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Social Security in Islam – Dr. Ibrahim Syed

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Social Security in Islam


Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc
7102 W. Shefford lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462




Social security is a fundamental human need. Sudden sickness, death, disability, disease, unemployment, fire, flood, storm, drowning, accidents related to transportation, and the financial loss caused by them are the reasons, which create this need.  The sufferings from these events take the victim and his dependants towards poverty. The economic situation of the affected people becomes so unsound that they need economic help. This actuality requires that social security should be treated as a basic human need over a very wide range of human activities and situations.


Modern Concept of Social Security

The modern concept of Social Security  has assumed the shape of old-age pension, unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, death grant, disability allowance, family allowance, etc. Some European authors try to trace the evolution of these laws to some practices of the late medieval period. But the truth is that Europe first got acquainted with the laws of social security at the end of the last century only. Before 1883, the functions that now come under social security law, were discharged by private arrangements made chiefly by co-operative movements among workers.

By the beginning of the 20th century most of the European countries initiated promulgation of laws in this direction. In America, except the Workman’s Compensation Act passed in 1908, no significant legislation was enacted until 1935 when the Congress passed the Social Security Act.

In the United States, Social Security provides a minimum “foundation of protection” for retired workers, and for workers and their families who face a loss of income due to disability or the death of a family wage earner. Social Security allows people to live independently and with dignity. About 150 million workers are protected by Social Security, and more than 44 million people receive retirement, survivors and disability benefits from Social Security.

Nowadays these pro­grammes are designed to provide allowances and services to individuals in the event of retirement, sickness, disability, death or unemployment. In particular, it refers to the social insurance portion of that act, which uses contributions made by workers and employers to provide income to people and their families during retirement or in the case of unemployment, disability or death.

Islamic Concept of Social Security 

In Islam, right from the beginning, fulfillment of the basic needs of everyone who is unable to meet his/her needs was conceived to be the concern of the State. Zakat is the first institution of social security in Islam. Payment of 2.5 percent of his/her savings for the zakat fund is one of the fundamental duties of a Muslim. The State is responsible to collect zakat and make arrangements for its distribution. Non-payment of it is equivalent to waging war against the State. The Caliph Abu Bakr subjugated by force all those who refused to pay it.

Non-Muslims are also included in one of the categories of the recipients of zakat. While prescribing laws for the distribution of zakat, the Qur’an includes them among those ‘whose hearts are to be conciliated’.

The Western concepts of social security systems are the outcome of human mind, but the social security system of Islam is Divine in character and based entirely on the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is a system to accomplish the high standard of morality expressed under the term ‘righteousness’. The Glorious Qur’an states:

“It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards East or West; but it is righteousness, to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, or of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and give Zakah, to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic, such are the people of truth, the God-fearing” (al-Qur’an,  11:177).


Keeping in view, the obligations enjoined in the above verse, which man has to fulfil in life, the Qur’an affixes enormous significance to offer material help to the needy and the poor. So mindful is the Qur’an of the economically depressed classes of the society that it calls upon every earning member of the society to be sympathetic to the creatures of God by doing the deeds of charity. The following verse of the Qur’an confirms this:

“By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and whatever ye give, Allah knoweth it well” (al-Qur’an, 111:92).


An Islamic State provides social security for the sustenance and comfort to its citizens. In addition to this, every person is held responsible for the welfare of the other. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has very wisely explained this philosophy:

“Everyone is a keeper unto every other and responsible for the welfare of all.” In an Islamic society the rich, as such, cannot be unmindful of their brethren in need. According to al-Qur’an, (59:7), wealth is not to circulate among the rich only. It must serve useful purpose and should be grown through traffic and trade as stated in Verse 4: 29 of al-Qur’an. It is noteworthy to mention at this point, that the most important institution, which implements the concept of social security in Islam, is the system of the compulsory payment of Zakah, which is supported by Infãq fi saill-IilIah and Nafaqat aI-Wàjibah and the prohibition of Riba.

A woman is the most important asset in a Muslim society because she is the first line of defence. She is responsible for the upbringing of the next generations. Hence, she needs to be well protected in every aspects of her life so that she can discharge her responsibility without interruptions.  In Islam the divorced and unmarried woman and the widow must be looked after by her male family members in the event she cannot provide for herself.

In Islam parents are legally responsible for the education and maintenance of children and in turn the children are legally responsible for taking care of their parents. Both children and their parents inherit from each other according to a prescribed law of inheritance. This law must be adhered to unless there is mutual agreement among those affected to vary it. Otherwise, neither of them can deprive the other of their respective shares in the legacy.

According to some scholars, every poor or handicapped relative, especially if she is a woman, must be cared for by relatives who have the means to do so.

There are many injunctions in the Quran and the Hadith that call for provision of maintenance for one’s parents, grandparents and poor relatives. Islam also gives special attention to the protection of the interests of orphans by their guardians because the properties of orphans are exposed to many risks. Islam also prescribes the responsibility of members of the community over those who are living in poverty as reflected by the Prophet’s saying:

“If somebody in a community sleeps hungry until the next morning, Allah will withdraw His security from the community.”


