Social Work according to the Quran
"It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day and the Angels and the Book and the Messengers; to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask; and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayers and practice regular charity; to fulfill the contracts which you made; and to be firm and patient in pain (or suffering) and adversity and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the God fearing"(Quran 2: 177).
The above verse is the concept of social work in Islam. It is however more than a philosophical concept but a practical draft that outlines the why, whom, and who of service delivery.
We believe form of worship incomplete without helping deeds
· Whom — categories of people and groups and issues related to be met
· Who — characteristics of workers
Analysis of the Quranic concept of social work
The question of why we should establish formal social services in our communities is explained in this verse.
Allah is advising us that our worship is incomplete without helping deeds. So after having believed in Allah, the angels, the Prophets, the Books and the Last Day we must translate our Iman (faith) our beliefs into actions of service to humankind.
In fact it is incumbent on believers to fulfill this duty of service to those who need their help. Each and every Muslim is to contribute to the welfare of society. Therefore by establishing social services within Muslim communities, every Muslim can indirectly participate through financial and moral support. When professionals administer social services with the support of the community at large. It would help all of us to fulfill our social responsibility as believers.
1. Duty — as a believer;
2. True righteousness;
3. Love of Allah
One Hadith states that Abu Hurairah related: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "Whosoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the grieves on the Day of Judgment. Whosoever alleviates [the] lot of a destitute person, Allah will alleviate his lot in this world and the next. Whosoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and the next. Allah will aid a servant (of His) so long as the servant aids his brother."
The question of who is best qualified to carry out the duty of serving the community in the area of social services is again outlined in this verse as one who believes in the Unity of Allah, the Last Day, the Angels, Books and Messengers of Allah. In other words, the verse emphasizes the significance of Iman and Mufassil as the defining characteristic of a Muslim — one who having believed totally completely and with understanding is then compelled by his belief to act upon them through service to humanity thus completing their faith.
1. Believer in Unity of Allah
2. The Last Day
Hadith: Humility and Courtesy are acts of piety. Modesty and chastity repasts of faith. Verily those who are patient in adversity and forgive wrongs are the doers of excellence. The best of alms is that which the right hand giveth and the left hand knoweth not.
The above verse also outlines broad categories that would include those towards whom these services should be directed. Let's briefly look at the categories.
Spend of your substance for:
1. Kin: This would be anyone related either by blood or marriage. This would be more of an individual responsibility. If however a person was unable to adequately meet the needs of his kin he could on their behalf seek help from the community-based social services.
2. Orphans: Technically this would apply to children whose fathers have died. In an Islamic society the orphans then become the responsibility of the state. New Muslims who lose their families because of conversion must also be included in this category. Orphans could also apply to children of dysfunctional families that are taken away be CFS. For all facts and purposes they are orphans. The spirit of Islamic charity would therefore dictate that we provide for these orphans by providing foster care, housing and material and spiritual needs consistently, professionally and compassionately.
3. Needy: This is a broad term and should be interpreted to mean any need. Therefore a family needing counseling to resolve a conflict or a couple in a marital crisis or an abused spouse should be included in the category as well as those who are in need of financial assistance. The situation could be of a temporary nature or long term. The Muslim community should be equipped with services that can address the needs of these people.
4. Wayfarer: the term usually used for a traveler or a transient, could also apply in present day to foreign students or workers who come to our communities on a temporary basis. Islamic social services should be prepared to serve this particular segment of our community.
5. Those Who Ask: Anyone who asks for help and is a genuine case must be helped.
We should not hold it against them. Therefore a formal mechanism must be in place in our communities where people can confidently apply for help.
6. Ransom of Slaves: Many could say that Islam eradicated slavery therefore this is a moot point. However if we were to look around us many of our Muslim brothers and sisters could qualify to apply for this category to be freed — e.g. — the landing fee that the Canadian government has put in place is putting extreme pressure on families that cannot reunite because they cannot afford to pay it.
I believe to help them would amount to paying ransom for slaves. The spirit is to free a human from bondage and oppression and exploitation. Therefore the ransom of slaves would in my humble opinion apply to all these categories.
When we are asked how are we to achieve these objectives of Islamic social services the Quran once again gives us assistance by laying out the principle on which we not only base our social services but through which we achieve our goals. In short, these principles define a Muslim social worker and also empower and enable them to better serve their clients.
1. Steadfast in prayer: The one best equipped to help others is one who is steadfast in prayer. "Thee alone we worship, Thee alone we ask for help". In a Muslim community persons nominated for social work must posses this fundamental trait of a Muslim. If they are to be effective and productive it is also a reminder to those of us working in the field that we must be steadfast in prayer.
