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Lesson 31

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Lesson - 31

Al-Baqara

"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their duty." Ch. 2:177

I have discussed the first part of this verse in my previous lesson where, I pointed out that the subject matter under discussion was about Islamic culture and civilization. Culture and civilization in the early ages was in the East, and people turned in that direction to learn about it. In the present age, the west aggressively propagated its culture and civilization, and the world populace turned towards it. There was a time when people blindly followed everything prescribed by the west, and considered eastern cultural values, and civilization as erroneous and antiquated. There were others who rejected everything western, and completely followed the eastern line. Man made culture and civilization wherever it is from, quickly degenerates. We have observed this in our time in the decadence of the western civilization.

The Holy Quran takes the position that although man made cultures and civilizations may possess minor admirable qualities, they lack the higher virtues. The higher qualities of righteousness which are the true basis of culture are evolved by belief in Allah. This is because all human concepts of goodness evolved by awareness of Divine attributes (which represent the highest degree of goodness) through Divine revelation. By believing in Allah, one becomes desirous of inculcating the Divine attributes within himself. I have discussed this in detail in my previous lesson. The fear of accountability on the Day of Judgment, and the desire to live in a everlasting state of contentment in the life Hereafter also encourage man to abstain from evil. All this comes from belief in Allah.

The other agency that Allah has created to guide man towards righteousness is that of the angels. They motivate man in the right direction from within his inner self, and this comes after the belief in the Day of Judgment. Belief in the angels means that the believer is cognizant of his inner self, and acts expeditiously on the motivation of the angel from within, considering it to be from God.

Since the angel is from within the soul of man, it is likely that its voice may go unheeded. In order to help mankind, Allah revealed His scripture which lays down in black and white what is evil and needs to be shunned, and what is righteousness which needs to be followed. This is the fourth component of belief.

To be an example of righteousness for mankind, Allah sent his prophets, whose lives show that everything within the Divine scriptures is practicable. Words are merely advise and not as efficacious as an example which is witnessed. Belief in the prophets has, therefore been mentioned in the end. The Holy Quran is the only protected, and complete Divine scripture. The Holy Prophet Muhammadís (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) practical example of following the Quranic injunctions is documented in the Hadith with such detail that his character is a true manifestation of every righteousness mentioned in the Holy Quran.

Islam discourages asceticism

The spiritual basis of Islamic culture and civilization rests on the belief and practices mentioned above. Now let us consider the provisions of our worldly existence. Other religions have considered the fineries of this worldly life to be opposed to spiritual and moral values. They encouraged their followers to become monks, nuns or ascetics. This type of behavior, however, precludes material progress, and in fact would lead to the demise of human species if everyone followed such advise, and remained celibate. In contrast, Allah has informed us through Islam, that He has not created the worldly provisions without a purpose. Let us consider the example of wealth. People all over the world are involved day and night in the pursuit of wealth. The ownership and distribution of wealth has formed the basis of many civilizations in the world, as for example the capitalistic and communistic systems. They are both based on material acquisition. Such acquisition is, however, only for personal gain. This leads to many evils such as greed, avarice, selfishness, theft and dishonesty.

Quranic philosophy of wealth

The Holy Quran, stresses the earning of wealth by honest means, but emphasizes its spending on others, after fulfilling the needs of oneís family. Injunctions for this are given in the verse under consideration. Only in this manner can man raise himself above the animal level, for it is an animal trait to gather and hoard everything for itself, or its mate and off springs. We find that in capitalism and communism this animal characteristic is dominant. In the verse under discussion, it is stated:

"and gives away wealth out of love for Him (hub-bi-hi),"
which can be interpreted in two ways. If Allah is to be considered the object of love (the Arabic word, hub-bi-hi, referring to Allah) in this verse, it would mean that they spend their wealth on the needy to be deserving of the love of Allah. Allah gives wealth and affluence to man, who in turn exhibits the Divine attribute of beneficence, and thus becomes deserving of Divine love. The other interpretation arises if wealth is taken to be the object of oneís love (the Arabic word hub-bi-hi, referring to wealth) in this verse, and in my humble opinion this interpretation seems more appropriate. Allah has made the love of wealth a natural characteristic of man (otherwise he would not have struggled for his progress and worldly existence), but if he spends his wealth on others, he sacrifices his animal desires, and thus moves to a higher spiritual level. The government can also take away a personís wealth particularly in a communist system. Giving away oneís wealth in this manner, however does not evolve the higher moral qualities which form the basis of Islamic culture and civilization.

Spending of wealth on relatives

Compassion for fellow human beings, and merciful dealings with them are excellent moral qualities. Merciful dealings with relatives are natural because of the blood ties, and those who neglect to do this are guilty of extreme cruelty and selfishness. Spending oneís wealth on relatives is, therefore, given first priority. In another verse it is stated:

"And give to the near of kin his due" (17:26).
Whosoever is closer and more needy, deserves more. Those who are of a worldly inclination, and worship their wealth i.e., those who consider only their wives and children to be worthy of their bounty (which is the animal level) always want the government to take care of the deprived section of the society. No government can fulfill this demand satisfactorily, and even if it attempts to do this, it will only be by taxing the wealthy. This process, however, does not nurture the feelings of compassion and mercy for others, nor is it rewarded by Allah. Islam directs us to take care of our relatives, and the needy, for we are in a better position to understand their needs rather than the government social worker. We are thus, enjoined to create the higher virtues of human compassion, and mercy within ourselves, and this also leads to the creation of mutual love and affection.

Spending on the orphans and the needy

Besides the relatives, the orphans (yatama), and the needy (masakeen) are deserving of mercy and compassion. The Arabic word, yatam means one who is cut off. Children whose parents die are thus cut off from them. The word yatama is also used for the widows in the Holy Quran because they are cut off from their husbands. Becoming an orphan or a widow, entails not only the loss of the loved ones, but also means facing economic hardships. Those with a pure conscience feel merciful, and compassionate towards widows and orphans. The Holy Quran directs attention to the practical form of such compassion and mercy which is to provide for their means of subsistence that have been cut off. This could involve a lengthy commitment, but involvement in some oneís grief is a highly noble quality.

The needy (masakeen) are the physically handicapped, the sick, and the poverty stricken, who cannot earn and are in need of assistance. For example, a tailor who is so poor that he cannot buy a sewing machine, or a student who cannot afford his tuition. To help such individuals is helping the needy. This creates the higher virtues of compassion and mercy in a human being.


 
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