Some solutions for reducing inequality

by Hassan Daher - CEO of Qardus

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only resulted in a public health crisis, but has also increased poverty levels and accelerated inequalities across the world.  According to a recent survey of 37 countries[1], since the start of the pandemic:

  • 3 in 4 households suffered a reduction in income with 82% of poorer households affected.
  • Gender inequalities are on the rise due to consumer-facing industries being hit the hardest.
  • Minorities in high income countries have been hit hardest as they live in areas that have been most vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. 
  • Inequality is also rising between countries as high-income countries have been better placed to provide financial & social safety nets to counter the crisis relative to poorer countries.   

On the other end, the wealth gap is also widening as billionaires saw their wealth rise 27.5% to £7.9trn between April to July this year with their total numbers increasing to a record 2,189 (2,158 in 2017)[2]. This generally reflects the strong performance in global stock markets since the start of the pandemic.

As nations across the world attempt to cope with the crisis, they might be able to draw upon mechanisms that were used historically in the Muslim world in order to reduce poverty and income inequalities. Some of these mechanisms highlighted below, when used correctly, might serve to soften the blow by allowing for the systematic redistribution of wealth in society. These include amongst others access to a unique financing type as well as well as other mechanisms for income redistribution:

  • Qard Hasan (benevolent loan) is a loan that is extended from a lender to a borrower for social welfare purposes. Through this mechanism the rich are encouraged to extend loans to the needy. The lender has no right to demand any amount in excess of the original principal amount as that would violate the prohibition on Riba (interest or usury). When used on a broad scale, this type of financing serves as a tool to not only reduce income inequality and alleviate poverty but also promote financial inclusion.
  • Zakat and al-Khums (compulsory charity) and Sadaqa (voluntary charity) are mechanisms for income redistribution from the rich to the poor. Zakat, for example, a mandatory almsgiving that requires Muslims who own wealth at or above a certain threshold to donate a portion of it, typically 2.5%, to those who are eligible.[3]
  • Historically, Awqaf (endowments) or the waqf (singular) played a pivotal role in socio-economic development across the Muslim world. They were important Islamic financial institutions that mobilized and facilitated the flow of funds towards philanthropic causes such as in order to fund education, health & libraries amongst others. 

To varying degrees, some of these mechanisms are currently being used in various parts of the world, whereas others (ex. Waqf) are no longer as prevalent as they once were. Having said that, more has to be done as nearly all economic indicators suggest we have reached a tipping point with high levels of poverty and income inequality across the world. Efforts by policy makers to address these issues by preempting them could involve integrating such mechanisms as well as others in order to allow for a more equitable distribution of wealth and income. This in turn would create the foundations for resilient systems that are better able to cope with shocks as they appear.

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