Putting money in the charity box does not lift people out of poverty, we will be asked on the Day of Judgment on how we spent our wealth.
By Nabi Raza Abidi
Part of the mainstream discourse of the Republican Party is that it is not the government’s job to help the poor. This view originates in certain forms of Protestant Christianity who not only believe that the government holds no such religious mandate and responsbility, but that the rich (at least in the Calvinist view of the world) are indeed blessed by God and that the poor have more or less fallen from His favor. This view flies straight in the face of what the Catholic Church taught for over a millennium and what Christ taught in the New Testament in so far as how blessed the poor are and the risks of being rich and wealthy. Imam Ali (as) similarly taught us that the poor are messengers of God (al-miskīnu rasūl Allah) and the Qur’an teaches us on the potential disasters wealth may have on our salvation.
(1) YOU ARE OBSESSED by greed for more and more
(2) until you go down to your graves.
(3) Nay, in time you will come to understand!
(4) And once again:5286 Nay, in time you will come to understand!
(5) Nay, if you could but understand [it] with an understanding [born] of certainty,
(6) you would indeed, most surely, behold the blazing fire [of hell]!
(7) In the end you will indeed, most surely, behold it with the eye of certainty
(8) and on that Day you will most surely be called to account for [what you did with] the boon of life!
(Qur’an, Chapter 102)
The government is the collective will and condition of the people. Imam Ali (as) said that the kings of a nation are mirrors of their own people. To remove the responsibility of helping the poor from the government is to remove it from the collective responsibility of people. Unfortunately, we see this depreciative attitude towards the poor in many religious societies that somehow they are to blame for their poverty.
Although giving charity during Ramadan programs or fundraisers are helpful and meritorious, these are not enough to lift people from poverty. Although all the poor are in some level our responsibility from an Islamic perspective, there are also immediate family members like uncles and cousins of ours who are in dire need of help. We often think that by simply giving some sadaqa in the charity box in our Islamic centers we have fulfilled our duties of charity in Islam. But that is incorrect. Why don’t we help our friends and family with their debts? Why don’t we help them with their school tuitions or their health bills? In the Bay Area, al hamdulilah many of us are well-off and spendthrift when it comes to our own pleasures, but suddenly we become poor and complain when we are asked to spend part of that money on the poor even though some of those poor people happen to be our relatives!
Remember that on the Day of Judgment the second thing we will be asked about after our prayers is how we spent our money. Let us not let that Day be a Day of Regret for us when no amount of money will avail us.
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California