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Global economic crisis and economics of faith (2).

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- Last week, I started discussing the significance of two religious practice associated with the holy month of Ramadan, sawm (the practice of fasting for a specified period of time) and zakat (the practice of giving a portion of one's income to charity). Let me now continue from where I left off in the previous column.

The economic implications of zakat are also quite rational. It discourages the hoarding of capital and stimulates continuous investment. Because the individual must pay zakat on net wealth, wealthy Muslims are compelled to invest in profitable ventures or otherwise see their wealth slowly erode. Furthermore, means of production, such as equipment, factories or tools, are exempt from zakat, which further provides the incentive to invest wealth in productive businesses.

According to the Quran, there are eight basic categories of people who qualify to receive zakat funds. Among them are those living in absolute poverty, the zakat collectors themselves, non-Muslims who are sympathetic to Islam or wish to convert to Islam, people whom one is attempting to free from slavery or bondage (this also includes the paying of ransom or blood money), those who have incurred overwhelming debts while attempting to satisfy their basic needs, those working in the service of God, children of the streets such as orphans and lastly travelers.

For this reason, in this article, I deal with these practices from the viewpoint of Islam. Unlike many other acts of voluntary benevolence, zakat is a strict and compulsory obligation in Islam. In this age of capitalist irresponsible sovereignty on property, it may be difficult to understand why one has to give away a significant part of his or her own richness.

In our view, in order to understand the logic behind it, we must understand two critical concepts in Islam. One is the concept of rizq (favor of food given by God) and the other is property. Unlike the communist system, which denies private property and access is controlled directly by the central authorities, in capitalism, private property is not only strongly recognized but also strongly promulgated as one of the basic pillars of the system. In order to maximize profit, consumption and pleasures and so forth, all the barriers to the free use of property are eliminated. This has been particularly true since the early 1980s, when a neoliberal capitalist order dominated the economic agenda and resulted in the current economic crisis.

In Islam, as a religion of collective conscience, private property is seen as legitimate. However, it gives the people the right only to use property. The absolute owner of all property is God and only the right to use it belongs to us, the subjects of God on Earth. A human being does not have property when he is born. He does not take it with him when he dies either. In Islam, we are ordered to work very hard, with perseverance. However, the final outcome, the reward, is given by God. This is called "rizq" in Islam. God claims a certain portion of our "rizq," which is called zakat. We are expected to return this part to God by distributing it to other segments of society as defined in the Quran.

In other words, as ultimate sovereignty on property belongs to God and we are in a position to use it, as the sender of rizq therefore, we are expected to fairly use the properties that we are given without violating the constraints we are subject to. God is the one who allows us to use the property. We are the agent with the right to use property in the name of God. Almsgiving (which includes zakat) is, therefore, also part of the primordial covenant between God and humankind (Quran 2:83). As a matter of fact, zakat is so important for the realization of the ultimate target of God in this world that in the Quran God talks about the zakat in more than 30 different verses, mainly in the chapters revealed to the Prophet in Medina. According to the Prophet Muhammad, refusal to pay zakat is a sign of hypocrisy, and God won't accept the prayers of such people. From this viewpoint, it is obvious that zakat is not an individual favor (charity) of rich persons to the poor in society. On the contrary, God orders the rich to obey the rules in the use of property by giving a certain part of it to the poor. God says that by giving out only 2.5 percent of your wealth, not property as mentioned above, the consequences would be:

(i) A person would protect their property from any kind of assault. Zakat is an act of piety through which one expresses concern for the well-being of fellow Muslims. Since zakat promotes a more equitable redistribution of wealth and fosters a sense of solidarity amongst members of society, it serves to preserve social harmony and peace. From this viewpoint, one must give zakat for the sake of one's own salvation. Neglecting to give zakat can result in damnation in the afterlife, while those who give zakat can expect reward from God in the afterlife.

(ii) Zakat is considered a means of purifying one's wealth and one's soul and therefore, profit or wealth will be purified from any kind of undesired harmful elements that might have been included during economic transactions.

(iii) As a reward for giving out the "share of God" from your wealth to the poor in society, God guarantees a future stream of income which will increase several times over.

yBRAHyM EuZTE[pounds sterling]RK (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Sep 1, 2012
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