Social Security Regulations in Islam

By Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani

(former Saudi Arabian Minister of Petroleum, Orator,
Theologian and Barrister of law from an American University)


SOCIAL SECURITY regulations try to meet three kinds of dangers to which members of the community are exposed. They are:-


1. Physical hazards which might prevent a person from working e.g. sickness, disability and old age.


2. Occupational hazards, caused by the work performed by the labourers, and which might lead to partial or total disability.


3. Family hazards, which increase a person’s burden due to insufficient income or a large family.


To see how Islam could meet these dangers, we have to analyse the letter which

the Imam ‘Ali (the fourth Caliph) sent to his viceroy in Egypt. He says:-


“Fear Allaah, as regards the (protection of the) lowest class of society, who are

helpless, poor, needy, miserable and bedridden, for among them are the meek and the penniless. You are responsible to Allaah, because He entrusted them to your care. Give them part of the treasury and a portion of the summer tribute in every country, for the distant should receive as much as the close.


“You should give each his due, and, even if they are beneath your dignity this should not be your excuse. You will not be absolved if you ignore minor matters, just to concentrate on the substantial. Therefore, you should not turn your attention from them and act haughtily towards them.


“Look into the affairs of those who are so despised that they cannot reach through to you. Appoint God-fearing and humble persons to take up their affairs to you. Give good attention to the helpless orphans and those of tender age, who would never allow themselves to beg. This is a heavy burden on a viceroy; verily it is a heavy burden.”


This letter of ‘Ali is not a matter of just scribbled words. It was an unchallengeable order, issued by the Governor to one of his viceroys to carry out in full, and to lay the foundations of the best social security systems known to humanity.


To examine the practical application of this principle in Islamic history I shall review some of the dangers to which Islam was exposed in its struggle for justice, and for the protection of individuals in the society from poverty and need.




It is enough in this connection to relate the story of ‘Umar and the woman who was trying to wean her son. The baby was crying, and ‘Umar started an argument with her about it. Not recognising ‘Umar, she said:


I am weaning him because ‘Umar did not provide for the suckling. By weaning him I’ll get the ration of the weaned to ease my poverty.”


‘Umar went home, recited the morning prayer, and after bidding peace (peace formula at the end of prayers) cried:


Woe to ‘Umar! How many Muslim children hast thou killed!”


He then ordered a herald to announce:


“Don’t hasten to wean your children for we will provide for every newborn in



The story of ‘Umar and another mother and her young children is also well known. ‘Umar was passing by and found that the woman had lit a fire, on which she had placed a kettle containing only water and pebbles to pacify her children until they fell asleep. ‘Umar was horrified; he brought them food from the treasury, cooked it himself, and fed them until they had their fill. I have earlier related the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad to the widow of Ja’far:


Why should you be worried about them, when I am responsible for them in this

life and the next?




In addition to ‘Ali’s letter I shall take the following examples from ‘Umar’s career:


‘Umar saw a blind old man, whom he knew to be a Jew, begging. ‘Umar asked

him what made him beg. He answered:


“I beg (so as to be able to pay) the tax, and (on account of my) need and age.”


‘Umar took him by the hand to his own house and gave him what sufficed him.


‘Umar then sent word to the treasurer, saying:-


“Look after him and his like. By Allaah, we would not be fair if we take from him when he is young and disgrace him when he is old. He is one of the poor among the People of the Covenant.”


‘Umar thus put an end to the payment of tax by the old, as it had been done for the sick and disabled. He also prescribed that they should receive sufficient means from the treasury, thereby establishing a splendid humane principle not restricted to Muslims alone, but covering all non-Muslim citizens also. A similar directive was given when ‘Umar, on his way to Damascus, passed by a group of Christian lepers; he ordered that they be given charity and sufficient food.




As usual, ‘Umar is in the forefront in the protection against the trials of motherhood. He was once making the rounds at night and heard the moans of a woman in labour. He went home and fetched his wife, Umm Kulthum, who brought with her what was suitable for the delivery, while ‘Umar prepared the food. Umm Kulthum came out and told ‘Umar:


“O Prince of the Faithful! Give your friend good news that it is a boy.”


Upon hearing the title “Prince of the Faithful”, the man knew that the one serving them was ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, and bowed in respect. ‘Umar told him to rise, and gave the food he prepared to his wife to give to the woman. After the woman had her fill, ‘Umar then left for home, after ordering the man to report to him in the morning, when he gave him further sustenance.


Out of those sublime examples of humanity and out of other examples too numerous to relate, we can form an opinion of the extent of the attention which Islam has devoted to fighting social ills, an attention which, if practiced by subsequent Muslim societies, would have made their present situation other than it now is.




Contrary to the systems known at present, which prescribe that every individual must contribute part of his money to be eligible for social security, Islam made security the right of the citizen, without his having to contribute thereto. The treasury is the one responsible for meeting the needs of social security. It is financed through the following means:-




The Zakaat is that portion of funds that enters the treasury and is spent according to the Qur’aan (9:11) on


“the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to truth); for those in bondage and debt; in the cause of God; and the wayfarer.


This expenditure was quite appropriate and met the needs of the early Islamic community; however, some of these expenses have, by and large, disappeared. Thus the income of the Zakaat entering the treasury is actually for the purpose of financing the demands of social security. This is now the case in the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia.




This is a supplementary source for financing social security. Giving out money is something urged by both the Qur’aan and the Hadith. The giver to the widow and needy is like the fighter in the cause of Allaah; and any person who invites an orphan to eat and drink his fill is deserving of paradise.




This is a source the Imam (the ruler) might resort to, but not in all contingencies. On the basis of the theory of legitimate public interest, the Imam can resort to this source when the treasury becomes empty, or when the needs of the army are more than the money available. The Imam may also impose a levy during siege or harvest time.


Thus the Imam, according to the history of the legitimate public interest subscribed to by the Maliki jurist, has the right to establish a third source for financing social security, in the event of the other two sources, namely Zakaat and donations, being insufficient to meet the needs of the society.


I hope all the foregoing on Social Security regulations in Islam conveys the spirit of the Shariah as a system capable of meeting the challenges of contemporary issues and solving them.


I would here, also like to summarize, in general the applicability of the Shariah of Islam and its need for wider acceptance and practice in the Muslim world.


1.     The Islamic world, relying on the principles of the Shariah, can achieve its own entity, independent of East and West, and by which it can defend and protect itself from the torrent of Communism and certain inequities of Capitalism.


2.     The ability of the Shariah to develop and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of society, by relying on the concept of public interest as a source of legislation.


3.     The collective notion in Islam should be emphasized: outstanding quality in the Shariah which establishes a profound equilibrium between the individual and the community should be put in perspective in relation to our own age.


When our political leaders begin to think seriously about the happiness and

welfare of their people, they will find in the Shariah a guiding proven system to achieve and fulfil their aims. The immortal principles of the Shariah can be used to correct and cure our social disease in the Islamic world. Perhaps even the West might find in it, again, a ray of light and knowledge to achieve a still more advanced civilization, to at least  preserve its existing one.






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