The concept of social security in Islam is based upon the best principles of morality. Islamic teachings of Tawhid, Risalah and Aakhirah are impregnated in such a way that they touch the heart of man and stimulate the feelings of fraternity and devotion for others, with the result that he takes pleasure in righteous deeds. This behaviour of the individual towards society guarantees the welfare of all and cures the social ills that emerge form selfishness. Divine law on the other hand, provides social justice whose main concern is to give to others their due. Consequently, no member of the society is left uncared.

In an Islamic economic system, public welfare and social security is the foremost economic obligation of the state. It is the responsibility of the state to provide relief to people in distress and fulfil their needs arising out of any sudden calamity, hereditary deformity, temporary unemployment, old age, or the natural death of the family guardian. Generally, the state should rely on its own revenues to meet these obligations.  For example, the employers i.e., factories, institutions and the government, may be required to bear the burden on behalf of their workers and employees, just as the wages and salaries. The employees may also be required to make some contribution to the scheme during their employment. Probably businesses and employers should have their own Zakah funds, which should supplement other measures of social security.

The guidance of the Qur’an to the believers as to what they should give in the way of Allah is ‘the superfluity.’ So far as meeting the needs of non-Muslims from the funds of Sadaqah is concerned, most of the scholars’ view is positive. Elaborating the position of the Hanafis, al-Hidayah states, “Our doctors base their opinion regarding this point on the precept of the Prophet (S) who has ordained that alms should be bestowed upon persons of every religion indiscriminately. And they also argue that had not there been the Prophet’s directions to Mu’adh, bestowing of zakaton dhimmis would have been deemed legal”. Collection and distribution of Sadaqah along with zakat are among the fundamental duties of the government.

If the funds raised out of zakat and Sadaqah are insufficient to meet the needs of the poor, the State can impose other taxes to realize funds for this purpose. While prescribing the rules of zakat and Sadaqah, the Qur’an emphasizes that the needs of those who are economically hard-pressed and unwilling to ask for help out of self-respect should be given priority. Thus it is clear that these funds are to be spent primarily to relieve people from immediate hardships without creating a class of social parasites. In addition, Qur’anic institutions of zakat andSadaqah, there are several Prophetic traditions, which hold the State responsible for the fulfillment of the basic needs of all its subjects. The Prophet (S) is reported to have said: “I am the guardian of a person who has no guardian”. Another hadith declares: “The State is the guardian of a person who has no guardian”.


Islamic Shari’ah also assures the basic material needs of the non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic State. The department of social security under his reign had not only opened its door to the Muslims but also for the non-Muslims also. As a matter, of fact, it was a complete system of social insurance. Once, seeing some non-Muslim lepers on his way back from a journey, Umar ibn al-Khattãb issued orders that all such kinds of people should be provided sustenance from the State funds. Stipends were given to the poor from the treasury without any distinction of religion. Instructions were sent to the treasury officer that in the Qur’anic injunctions Sadaqah were for the poor and the needy, the “poor” should be understood to mean the Muslim poor, and the “needy” the poor among the Jews and the Christians”.

In another tradition the Prophet (S) is reported to have said: “The son of Adam has basic rights for three things: a house to live in, a piece of cloth to cover his body, a loaf of bread and water”.  In the above traditions there is no reference to a particular community. By referring to ‘the son of Adam’ any ambiguity in defining the scope of these traditions has been removed. Thus it is obvious that the Islamic State is bound to provide for the basic necessities of its people irrespective of their religion. The earliest instance of fulfillment of basic necessities of non-Muslims during the early period of Islam can be seen in one of the treaties concluded by the Muslim general Khalid ibn al-Walid during the days of Caliph Abu Bakr. The treaty reads:

“And I have granted the right that if an old person becomes incapable of working or is suffering from ill health or is a destitute after being rich, so much so that his co-religionists start giving him alms, then his jizyah will be remitted; he and his family will receive the allowance for maintenance from public treasury as long as he lives in the Islamic State”. Explaining the legal importance of the dhimmi treaties, of which the above extract forms a part, Majid Khadduri says: “The dhimmi treaties, it will be recalled, were in the form of constitutional guarantees from the moment dhimmi communities ceased to be separate entities. Finally Muslim authorities tended to regard their contractual understandings as religious obligations which should be strictly observed”.

The Caliph ‘Umar, on seeing an old Jew begging, brought him to his house. He gave him some cash and ordered the treasury officer that such people who could not earn their living should be granted stipends from the public treasury. Once, seeing some non-Muslim lepers on his way back from a journey, he issued orders that they should be provided maintenance from the State funds.

In a letter addressed to Adi ibn Artah, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz wrote: “Be kind towards dhimmis. If you find some of them old or helpless, give maintenance to them”.

