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Living The Quran

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From Issue: 1017 [Read full issue]

Poverty and Wealth
Ya Sin (Ya Sin) - Chapter 36: Verse 47

"And when it is said unto them, 'Spend of that wherewith God has provided you,' those who disbelieve say to those who believe, 'Are we to feed one whom, if God willed, He would feed him? You are in nought but manifest error.'"

Although there are several different accounts identifying the subject of this verse, they all agree that it responds to those who scoffed at the injunction to spend in the way of God — to feed the poor —found throughout the Quran. It is said that some disbelievers among the Quraysh said to Abu Bakr, who used to feed the destitute from his own wealth, "O Abu Bakr, do you claim that God is able to feed these people?" He replied, "Yes." To which they replied, "So why is it that he does not feed them?" He said, "Some people are tried with poverty, others with wealth. The poor are commanded to be patient, and the wealthy are commanded to give." So they replied, "O Abu Bakr, surely you are in error. Do you claim that God is able to feed these people, yet He does not feed them, then you feed them?" Then this verse was revealed.

It is God who feeds and provides. All the provisions that people receive on earth are created by God. They cannot create any of that; indeed, they cannot create anything whatsoever. It is God's will that people should have needs which they cannot attain to without hard work, such as planting the earth, extracting its raw material to manufacture things, transporting its produce from place to place, offering such produce in return for other products or for money, etc. It is also God's will that people differ in their talents and abilities to ensure that everything needed to fulfil man's task of building human life on earth is available. The accomplishment of this task not only needs talents and abilities that earn money and produce wealth; it also requires others that can meet different human needs, without earning money. This makes for a complex human society, in which people have different lots in a bustling world, and across generations. However, the resulting differences in the means available to different people do not lead to the ruination of life and society. In fact, it is a by-product of life's movement.

Therefore, Islam addresses the individual, requiring those who have plenty to relinquish a portion of their money, which is given to the poor to provide for their food and other needs. By doing so, Islam reforms a great many people, rich and poor alike. This portion is zakat, which, by definition, implies purification. Islam makes it one of its acts of worship, and uses it to establish cordial and caring relations between the rich and the poor in the unique society it establishes.

Compiled From:
"The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary" - Seyyed Hossein Nasr
"In The Shade of The Quran" - Sayyid Qutb, Vol. 14, pp. 217, 218

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