“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.” – Plutarch
The girls are late. They were supposed to be here at half-past four. That’s what we all had decided on. We meet every month, or at least we try to, rotating who would host each time. With everybody getting married and having their own families to look after, it has become a lot more difficult to plan our regular meetings. This time, I am the one hosting, and everybody, rather anybody, is yet to show up.
Just as I get hold of my battered phone to ring up Fazila, aka Faz, our group’s designated driver, the doorbell rings. I rush to open the door, and everybody piles in, one by one, saying their salaams. Thrilled to finally meet after our last two shindigs were canceled, we get into a big group hug right there on the porch.
I usher them into my living room which boasts an ample floor seating created with floor sofas, rugs, comfy throws, and cushions. “We’ll be more comfortable here,” I say, leaving them to take off their jilbabs and get cozy, while moving towards the kitchen to fetch the fresh lemonade I had prepared earlier.
“Yesss, my kind of drink,” Faz squeals excitedly while getting up to take a chilling glass from the tray I’m holding and taking a long sip.
“Allaahu Akbar!!” she exclaims, with her eyes rolled back. “You girls…” pointing to the rest of us, “…have it easy. Me? I earned this,” referring to the drink she is swirling in her hand. “Driving is no joke, especially with summer so hot this year!”
This sets off laughter among us, and we all chorus together, “That’s why we love you, Faaazz.” She grins back knowing that we will see right through her exaggerated whining.
“So, what has been going on in your lives, sisters?” I ask as I plop down on one of the cushions. Because that’s what we are, sisters, having known each other for almost all our lives, through high school to college, through the good and the bad.
One by one, they start getting into what they have been busy with in their routines.
Sarah and Nada, both, mothers of toddlers, start discussing the challenges of motherhood; how their children give them sleepless nights and the constant energy it takes to keep up with them during the day. The topic shifts to tips on managing households and maintaining healthy relationships until it lands on the theme of hired help.
“My maid just up and left last month. I’m so overwhelmed these days. I’m barely keeping up,” Nada says on a heavy sigh.
“Yeah, holding on to a maid these days is becoming more of a pipe dream,” Faz remarks. Everybody else also puts in their two cents, one by one, agreeing with her opinion.
“You know what?” I interject, “Mrs. Sultan, my cleaning lady, said something oddly disturbing the other day.”
I start recounting the incident to my friends, “She accidentally broke one of my ramekin dishes, and I really didn’t mind it that much, you know,” I shrug my shoulders to show I really wasn’t bothered with the loss of my dish and continue. “She usually is meticulous when handling the kitchenware. And she did apologize and everything, and even offered advice on buying a replacement from the evening bazaar, the one held at Creek Park.”
Sarah nods her head enthusiastically to agree with Mrs. Sultan’s suggestion, “She’s got that right. Excellent prices at the bazaar.” I roll my eyes at her, and even Nada and Faz suppress their giggles. Sarah was such a sale hound, always on the hunt for scoring bargains.
“So, anyway, Mrs. Sultan then started regaling me with how she told off one vendor for the high price he was offering, and I quote her verbatim, ‘Mister, why do you rob the poor. Aren’t you one of us? Rob the rich with your high prices; they can afford it.’”
Everyone is dumbstruck hearing this.
Nada crosses her arms to show she has taken real offense at the maid’s words, “That’s unbelievably rude. Who says that to their employer’s face?”
Even Faz has a scowl on her face, “You give them too much leeway, Noor. They always seem to be mouthing off…”
“And what does she mean by ‘us’ affording the higher price? Why should we pay more than the actual cost?”
“But, guys, if you think about it, Mrs. Sultan is onto something here,” I edge forward in my seat as I try to convince them.
Faz scoffs at this, “Oh, really? So, it’s okay to rob the people who have been blessed more than others? Hah! I don’t think so. We aren’t picking off cash from our backyard trees, you know.”
“They are being prejudiced in their thinking. Sure, we do enjoy some privileges from time to time, but we too have our own set of problems. Just because we have a little more to spare, doesn’t mean we should be exploited!” Nada is waving her hands around wildly, and even her tone has gotten harsher.
