Islam and Contemporary Muslims: Muslim Americans too Have Pockets of Poverty
By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor in Chief
This year, during the month of Ramadan, the Muslim American community will spend millions of dollars on arranging the iftar and dinner in their masajid and Islamic Centers, where hundreds and thousands will enjoy ethnic food as well as the company of believers. Some centers will draw as many as 1000 believers while others may have 20 to 30 on a daily basis. The food, drink and other related expenses will be paid by generous individuals or through donations the centers will receive from resourceful individuals.
Several Islamic relief agencies and other Muslim organizations will also sponsor iftar and dinners in selected masajid to raise funds for their activities.
In celebrating the month of fasting, one segment of the Muslim American community may probably remain deprived of many of the blessings. It is a segment whose population has increased over the years. Invisible, unknown and often looked down upon, these are Muslims in the lowest economic category. Comprised people of all nationalities and ethnic groups, they are the least known to the community as many of them live in ghettos or as homeless or in the crowded inner cities. These are the people who struggle daily to have a decent meal. They do not have transportation. They have no access to phones or computers. Many of them are old and disabled and many lack language skills to tell others of their plight. Many of them cannot find a job because they have no skills or some of them were incarcerated.
But this situation is not unique with Muslim Americans. Everywhere in the Muslim world one can find individuals and families who face conditions of deprivation, alienation, poverty and negligence. Despite the fact that Islam has a built-in mechanism in the form of the Zakat institution, we have not found the solution of these problems in an organized and effective manner. Much still depends on the generosity and kindness of individuals and families, who out of their deep commitment to Islamic values of compassion share their resources with whoever they find needy.
There is no systematic effort to identify such individuals and families in oneâ€™s locality and neighborhood, either in America or elsewhere. There is no program in any of the Masajid or Islamic centers to empower these people with skills so that they could come out of the circle of poverty and dependence. who has the time to serve these alienated individuals when one is busy in serving Allah through rituals that are considered obligatory to lead us to Jannah. The statement given by one of the Muslim officials to fleeing refugees summarizes the core of our attitude. He said, â€œgo back to your country and Allah will save you.â€ It is a different story if the refugees get killed upon their return.
It is wrong to fail to help people who need help, telling them that Allah will directly help them without your interference; this is against Allahâ€™s order to provide assistance. He expects those who believe in His message to help poor and the needy.
One would look at the Islamic relief agencies to take a lead in this respect in partnership with Islamic Centers and masajid. Yet, bulk of their energies spent and resources collected in America and Europe are diverted to East Africa, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Afghanistan with little to offer to the needy Muslim Americans.
The plight of Muslim Americans occupies the least priority in the framework of their relief schemes. Other organizations are occupied with civil rights, political, electoral, spiritual or dawa work and they have little time to even think of such Muslims, probably, because their donation value is zero.
So what is to be done? Rather than complaining and even expecting big groups to take any lead in this respect, the local Muslim communities can at least take some initiatives. They can identify a few deserving families in their localities who can be provided solid relief in the month of Ramadan through zakat money, so that they may begin to rebuild them financially and come out of the cycle of dependency. This is the least that we can do at local level. Certainly these activities will not bring any press coverage or publicity, but it will help some people to live the spirit of Islam genuinely.
For a long term, those who seriously want to effectively change the condition in their locality, they develop a database of people who are deserving and who can provided assistance in terms of learning skills that will eventually bring them out of the circles of poverty.