The above-mentioned instances bear clear evidence as to how Islamic Shari’ah assures thee basic material needs of the non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic State. The legal guarantees of the material requirements of the citizens, with which the West became acquainted only in the beginning of this century, were given by Islamic Shari’ah fourteen hundred years ago. This attitude towards religious minorities is of great importance in view of the fact that such minorities are deprived of even basic human rights in the so-called welfare states of the twentieth century.

Social Security System During the Reign of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab 

During the time of Caliph ‘Umar ibn aI-Khattãb (634-644 A.H.), (may Allah be pleased with him), the Muslims ruled from Tripoli (Libya) to Balkh (Afghanistan), from Armenia to Sindh (Pakistan) and over the Countries lying in between such as Syria, Iraq and Iran etc.   The reign of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattãb is considered to be the brightest period in the history of the Islamic system of social security. Social and economic justice prevailed and every citizen of the state was given his due share.

Sense of Responsibility

As the head of State, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab was extremely vigilant about the social security of the citizens. Here are some of his statements, which show his sense of responsibility: “The Caliph is the supporter of him who has no supporter.” “Each and every individual Muslim has a right in the property of the state treasury whether he exercises it or not.” “I am very much anxious that whenever I come to know of some one’s need, I should fulfil it immediately. As far as we can individually meet the needs of one another, we should do so, but when we cannot do so individually then we shall do collectively until the standard of living of all of us in equalized. Alas! You not know my sincere feelings about you. But I want to explain them only through practice. By Allah! I am not a ruler that I enslave you; caliphate is the trust of Allah. It is my duty to follow you (for your service) till you sleep in your homes with your bellies full of meal. Thus, I shall be (really) successful in (concluding your affairs). But, if I compel you to follow me till you knock at my door for your needs, then I shall be condemned. I may make pleasant here for a few days, but thereafter, I shall have to worry for a long period. Then none will listen to me and none will respond, if I beg his pardon.”

In the light of the above-mentioned fact, it can easily be visualized, how much responsible should a head of State be for the social security of its citizens.

Department of Social Security

‘Umar ibn al-Khattãb was the first ruler in the world who introduced the system of social security in his government. A department of social security was established. A careful census and registration of the citizens was done to ensure the provision of the basic necessities of the life to the destitute citizens of the State. The registration for providing social security had different categories. The allowances and stipends for the Muslim community were graded according to their merit with reference to Islam.

Department of Public Treasury

State revenue is the most important tool for providing social security to a nation. During the Caliphate of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the income of the treasury department had immensely increased due to his wise and strict administrative policies. Zakah (religious obligation on a Muslim to pay 2½% from his/her wealth), ‘ushr (religious tax on agricultural land), Sadaqah (spending for the pleasure of Allah), jizyah (tax on the non-Muslims for providing security) and khums (the one-fifth of the spoils of war) were credited to the treasury for the use of the Muslims at large. For example, after the battles of Yarmouk and Qãdisiyyah, the Muslims won heavy spoils. The coffers at Madinah al-Munawwarah became full to the brink.

The aim of the Islamic social security system is to fulfil every possible human need. These needs can broadly be classified into two categories: (1) Primary needs i.e., food, clothing, housing and necessary medical care, and (2) Secondary needs i.e., education, matrimony, old age benefits and social services etc.

Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab used Social Security

  • To provide Food during serious drought or famines to the people according to the family size.
  • For the poor and disabled
  • To provide education to the children
  • To finance marriages of the unmarried poor or needy persons.
  • To grant old age benefits and in old age investment
  • To give loans for economic activity
  • For granting Interest-free loans
  • To pay off the debts of persons under obligation
  • As Social Insurance to pay blood money of convicts in involuntary homicide
  • To pay stipends to widows, married and unmarried women, young men and the immigrants.

 During the rule of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattãb, the social security system became so strong, that the people wanted to pay Zakah but there was no one to receive it. Expenses of nursing and breeding of the newborn were paid from the treasury, and parents were given allowance for the newborn child. In the beginning a child was given 100dirhams per annum, which was increased later on. For the unclaimed children a stipend of 100 dirhams was fixed.



The main features of the social security system during the reign of Caliph ‘Umar ibn al-Khattãb can be enumerated as follows:

•        Head of the State was conscious about the social security of the citizens.

•        Social, economic, and political justice prevailed.

•        State revenues were strong due to wise planning and strict administration.

•        Institution of Zakah and Sadaqah was effectively used for social security.

     Social security system was implemented for all the citizens irrespective of

class and creed.

•       Provision of food, clothing, shelter, necessary medical care, education, matrimonial aid, old age benefits, stipends, and interest-free loans to the needy citizens of the State.

•       General social security for all the citizens of the state.




1. Shaykh Shawkat  Husayn: Non- Muslims and the Law of Social Security in Islam

On line at http://home.swipnet.se/islam/articles/Non-Muslim.htm

2.   Muhammad Junaid.: Social Security During the Reign of  Caliph

       ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. Hamdard Islamicus,   Vol. XXVII, No. 1, 2004


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