2. Regular Charity: This of course fosters a personality that is giving and develops a character that is empathetic to the needs of others. Communities where members give regular charity of all kinds both compulsory and voluntary benefit each other and feel responsible for each other.
3. Fulfill Contract: Muslims working in the field of social services must be trustworthy, honest, and conscientious of their duty to their clients. Services delivered cannot be haphazard or half-hearted. When we make a pledge we honor it when we make a promise we keep it and when we set ourselves up as helpers we fulfill that task to the best of our ability.
4. Patience in pain, suffering, adversity and panic: These are characteristics that are essential for Muslim social workers, counselors, Imams, and leaders. When people depend on us for support and rely on our counsel we cannot be hasty, impatient, or panic at first sign of difficulty. The task for Muslim workers in the area of social services is soul wrenching and requires a personality that is blessed with Taqwa (God consciousness) and Sabr (patience). However, the levels of Taqwa (God consciousness) may vary but it is an evolutionary process in which one can develop the personality of a Mutaqi (one who has God consciousness).
5. Truth: As the Prophet Muhammad stated: " A Muslim can not be a liar". Truth and honesty is the cornerstone of any public service. Lies stand in the way of trust without which a Muslim social worker or counselor is not viable. We must be honest in our dealings with our client and not use any underhanded ways. Truth is also a virtue that is admired universally and inspires respect, trust, and reliability.
6. God Fearing: One, who fears Allah and is always conscious of her duty to her Creator, will never harm or put in harms way those who are under their care. Sense of accountability and responsibility to Allah must be the core trait of a Muslim community worker. This keeps in check our egos and focuses on the objective that our service must gain the pleasure of Allah not the pleasure of making a name for us.
Sayings of Prophet Muhammad:
· What actions are most excellent? To gladden the heart of a human being, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the wrongs of the injured.
· He who tries to remove the want of his brother, whether he is successful or not, God will forgive his sins.
Muslim Misperceptions about Social Services
By Abdul Malik Mujahid
Working to help others, also known as social service, is an Islamic obligation. Muslims carry out this obligation on an individual level. However at the institutionalized and collective levels Muslims in
Social services can be divided into two major categories although some overlapping does exist:
- Family Service: pre-marriage counseling, resolving marital disputes, spousal abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, foster parenting, women's shelters, marriage counseling, job placement, economic rehabilitation of battered women, Islamic and legal advice to the abused.
- Support Services: halfway houses for parolees, homeless shelters, skills development, placement services, soup kitchens, food pantries, legal counseling, literacy, Islamic education and mentoring.
Alhamdu lillah, Muslims are gradually becoming aware of this need although the work, up to now, has been limited to small endeavors. There are a few small and underfunded efforts throughout
There are many causes for this weakness. Among them are the extraordinary growth of Masjids and schools which has probably taken up most Muslim resources in the last two decades, along with humanitarian disasters in the world for which Muslim Americans have been donating generously.
However, the above factors do not take into account some misperceptions among Muslims which continue to contribute to an almost total absence of social service in the priorities of Masjids and other Muslim organizations. Below are some of the major Muslim misperceptions which need to be addressed as the Muslim leadership tries to make social services a priority for the Muslim community in
Misperception #1: Social service is not an Islamic Obligation
Muslims regard helping the needy and the poor as good and rewarding acts but they do not consider them necessarily "an obligation" like prayers and fasting. It seems that many are not aware of the Quranic basis for the duty to serve human beings. There are scores of verses in the Quran that deal with the necessity of social service: 107; 74:38-46; 90:12-18; 89:17-24; 92:5-10. Of course the more prominent one is the short chapter Al Ma'oon in which Muslims are Divinely mandated to attend to the social needs of others, not as a philanthropic gesture, but as a prerequisite condition for faith (Iman) itself, and a tangible acceptance of the Hereafter. In al Ma'oon 107:1-7, Allah says:
"Have you ever seen a human being who contradicts the (essence of) faith? That is the person who pushes the orphan aside and does not promote feeding the needy."
Woe, then, unto those who pray, but their hearts and minds from (the essence and message of) their prayers are remote, those who (want but) to be seen and praised, whereas they refuse to help others (who need help)"
Although no one will deny that Zakat is a pillar of Islam, it is at best a fallen pillar of Islam whose recommended list of beneficiaries reads like a roster of social service priorities for Muslims.
