10 Nov Alms and Charity: Virtues of Zakat: Part 2
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF ZAKAT ON SOCIETY? (Part 2)
Looking from a transactional perspective, it becomes evident that those who knowingly indulge in usury face the threat being doomed to a fate similar to that of Satan’s, vis-a-vis, expulsion from the mercy of God. Insisting on dealing with interest is to come into conflict with the Creator. The result of such an action is evident: Those who are adamant in delusively claiming right over others’ wealth or money will live as if struck by Satan, the very same state in which they will resurrect.
The reason for this punishment is that they iniquitously equate usury with trade, claiming its permissibility; this is a case of an incorrect perspective yielding conclusions that are immensely wide off the mark. By paying close attention to the Qur’anic instruction instead, we can gain a better insight into the very psychology that affords them this misunderstanding. In other words, by asserting that, “Trading is just like usury”, usurers actually dare to suggest that trading and usury are ethical equals. Yet the clear Qur’anic directive, “God has permitted trade and forbidden usury,” unambiguously puts an end to all possible debates. Usury and interest are an assault on property and wealth, whose protection is just as essential as the protection of life and chastity. In fact, all religions highlight, in one way or another, a person’s duty to protect the five essentials of faith, mind, property, life, and progeny. The hadith, “A believer’s property, blood, and chastity are forbidden to another believer,” amplifies this outlook. In this context, usury is an attack on the property from which we are compelled to protect ourselves, and a sinister means of exploiting the sweat of others. From another perspective, allowing usury to operate means the ultimate blow to production as men will preponderantly prefer to adopt methods that provide them easy earnings in their quest for satiating their natural inclination for wealth. With usury, this inclination is wastefully exploited, instead of cultivating the world, and many promising talents are laid waste on by the embracement of the motto “Invest in interest, and lay back!”
Usury, a practice that destroys qard al-hasan, (i.e lending money to those in need just for the sake of God, a pivotal part of the Islamic spirit) concurrently terminates the social bond, leaving each person to solve financial problems individually rather than seeking a communal help. As a result, nobody is left with a problem-free opportunity to borrow money. Qard al-hasan, a vehemently emphasized facet of Islam, is given eighteen times more reward than sadaqa. This precious practice reinforces the belief that whatever the expected surplus is, it should strictly be expected from God. Together with forbidding participation in sin and enmity, the Qur’an strongly encourages virtue and goodness46 as the principal causes of action, whether it is good or bad, necessarily attracts the same degree of responsibility.
Simply put, the acceptance of usury in public life means siding with the rich and immorally leaving the poor to fight their own desperate battle. This, indeed, represents complete deviation from Divine Mercy and Compassion. Although God grants wealth to the rich, He also provides a sanctuary for the poor through decreeing alms and charity.
And yet, the vices of usury are not limited to what has already been mentioned. Perhaps the ultimate motive should be sought in a more profound domain. What is important is that the Creator has sternly forbidden usury and has given permission for trading. In reality, the key factor that paves our direction is the simple commands or prohibitions of God, not the entailing beneficial results that surface upon their application. Therefore, the benefits are subordinate to our efforts and striving to achieve the blessing of the Almighty, through abhorring what has been decreed as being abhorrent, and embracing what has been decreed as being worthy of embrace.
Sadaqa, an initiator of blessings and prosperity with all its types, is also the golden key to the copious treasures of Divine Compassion. By virtue of a miraculous style of articulation, the Qur’an illustrates charity as an act that brings the provider closer to God, so to speak; incorporates him or her into Paradise; reinforces the spiritual bond between believers and humankind in general; and takes the provider far away from Satan and hellfire, as opposed to amplifying the numerous harms inherent in interest. Such harms, whenever and wherever they are incurred, become a motive or means for distancing one’s self from the Compassion of the Creator and from the entrance into Paradise; for coming closer to Satan and the hellfire; and for erecting insidious walls between people.
The Qur’anic declaration “God blights usury and makes almsgiving fruitful,” at once destroys the possibility of exploiting others’ earnings through usury, a practice which aims to demolish the very foundation of social justice; one could say that it provides a cure for a disease before it takes hold of the whole body. The realization of this cure is through an uncompromising establishment of the institutions for alms and charity and forever shutting the door on inequitable practices whose menacing effects are extensively renowned. The number of investors whose dreams of riches and luxury have become horrendous nightmares through the manipulations of interest is by no means few. Opposed to these, there are countless souls whose wealth has multiplied in great magnitudes thanks to sadaqa, not to mention the love they have earned from the masses. By now, it should be blatantly evident that usury is a destroyer of social balance and a spoiler of the mutual harmony which is the unbending backbone of human life.
Not coincidentally, this verse relating to usury is among the final revelations of the Qur’an; its prohibition was declared during the concluding days of the Prophet’s (upon whom be peace) life. The Messenger of God, during the Farewell Pilgrimage, put the prohibition of usury into effect, first by abolishing his uncle Abbas’s interest, thereby setting a perfect example.
Throughout those sermons, addressed somewhat as farewells to his Companions, he abolished blood feuds and then pronounced, “Beware! All previous usury is now under my feet, and the first interest I abolish is that of Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib.” Absolutely nobody hesitated, including Abbas, in abandoning their anticipated hoards of interest; moreover, they started agonizing over possible divine penalties for their prior indulgence in usury. A soothing edict, however, was revealed soon after, dispersing the noble Companions’ anxiety:
There is no sin on those who believe and do good, righteous deeds for what they might have partaken (in the past), provided (henceforth) they fear (the end of their previous creeds and misdeeds) and come to faith and do good, righteous deeds, then keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety and believe (more profoundly), then be more meticulous in obeying God in greater reverence for Him and piety and be devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them. (Maida 5:93)
Belief and sincerity have been reiterated three times in the above verse. This reinforces the importance of abstaining from the forbidden for protection from the hellfire, and in turn, the value of refraining from doubtful cases in order to avoid falling into the domain of the forbidden, thereby causing the inner self to decay. The Noble Prophet declared, “Leave what gives you doubt, stick to what is certain.” In another hadith that follows a similar trait, the Messenger has evidently stated that the halal (i.e. permissible) and the haram (i.e. non-permissible) have unequivocally become clear; thus the doubtful must be evaded, a recommended course of action that places emphasis on one’s spiritual life.
