What are the new paradigms that Quran used to nudge the people to adopt giving as an important aspect of their civic responsibility? In the previous article I wrote about the first paradigm that revealed the connection between giving and the general concept of religion.
The second paradigm gives a new direction to our toil and struggle. Quran calls it: Scaling the ascent. Toil and struggle are part and parcel of creation; and human beings reach their objectives through toil and struggle.“Verily We have created man into toil and struggle.” [90:4]
Here is the challenge: Once humans accumulate knowledge, skills, and wealth they may use them to stifle the toil and stop the struggle. They forget that toil and struggle have brought them to where they are. They commonly say: We want to retire!
Quran is saying: Resist this idea of retiring and do not respond to the voice that is tempting you to stop the struggle in the middle of the road. Forget the paradigm by which your actions are directed to end toil and struggle. The new Quranic paradigm says:“But he has not scaled the ascent that is steep. And what will explain the ascent. It is freeing the slave or the giving of food in a day of privation, to the orphan with claims of relationship, or to the indigent down in the dust.” [90:11-16]
Quran picks the most difficult predicaments and the steepest paths where those affected may wish to die in order to bring their suffering and struggle to a halt. Physical and mental slavery, hunger, and extreme poverty- if we know how to solve them, we are giving to our toil and struggle a different direction and better taste. The approach to these social issues must be based on a different paradigm. Face them with the belief that in transcending them you come out more equipped and capable of facing bigger and tougher obstacles. Your own experience will be the tangible proof of this social fact. What is more important here is that you have assisted other human beings and have made life possible for them again. Such human beings may happen to be under the bondage of a certain form of slavery and require emancipation, or orphans in your families, or the needy who are poor and hungry. In all these cases, you give and you do not expect any return or reciprocity. The new idea that Quran is bringing to our attention is that these social issues constitute our own obstacles, and when we give, assist, and liberate others, we are- in fact- liberating and assisting ourselves before anybody else.
Quran is promoting the spirit of giving in the one who gives and in the one who receives. Those in need have the strongest understanding of the meaning of giving. They appreciate more than anybody else the value of giving. When we help them to scale their ascents, we are creating new human beings who will help others to scale their ascents (positive domino effect).
The third paradigm challenges the common belief that says: if human beings are challenged with prosperity or good health this means they are good; and if they are challenged with restriction, disease, or adversity this means they are bad.“And as for man, when his Lord tries him and is generous to him and favors him, he says: My Lord has honored me. But when He tries him and restricts his provision, he says: My Lord has humiliated me.” [89:15-16]
Quran vehemently and adamantly rejects both arguments.“No! But you do not honor the orphan, and you do not encourage one another to feed the poor, and you consume inheritance, devouring it altogether, and you love wealth with immense love.” [89:17-20]
The real problem of social disparity between those who have and those who don’t; between those who have medical insurance and access to health care and those who don’t; between those who are in the eye of the disaster and experiencing hunger and disease and those who are watching from the sidelines, lies in the fact that we are not honoring the orphan and do not encourage one another to feed the poor; and we are not keeping our promise to fight poverty and disease; and we are separating ourselves from those who need our help and support.
The solution of social disparity and alienation starts by recognizing them, rejecting them, denouncing them, and actively tackling them in every possible way, individually and collectively.
It has been said that Prophets are the most to be tested and challenged, followed by those who are like them. Who should be more sensitive and committed to the social problems and issues than the Prophets and their dedicated followers?
Who should feel the responsibility and rush to empathize and patiently assist those who need help more than the Prophets and their dedicated followers? It takes a soul of such caliber and integrity to rise up to such challenges.
In summary, to be challenged by adversity or prosperity does not define people. The global problems of hunger and poverty are not solved by retiring, retreating, or standing on sidelines. They are our ascents and obstacles. We scale our ascents by helping others scale their ascents. By accepting this as our civic responsibility we are raising the concept of religion to the highest level of understanding in our everyday life.
By Dr. Walid Khayr