Well Being: A Key Feature of an Islamic Welfare State

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Ishfaq Nissar Padder

One of the important features of an Islamic Welfare State, based upon the tenets of Islamic Shariah (or, in other words, a system of governance based upon the principles of Islam) is its consideration of the welfare of humanity, irrespective of religion, caste, gender and so on. The Qur’an thus speaks unequivocally of a basic right when it stipulates: “And in their wealth there is a right for the one who asks and the destitute (li’l-Sa’il wa’l-Mahrum)” (51:19). Those who solicit help and those who are in need but may feel restrained from asking are thus equally entitled to assistance. Similarly, the Qur’an here speaks of the needy and destitute in general, irrespective of whether they are Muslims or not. The general import of this text is supported in another passage which praises with distinction those who “feed for the love of Allah the indigent the orphan and the captive” (76:8). This passage was revealed at a time when the captives were all non-Muslims. Zakah, being a pillar of the faith, is prescribed in the Qur’an with the purpose specially of social assistance. To satisfy the basic needs of those who are in need, Muslims or otherwise, is one of the main areas for which state revenues, whether from zakah or other taxes and charities are to be expended. But, Zakah is a special tax on the rich to be distributed among the poor in order to narrow the gap between them to a tolerable level. It should, therefore, not be confused with other taxes that the state may levy in order to meet its expenditure. The Prophet-cum-head of state (SAW) has clearly shown that the state is committed to public welfare needs.
It is reported that the Prophet’s (SAW) daughter, who was married to ‘Ali(RA), asked her father if she could be provided with a servant for domestic help. The Prophet declined the request stating:
“By Allah, I shall not grant this while the Ah1 al-Suffah (a group of indigent Emigrants (Muhajirun) who needed to sleep in the mosque for lack of shelter) suffer from hunger and I do not find enough to feed them”
Other Prophetic hadiths that can be quoted in support of the welfare character of the state include:
“He whom God has made an administrator over the affairs of Muslims but remains indifferent to their needs and their poverty, God will also be indifferent to his needs and poverty”
“He who leaves behind him dependents, they are our responsibility”
“The ruler is the supporter of him who has no supporter”
According to a report, the caliph ‘Umar(RA) exempted an elderly Jew, whom he met in the market-place. from the payment of Jizyah (poll tax) and then assigned for him an allowance from the public treasury (Bayt al-mal). The caliph told the Keeper of Bayt al-mal, “By God it is unfair that we ate from the fruit of his youth and then we let him down in his old age . . . charity is for the poor . . . and this is one of them.” In a letter that Khalid ibn al-Walid sent to the Christians of Hirah in Iraq it was stated that” the elderly, the disabled and the poor were not required to pay the Jizyah and if they were in need, they and their dependents would be supported from the Bayt al mal.”
Caliph Umar(RA) obviously saw it as his duty to attain distributive justice in the community when he said in a public address that everyone had an equal right in the wealth of the community, that none, not even himself, enjoyed a greater right in it than anyone else, and that if he were to live long enough, he would see to it that even a shepherded on Mount Sinai received his share from this wealth. Caliph Ali (RA) merely reiterated the Qur’an when he stated that “God has made it obligatory on the rich to provide the poor with what is adequate for them”.
Islam’s emphasis on distributive justice has found a vivid expression in the views advocated by Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari(RA), a prominent Companion, who thought that Islam did not permit a Muslim to accumulate wealth beyond his needs, and that the surplus wealth should be expended on community welfare and on assisting the poor. Be that as it may, despite their consensus on the welfare commitment of the state, Muslim jurists have also held that acquisition of wealth through lawful means is not against the teachings of Islam.
It is not only the state in Islam but also the individuals who must play their role in community’s welfare efforts by giving what they can of their property and service to those who need help. The Qur’an thus de-nuances those who refuse to grant a small kindness when they can easily afford it: “Woe to those worshippers who neglect their prayer, who make a show, yet refuse a small kindness” (107:4). Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud has said concerning this ayah: “We used to consider as small kindness, the loan of a bucket pot or axe.”

— The author is a Post Graduate from the Department of Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora. He can be reached at: ishfaq.nissar@gmail.com