Charity (Zakat) Economics International Affairs

20,000 Dead in Unnatural Disaster Yesterday

africa_poverty-383x480If 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:

  1. Religion
  2. Life
  3. Intellect
  4. Family
  5. 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.

About the author

Jamaal Diwan

Jamaal Diwan

Jamaal Diwan was born and raised in Southern California and received a Bachelor’s Degree in Third World Studies and a minor in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego . He accepted Islam in 2003 and has been married to his wife, Muslema Purmul, since 2004. He has served with the Muslim Student Association (MSA), MSA West, and Muslim American Society (MAS) at varying capacities. He remains an active MAS member and is a scholarship student with the Islamic American University. Jamaal is a graduate of the Faculty of Shariah at al-Azhar University in Cairo and has done some graduate work in Islamic Studies from the Western academic perspective. He recently finished serving as the Resident Scholar at the Islamic Center of Irvine (ICOI).


  • Tnank you for this post.I think its time that our communties really begin to focus on poverty.The econmic crisis right here in this country has plunder Black Americia and you bearly hear anything about.Many of the masjids that consist of BAM have seen staggering unemployment rates due to downturn since 2008.Also our conferences ex.ISNA is a conference that does not do good job in making it affordable or everyone.Talk about class discrimation some our events are perfect examples.The food prices at this conf. are outrageous.Last yr. there was phenomenon of young people,becoming muslim in the Washington.DC area but they could not afford to see or be with the ummah that was at the conf.Truth of the matter ISNA had know ideal this phenomenon was even taken place.Its time we as a ummah in North America become more compassionted about the whole body of the ummah here.Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz oncevsaid if poverty was a man he would kill it.We also know that poverty can lead one to kufr.How many of our muslim brethen are forced to go nonmuslims food pantries for a meal.While the board inside is talking about a structure on the masid that will berly be use tat will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.Also beat up on the people after it was only a few people who made this descion of expansion.Brothers and sisters you must donate to this project.Then the zakah money is divertd to this project instead of reaching the needy in the community.Our Shaykh Yousuf Al Qardhawi has written excellent book on repelling poverty in Islam.A war on poverty is ever so needed and now is time to start it as our woes get worst here also.And lets not forget our country the USA and its criminal econmic policies in the developing world .Next wk.the Us social forum is happen in Detroit a city that has been ravaged I encourage muslims to attend who live in that area of the country.Imam Luqman Abdullah one his sons will be speaking on of the panels.Shukron very good article.

  • subhan Allah we need to be attacking this issue as a community and yet, other than fundraisers, I personally have seen very little being done to address this reality. We keep raising money and more money, but are we helping create any type of infrastructure to reform and change the issue?

    It bewilders me when I see someone drive a BMW or Benz or buy jeans for $150 or a purse for $300. May Allah reward their wealth. I appreciate that maybe they chose those things for the da`wah, for the comfort of their families, for any reason and may Allah accept it all, ameen! But subhan Allah it’s just so hard to fathom that one can ride something so expensive while another, perhaps across the street, is facing death due to starvation. Allah must`an.

  • They made a documentary out of that book is was recommended. it is called “The End of Poverty ?” its very insightful. For those who don’t want to read the book can at least watch this documentary.

  • Subhan Allah, there are serious issues of priority (such as ending poverty) that we can all unite on and strive for together in, if we can only recognize the world’s deep need for the UMMAH of “Rahmatan lil Alameen (saw).” (Mercy to the Universe, peace be upon him) May we learn to uphold the legacy of our beloved Prophet (saw) in our times.

  • Assalam Alaikum,
    I totally feel what the author of this post is saying about. One of questions that come up in my mind is that are the Muslims every year giving 2.5% of their earnings properly as it should be to the needy? I think there will be no person on this earth who will be starving for food etc. if we give our zakat to the needy. I feel very bad when one part of the world is leading a luxurious life and one part of the world is fighting for their existence.

  • I agree with Br. Hafizulla that if Muslims every year give 2.5% of their earnings properly as it should be to the needy then there will be no person on this earth who will be starving for food and the basics.
    I have seen a good example in Turkey and Malaysia, where Muslim citizens rush to pay their Zakat. As a result you do not see panhandlers and homeless in those countries.

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