UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT OF SOCIAL WORK IN ISLAM
Social work is a profession which creates that system or environment helpful in enhancing and elevating the capacities of people living in a society. And the theory of this profession actually comes from the field in terms of working with individuals, groups, communities and families. And this is the reason that keeps this profession updated from the social problems prevalent and emerging in a society. Social Work is a word carried by trained professionals with the aim of alleviating the issues of those people in a community suffering from special deprivation. It has its roots in the attempts of society at large to deal with the problem of poverty and inequality.
Social work is defined as to match the limited resources with the unlimited problems. It is the scientific body of knowledge which gives a proper understanding and a way to address the social problems. National Association of Social Workers (NASW) defines Social Work as,
Social work is a profession of helping individuals, groups or communities enhance or restore their capacity for social functioning and creating societal conditions favorable to this goal. Social work practice consists of the professional application of social work values, practices and techniques to one or more of the following ends:
- Helping people obtain tangible services.
- Providing counseling and psychotherapy to individuals, families and groups.
- Helping communities or groups provide or improve social or health issues.
- Participating in relevant legislature process.
Social Work, in proper sense, means to help the helpless to help themselves. The Social Work profession believes in sustainable and long term approach as in, at minor level – to make the individual capable to help himself after getting the required help from any agency, and groups, family and community comes under the major level intervention by the social work profession wherein social work professionals endeavor to make the group, family and community independent from all the sides and make the people of that group, family and community able to find solutions to the problems they encounter in their day to day life. Social Work Profession, since its theoretical and practical inception, has always focused on the emancipation of poor, needy, underprivileged and marginalised sections of the society in terms of making them able to come forward and voice their needs.
Islam: Brief introduction
Islam is an Arabic word and connotes submission, surrender and obedience. As a religion, Islam stands for complete submission and obedience to Allah. The person who accepts Islam is called as Muslim (who has submitted his will to Allah). Islam is mainly determined by three sources; i) the Holy Qur’an, ii) Sunnah – the sayings and practices of the Last Messenger of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (On Whom Be Allah’s Peace and Blessings), and iii) Fiqh or Ijtihaad – the interpretation given by the Islamic Scholar (s) or any knowledgeable person on prevalent or growing issues. And a Muslim, after accepting Islam, has to follow Qur’an and Sunnah in true essence. Allah says in the Quran,
Say: (O Muhammad) if you do love Allah, follow me, Allah will love you and forgive your sins, for Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful. Say: (O Muhammad), obey Allah and his messenger; but if they turn back, Allah does not love those who reject faith. (Chapter 3, Verse 31 & 32)
Similarly there is a Hadith which is narrated by Anas Bin Malik (May Allah Be Pleased With Him) that the Prophet Muhammad (On Whom Be Allah’s Peace and Blessings) said,
None of you will have a faith until he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind. (Bukhari)
Therefore, the above mentioned Qur’anic verses and Hadith instructs a Muslim to abide by Quran and Sunnah completely and also talks about love for Allah and his Messenger. Here, love doesn’t remain confined to having sense of affection only, but it also guide Muslims to follow the instructions given in the Quran and Hadith.
Concept of Social Work in Islam
For discussing the concept of social work in Islam, it was necessary to understand the two terms; Social Work and Islam so as to reach a refined and absolute perspective. Islam is a religion of humanity. Islam considers serving others as a great act of worship. According to the teachings of Islam, it is only in serving people that we shall have a share in Allah’s Mercy. And an individual should lead his life as well-wisher to all, ready to help everyone, accepting others’ rights over his own possessions.
All the teachings of Islam are based on two principles; worship of Allah and serving to humanity. Without putting both of these principles into practice, there can be no true fulfillment of one’s religious duties. By serving human beings on the one hand they (Muslims) please their Lord; Allah, and on the other they achieve spiritual progress for themselves. Doing good and talking in a good manner with parents, relatives and orphans, is actually what Islam prescribes and appreciates a Muslim to do. And Allah mentions in Qur’an,
Do not worship except Allah; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give Zakah. (Chapter 2, Verse 83)
And Allah defines the person with the noble and righteous attributes as,
Righteousness is not that you turn your faces towards the east or the west, but (true) righteousness is (in) one who believe in Allah, the last day, the angels, the books and the Prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask (for help) and for freeing slaves (and who) establishes prayer and gives Zakah (those who) fulfill their promise and (those who) are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. These are the ones who have been true and it is those who are the righteous. (Chapter 2, Verse 177)
Islam not only glorifies and professes the oneness of Allah in the form of worshipping Him alone, but it also teaches Muslims the ways to live and perform in a better way in a society. Allah has strongly encouraged selflessness towards all the individuals living in a society; therefore Qur’an becomes its evident as,
Worship Allah and associate nothing with him and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveller and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed Allah doesn’t love those who are self-deluding and boastful. (Chapter 4, Verse 36)
In other words, Allah is reminding Muslims that their worship is incomplete without helping deeds. Therefore after having believed in Allah, the angels, the Prophets, the Books and the last Day of Judgment, a Muslim must translate his Eeman (Faith) into the actions of service to humanity.
