World Food Day and the Significance of Feeding the Hungry In Islam, By Murtadha Gusau
On any given day, a staggering 870 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat, and the religion of Islam works to combat that staggering statistic. Feeding the hungry and helping the poor is an integral part of the Islamic faith – and every year, its followers are required to pay an obligatory charity tax (Zakah) to help those in need.
Monday, Muharram 25, 1439 AH (October 16th, 2017)
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
Brothers and sisters! The World Food Day is a day of action dedicated to tackling global hunger. Held annually on October 16, people from around the world come together to declare their commitment to eradicating worldwide hunger from our lives.
Celebrating the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), events are organised in over 150 countries across the world, making it one of the most celebrated days on the United Nation’s calendar. These events promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger, and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. The focus of the day is that food is a basic and fundamental human right. Yet, in a world of billions, 870 million people worldwide live with chronic hunger, according to the United Nations World Food Programme; 60 percent women and almost five million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related causes every day.
The theme for last year’s World Food Day (2016), was “Climate Is Changing, Food and Agriculture Must Too.” One of the biggest challenges to food security is climate change and its effects on agriculture. Many of the world’s farmers and fishermen are struggling to cope with increasing temperatures and weather-related disasters. The World Food Day 2017 focuses on SDG Two – Zero Hunger.
Servants of Allah! World Food Day was first launched in 1945. The main principle which the World Food Day celebrates is the furtherance of food security all over the world, especially in times of crisis. The launch of the Food and Agriculture Organisation by the United Nation has played a huge role in taking this worthy goal forward. Its annual celebration serves as a marker of the importance of this organisation and helps to raise awareness of the crucial need for successful agriculture policies to be implemented by governments across the world to ensure there is ample food available for everyone.
In recent years, World Food Day has used its annual day of celebration to focus on different aspects of food security and agriculture, including fishing communities, climate change and biodiversity.
Here in Nigeria, the federal government has pledged to tackle food insecurity in the country through modern and holistic agricultural programmes and policies.
The minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, disclosed this at the ‘walk and sensitisation’ segment of the celebration of the 2017 World Food Day with the theme: “Change the Future of Migration: Invest in Agriculture and Rural Development.”
The federal government has also assured Nigerians of the attainment of food sufficiency in the shortest possible time through the adoption and execution of agricultural investment, financing and implementation plan (2016 – 2020).
The minister of state for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri made this statement at the 2017 World Food Day Symposium/Colloquium held at the Nigeria Air Force Officer’s Mess and Suites, Kado District, Abuja, Nigeria.
Brothers and sisters! In Islam, before the creation of United Nation and before the fixing of October 16th for the World Food Day, Allah commands all his servants to feed the hungry.
On any given day, a staggering 870 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat, and the religion of Islam works to combat that staggering statistic. Feeding the hungry and helping the poor is an integral part of the Islamic faith – and every year, its followers are required to pay an obligatory charity tax (Zakah) to help those in need. Throughout the Noble Qur’an and Hadiths, which are a collection of sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the Muslim is called to feed the hungry and help those in need, regardless of race, colour, gender, religion, region, or background.
In caring for the poor, Muslims look to Zakah, one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam are considered obligatory in the Islamic faith and believers follow them stringently. Zakah is the third pillar and it means purification. The Zakah is an amount of money that every mentally stable, free and financially able Muslim must pay annually. The purpose of this charity is to help those who are poor and needy. It is held that an individual’s wealth is purified by fulfilling the obligatory charity.
It is reported in a Hadith that Prophet Muhammad said:
“Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and set free the captives.”
Islam advocates feeding the hungry, regardless of race, colour, gender, religion, region, or background. It is such an important part of the religion that Prophet Muhammad said a person is not really a Muslim if he goes to bed satiated while his neighbour goes hungry. The Prophet said that the believer’s shade on the Day of Judgment will be his charity. Humility in giving is strongly encouraged in Islam. One Hadith states that one of the seven people who will be shaded by Allah on the Day of Judgment is:
“… a man who gives charity so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given.”
Respected Brothers and sisters! Throughout the Noble Qur’an, Allah compares believers and disbelievers by how they treat those who are hungry. The Qur’an states:
“(The righteous are those) who give food in spite of their love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive, [Saying], ‘We feed you only for the countenance of Allah. We wish not from you reward or gratitude.”
On the contrary, the disbelievers will endure the punishment of the Hellfire saying:
“Nor did we used to feed the poor.”
My people! There are many reliable and truthful relief organisations that strive to alleviate hunger and suffering here in Nigeria and around the world. Muslims can pay their Zakah to any one of these organiszations as a means of fulfilling their religious duty.
