Sunday, July 3, 2011

Overcoming poverty: A Muslim perspective - Imam Dr. Zijad Delic

In Canada, there are many untold stories. One of those stories is about poverty – the lived reality of too many Canadians. The book Persistent Poverty: Voices from the Margins by Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen (Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 2010 was launched in Ottawa on Jan. 26, 2011 at City Hall.
It tells the stories of Canada’s poor in a way that makes one’s heart freeze in shock at the pain some of our fellow citizens must endure. I was privileged to be invited to this event and to receive a review copy so that I could reflect on poverty as seen from an Islamic perspective.
The fact that poverty is both a local and global problem is undeniable. From the streets of Ottawa – capital of one of the world’s most affluent and stable nations – to the furthest corners of Africa, poverty is a daily grinding reality.
But poverty is not (as some would claim) a “natural” phenomenon. It is a wholly human-created affliction and can be overcome and eradicated by reversing the process of its emergence. Because poverty is the result of greed and self-indulgence by specific individuals and the kinds of organizations or government systems they support, I believe that it can also be eradicated by the individual and collective actions of others – people like you and me -- who care.
Where do people of faith stand on poverty?
Poverty is, or should be, of special concern to all faith groups. No one can ignore the evidence of numerous studies that have documented the dreadful effects of poverty on individuals, families and Canadian society as a whole. For me to hear and read about such a high rate of poverty in this, my home country, is shocking, alarming and deeply disturbing. In Persistent Poverty: Voices from the Margins the authors unflinchingly tell it all!
From the opening pages, one begins to ask pertinent questions. One of the first that came to my mind was: How can this happen in Canada, a legendary “land of plenty”? It was hard for me to personally accept that poverty really exists in a country ranked among the wealthiest in the world.
The next big question that came to my mind was: What can our different faith communities do about this from the perspective of our beliefs?
 “The best amongst the people are the ones who are the most beneficial to others.” – Prophet Muhammad, may infinite peace and blessings be upon him.
As a Muslim, I have been taught that in the universe of our Creator, overcoming poverty is not only an act of charity; it is an act of justice that goes along with worship and our collective mandate to be God’s good stewards on earth. Simply put, it is at the core of our faith.
Therefore poverty is not, and cannot be written off as, “God’s will.” There is absolutely no theological or moral justification for this fatalistic and self-protective approach!
If we humans created poverty, then we are also responsible for creating the means to eliminate it. Only then can we deem ourselves truly worthy of our intellectual and scientific achievements; only then can we truly consider ourselves people of faith.
Pope John Paul II was so right when he said in 2001: “A careful study of the complex phenomenon of poverty directs us precisely towards its origin in the lack of respect for the innate dignity of the human person and calls us to a global solidarity, for example through the adoption of a ‘common ethical code’ whose norms would not only have a conventional character, but also would necessarily be rooted in the natural law written by the Creator in the ethics of every human being.”
Among the goals of this “common ethical code” is to help those in need, those who have less than us, those who are humbled to the ground and must ask: “Sir/Madam, please help me!”
If there is anything that we – that is, all people of faith – can do together, it is to stand in solidarity, regardless of our differences, to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe those who are cold.
Every religious tradition emphasizes the importance of doing just these things, and if all faith groups took their teachings seriously and literally, we could indeed eradicate poverty from the world.
Our Creator wants us to care for those in need, for when we do so, we witness to the virtue of caring about ourselves too!
Islam’s approach to eradicating poverty
The Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, was well aware of the impact of poverty on individuals and society in his own day and his teachings illuminate timeless truths for us in the 21st century:
1)     The question of belief: “He is not a believer who goes to sleep at night with a full stomach knowing that his/her neighbor is hungry.” (Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him). For me, the entire city of Ottawa is just the beginning of my neighborhood, for I belong to a global village of seven billion human beings.
2)     Sharing is the policy: “The food of one person is sufficient for two; the food of two sufficient for four…etc.” (Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him). The world’s leading faiths teach that no one has so little that it cannot be shared.
3)     Generosity is an excellent quality: It is even better when it comes from the efforts of a wealthy people, or society. (Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him).
4)     Not saying “no”: When asked for help, the Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, never refused a request from the needy.
5)     Giving also benefits the giver: “Wealth is not diminished by giving.” (Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him). Giving actually increases our faith and universal value. Therefore, from the faith perspective, giving helps those who give, as well as those who receive.
Ending poverty in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and around the world is possible. We have the solutions and the means – what we need to strengthen is our collective will, especially that of our political leaders.
But if politicians delay or dismiss constructive action, we as faith-grounded people cannot passively stand by and wait for them; we must step in and directly help those in need, just as so many have done before and continue to do today. The need has never been more urgent; we can do it!
All faith traditions offer a vision for resolving the problem of chronic poverty. But now we must come together and be collectively engaged in translating that shared vision into action.  
This means cooperating and working together for the common good. It is not only our social responsibility, but our religious one as well. We have the combined ways and means to fulfill our duty to our Lord and to our great country – Canada.
Ottawa-based Imam Dr. Zijad Delic is National Executive Director of the Canadian Islamic Congress. This article first appeared in the CIC Friday Magazine
Poverty facts
Amidst incredible wealth, more than 3.5 million Canadian live in poverty. In fact, poverty is increasing for youth, workers, young families and immigrants and people of colour in this country. Poverty in Aboriginal groups remains appallingly high, both on and off reserve. While Canada officially ranks an impressive 4th on the UN Human Development Index, the statistics measuring poverty in Canada's Aboriginal communities would place us 78th—a ranking currently held by Peru.
The inherited poverty facing our youth is especially emergent. On average, one in every ten children in Canada struggles to have their basic needs met. In First Nations and Inuit communities, one in every four children grows up in poverty. More than twenty years after the House of Commons passed a resolution to eliminate poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000, our government has failed to take any meaningful action in this direction.
In Canada right now:
  • One in ten children is poor.
  • Canada's child poverty rate of 15 percent is three times as high as the rates of Sweden, Norway or Finland.
  • Every month, 770,000 people in Canada use food banks. Forty percent of those relying on food banks are children. These statistics point to a betrayal of Canada's children.
What makes the persistence of child poverty all the more disturbing is that Canada is such a resource-rich country. It doesn't have to be this way. All children should have the chance to meet their potential.

1 comment:

  1. L'éradication de la pauvreté commence par l'intérêt, au premier stade, de la communauté qui nous entoure, faire un travail d'enchainement, prenons exemple des fourmis, il suffit de les observer et on extraire des leçons précieuse, je vous laisses méditer!