Poverty and Suffering of those who are forced to leave their countries


Today, poverty is no longer a problem restricted to some particular countries. The world agenda is dominated by children who make their living on streets collecting trash, who spend freezing nights out on the streets and have dangerous jobs in return for which they receive little money, risking their lives. So, much of the world is not safe from the child deaths stemming from malnutrition and other poverty-linked problems.

Statistics on poverty and on street children alone reveal the serious dimensions of the situation.

In 1982, UNESCO reported 200,000 street children in Istanbul, 10,000 in Bogota, and 2 million in Rio de Janeiro. In Africa, this figure is estimated to be 5 million and is steadily increasing. Civic dislocations and wars, scarcity, AIDS and rapid urbanisation are factors increasing the number of street children. Around the world, 30 to 70 million street children are homeless on any given night. [2]

In America, the number of children living in poverty tripled in only two decades. In 1989 one of every six children in America were officially recognised to live in very poor conditions. In 1993, one in every five children younger than 6 years old was living in very poor conditions é more than 5 million children. In 1994, one of every four children under three years old was estimated to be living on the breadline. In 1980, this figure increased from 1.8 million to 2.3 million. [3]

As the statistics above suggest, even the developed world is not immune from poverty. The unemployment from economic depressions and inadequacy of social security systems are, by and large, responsible for this poverty.

The values of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, however, demand the protection of the poor and the needy. There are many hadith of Allah’s Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (saas) that bid the believers to protect the poor. One of them reads thus:

Love the poor and be near to them. If you love them, Allah will love you. If you take care of them, Allah will take care of you. If you clothe them, Allah will clothe you. If you feed them, Allah will feed you. Allah will be generous to you if you are generous. [1]

One of the important consequences of world poverty is the refugee problem. Hope for better job opportunities or better living standards or struggle and scarcity have produced mass displacements, thereby causing serious conflicts between countries.

The flow of refugees from third world countries was initially favoured by many host countries, and was originally arranged through high-level international treaties in order to provide a cheap supply of labour to the west. The low wages paid to foreign workers and their readiness to work under difficult conditions accounted for this ready acceptance. Indeed for long, foreign workers contributed enormously to the economies of these countries, but in time, as these countries attained economic stability and welfare, they no longer required the foreign workforce and tended to employ their own citizens.

Malaysia, for instance, forced veteran foreign workers within her borders to leave. These people, who arrived in Malaysia with the hope of a better life, had to return to their home countries after years of service.

The reasons for dislocation are not restricted to the desire for better living conditions. Struggles between countries also produce dislocations. In a country devastated by post-war poverty, a majority of the population can be uprooted. Witnessing the plight of people fleeing from war, a few countries show some willingness to accept refugees. In freezing cold, refugees in need of resettlement walk for weeks toward a destination they hope to be secure but are often not admitted.

In March 1998, the dislocation experienced by more than 300,000 Kosovar refugees left almost all the cities of Kosovo desolate. Meanwhile, the severe cold caused the loss of many lives during the flight.

In November 1990, Chechens who fled from Russian attacks on foot sought shelter in neighbouring countries, but these countries tightened border controls and set rules of transit, showing their reluctance to host any Chechens. By the time the refugees arrived at the Turkish border where they were finally admitted, many women, children and elderly people had been lost due to the severe cold.

In Africa, conflicts between tribes are responsible for the flight of tens of thousands of people. In Zaire, the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis is an example. These displaced persons suffered from starvation and epidemics. They tried to take refuge in other countries but they were usually not admitted.

The values of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, however, lay the foundation for a totally different social structure. In this structure, the rights of the poor and of those forced from their homes are protected. All means are used to prepare better conditions for them and to lessen their pain. For this cause, people do not avoid making sacrifices. During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, this value structure was most apparent in the attitude of believers towards those who left their homes for Allah’s cause:

Those who were already settled in the abode, and in iman, before they came, love those who have left their homes in the Way of Allah and do not find in their hearts any need for what they have been given and prefer them to themselves even if they themselves are needy. It is the people who are safe-guarded from the avarice of their own selves who are successful.

(Surat al-Hashr: 9)

It is for the poor fugitives (muhajirun) who were driven from their homes and wealth desiring the favour and the pleasure of Allah and supporting Allah and His Messenger. Such people are the truly sincere.

(Surat al Hashr: 8)

As is obvious from the verses, the values depicted in the Qur’an are far removed from those experienced today. In the Qur’an, a request for help is always responded to with a generosity and benevolence. Believers render the most thorough help to those in need. While giving assistance to the needy, the Qur’an demands that the provider not display any moral weakness such as expressing his own needs or to setting his eye on the aid provided. These values will bring solutions to many problems.


[1]  Ramuz al-Hadith, vol 1, p. 17, Salman al-Farisi (ra)

[2]  http://www.uia.org/uiademo/pro/d5980.htm

[3]  http://www.uia.org/uiademo/pro/d4966.htm

Harun Yahya is a prominent Turkish intellectual.

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