Misperception #2: There is no tradition of Islamic social services
In most Muslim countries, the Masjids and Madrassas are the places where the hungry and homeless have ready food and shelter. Masjids in
The Waqf system is a common Islamic endowment system which has helped and continues to support millions of social service projects in the Muslim world. I remember in my own neighborhood, an orphanage (yateem khana) and several cold water fountains (sabeel) in a city where temperatures are hardly below 100 fahrenheit will bring thankful prayers to your lips. Free Musafirkhana (public guest house for travelers) also stood in my hometown, free for not only the travelers but also those who have no other place to go. The first formal public guest house was established in 17 Hijrah in Madinah, after which every city throughout the world of Islam has at least one before Khalifa Omar passed away. Until these independent public guest houses, the travelers used to stay in Masjids.
There are many examples of institutionalized human services which are found in the Muslim world. A wider knowledge of these institutions and their workings may encourage institutionalization of social services among Muslims. Historically, the Khanaqah in Central and South Asia, Zawiyah in North Africa, and Tekke in
In Islam it is the legal right of a needy person or a traveler to be fed by the community. Most Masjids in the Muslim world stay open 24 hours a day seven days of week for this reason. It is this massive act of silent support which essentially took care of millions of Afghan refugees in
Misperception #3: Zakat is only an individual duty
Most Muslims in
Misperception #4: The real poor are not in
Misperception #5: Muslim family life is safe and sound
The divorce rate in
Misperception #6: Islam is the fastest growing religion in the
I don't know who came up with this phrase. I have not seen any research paper about it. However, what I have seen is its obnoxious usage by the unwise. In fact, 70 percent of converts leave Islam within a few years as documented by Prof. Ilyas Ba Younus. Muslims are unaware that a majority of new Muslims end up leaving Islam because of a lack of support system in the Muslim community. Their study of Islam through books does not match the reality of our brotherhood and sisterhood. Not all, however, leave because of the absence of the support system. It is a complex phenomena with many other variables.
Misperception #7: Muslims cannot befriend non-Muslims
Interestingly, this is not a quote from the media, this is actually a street ideology paddled by some fringe groups in the community to the extent that it has caused true confusion among young and the new Muslims. The whole theory was invented to keep Muslims away from participation in the political system in
There are Friday sermons which have been disrupted by the extremists among us when the Imam tried to encourage Muslims to participate in society as responsible citizens. Unfortunately, these voices of isolation have yet to learn from the Prophet of Mercy, may Allah's mercy and blessings be upon him, who lived and died while concerned for humanity.
Misperception #8: No talk of the brotherhood of human beings
We are so focused on our own victimization that we fail to see the pain of others. We are indeed victims of internal and external oppression. The largest number of refugees in the world are Muslims. Our blood flows from India to Palestine every day. However, a partial reason for our plight may be that instead of being servants of humanity, like the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was, we became self-centered. Allah tells us in the Quran that He has created all of us with the same one father and one mother. He repeatedly calls all of us Bani Adam (family or children of Adam) in the Quran. If that does not create the brotherhood of humanity, what else will? Our emphasis on Muslim brotherhood hides the fact that the mission of this brotherhood is to serve humanity at large. Unless we personalize the pain of others so much that it shows through our words and deeds, we may not succeed in helping others learn how wronged we feel.
Muslim brotherhood is an integral part of the brotherhood of humanity, not some utopia outside humanity.
Misperception #9: Can Zakat be used for non-Muslims?
Many Muslims, including some leaders, are unclear as to whether Zakat and non-Zakat charity are to be used only to help other Muslims or to help anyone who is in need.
The Islamic position to assist all in need without discrimination is so obvious that it does not require any Fatwa. The Quran even challenges those who were opposing Islam at the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to come forward with charity towards the needy. In Khalifa Omar's declared and implemented interpretation of the Quranic category of Zakat distribution, Faqir meant the poor of the Muslims, and Miskeen meant the poor of Christians and Jews. Later on, as Islam encountered other faith groups, he extended social benefits to them as well. May Allah be pleased with him.
However, at this age of decay in Islamic life somehow the concept of serving one's own has restrained some Muslims from using Zakat to serve all of humanity.
Misperception #10: Only a Muslim neighbor has a right on you
The concept of neighborly duties has also evaporated since most Muslims either limit the definition of neighbor to exclude non-Muslims or fall prey to the elevator culture by not noticing their neighbors.
Nowhere in the Quran and the Sunnah are the rights of neighbors limited to Muslims only. A neighbor is a neighbor. And the Islamic definition of neighbor is broader than the English language description as the following verse of the Quran states: "Do good to…the neighbor who is close by and to the neighbor who is a stranger, and the companion at your side, and to the traveler.." (4:36). This false understanding allows some practicing Muslims to not focus on fulfilling neighborly duties towards society, although this may be because of their irresponsibility rather than an assertion of this false notion.