An implicit illustration is also to be found through a brilliant depiction of the perennial indolence of usurers and the consequential anxieties of their parasitical lives. Those who lead such a life suffer a similar ending, facing a fitting penalty for their unjust insistence that usury constitutes normal trade. According to the interpretations of Ibn Abbas, an illustrious Companion, usurers will be resurrected in a state of strangulation. The words articulated by the Messenger of God illustrate a symbolic scene he witnessed during the Miraj, or Ascension, and offers us enlightenment: “Then I saw a group whose bellies were like houses and who happened to be on the path which the Pharaoh and his folk were taken to hellfire day and night. Each time they saw Pharaoh and his folk, they would leap forward from repulsion, only to fall down face-first from the weight caused by their stomach, after which the Pharaoh and his folk would start trampling on them. I asked ‘O Jibril? Who are they?’ and he replied ‘They are usurers.’”
In another similar hadith, the Prophet mentions having seen a group comprised of people who would fall down face first every time they attempted to get up; thus he was again informed they were usurers.
This destiny is the final result of obstinately insisting on a satanic path. The Messenger of God clearly pronounced that the curse of God will indiscriminately afflict the indulgers of usury, including the provider, the acceptor, the witness, the proxy, the secretary and whoever takes an active part in such dealing, the doomed outcome of impudently declaring war on God and His Messenger. In fact, the fate of the entire group—the instigators and his or her various supports—is captured perfectly in a very short and powerful chapter near the conclusion of the Qur ’an: “Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he! No profit to him from all his wealth, and all his gains! Burnt soon will he be in a Fire of Blazing Flame! His wife shall carry the (crackling) wood – As fuel! A twisted rope of palm-leaf fibre round her (own) neck!” (Tabbat 111:1-5) May God protect us all from such a destiny.
Addressing the giant mass gathered around him eighty days prior to his eternal migration from Earth, the Messenger of God pronounced that God had now perfected the religion and finalized His blessings on the Muslims, stressing that the only way to procure the blessing of God is through Islam, the submission to the will of God.
Thus, the Prophet encapsulated the basic tenets of the Qur’an, the miraculous guide for those in possession of a magnanimous spirit, as magnanimousness is perhaps the most ideal word to describe the precious state of mind of the believers who successfully eschewed usury and adopted zakat. In fact, the Companions who had, at that time, gained utmost maturity after a 23-year period of stringent development unconditionally surrendered to those exquisite tenets. This, in turn, underlines the significance of corrective maturity before the embracement of the principles required to annul immorality. Even though societies may achieve a head-spinning development in technology, for example, or an apparent increase in welfare through solutions to minor economic problems, no matter how happy they seem on the surface, their life-spans will never realize their full potential and they will be utterly helpless, in an imminent shake of social upheaval, as long as they carry on the practice of usury that is so fundamentally contrary to human nature. In effect, systems that move us against the tide of righteousness are no more than “sparks in the pan” and cannot provide long-lasting illumination.
The Qur’an eloquently states, “God invites to the Abode of Peace, and guides whom He wills to a straight path” (Yunus 10:25). As certified by the Qur’an, the prohibition of usury was personally elaborated by the Prophet (upon whom be peace) and then additionally, he commissioned Abu Bakr and Ali to explain the prohibition accordingly to hinder possible misunderstandings. If humanity carries the serious intention of curing itself of the leech-like effects of usury, it inevitably must wake up in the illuminative realm of iman, belief in God, and lend an ear to the commands and prohibitions of the Almighty Creator. Observing morality in financial transactions is a virtue of believers. Thus, in a society of believers, it becomes necessary to establish alternative systems where all exploitable loopholes are firmly covered, and whereby charity-oriented institutions become established, rescuing the poor from the throes of despair.
In a nutshell, zakat and interest are two opposite and dichotomous poles. While zakat is aimed towards acknowledging the rights of the poor and eliminating obstacles that impede these rights, the essential crux of interest entails the rich ignominiously becoming richer, leaving the poor stranded in destitution. Contrary to such a devastating outcome, by preventing the exploitation of the poor, Islam also shows the rich alternative ways to make use of their wealth, free of fear and anxiety. The application of zakat ultimately means the extirpation of usury, endowing the society with genuine, long-lasting bliss.
THE OTHER SOCIAL BENEFITS OF ZAKAT
Indubitably, the benefits of zakat do not end there. Among the other benefits of zakat are that it is social insurance on public life, an aura maintaining tolerance between social groups, a catalyst that puts fire in the economic life and a balancing factor that emphasizes both the importance of worldly earnings and the eternal importance of life in the eternal abode.
Each aspect which has been delineated above, as one may guess, is also a positive step towards building an unshakeable social structure. Moreover, the totality constitutes a prelude to other innumerable benefits that will arise through the utilization of zakat—benefits both seen and unseen, in this world and the next. God, the Exalted, is remote from indulging in any activity void of meaning and distant from negated attributes: “Not for (idle) sport did We create the heavens and the earth and all that is between!” (Anbiya 21:16)
Therefore if zakat has been decreed by Him, then it unquestionably must contain a copious load of purposes, all of which will unravel in time.