah. And it presents here a very lucid, concrete, and vivid example of the consequences of accumulating wealth. There are many verses in the Quran against accumulating wealth such as (70:18; 104:1-9). It condemns those who accumulate wealth and tells that fire engulfs the hearts of those who accumulate wealth. When wealth cannot be accumulated according to the Quran then there is no question of a group within Muslims becoming rich. Then how did accumulating wealth become part and parcel of current Islam? Well, it was done by fabricated narrations. And then the narrators attributed their narrations to the Prophet (PBUH) when he had already passed away some two hundred years ago.

Please note that the Prophet (PBUH) had demolished capitalism already because the Quranic system had been established before he passed away. So, let us see how a hadith was used regarding the verse (9:35) to bring back capitalism in Islam. The hadith says that when this verse was revealed then there was an uproar among the companions against it (as if they were capitalists!). Could anyone (who believes in the Quran) trust this hadith which paints such a false picture of companions? Can we ever imagine Sahaba being upset about Allah’s revelation!? How can they be upset when the Quran confirms that they had 100% Iman in Allah (مُؤْمِنُونَ حَقًّا) (8:4)? Not only that, this hadith also says that Sahabas decided to convey their displeasure about this verse to the Prophet (PBUH)! And whom did they choose their representative for this? None other than Umar (R), the extremely ardent and totally committed person to Allah’s mission of universal sustenance. And irony of ironies: Umar (R) agreed to present Sahabah’s complaint to the Prophet (PBUH) against this revelation. So, Umar (R) went to the Prophet (PBUH) and conveyed to him Sahabah’s discontent and concern about this verse. At this, the Prophet (PBUH) said to Umar (R): Tell them not to worry! There is also a verse about Zakah to purify the wealth. Give two and half percent out of this wealth and your entire wealth becomes pure. This hadith then says that when Umar (R) conveyed this message of the Prophet (PBUH) to the Sahabah, then they became so euphoric that they shouted Allahu Akbar! This was the tactic that was used in this fabricated hadith to bring back capitalism which the Prophet (PBUH) had already demolished.

According to the Quran only those who put in the effort are entitled to the output:

وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَانِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ

(53:39) – One is entitled to receive only that for which one has strived. The results will be proportionate to the effort. According to the Divine Standard, the compensation should only be for labor.

The Human Body: A Concrete Model of Universal System of Sustenance

If we really want to see a working model of Allah’s universal system of sustenance then we have to look no further than the working of our own body:

وَفِي أَنفُسِكُمْ ۚ أَفَلَا تُبْصِرُونَ

(51:21) – Just as [there are signs thereof] within your own selves: can you not, then, see? [Asad].

So, let us ponder on our own selves. Whatever we eat it goes into our stomach. Does it ever happen that the stomach says that it is my property; that I am the owner of whatever has come to me; that I don’t want to give it to anyone? Our life depends on the food we eat and the first place it goes is the stomach. Does the stomach act like a safety deposit box that holds on to its content? Does it ever happen that? In fact, the stomach works very hard to convert the raw material that it gets and prepares it for suitable nourishment for other organs of the body. And then it sends these nutrients on their way to all the other organs of the body for equitable distribution without keeping anything for itself. The stomach gets its share only after every other organ has received its due share. Every organ forwards the nutrients further to other organs after it has used its share of nutrients. And all the nutrients get into blood that keeps circulating everywhere it is needed, without let or hindrance. The blood then goes to the heart, which does not keep it to itself but pumps it so that the blood is able to reach every part of the body where it is needed. No organ makes it its own property. Whatever nutrients an organ needs, it takes from the blood and passes it on to the rest of the other organs on its onward journey.

Thus, all the organs operate within the human body under the system of laws of Nature in a holistically integrated fashion. When an organ is not able to work properly and fails to take its share, the body becomes sick. The sick organ needs to be restored in order to make the body healthy once again. It is the physiological system operating under the control of natural laws that keeps the human body alive and well.

In the same way the economic blood should flow, without let or hindrance, through all the organs (institutions) of the humanity’s body – holistically integrated into the system of دین  (Deen) operating under the universal divine laws of the Quran – in order to keep humanity’s body alive and well. Otherwise, the humanity’s body will get sick and the entire humankind will suffer privation as it is the case today.

And the only way to cure this suffering is to establish a system of life on a similar pattern: A system that is universally fair and just; a system that is universally equitable and balanced; a system that is universally holistic, and embraces all of humanity in its universal arc of life.

وَأَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ فَيَمْكُثُ فِي الْأَرْضِ 

(13:17) – Only the system which is beneficial for the humanity endures.

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