The Need for Education:
These misperceptions must be shattered if we are to move our community forward and truly address its full contribution in the arena of social services. The first step in clarifying these misconceptions is education on a mass level amongst Muslims in
- Use Friday Khutbas to the maximum. Many Muslims who don't normally attend other Islamic activities come to Friday prayers, making them an excellent forum for education. Muslim councils and Imams should develop sample Khutbas to on the above-mentioned topics and present them to Muslim audiences.
- Muslim leaders should write about the topic in Muslim magazines by publishing editorials in all of them about the need for social services offered by Muslims.
- Muslim writers should publish articles in every issue of the various Muslim newspapers on social problems and the need to address them.
- Someone should write a book that discusses social services as an Islamic obligation, reflects on the nature of this need, and also provides practical information on how to address these problems in today’s environment. This book can also share the historical experience of Muslims in the area of social services. Another small book is needed to clarify the issues of Wali, friendship, duties to neighbors and helping the community we live in.
- We need to publicize success stories through the media. The only hospital run by students of a Muslim Students' Association is in
. Why do so few people know about this extraordinary accomplishment by students in America ? California
- Muslim schools should incorporate the Quranic chapters and verses regarding service to humanity along with articles on the concepts above in their curriculum.
There are existing resources available among Muslims which can become the starting point of these educational efforts. Sound Vision's website itself contains hundreds of pages worth of information on social service-related issues. The Islamic Social Services Association of the
The Muslim community in
Empower the Poor
Despite funds and infrastructure, the Muslim community is still in the depths of poverty and illiteracy. Have we got our priorities all wrong?
In Mumbai and other urban areas, if you happen to pass by a garbage dump, stop for a moment and look at what is going on. You will notice cats, dogs and human beings, mainly children, trying to find something to eat, or something that can be sold, such as waste paper, cardboard etc., to fetch food.
Wait for a while and look again at the same dump and you will also notice rats as well as other small creatures engaged in the same activity. If you do not walk through these ghettos and happen to drive through the clean and beautifully illuminated roads in fashionable localities of a big city, sometimes traffic lights will force you to stop. Here, you are surrounded by many beggars, old and young, men and women, adult and children, destitute women, sometimes young, but, haggard looking girls carrying their sleeping babies (perhaps doped with drugs), asking for alms.
Why has the Muslim community not been able to lift itself from the depth of poverty and illiteracy? The community has a unique social system of Zakat. Even the infrastructure and network of education and welfare societies is good. Something is wrong somewhere.
Is it wrong planning or lack of focus? It seems Muslims must rethink what role Almighty Allah wants them to play in
A random sample from these deprived sections of Muslim society, elicit spontan-eous responses: “We are poor. We and our children are hungry. We need food. We don’t have houses. We need shelter.” Basically, the unspoken message from the deprived section of Muslim community is, ‘link education with employment and productivity.” There is an urgent need to empower these population groups and the first step for empowerment is to provide them education. The important question is: what kind of education?
Muslim community invest-ment in the education sector needs to be redirected to those sectors whose priority is decided by a well structured local research process.
Muslim education and welfare societies at the local level, on their own should conduct research and identify the gaps. Most of the time, the investment and planning caters to the Muslim middle class or elite class, bypassing the deprived sections of the community.
If we conduct gap analysis of the community education requirement, the priority segments are: ‘those people who are not part of the organised education structure’. For initiating the education revolution for the deprived sections, we need not get entangled into financial and infrastructure requirements, but start the process by identifying local human resources. Step one is short listing those competent people who can donate their hours. Until now, the community was seeking financial donation from business community. Now the time has come for the middle class to repay the community by donating couple of hours every week.
Second step can be identifying core areas in terms of vocations for which there is need in the employment market at the local level. The local education and welfare societies can easily identify the vocations which can fetch employment for the student. No doubt there are number of educational institutions who offer short term job oriented vocational courses, but many of them are for middle class and are outdated.
The focus should be the deprived segment of the community. Care must be taken that a) The timing is most convenient for the students to attend classes b) the availability of educated teachers and c) accommodation available for classes.
Since the marginalised and deprived are being targeted, the curriculum should include: a) language learning/literacy b) simple arithmetic c) spoken English and d) a vocational skill for which there is an employment market.