The Prophet Muhammad (On Whom Be Allah’s Peace and Blessings) said:
He who sleeps satiated while his neighbor goes hungry is not dear to Allah. A Muslim has been a revered companion of the Prophet. He cites the Prophet as directing his people to gladly accept an invitation to lunch or dinner from the neighbor, as it promotes understanding and solidarity.
Same Hadith is narrated by one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (On Whom Be Allah’s Peace and Blessings) namely Abu Huraira (May Allah be Pleased With Him). Allah has provided a proper way to help people, and Zakah is among the one by which a poor or needy gets benefitted.
Zakah is one of the pillars of Islam which sets to provide economic justice in society. Zakah means purity and cleanliness. It is a portion which is set apart from wealth for needy and poor people. As per Islamic teachings, the wealth of that person is impure who doesn’t take out from Allah’s given wealth what is due to poor and needy. Allah says in the Qur’an,
Indeed those who believe and do righteous deeds and establish prayer and give Zakah will have their reward with their Lord, and there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (Chapter 2, Verse 277)
In Islam, Muslims are directed to give structure to a financial institution known as Bait-Ul-Maal where Muslims keep Zakah, donations, charity etc. Bait-Ul-Maal (house of wealth) was first established by the second Caliph of Islam Umar Bin Khattaab (May Allah Be Pleased With Him) with the aim to reach needy and poor people by distributing Zakah. Another aim of the establishment of this institution is to alleviate the problems of those people belonging to underprivileged and marginalized sections of society.
And Islam gives unanimous instruction to all the Muslims in the world that Zakah is obligatory on Ummahs of all the Prophets of Islam. Like when Allah is addressing Prophet Ibrahim and the Prophets of his race as;
And we made them leaders guiding by our command. And we inspired to them the doing of deeds, establishment of prayer and giving Zakah; and they were worshippers of us. (Chapter 21, Verse 73)
About Prophet Ismail, it is said,
And he used to enjoin on his people prayer and Zakah and was to his Lord pleasing. (Chapter 19, Verse 55)
And when Prophet Moses prayed for his people;
Oh Allah! Bestow upon us well-being of this world as also the well-being of the hereafter.
In reply to it, Allah said,
So, I will decree it (especially) for those who fear me and give Zakah and those who believe in our verses. (Chapter 7, Verse 156)
From the above Qur’anic verses, it becomes quite clear and specific that, giving Zakah is part of one’s faith and if a Muslim is craving to attain piety and righteousness, he / she needs to give Zakah out of his / her wealth.
A Beautiful Loan to Allah
To look after deprived people in terms of giving them money or providing them help of any nature is what Allah appreciates and strongly reiterates to do always. And in the same line, Allah, in a Qur’anic verse, mentions about the beautiful loan and its benefits as,
Who is he that will loan to Allah a beautiful loan but which Allah will double into his credit and multiply many terms? (Chapter 2, Verse 245).
Same context is in other verses like, Chapter 5 Verse 12, Chapter 57 Verse 11 & 18, Chapter 64 Verse 17, and Chapter 73 Verse 20.
Sayings of Prophet Muhammad (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah)
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (May Allah Be Pleased With Him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) said:
Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection: O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant so-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with me. (It was related by Muslim)
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (May Allah Be Pleased With Him), that the Prophet (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) said:
Whoever removes a worldly grief from a believer, Allah will remove from him one of the grieves of the Day of Resurrection. And whoever alleviates the need of a needy person, Allah will alleviate his needs in this world and the Hereafter. Whoever shields [or hides the misdeeds of] a Muslim, Allah will shield him in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah will aid His slave so long as he aids his brother. And whoever follows a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will make easy for him a path to Paradise. No people gather together in one of the Houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it among themselves, except that Sakeenah (tranquility) descends upon them, and mercy envelops them, and the angels surround them, and Allah mentions them amongst those who are with Him. And whoever is slowed down by his actions, will not be hastened forward by his lineage. Related by [Muslim] in these words, Humanity is a family of Allah; so the most beloved of Allah is he who lives his family wholeheartedly and maintains good behaviour with his fellow beings (Sho’b-ul-Eeman)
Safwan Bin Sulaim (May Allah Be Pleased With Him) narrated that the Prophet Muhammad (On Whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) said:
The one who looks after a widow and a poor person is like the Mujahid in the cause of Allah, or like the one who fasts all the day and stands (in prayer) all the night.
