Islam has an exceptionally well-integrated social welfare system which promotes an atmosphere of mutual concord among the members of society. Islam uses the distribution of wealth as a means to achieve this purpose and to maintain a standard of living which accords with human dignity. Within the Islamic system, people receive equal opportunities and protection against unemployment, disease, infirmity and permanent widowhood.
Every society contains crippled people whose deformities prevent them from working and who do not possess enough money to maintain a decent living; people who are too sick or too weak due to illness to earn sufficient wages to secure a decent life; children who have lost their parents and live without anyone to bring them up as people whose capacity and skills would enrich the society; women who have lost their husbands while the were working in the service of the community, and their husbands did not leave behind enough money to support their families; and old men who have expended all their energy for the benefit of society, but were unable to save anything to spend in their old age. Any society which has the least respect for human dignity would not allow people like these to be left neglected and uncared for. Moreover, a labourer can not possibly feel secure when he sees a disabled worker or retired mate neglected by society without any sort of financial support.
Consequently, Islam has prescribed various means of social welfare to secure a respectable living for all, so that the society will be free from destitute, beggars and the homeless. ‘Umar ibn Abdul ‘Aziz, the righteous caliph who earned the acclaim of the Islamic community, was able to turn these concepts into realities over the vast Islamic state that stretched from the farthest East to the Farthest West during the thirty month period of his rule (99-101 A.H./717-720 C.E.)
The following anecdote grants insight into the quality of leadership possessed by ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz: Yahya ibn Sa’id is reported to have said that ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz once commissioned him to collect the alms (Zakah) of Africa. Having collected the alms, he asked who the poor people were so that he might give them alms. However. ‘Umar had distributed the wealth so well that he could not find any impoverished person or any slaves with the alms money, emancipated them and made them loyal to Muslims. This story illustrates perfectly how wealth in Islam should justly distributed in order to achieve such noble goals.
God enacted Zakah and made it one of the compulsory pillars of Islam. It is payable on tangible assets such as fruits, plants, commerce, animals, gold, silver and money. God also specified the ways in which the alms should be distributed. It should only be distributed among the poor and needy, to pay the salaries of those who collect the alms, for those whose hearts are to be reconciled to Islam, to free captives and slaves, to pay debts, and in the cause of Allah. Those who claim Islam but oppose the payment and distribution of alms are considered as disbelievers and apostates. Consequently, Au Bakr, the first caliph, fought them and said, “If they do not give me even camel-rope which they used to give to the Prophet as Zakah, I will fight them for it.”
Voluntary charity has also been legislated in Islam in order to awaken mercy and compassion in the souls of the believers. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “He who relieves a Muslim from a worldly suffering, God will relieve him of one of the sufferings of Doomsday.” The Prophet (pbuh) also said, “God assists man so long as man assists his brother.” On another occasion he said, “The Guardian of an orphan and I are in paradise like these,” and he entwined two of his fingers. He also stated, “Mercy is absent only in the wretched.”
Within Islam, it is recommended that special treatment be given to near and distant neighbors, relatives, and friends. The Prophet (pbuh) emphasized that by saying, Gabriel continued urging me to take care of neighbors until I thought he would make them heirs.” HE also said, “One who sleeps with a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry is not one of us (Muslims).”
Islam also makes it obligatory for rich people to support their invalid relatives; a son to support hi spoor parents; a husband to support his wife and children and society to put an end to hunger, poverty, deprivation and indigence. In Islam, the Public treasury, Baital-Mal. Must take care of old men and women who have no one to support them.
Furthermore, within the frame-work of Islamic solidarity, there is no difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim when it comes to the spirit of giving. The famous companion of the Prophet (pbuh), ‘Abdallah ibn ‘Abbas, told his servant, who was butchering a sheep, not to forget their Jewish neighbor and he repeated himself three times to emphasize his concern. When a man asked him why, Ibn ‘Abbas answered, “By God, the messenger of Allah said, ‘Gabriel continued urging me to take care of neighbor till I thought he would make them heirs.” The second caliph, ‘Umar ibn Khattab, once saw an old Jew begging and decided to give him some money from the public treasure. He said to him, “We have not been just with you, we took tribute from you while you were young and strong and now that you are old, we have allowed you to beg.”
Another historical incident which further clarifies the emphasis place by Islam upon social justice can be found in the following anecdote. In the reconciliation pact with the Christianity of Hirha, Khalid ibn Al-Walid, the great military leader of early days, wrote, “Any old Christian, who is too feeble to work; or has become the victim of a disaster; or has fallen into poverty after being rich and now lives on the charity offered him by the people of his own religion shall be exempted from the tribute (Jizyah) and supported, along with his dependents by the public treasury so long as they remain within Islamic territories.”
These examples show Islamic justice at its height – real social welfare. Any one who compares Islamic law with modern secular laws will find that the greatness of the principles of social justice are manifested most perfectly in Islam.