Sharing the wealth in society

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 27 May 2003


IN OUR effort to sustain good economic performance, we should stress the need for every individual to be committed to the basic principle that individual success and social progress can be attained if everybody works co-operatively and harmoniously in all our endeavours for common prosperity. 

Co-operation leads to social unity and stability. Indeed a caring and loving society can contribute to all kinds of successes, including sustainable economic growth. 

Islam insists from the beginning that there must be a unity of purpose and commitment for all members of society and that those who are more fortunate should make all attempts to assist the less fortunate to progress.  

This divine law of society’s progress enables the less fortunate to participate and contribute to their optimum capacities. 

At the same time exploitative mechanisms in all aspects should be minimised and if possible eliminated. Room and space for manipulation should be closed. 

In order to realise this goal, prosperity should be shared in a just manner. This can be achieved through tackling the basic needs of the less fortunate.  

The ability to realise this social justice can be the starting point towards sustainable growth. 

In the present economic slowdown, those in commanding positions, including the financial institutions, should extend all kinds of help to enable the less fortunate to put their economic activities in order.  

The Quran has a clear guideline that “wealth should not circulate only among the rich” (59:7). 

This guideline gives great emphasis on distributive justice where opportunities are made available to everybody without exception. 

This healthy environment creates strong motivation for everybody to work and to excel. 

In a lengthy Madinan passage (2:261&264) the Quran states that expenditure on the needy is like a single grain that grows seven ears of corn, each ear containing a hundred or more grains. 

That those who spend in order to show off or who want recognition from their beneficiaries are like rocks upon which there is a thin layer of earth which is easily washed away by a torrential rain. 

The Quran further reiterates that “satan inspires you with (fear of) poverty (for investing in society) and commands you obscenities; God, on the other hand, promises you forgiveness and prosperity (for such investment)” (2:268). 

Allah reminds the Muslims that in the absence of concern for the welfare of the poor, even prayers became hypocritical. 

The Quran reminds: “Did you see the one who gives the lie to the Faith? It is he who maltreats orphans and works little for the feeding of the poor. Woe betide then those who pray, yet are neglectful of their prayers – those who pray for show and even deny the use of their utensils (to the poor)” (107:1-7). 

Islam regards the principle of not helping and not sharing prosperity with others as a great obstacle not only to spiritual development but also economic sustainability. 

This is because by subscribing to this principle it can lead to social disequilibrium which ultimately can affect social progress. Social stability is indeed a precondition for society to plan for its future progress. 

The Quran also reminds human beings that a civilisation can be destroyed if the individual commits serious vices like economic oppression and exploitation of the poor, political and social oppression of the poor and the vices of idolatry and permissiveness, as with the people of Prophet Noah and Prophet Lot. 

In a very strong warning, Allah says in the Quran: “When we want to destroy a town (i.e. civilisation), we command its luxurious ones, so they commit unrighteousness in it – and when the judgment becomes ripe upon it, we destroy it utterly”(17:16). 

From the above reminders from the Quran, we should try our level best to put into practice the principle of “prospering thy neighbour” in the society. 

In the present materialistic and individualistic society, this approach to sustainable growth seems to be a tall order. But through the commitment of those in authority, it is always possible for all individuals to reject individualism for co-operation. This path requires spiritual and moral enlightenment. This begins with our education system. 

Islam insists on the Muslims to establish a political and social order based on fair and moral principles. Such an order would minimise all corruption on earth and reform society in all aspects.  

Muslims thus are required to go all out to address all social illnesses in line with the spirit of “commanding good and forbidding evil” (3: 104). 

The ability of the Muslims to subscribe closely to this Islamic principle for social arrangement can contribute positively toward sustainable economic growth. 

This is a holy struggle which requires in-depth knowledge and commitment to take the society along the right path. Failure to realise this social justice can generate more social problems and ultimately can contribute to economic decline. 

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