Featured Post


« Le comble du savoir-faire ne consiste pas à remporter toutes les batailles, mais à soumettre l’armée ennemie sans livrer bataille » (Sun...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Zakah and the Forgotten Islamic Obligation Towards Prisoners

Written by Moazzam Begg,

The history of Islam is replete with stories of men and women facing imprisonment and abuse at the hands of oppressors. The chapter of the Prophet Yusuf [as] vividly illustrates how dealing with unjust imprisonment is not only an inherent part of the heritage of monotheistic tradition but, both the Old Testament [Torah] and the Quran - hence, Judaism, Christianity and Islam - would be incomplete without it. It is also the story that resonates most with Muslims facing unjust imprisonment:

He [Yusuf] said: “O my Lord! Prison is dearer to me than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one of the ignorant.” So his Lord answered his invocation and turned away from him their plot. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower. Then it occurred to them, after they had seen the proofs (of his innocence) to imprison him for a time. (11:32-4)
The duty to assist the plight of the prisoners has become increasingly difficult, especially since the establishment of Guantanamo, secret and military detention camps and the removal of the presumption of innocence coupled with pre-trial detention. But, that has only increased the burden of responsibility on Muslims to spend in their cause. Allah (swt) says:

And they give food, in spite of their love for it, to the poor, the orphan, and the captive (saying): “We feed you seeking Allah's Face only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks from you.” (76:8-9)

It may not be possible to provide food directly for the captives of Guantanamo and the secret prisons but, we can and should exert the utmost effort to ensure they receive justice and, that they are never forgotten or abandoned. This is even more incumbent upon us knowing that most of the prisoners were handed over for a bounty - without any legal process - right into the hands of nations that labelled them 'enemy combatants'. And, although the following Quranic verse refers to Jewish tribes in pre-Islamic Arabia failing to implement their covenant with Allah it can so easily be applicable to the present day turmoil in Muslim lands: 
After this, it is you who kill one another and drive out a party of you from their homes, assist (their enemies) against them, in sin and transgression. And if they come to you as captives, you ransom them, although their expulsion was forbidden to you. (2:84)
But where does our individual duty lie in all of this? The Prophet Muhammad [s] said: “No man forsakes a Muslim when his rights are being violated or his honour is being belittled except that Allah will forsake him at a place in which he would love to have His help. And no man helps a Muslim at a time when his honour is being belittled or his rights violated except that Allah will help him at a place in which he loves to have His help”.

The Prophet [s] also said: “Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and free the prisoner.” And, “It is upon the Muslim faithful to free their prisoners and to pay their ransom.”

The Messenger of Allah [s] paid the ransom for two Muslim men with a man who he [s] had taken from Bani Uqail, and he paid the ransom for two people with a woman who was given as a gift by Salamah bin al-Akwa.

The classical scholars, some of whom were unjustly imprisoned themselves, have been clear about the financial obligations regarding freeing prisoners:

Imam Malik said: “It is obligatory on the people to redeem prisoners with their money. There is no contention on this point”.

Ibn Taymiyyah said: “Freeing the prisoners is one of the greatest compulsory deeds and spending ransom money and other means towards that, is one of the greatest ways to come close to Allah.”

Al-Qurtubi said: “Our scholars have said that ransoming the prisoners with money is waajib (obligatory), even if one dirham does not remain in the Islamic Treasury.”

Many Muslims choose to pay their Zakah during Ramadhan – to earn increase the reward. However, it is our obligation as Muslims that we often forget that working for justice and freedom for those unlawfully imprisoned is very much a part of this duty (fardh) by which to purify our wealth (zakah).

Contemporary scholars, again including some who were imprisoned, have described what it means to assist such prisoners in the modern age.

Mufti E.Desia (Council of Muslim Theologians, South Africa) on the obligation Towards the Prisoners

Question: "Asalamu alaykum shaykh. As you are aware many of our Muslim brothers are currently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. What is the duty of the rest of the Muslims towards these imprisoned brothers? JazakAllahkhair. Wasalam."

