If you attend a large mosque in America maybe two thousand people come to Friday prayer. 20,000 are dead. The unbelievable thing is that all those deaths were preventable. All of them. Sometimes just one person’s death can cause an entire war (remember Archduke Franz Ferdinand?) Other times, millions of people can die and we don’t even think about it.
Many times in Ramadan we talk about how the pangs of hunger cause us to reflect about the needy all over the world. Fasting motivates us to help them and to give thanks for what we have. Sometimes our rhetoric is so strong that we even convince ourselves that this is true. Unfortunately for most of us in the West, it’s not true. We are very talented at explaining things and understanding their logical underpinnings, but very rarely do we actually feel them. Yes, we are leaving the realm of the Western rational mind and entering into the world of the spiritual heart. But do we actually feel what we say? Or do we just memorize nice responses and eloquent explanations?
We feel hunger in Ramadan – but how many of us have actually looked into the eyes of a child who is starving? How many have felt the pain and suffering of a mother who has not eaten properly in months and is trying to find something to sustain the lives of her children? How many feel the pain of a father who roams from place to place looking for work, hunger pangs stabbing at his insides, until he loses all hope? These are real scenarios. This is real talk. It’s very easy to talk rosy talk; it’s very difficult to make changes to the way that we live our lives. The first step is to feel. The suburbs of America should not make us forget the people downtown or the people overseas.
In the Qur’an God instructs us, “O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” (Qur’an, 7:31) I think this is perhaps the most overarching and practical advice that we can take. Eat, drink, live life, but do not be wasteful. To do so is to belittle one’s blessings. To do so is to deny the struggles of others. To do so is to stop feeling.
20,000 people die every day across the world from extreme poverty and its consequences. These are deaths that are preventable. We’re not talking about moderate poverty here. We’re talking about people who cannot find the most basic fundamentals for their existence. They cannot find food, shelter, medicine.
It has been mentioned before on this site and elsewhere that the structure of Islamic law has major objectives that it seeks to fulfill. The utmost of these is to bring benefit to humans and prevent them from harm. The actualization of this is often expressed by the traditional scholars of Islam in the form of five necessities that must be protected:
- Wealth (usually referring to property rights and the permissibility or impermissibility of particular financial transactions, not necessarily the elimination of extreme poverty)
I would like to propose, although it needs much more research, that it is possible that the elimination of extreme poverty is also from the major objectives of Islam. Anyone can quickly notice how extreme poverty wreaks absolute havoc on every one of these five necessities. We also know in Islamic law that “anything that is required in order to carry out an obligation is also an obligation.” The famous example of this is since prayer is obligatory, wudu (ablution) is also obligatory since you cannot carry out the first without the second. In this case it is not possible to protect these five necessities unless extreme poverty is eliminated.
We also know that Allah lays out the most basic fundamentals for civilizational development in the 106th chapter of the Qur’an, Surat Quraysh: “Let them worship the Lord of this House, who has fed them, [saving them] from hunger and made them safe, [saving them] from fear. ” (Quran 106:3-4) There are also many statements of the Prophet ﷺ that show the relationship between poverty and disbelief and wherein the Prophet seeks refuge in Allah from poverty. Perhaps in another article this can be developed further.
What to do? I do not have concrete answers. We need to develop and grow as a community and come up with answers to this question. Maybe some readers can share success stories or ideas of how to deal with this major problem that we should seek to solve in our generation. My only immediate advice other than what is mentioned above is to read The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs. This book presents the reader with an overview and understanding of the problem and provides us a foundation upon which we can start to converse as to its solutions.