Social Justice in the Catholic & Muslim Traditions

October 26th,2012 ICNY Uncategorized

Catholic Social Teaching

The social teaching of the Catholic Church is the primary religious framework out of which most Catholic social services operate, though the specific traditions, spiritual practices and disciplines of various Catholic orders and organizations are also foundational in the way social services are approached.  Catholic social teaching mainly pulls from the Canon of scripture held sacred by the Catholic Church as well as from Catholic apostolic Tradition.   From these sources, Catholic social teaching gets much of its theological inspiration from the biblical covenants, the writings of the prophets, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostolic teaching authority of the Church, and the lives of the saints.

The following are important themes of Catholic social teaching from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)

1. Life and Dignity of the Human Person

-Focuses on the right to life for all humans, recognizing the dignity of humans as made in the image of God.  This theme has been used to challenge abortion, euthanasia, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, and war.

2. Call to Family, Community, and Participation

-Focuses on the organization of society in a way that promotes the common good and people’s full participation in society.

3. Rights and Responsibilities

-Focuses on protecting people’s rights and emphasizing people’s responsibilities to one another.

4. Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable

-Focuses on prioritizing the experiences and needs of the poor and marginalized, emphasizing the Church’s solidarity with and compassion for them.  See Matthew 25.

5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of the Workers

-Focuses on promoting an economic system that is in the best interests of the workers, emphasizing the workers’ right to creative participation.

6. Solidarity

-Focuses on promoting peace and justice though solidarity among humans in a nationally, racially, ethnically, economically, and ideologically diverse world, emphasizing that all people are part of one human family.

7. Care for God’s Creation

-Focuses on protecting the environment as part of God’s creation

Muslim Social Teaching

There are five formal acts of worship which help strengthen a Muslim’s faith and obedience. Often called the “Five Pillars of Islam,” these include: (1) a testimony of faith, which is bearing witness that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his last messenger; (2) five compulsory prayers distributed evenly during the day/night; (3) annual almsgiving (4) fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan; and (5) performing Pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime.

Supporting social services to assist the needy falls within the third pillar, called Zakat.  The word Zakat comes from the Arabic word meaning to purify.  Muslims believe that giving to others less fortunate purifies their own wealth, increases its value, and helps them to remember that everything they have is a gift from God. Paying Zakat is required of every adult Muslim man or woman who possesses wealth of a certain minimum amount. Zakat is usually given to one or more of the following categories: poor people who have limited resources; destitute people who have absolutely nothing such as the homeless; those who collect and distribute the Zakat for a living; Muslim converts who may be estranged from their families and in need of help; debtors, to help free them from overwhelming debts; and wayfarers who are stranded during their travels. This is in accordance with the following Qur’anic verse: “The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free the captives and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarers; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.” (The Holy Qur’an 9:60).

There are two types of Zakat: Zakat ul mal (charity on savings) and Zakat ul fitr (charity on the festival of Eid ul Fitr at the end of Ramadan).  Zakat ul mal is required from those who have a savings after meeting their family’s basic needs; Islamic legal guidelines suggest that 2.5% of those savings be contributed as charity.  Zakat ul Fitr is a set amount of money that Muslims are required to pay by the end of Ramadan. This charity is paid by the head of household on behalf of each member of his/her family, and the amount is usually set as the cost of one meal per family member multiplied by the number of family members.  Islamic teachings expect even those without substantial savings to contribute this charity, and generally, mosques in the United States set the expected amount each year. (In Muslim-majority countries around the world, the amount may be set by ministries of religious affairs).

In addition to the required alms given at the end of the month of Ramadan, and the required alms on savings, Muslims are encouraged to give charity at all times according to their means. This voluntary charity is called Sadaqah, from an Arabic word meaning “truth” and “honesty.” Sadaqah may be given at any time and in any amount. “They ask you about giving: say, “The charity you give shall go to the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the poor, and the traveling alien.” Any good you do, God is fully aware thereof.” (The Holy Qur’an 2:215).


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