Answer: "Respected Brother in Islam, Assalamu Alaykum Wa Rahmatullaahi Wa Barakatuhu. When Muslims are imprisoned unjustly, as is the case in Guantanamo, it is the Waajib [obligatory] duty of all the Muslims of the world to do whatever is in their capacity to free these oppressed brothers. Together with our efforts, it is our duty to continuously make du'aa for them. And Allah Knows Best. Was-salaam."

Shaykh Jafar Idris was asked about giving Zakah to free prisoners:

Question: "Traditionally it has been permitted to give zakah in order to help free a Muslim prisoner. The concept was essentially to pay a ransom for the prisoner in order to ensure their safe return. Today we have Muslim prisoners who have been detained for purely political reasons without having been charged or tried for any crime. There is no way to pay a ransom for these prisoners in order to secure their release, could zakah be given instead to fund activities such as paying for their legal costs, campaigning and lobbying. Could the work of a human rights NGO that works to have these prisoners receive the zakah in order to carry out its work?"

Answer: "The basic position related to the giving of the zakah for the release of the prisoners, is that the effort should be made in order to gain their release. With the current context of Muslim prisoners around the world, the zakah can be used with any aspect of work related to freeing the prisoners. Of course there is no guarantee that the prisoner will be released, however the zakah money can go towards working towards that goal inshallah. There is nothing wrong with using the zakah money for the purposes of running an NGO that has this specific role. Allahu Alam."

Shaykh Salman al-Awdah said (regarding the Guantanamo prisoners):

“We must form commissions to keep track of their affairs from both a legal and a humanitarian perspective....We must be generous in our financial support. Whether we use our money to secure the release of some prisoners, or use it to defend their rights and publicize their plight, it is the same. We must also help their families on their behalf. All of this is spending in the way of Allah. It is in performing these acts of good that we as Muslims should strive to outdo each other.” (End quote)

Giving zakah is how a Muslim purifies his wealth and assists those in need in the process. It is the third pillar of Islam and its importance is second only to the obligatory prayer. As an action it is mentioned over 80 times in the Quran - often in conjunction with the prayer. And, if paying zakah is an undeniable Islamic obligation (the abandonment of which is a major sin) then, seeking justice and freedom for the prisoners is a means to fulfilling that obligation. And, those who spend in this cause, whether zakah or sadaqah (voluntarily charity), are promised a bounteous reward:

And the likeness of those who spend their wealth seeking Allâh's Pleasure sure in themselves that Allâh will reward them, is the likeness of a garden on a height; heavy rain falls on it and it doubles its yield of harvest. And if it does not receive heavy rain, light rain suffices it. (2:264)

The only question for us is: Who is he that will loan to Allah a beautiful loan, which Allah will double unto his credit and multiply many times? (2:224)

Helping to release captives is an Islamic obligation that very few organisations are fulfilling. This Ramadhan, give your support to the cause of the oppressed by paying your zakah and sadaqah to Cageprisoners. 

May Allah accept it from you all and place it high on the balance on your scales on the Day of Account.


1 comment:

sahyon said...

Al Quds Day Demonstration

Show your support for Palestine, join the annual Al-Quds Day demonstration in London on Saturday 4th September.

Assembling at 2pm at Marble Arch (nearest underground: Marble Arch), marching to the US Embassy (Grosvenor Square) for a rally.

Speakers Include:
Sheikh Bahmanpour (Principal of Islamic College)
Dr.Daud Abdullah (Director of Middle East Monitor)
Rabbi Ahron Cohen (Netura Karta UK)
Yvonne Ridley (Viva Palestina)
Taji Mustafa (Hizb ut Tahrir)
Roland Rance (Jews Against Zionism)
Massoud Shadjareh (IHRC)