Concept of Poverty in Islamic Economics

Many have discussed about the concept of Islamic economics eg:

  • Rasul Shams (2004)
  • Dayangku Aslinah Abd. Rahim (2007)
  • Abdul Azim Islahi (1998) [Ibn Taimiyah]
  • Jamal Khwaja (n.d.) [Islamic economics system]But seldom the concepts used in Islamic economics have been looked into, let alone evaluating and redefining the concepts according to Islamic teachings [eg the concepts of growth, development, consumer behavior, civil society, quality of life, wealth management, asset management, corporate social responsibility, et cetera].

In consequence:

1. There emerges an IMBALANCE between the Islamic institutions such as awqaf and zakat with the unredefined western ethno-centric concepts used.

On one hand, Islamic institutions are entrenched in Islamic epistemological and philosophical underpinnings (tasawwur), while on the other hand, the prevalent concepts are entrenched in western ethno-centric epistemological and philosophical underpinnings.

2. Misleading methods of MEASUREMENT, due to indicators measured by western ethno-centric concepts. The accomplishment is judged by the exogenous measurement, not by Islamic measurement.

3. Strengthening western ethno-centric SYSTEM, not the Islamic system.

4. Constructing western-Ethno centric-cultured SOCIETY instead of Islamic society.


1- It is alright to do so as long as it is not in contrary to Islamic aqidah and shari`ah.

Comments: It seems not to be in contrary only at operational level. At epistemological and philosophical level, they contradict each other. Then how could it be said that they do not contradict with Islamic aqidah and shari`ah?

If the epistemological and philosophical underpinnings are changed to Islam [as supposedly so], the whole concepts also change. Then the above reason is invalid.

2. Rasulullah SAW himself used to eclectically accommodate some of the practices of the jahiliyyah (ignorant) to be practised by the Muslims.

Comments: The concepts evolved only around their names and terms, while the structures and its roots have been reconstructed by Rasulullah SAW based on Islamic aqidah, ibadah and akhlaq.

Our Stance: It is incorrect to adopt an accommodative-modification and methodologic eclecticism approach, embedded in fiqh-based neo-classical economics as characterized by contemporary mainstream Islamic economics.

Poverty =

“the level of living that lies below subsistence level” (Ataul Huq1996:225).

“the insufficiency and the lack of the material means to live a tolerable and meaningful existence” (Zainul Abedin Patel 1983:4).

A situation where one “cannot support their needs by their own means” (Monzer Kahf 2002:22).

The concepts mentioned in their definitions such as the level of living, subsistence level, tolerable and meaningful existence, the needs and means are understood similarly to the understanding of the conventional concepts.

All Muslim scholars may probably aware of the need to take religious elements such iman, taqwa and spirituality into account, but they seem to ignore them, e.g:

Habib Ahmed (2004:20): Concept of poverty in Islam involves spiritual aspect. But he proceeds with his focus on the deliberation of the notion of deprivation in the economic sense.

Habib Ahmed (2004:20) holds to the statement by Afzalur Rahman (1974) that individuals are able to improve their spiritual lives by improving their material life.

M. A. Mannan (1988:305-306): Human poverty in Islam is concerned both with material as well as cultural and spiritual poverty, and that the abundance of goods does not alone ensure richness in Islam. But he too shies away from the inclusion of cultural and spiritual poverty to just confine on the material poverty and Islamic responses to it, although he acknowledges that.

Imam al-Ghazali (1988), in defining the concept of miskin and faqir, argues that faqir is only attributable to human beings while wealth only belongs to Allah SWT. To him, the real absolute faqir is the one who does not feel in need of Allah SWT. This is in line with Islamic worldview which holds to the fact that all creatures are in need of their Creator; hence, any believer may style himself al-faqir ila llah or al-faqir ila rabbihi (the one in need of God, the one in need of his Lord) (Adam Sabra’s (2000:9-10).

Islamic Concept of Poverty

Previous scholars show that there must be an involvement of 5 elements:

  1. Divinistic = The submission to and the inclusion of the Creator, the God, the One and the Absolute in one’s dealings.
  2. Dogmatic = Acceptance to a set of dogmas embedded in one’s belief system
  3. Holistic Integration = hablum-minallah + hablum-minannas
  4. Transitory = One’s journey of life, living in this world as a temporary stop-over before embarking on the eternal world, the Hereafter.
  5. Instrumentalistic = The usage of all one’s actions as tools of worship, undertaking man’s function as servants (‘abd) and Vicegerent (khalifah) of God.


When these 5 elements are taken into consideration, the poor and rich become SELECTIVE. This is based on their levels of iman, emerged out of the 5 elements:

  • The higher the iman, the richer the soul, vice-versa.
  • The richer the soul, the greater the choice, either to be rich or to be poor.
  • The rich with richer soul benefits humankind (eg Sayyidina Abdul Rahman bin `Auf), while the poor with richer soul does not endanger his faith nor trouble his society (eg ahlus-suffah).

Policy Implications 

  • Right identification of target group.
  • Right allocation for the needy.
  • Avoidance of the wastage of allocation.

Concepts used in Islamic economics have to be redefined according to Islamic teachings.

If not, they would not be able to detach themselves from the western ethnocentric measurements, hence misleading diagnoses and prescriptions.


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