Classes must be held at a time convenient to the learners and the teachers. The location of the learning centre must be closest to the learner’s home. The span of the curriculum should be designed in such a way that it significantly reduces unneces-sary repetition, and the learners are encouraged to produce and earn. The earning part of it provides incentive to learn at a fast pace.
Focus must be on managing human resources available within the community, rather then creating new infrastructure and then raising finance to create it. The planning should focus on utilising existing infrastructure. The best part is to arrange for open air class rooms with bare minimum infrastructure and practically nil maintenance and overhead expenditure. All this and many more plans are not going to work unless and until, we Muslims address the important question: What role Almighty Allah wants Muslims to play in
“And when Ibrahim and Ismail raised the foundations of the House: Our Lord! accept from us; surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing. Our Lord! and make us both submissive to Thee and (raise) from our offspring a nation submitting to Thee, and show us our ways of devotion and turn to us (mercifully), surely Thou art the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful. Our Lord! and raise up in them a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Thy communications and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them; surely Thou art the Mighty, the Wise.” (Surah Al-Baqarah- 127- 129).
If Muslims supplement their efforts with the role assigned to us by Allah, then the issues of poverty and illiteracy can be taken care of easily. Without Allah’s help, no amount of planning and investment is going to change the community’s status quo.
Professional Approach to Social Work
By M Hanif Lakdawala
The Muslim community needs to do re-thinking of its strategy for doing social work.
The Tsunami episode has once again brought to the core the soft side of the individuals. Millions of individuals contributed aid to alleviate the suffering of the victims of Nature’s fury.
At the organisational level, hundreds of small and large social and welfare groups organised the relief. No doubt, social services sector is creating a presence in our society; it also becomes apparent that competent social services have yet to arrive amongst Muslim community. The latter statement is based upon observations of signs for organisations that intend to provide services for both man- made disaster and victims of nature’s fury. Furthermore, a minimal amount of research into these organisations often reveals a bare minimum, to no qualified professionals, a lack of organisational structure and more importantly either a clientele medley or a mis-diagnosed nightmare.
While the willingness to get your hands dirty is noble, nobility alone cannot sustain an organization without a conceptual framework.
Clinical social worker, Dr Judith Lee (1994) explained that adequate service provision requires the service provider to be well equipped in the areas of professional purpose, a strong value base, knowledge, theoretical foundations and a programme method that consists of principles, processes and skills.
Contrary to the literature, Muslim’s social services and/or educational organisations begin to provide services prior to meeting structural demands. The idea is understandable and will generate sympathy. It is a moral dilemma. The need exists and the thought pattern is that some service provision is far better than none. While this thought process too, is noble, it can in fact impart far more harm than good.
It appears that as a result of the lack of qualified staff, agency philosophies and structure, all the financial and human resources pumped in the social sector by the community is not utilized optimally and many a times the performance is even sub-standard.
Most of the donors do not have time to go beyond personal interviews of the project initiators or the organisations office bearers. How many Muslim social and welfare organisations appoint MSW (Masters in social work)? The result is most of the time it’s the sub-standard work and poor services provided to the downtrodden.
Why the Muslim community needs the qualified and competent professional’s help to manage the social sector? Since changes in the society are taking place at a rapid pace, newer and newer problems are emerging. Thus social workers and/or educators must be certain of and well versed in their approach to the work, prior to deliverance of services. Service providers must collaborate with other professionals within or outside of their own agencies in an effort to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the field.
Agencies must provide continuous staff training, strong supervision and a safe environment that encourages staff to raise questions. Additionally, administrators must begin to do their homework. The expertise and the funding to hire the staff are out there, the motivation to find them must be brought to the table.
Let’s take a sample issue of counselling the Muslim youth. Slew of organisations claims working for the growth and benefit of Muslim youth. How many of them can handle the complex problems which today’s youth suffers from. Even the largest Muslim student organisations do not have any qualified counsellors.
None of the organisations conduct counselling sessions. Most of the counselling sessions are conducted by the office bearers who are not qualified to do the job. Those who need counselling also go to Imams asking for advice, but the Imams are not trained in counselling. They will try to tell them what to do rather than being able to assess the whole situation, being able to analyze, being able to walk them through the process of finding a resolution.
Since the community does not take the help of professionals there are many areas where the community does not have any presence. For example how many centres we have for the training of Muslim disabled, whereby they find jobs for Muslims with disabilities. So we need to become more aware, and we need to become more compassionate. Mercy should be the basic element of a Muslim. And it isn’t there.
So community needs a re-thinking of its strategy of doing social work. We just cannot afford to waste our resources by doing sub-standard work. By investing in taking professional help we will be saving precious human and financial resources and increase the productivity.