Servants of Allah! This is a good gesture of Allah’s Mercy to Mention giving food in a Surah that is entitled “Al-Insan.” Allah The Exalted Says:
“And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive…” [Qur’an, 76:8]
Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, and Mujahid said:
“This verse denotes that they feed the needy, the orphan and the captive despite the scarcity of food and their need and love for it.”
Respected Brothers and Sisters! How great a deed is feeding the hungry in our time!
Allah The Exalted Says:
“… Or feeding on a day of severe hunger…” [Qur’an, 90:14]
Ibrahim An-Nakha‘i commented on this verse saying:
“They feed the hungry at times when food is not ample.”
Imam Muhammad Ibn Al-Munkadir said:
“Feeding hungry people guarantees the forgiveness of sins.”
He also said on another occasion:
“Feeding the hungry and saying kind words to others usher you to Paradise.”
Dear brothers and sisters! You may notice how our days – in some countries – have turned into days of severe hunger. Food has become scarce and meat has also become scarce, as well as being too expensive for the poor.
What about you, dear readers? What about your food? An Explicit Command: Feeding people in general and a hungry person in particular has been explicitly mentioned in the command of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him).
Abu Musa Al-Ash‘ari, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet said:
“Feed the hungry, pay a visit to the sick and free the captives.” [Sahih]
Another reported saying reads:
“The best charity is to satisfy a hungry person.”
Alas, today, a Muslim may sit at a breakfast, lunch or dinner table with delicious and tasty dishes, while his neighbours takes their breakfasts with a few morsels of food, if they can be found!
Our righteous predecessors were keen to feed people and favoured this act of worship over many others, whether it was for a hungry poor person or feeding a righteous Muslim. Poverty is not an essential condition in this regard. The Messenger of Allah said:
“O people! Spread the Salam (Islamic greetings) amongst yourselves, feed the hungry, maintain kinship relations, observe prayer at night while people are asleep and you will peacefully enter the Paradise.” [Sahih]
Some of the righteous predecessors said:
“It is better for me to invite ten of my friends and feed them delicious food that they like than freeing ten slaves from the children of Isma’il, may Allah exalt his mention (i.e. Arabs).”
Abu As-Siwar Al-Adawi said:
“Some men from the Uday tribe used to pray in this Mosque and none of them would break his fast alone. If one found someone to eat with, he would eat. If he could not find someone to eat with, he would take his food and go to the Mosque to share it with the people in the Mosque.”
Brothers and sisters! The act of worship of feeding the hungry gives rise to many other acts of worship such as showing affection towards one’s fellow Muslims whom he feeds and this can be a reason for him being granted Paradise. The Prophet said:
“You shall not enter Paradise as long as you do not affirm belief (in all those things which are the articles of faith) and you will not believe as long as you do not love one another.” [Muslim]
It also gives rise to (the act of worship) being in the company of righteous people and hoping for the rewards of Allah The Almighty in offering them food as they gain strength to perform acts of worship.
Some righteous predecessors used to send their friends a basket full of sugar or other such food.
Yunus Ibn Ubayd Yahdi said:
“I gave a basket of sugar and food to Al-Hasan Al-Basri as a gift and I have not seen any sugar better than this one. He opened the basket and said to his companions, “Eat and enjoy.”
Brothers and sisters! Feed, greet and pray was the Prophetic peace formula.
Abdullah Ibn Salam (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
“When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) arrived for the first time in Madinah, I went with everyone to see him. When I saw him, I knew his face was not that of a liar. The first words he said were: “O people, feed the hungry, spread Salam (greeting of peace), maintain your kin relationships, and pray at night while others are asleep. With this, you shall enter Heaven in peace.” [Al-Bukhari]
Brothers and sisters! Any politician, community organiser, and leader of all kinds who share and promote this Prophetic ideas play an important role in spreading values, peace and bringing people together. They have the ability to leverage the collective strength of people to serve the wellbeing of humanity.
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was sincere and had strong, clear conviction in his message, which is why he implemented it first on himself before he took it to others. His sincerity showed on his face, attitude, and body language, lending confidence and credibility to his words and message.
The essence of his message is the wellbeing of people, and his first words as he entered into the new community of Madinah emphasised that.
Eliminating hunger starts with everyone recognising that we share the world’s food resources. We can start to feed the hungry by creating opportunities for people to have healthy meals through social occasions, dedicated outlets or the personal concern on the individual level. Food is a necessity of survival and a prerequisite for peace.
“Feed the hungry spread the peace.”
We cannot expect communities and countries to tackle other issues until we have helped them ease the pangs of hunger among their people. Ensuring that everyone is able to find his meals for the day is an important step towards world peace.
My respected people! As we meet each other on the road, while waiting in lines, in classrooms, in the workplace or in social gatherings, warmly greeting each other goes a long way in creating compassion and awareness among one another.