About charity, Prophet Muhammad (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) has stated,
And man’s helping his brother is Sadaqah (Charity). A drink of water he gives is Sadaqah. Removing something harmful from the road is Sadaqah. (Al-Adab-Al-Mufrad)
Furthermore, Prophet Muhammad (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) has said,
You should be merciful to people on earth and Allah on high will be merciful to you (Abu Dawood and Reyadh ul Muslimeen).
And in his last sermon, Prophet Muhammad (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) has said,
O people, listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, offer your five daily prayers (Salah), fast during the month of Ramadhan and give your wealth in Zakah. You’re all equal. Nobody has superiority over another except by piety and good action.
Islam is essentially a religion of Peace and Love. It teaches love and compassion for all, irrespective of their religious belief. The spirit of love is not confined to the world of human beings, but is extended to the kingdom of animals as well. Man owes obligations to human beings as well as animals. And the obligations of a person to person, is to identify the problems and to solve them. Kindness is a divine attribute. To invoke Allah’s Mercy it is imperative for a Muslim to show kindness to His creation. Prophet Muhammad (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah), in one of his sayings, has said,
Allah is merciful to kind people. Be kind to those on the earth, the one in the heavens will be kind to you. (Tirmidhi)
Moreover, social work talks about making people aware of their potentials, capabilities, talents etc. so that they’ll become self-sufficient and independent enough to take decisions important in their life. Similarly Islam has never called upon Muslims to lead a life of dependence on charity. Islam, likewise social work, also focuses on the innate strengths of an individual and simultaneously endeavors to make his way out of all weaknesses and threats. It’s required, in Islam, to ensure to secure honorable life for those who are unable to earn their living, it being understood that such obligation is not the outcome of charity or condescension.
In a hadith,
A man came to the Prophet Muhammad (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) begging for anything to live on. The Prophet gave him an axe and a rope and ordered to collect some wood and sell it and live by its price. He further told the man to come back and report what happened to him.
One more Hadith is there in which Prophet (On whom Be Peace and Blessings of Allah) says,
The man who makes a beggar earn, his livelihood instead of begging will go to the heavens. (Abu Dawood)
By the above sayings, we get to know that Islam makes emphasis on one’s capacities and values, and therefore provides a pure way for people to know their strengths and opportunities so that they will not remain dependent on anyone and live a life full of dignity and honor. Moreover, to love and care for each other is what Islam, in the lessons of Qur’an and Hadith, teaches Muslims to exercise and regularly observe in their day to day life.
Islam unequivocally proscribes discrimination on the basis of color, caste, creed or position. The concept of brotherhood or fraternity permeates all Islamic rituals, customs and community living. Flowing from this is the concept of ‘justice’ – an inseparable part of social work values. In Islam, this concept comes up repeatedly and forcefully. “When you judge between people,” lays down the Holy Qur’an, “you should judge with a sense of justice” (Chapter 04, Verse 58).
The above command for Muslims is replicated in another Qur’anic verse,
Allah commands justice and good conduct and giving to relatives, and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. (Chapter 16, Verse 90)
The above verses and traditions (Hadith) talk about the meaning of justice and injustice in Islam. In the above verses, there are two instructions for the believers on which depends the first establishment of a just social order. In the first place they (believers) have been commanded to deal out just in distributing the rights of their fellow beings. The claims of every individual should be so determined as to ensure his moral, social, economic, legal, political and personal rights. Secondly the believers have been ordered to do good to the fellow creatures.
Being at the primary levels in the teachings of Islam; serving family, neighbors, travellers, underprivileged, etc. and giving Sadaqah (charity) in the form of Zakah, donations etc. are the attributes which constitute the highest levels in Islam or we would say the both qualities are what Islam strongly commands Muslims to do on regular basis. At the secondary level, it is to nurture the innate capacities of helpless and disadvantaged lot, and extend, in true fulfillment and enjoyment, the rights of all individuals in society irrespective of their belief, and thus implies the meaning and description of Social Work in Islam.
Author is an Independent Researcher and Professional Social Worker based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir