Article: Islam Solves Poverty and Hunger!
How can practicing Islam solve world poverty and eliminate hunger?
Islam is a religion and a complete way of life that was revealed to humanity by God, our creator. As the creator of the entire universe, God with his unlimited mercy to us also taught us how to live a life of peace and happiness. Islam was revealed as a practical religion that covers all aspects of our lives, and it is intended to be implemented in our lives. When we apply Islam correctly and live according to its principles and teachings, it will bring peace and justice to everyone on Earth, and it will provide solutions to all the problems we face. After all, who could be more just and wise than God, the creator of humanity and the entire universe and everything in it?
One of the most widespread and difficult problems faced by humanity is that of poverty, hunger and starvation. There is nothing more horrifying than the realization that as we live our lives in relative peace and prosperity, millions of our fellow human beings live in hunger and face starvation. A large proportion of people on Earth live in poverty, while less than 10% of the world's population controls over 90% of the Earth's wealth and resources.
Islam, revealed to humanity over 1400 years ago, came with the most just and easy solution to the problem of poverty, hunger and starvation in this world. If Islam is implemented in the world today, the problem of poverty, hunger and starvation could be completely eliminated within a year. This is because Islam provides many different ways to alleviate this problem.
Islam makes it obligatory on every Muslim to pay a certain "tax", called Zakat, on their accumulated wealth. The money collected from this Zakat is to be distributed among the poor.
Prohpet Muhammad said: "Allah has obligated on them a charity to be taken from their rich and given to their poor" (Reported by Bukhari and Muslim).
The Arabic word "Zakat" means both 'purification' and 'growth'. One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to God, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. Our wealth is purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need, and, like the pruning of plants, this cutting back balances and encourages new growth in our wealth.
"Take from their wealth charity so that you might purify and sanctify them, and pray on their behalf" (Holy Quran, Chapter 9, verse 103).
Zakat is due on accumulated wealth that has been in the possession of a person for at least one year. There are rules on how to pay Zakat on each type of possession, such as money, gold, animals, crops, shares and so on. A certain percentage of each type of these possessions is to be paid as Zakat. Note that the Zakat is taken from excess wealth that a person is accumulating and has had in their possession for over a year. It is not paid on income. Therefore, people who save nothing after covering their expenses with their income do not pay Zakat, and in fact may be eligible to receive Zakat money from others if their income does not cover all their needs.
The Zakat is different from regular taxation because it is directly intended to focus on one single issue, which is to help those who are in need of financial assistance. Even if governments are involved in the collection and distribution of Zakat, they do not have the discretion to spend the money on other priorities. Rather, Islam specifies the categories of people who are eligible to receive the Zakat money. These include those who are completely destitute, such as the homeless, refugees, or people facing starvation. It also includes the poor who are unable to meet the basic needs to support themselves and their families. Other categories include those who are deeply indebted and have no way of repaying their debts, travellers who are stranded away from their homes, those who need support to remain steadfast on the truth, those who work on collecting and distributing Zakat, and other worthy causes. Also, in the past when slavery existed, the Zakat was also used to give freedom to slaves.
How Can Zakat Eliminate Poverty and Starvation?
If Islam was implemented in the world today, starvation would be eliminated from the planet within the first year. The Zakat due on agricultural products ranges from 5% to 10% of the produce. There is also Zakat due on various types of animals such as sheep, cows and camels. Imagine if 5%-10% of all agricultural production in the world, plus the required amounts on animals are distributed among the hungry and starving people of this world. The problem would be solved immediately.
In today's world, some nations intentionally spoil a part of their agricultural production in order to maintain high prices for their produce. Can you see the difference between the system driven by human greed and the mercy of Islam which was taught to us by God, the most gracious and most merciful?
In addition, Islam can solve the problem of poverty. Consider the Zakat due on money. Zakat is due at 2.5% on money that has been in one's possession for over a year. Now consider this simple fact: in 2022, Forbes’ 36th-annual ranking of the planet’s richest people found that there are 2,668 billionaires in the world, with a collective wealth of $12.7 trillion US dollars! If in 2022 these billionaires, the richest people on Earth, paid zakat at 2.5% of their wealth, we would have had $317.5 billion US dollars distributed among the poor just in 2022! Do you think this amount would have helped lift millions of people out of extreme poverty?
Keep in mind, this quick calculation only considered less than 3000 individuals on this earth. What about if everyone contributed to a global Zakat fund in the same way? The total world GDP (summation of gross domestic product of all countries in the world) was estimated in 2020 to be close to $85 trillion US dollars. The 2.5% Zakat on this would amount to over $2 trillion dollars annually. These are just ball park figures of course, but they do give some idea about the incredible impact that one simple concept from Islam, the Zakat, could have.
You may be wondering at this point: wouldn't taking this money from the wealthy lead to lower investment and slower economic growth? Well, at 2.5% of accumulated wealth (not income), Zakat clearly wouldn't impact the lifestyle of those giving it. So it probably wouldn't have a big impact on their spending and investment. But even if you do argue that it would lead to lower investment by the wealthy, you must also consider that those receiving this money are getting it because they are poor and unable to meet their basic needs. So they will spend this entire amount to buy food, clothes, and basic necessities such as health and education. Rather than remaining locked in bank accounts, these funds would in fact be pumped into the economy, potentially leading to accelerated economic growth.
Another important point to consider, is that this Zakat money should not only be distributed for immediate relief to the poor. It can also be given in the form of investments to lift people out of poverty, such as education, training, and small business loans. For example, poor farmers can be given loans or even grants from this Zakat money to enable them to purchase the equipment and materials they need to lift them out of poverty. The same can be done for small business owners, or for the poor to set up small workshops or factories to lift them out of poverty once and for all. Within a few years, poverty would be eliminated or at least greatly reduced. Many of those who received Zakat money initially would then become payers into the Zakat fund. Over the years, millions can be lifted out of poverty through the Zakat system.
Islam vs. Socialism / Communism
A common question that comes up when discussing the Zakat is: didn't this type of wealth redistribution fail when tried in socialist and communist countries? Didn't capitalism prove to be the most effective economic system?
The Zakat system of Islam is different from wealth redistribution in a key aspect, which is that Zakat does not seek to equalize the wealth of people. Zakat is only given to the poor and those who are in dire need. It is only intended to alleviate suffering and to allow all human beings to live in dignity. The goal of Zakat is to lift people out of poverty and add to the pool of people who contribute to Zakat and minimize the number of people who need to receive it.
Islam recognizes that society will naturally have people with varying degrees of wealth, and it does not seek to change that. In fact, Islam encourages us to work hard and build wealth so that we can give charity. Those who give charity are rewarded, and charity is considered an act of worship just like praying or fasting. Islam motivates us to build and grow. We can learn this very clearly from those who lived around Prophet Muhammad. Among them were the very wealthy who gave in charity, and among them were the poor who received charity. Those who work hard to build wealth and put themselves in a position to give charity have a higher status in Islam. But to be fair, Islam also recognizes that a person who has $100 and gives $1 in charity is equal in status to one who has a million dollars and gives $10,000, because each of them gave 1% of their what they had.
"The upper hand is better than the lower hand. The upper hand is one that gives and the lower hand is one that takes." (Reported by Bukhari and Muslim)
In addition to the obligatory Zakat, Islam greatly encourages Muslims to give extra donations in charity to help those who are in need. After Ramadan on the day of Eid, Muslims are encouraged to give a special charity to ensure that no one is hungry or in need on that day. Similarly, during the Eid after the Hajj pilgrimage, Muslims are encouraged to donate and share food.
Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) taught us that the person who sleeps full while his neighbour sleeps hungry is not a true believer. Islam encourages charity in all situations, and requires those who are not able to perform certain acts of worship to give in charity instead. For example, those who are not able to fast in Ramadan are required to feed some poor people for each day they do not fast. And there are many such examples.
Charity in the Quran
The following are a few selected verses from the Quran on the topic of charity:
"And be steadfast in prayer and regular in charity" (Holy Quran, Chapter 2, verse 110).
"By no means shall you attain righteousness until you give from that which you love; and whatever you give, Allah knows it well." (Holy Quran, Chapter 3, verse 92).
"Have you seen the one who denies the religion? That is the one who repulses the orphan, and does not encourage the feeding of the poor. So woe to those who pray yet are unmindful of their prayers; those who only show off, and refuse to give aid" (Holy Quran, Chapter 107, verses 1-7).