Ignorance leads to hatred, and greeting one another opens the door to learn about one another. It diffuses tension and fosters dialogue. A greeting of peace like “I wish you peace” or “May Allah’s peace be with you today” goes even a step further. In Islam, one of Allah’s names is Peace.
A greeting of peace is a prayer for Allah to send His peace upon each one of us.
Family and relatives are an important unit for peace in the world. As families grow and expand, the connection and ties potentially grow weaker. Individuals may find themselves alone, unsupported and without a safety net.
Small cliques and competition for power may grow inside the family, and people slowly disconnect from one another. Renewing and maintaining family ties on a regular basis, even with distant relatives, create opportunities for collaboration and appreciation for one another.
It ensures that everyone belongs with someone, somewhere. In today’s world, we are fortunate that technology has provided means of communication by which we can easily stay in touch with other family members.
Servants of Allah! In an inspiring connection between our spiritual life and physical life, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) lists praying at night along with feeding the hungry, greeting each other and maintaining family ties. There is something special about praying at night. When we are by ourselves in the quiet moments of the night, it is a powerful time to build our connection with Allah.
The spiritual connection with Allah is the reactor that gives us the energy to sustain our relationship with others and our service toward them. By balancing our inner strength and implementing our role towards others, we chart not only a path to peace in our world, but a peaceful path to Heaven as well.
My respected people! While hunger in the land of plenty is not a new phenomenon, the last few years of economic turmoil have worsened matters for the poor in this country. As unemployment has soared and bankruptcies and foreclosures have increased, the ranks of the poor have swelled in alarming proportions. So we find ourselves in the anomalous situation that one out of every six people in the richest nation on earth, is today living below the poverty line.
Hundreds of thousand of children are at risk of going hungry each day. As Muslims, it is our duty to ponder over and think of what we can do to solve this problem. As Muslims we are supposed to be the guardians of this earth and all its creatures. As the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) is reported to have said:
“He is not a Muslim who goes to bed satiated while his neighbour goes hungry.”
So how can we as Muslims sleep contentedly while in our own neighbourhoods and in our own backyards, in our own towns and counties and state and country, our neighbours go hungry? And if we do so, then in light of the above Hadith, can we call ourselves true Muslims?
In fact, wallahi, no other religion puts greater emphasis on feeding the hungry as Islam does. And this is no hollow claim. All one has to do is to compare the Noble books of other faiths to the Noble books of the Muslims i.e. the Noble Qur’an and Hadiths and just count the number of times each one of them contains exhortations to feed the hungry and the indigent. Not only does Islam exhort its followers to feed the hungry and indigent but further in some instances it even legislates feeding the hungry as expiation for some sinful acts or in exchange for exempting one from the compulsory acts of worship.
Let me just give you some examples from the Qur’an to prove my point.
From the very early revelations, the Qur’an exhorts the faithful to feed the orphans, the indigent and even the prisoners (a clear example of how the Qur’an even gives rights to prisoners).
So we find in Surah Al-Balad, while describing the virtuous path (which often appears as a steep or difficult path), it says:
“And what would make you conceive what is that steep uphill road? [It is], the freeing of a slave or the feeding on a day of hunger to an orphan relative or a needy person lying in the dust …” [90:12-16]
As an example of legislating the feeding of the people, the Qur’an requires those who cannot fast themselves, to compensate for this, by feeding a hungry person for each of the missed fasts.
Similarly if a person takes an oath to do something and then has to break his oath, Islam prescribes that this person feed ten poor people as expiation for the sin of breaking an oath.
On the other hand the Qur’an warns those who do not bring themselves to feed the poor and neither do they exhort others to do the same, that they will suffer a grievous punishment in the hereafter.
So we find in the Surah Al-Muddaththir a dialogue between the denizens of Hellfire and the dwellers of Paradise who are asking them, what was it that led them to Hell?
“What has brought you to this burning abode? They will answer, ‘We were not amongst those who worshipped Allah (out of arrogance) and nor did we feed the needy….’” [74:42-44]
And again in Surah Al-Ma’un:
“Have you seen the one who denies the [Day of ] Judgement? Then such is he who repulses the orphan and encourages not the feeding of the needy …….” [107:1-3]
Brothers and sisters! These are but a few brief examples showing how closely Islam ties faith to actions that show concern for ones fellow human beings and how it disowns those who do not care about the suffering and hunger of others.
I hope these words will give us some food for thought and make us ponder over what we are doing to address the problem of hunger in our society and generally in the world.
In conclusion, let me draw your attention to another saying of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), in which he has reported to have responded to someone who asked him about the best of deeds in Islam, as:
“Spread the peace and feed the people ……”
Brothers and sisters! Let us all become people who follow the above advice of the last and final Messenger of Allah Almighty.
And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our Noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
Wassalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullah wa bara ka tuhu
Compiled by your Brother,
Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: +2348038289761.