“No, no, no. That’s not what I meant,” I hastily try to explain myself, but Sarah is quicker and comes to my aid, “Nada, it’s not that we want or should be subjected to the high prices, but I think Noor was hinting at this negative thinking floating among the less fortunate that exploiting the ‘loaded’ people is a lesser evil.”
She glances at me briefly to verify if that’s what I was mentioning earlier. I smile encouragingly and nod at her to show that I’m right there with her in her response.
I continue what Sarah just said, “Exactly! The lower classes have developed this mentality that we can bear the losses with a little setback, but they aren’t very far off the mark. They have much more to lose than us. I think that the divide among the social classes, in terms of fortune and material goods, is the root of such feelings. What do you girls say?”
“Hmm, yeah. I think I see what you’re going for here. If you’re gonna be narrow-minded about the difference in how deep the pocket goes, jealousy WILL rear its ugly head,” Faz seems to have gotten the drift now.
“True that! But then, it really comes down to the economy, no? It just isn’t in favor of the less privileged. What can we do?! The rich are getting richer, the poor, poorer,” a protesting outcry from Nada.
“But that’s the thing. We can do something,” I quickly reply. “Just take Zakat for example; it literally means purification, right?” I look at her to see if she’s following me. She looks confused at where the conversation is leading, but still sounds a ‘hmm’ to show she is listening, and I continue.
“Think about it like this, if everyone, on whom Zakat is due, would pay up or even be diligent about it, don’t you think that would balance out the social pyramid and remove this cloudiness of the hearts along with it? Jealousy, envy, hatred; you name it, Zakat could as well be their cure-all,” I say, making air quotes around cure-all.
Faz clasping her hands eagerly together, her eyes shining with an understanding that wasn’t there before, says, “Oh, yes! And through Zakat, we will be circulating wealth instead of hoarding it among the few, thus increasing satisfaction levels.”
“Ahan, we cannot even claim ‘our’ wealth as solely ours, you know. It is Allah’s property in principle. We cannot monopolize it,” I shrug my shoulders.
Nada has gone silent. With her eyebrows furrowed, she seems to be thinking over what has just been said.
I get up and move towards the kitchen to bring out the sandwiches and other snacks to go along with our discussion. As I set the food on the table, I hear Sarah, who is elucidating some more impacts that Zakat could have.
“And if you went even further, just think, these negative feelings can become a wellspring for a ton of social injustices like exploitation, strife, thefts, and dare I even say, hate crimes.”
“Subhan Allah! That’s deep! It could really turn the tide for our society, couldn’t it?” Faz exclaims.
Sarah nods enthusiastically at her and replies, “Absolutely! Instead of going all capitalistic, we can create a society where there is equity and opportunity for everyone. It’s very empowering emotionally, and we’re taking away the negative feelings and turning them into positives, and protecting our society in the process, too!”
I am shaking my head in amazement as well. “If everyone knew this, I’m sure they wouldn’t have such a relaxed attitude towards Zakat,” I say with conviction.
Everyone is silent for a while, taking in what’s just been said.
Nada breaks the silence by letting out an amused laugh, “So, Mrs. Sultan wasn’t really wrong, was she? Her words won’t go down in history as the wisest, but she scored a point alright.”
“And to think we have been taking Zakat only at face value, nothing more than an obligation,” Nada’s face is lit with this realization. “Just one act of Zakat could have such a massive chain reaction, Subhan Allah! What an epiphany!”
“I don’t think it’s just you, sis, we are all having ‘aha’ moments here,” Faz smiles and pats her hand in friendly consolation.
Even Sarah chimes in, “Allah ﷻ truly knows what’s best for us, doesn’t He?”
“I know, right? I don’t know about human laws, but I’m willing to bet they aren’t so perfect,” smug satisfaction; that’s what I am feeling right now as I cheer on for Islam.
“Yep, in the end, it all comes down to purification, isn’t it? Whether it is of our wealth, our hearts, or even our societies.”
Written by: Binte Mazhar
Edited by: The Editorial Team
© The Islamic Reflections Blog
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