Re-Thinking Economics Part 6

Social Safety Net

Zakat might be the main thing that come to mind when we discuss about social safety but there are many other instruments. He we attempt to uncover how its supposed to work together.

But first, let’s define the beneficiaries. Within the framework of Credit-ism economics, there’s only the poor. The belief is that we can’t keep giving fish to them, we must enable them to fish on their own.

At a glance, it sounds noble. Who wouldn’t want everybody on this planet able to feed and clothe themselves? Thinking deeper, it’s actually selfish since if it’s true then no one have to care for anybody else.

Shariah-based economics is more nuanced in this matter. There are two categories — masakin and mustadhafin. Masakin is the poor we normally know, those who can’t generate enough income to cover their bare necessities. They are the the one we can enable to fish on their own, so to speak.

As for mustadhafin, they are the weak. These are the people who can’t work — due to severe disabilities and/or other prevailing life circumstances. Stateless refugees readily qualify for this especially in our contemporary context as they are regarded as persona non grata in the eye of law. This status render them unable to seek employment or business permit.

Underage orphans also qualify. They can’t be expected to fend for themselves even though they inherited large amount of wealth. They can’t manage it well and simply be targeted for exploitation. More so in the case of destitute war orphans.

The beneficiaries had been defined, but how about the benefactors? Is it the government. Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad argued that the government should just facilitate members of community to help one another instead of directly providing welfate. This might sounds counter-intuitive or downright alien but we’ll examine this logic further in other sections.

For the purpose of this section just keep in mind that the obligation of zakat preceded the creation of Baitulmal or any other formal institution to collect and disburse zakat. Zakat as an act of worship is still valid without Baitulmal as intermediary and many Muslims still opt to do so. Some give zakat directly out out of their own preferences or simply because there’s no Baitulmal since they live in a Muslim-minority country.

Photo by Son of Groucho
Photo by Son of Groucho

Without government intervention and intermediary, who are responsible for whom? It is impossible for one super-rich person to take care of everybody in a city-state or country.

The guideline had been readily outlined in Shariah-based economics. Each person is responsible for his neighbours — defined as those who live within 40 house radius from one’s house.

It doesn’t mean that a poor person must appeal directly to his neighbour when he is in need. Instead, his neighbout must be sensitive enough to know who is poor and render the appropriate assistance.

The assistance can be in the form of zakat, donation/gift or Benevolent Loan. The Benevolent Loan can also readily converted to be a donation/gift should the recepient unable to pay it back and the giver made it halal for him. Speaking of debt, those who are in debt are also eligible for zakat.

But those are reactive measures, money given out when members of community is in need. What instruments are used to proactively uplift the community?

For that we have waqf that usually manifests in the form of public infrastructures. Common example includes schools, libraries, hospitals, universities, and water supply. Water in particular can be as small as a pipe in front of one’s house to public wells to massive aqueducts.

These infrastructures lessen the burden of community members as their basic necessities had been taken care of. They are relieved from the cost acquiring drinking water, educating themselves and healthcare when they get sick.

Waqf acts as common wealth that make it easier for the community members to earn enough for their living. It also can be seen as an equalizing force to the problem of non-working rich yet working poor that is rampant in Credit-ism economy.

There’s more to zakat than just a social safety net. We’ll discover more in the next article.