In an attempt to tame the scourge of material poverty, which has become a socio-economic and political menace in the society, the United Nations in 2000 gathered world leaders to sign the Millennium Development Declaration (MDD), which was a precursor for the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.
The main goal of the MDGs was an attempt by world leaders at ending some of the major problems facing humanity especially extreme poverty. The MDGs have failed to humble and hobble the hydra-headed monster known as poverty.
Poverty is the lack of basic necessities of life like food, clothing and shelter. In other words, it is the absence of the means (money) to fulfill these needs. It can be said to be a condition of extreme want.
The term poverty can also be defined as a state of being inferior in quality and or insufficient in amount. It is derived from an old French word “poverte” and Latin word “pauper” meaning poor.
In recent times, there have been several “multi-dimensio
nal” definitions of the term poverty. In 1998, the United Nations defined poverty as “violation of human dignity where humans are denied of having choices and opportunities”. The World Bank defined poverty as a state of “destitution of human beings, which encompasses various issues namely low income, lack of access to basic living facilities, malnutrition, lack of education and mental stress”.
Also, Smelser and Baltes defined poverty as a “condition when a family is unable to meet a state defined income threshold”.
Generally, poverty is measured in monetary terms, based on income levels or consumption per capita or per household. In 2008, the World Bank redefined the international poverty line from $1 a day to $1.25 a day based on the purchasing power parities.
Consequently, those living below the $1.25 benchmark are categorized as extremely poor.
The Muslims are not spared the plague of poverty. We appear to be at an intellectual crossroad on the issue of poverty in the Ummah. The moral question that has puzzled pundits is why Muslims whose lands are so blessed with energy and natural resources, constitutes a whopping 50% of the world poverty index.
A recent world population distribution indicates that the Muslim world is only 23% of the world population but have a 50% in the poverty index. These facts in numbers are not only revealing and shocking, but paint a gloomy picture of the future of the Ummah.
It is surprising that the Muslim world constitutes half of the total world poverty index. This is because we have been given an economic system that has the potency and legitimacy to eradicate poverty from the society through the institution of Zakat.
There are modern economists with capitalist orientation who think that believing that Zakat can eliminate poverty is not only utopian, but a phenomenon that resides within the realm of ideas and theories.
However, the history of Islam is replete with striking illustrations of how Zakat was used not only to fight poverty but also to eradicate it. One of such examples is during the caliphacy of Umar Ibn Abdul-Azeez, who showed that it could be done. He did eradicate poverty using the institution of Zakat.
Allah the All-knowing has legislated the institution of Zakat for the Muslims to achieve socio-economic justice and stability. The textual evidence for the concept of Zakat is in Qur’an 9:103 wherein Allah says, “take alms from their wealth so that thou mayest cleanse them and purify them thereby”.
The philosophy of Islam is that Allah created and owns everything and we are mere vicegerents whose duty is to see to it that resources are administered in a manner that no believer is worse off.
However, that poverty has continued to haunt, humble and hobble us is an indication that the institution of Zakat and its application or administration has not been adhere to squarely, professionally and in consonance with the Islamic dictates.
Zakat is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam that supports the superstructure of the religion. It is also an essential component of the Islamic economic system, which compels the rich in society to transfer a certain potion of their wealth to the poor as a social responsibility mechanism and a means of poverty eradication via entrepreneurial engagements and others. Zakat as an institution was received by the Prophet of Islam in 9th year after Hijrah as a means of reducing social disequilibrium in the emerging nation.
Zakat is payable on business revenues and assets, gold and silver and savings at the basic rate of 2.5% of one’s net income or worth.
Unlike conventional tax, Zakat is viewed as a means of purifying one’s wealth and not just an obligation. Furthermore, Zakat plays a major role in the social and moral well-being of society. Morally it promotes love via sharing and eliminates greed. Socially, it helps to regulate the heartbeat of society by reducing crime and eradicating poverty.
I do know that the topic of Zakat as a panacea for poverty eradication cannot be adequately dealt with, with a single sway of seminal prose. A lot of research still needs to be done especially in the area of implementation.
In Malaysia the institution of Zakat has recorded a lot of success in eradicating poverty. Still, we cannot say that collectively we have succeeded until we have written the obituary of poverty.