THE history of Islam is replete with stories of men and women facing imprisonment, torture and abuse at the hands of their oppressors.
The chapter of the Prophet Yusuf [as] in the Qur’an vividly illustrates how dealing with unjust imprisonment is inherent to the heritage of monotheistic tradition, and that without it, both the Torah and the Qur’an would be incomplete. Nabi Yusuf’s own test illustrates how prison is a very real expectation when a person is faced with stark choices:
Yusuf [as] said:
“O, Lord! I would prefer prison to what these women are inviting me to. And if you do not avert their guile from me, I will feel inclined towards them ....” So his Lord answered him and turned him away from their guile…yet, even after all the evidence they had seen of his innocence, they thought it appropriate to jail him for a time. [Qur’an 12: 33-35].
It is our obligation towards such people that is the matter in question here, for prisoners – no matter where and imprisoned for what – do have rights over us.
And they give food, in spite of their love for it, to the poor, the orphan, and the captive [saying]: “We feed you for the sake of Allah alone. We wish for no reward...” [Qur’an 76:8-9].
The point is that in today’s troubled times it may not always be possible to provide food directly for captives, but we can – and should – exert the utmost effort to ensure they receive justice, and that they are neither forgotten, nor abandoned.
The Prophet Muhammad [saw] said:
“No man forsakes a Muslim when his rights are being violated, or his honour is being belittled, except that Allah will forsake him at a place in which he would love to have Allah's help. And no man helps a Muslim at a time when his honour is being belittled, or his rights violated, except that Allah will help him at a place in which he would love to have Allah's help”.
This emphasises the reconciliatory aspects of charity, that when a person does to you what they would wish for others, the same is done to them through divine decree.
To this effect, the Prophet [s] said:
“Feed the hungry, visit the sick, and free the prisoner.”
And he added:
“It is upon the Muslim faithful to free their prisoners and to pay their ransom.”
The classical scholars, such as Imam Shafi’i, Imam Hanbal and Imam Malik [ra] – who were unjustly imprisoned themselves – have been clear about the financial obligations regarding the freeing of prisoners.
Imam Malik, the colossus of Madinah, said:
“It is obligatory on the people to redeem prisoners with their money. There is no contention on this point.”
The 12th century scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, said:
“Freeing prisoners is one of the greatest compulsory deeds, and spending ransom money and other means towards that, is one of the greatest ways to come close to Allah.”
The 13th century Qur’anic giant, Al-Qurtubi, said:
“Our scholars have said that ransoming prisoners with money is wajib [obligatory], even if one dirham does not remain in the Islamic Treasury.”
Many of us choose to pay our Zakah during Ramadan. However, it is surely our obligation that we work for justice and freedom 12 months a year, and that striving for those unlawfully imprisoned is very much a part of this duty by which we purify our wealth.
Most of us understand the concept of Zakah as a fundamental pillar of Islam, but few of us recognise the categories of valid recipients, which so often remain ignored, or abandoned. As the Holy Qur’an advises:
Alms are only for: the poor and the destitute, for those who collect Zakah, for conciliating people’s hearts, for freeing slaves, for those in debt, for spending for God’s cause and for travellers in need. It is a legal obligation enjoined by God... [Qur’an 9: 60].
It is obvious that in giving Zakah we purify our wealth by assisting those in need. We remind ourselves that it is a pillar of Islam. It is mentioned over 80 times in the Qur'an – often in conjunction with the prayer.
And if paying Zakah is an undeniable Islamic obligation [the abandonment of which is a major sin], then seeking justice and freedom for prisoners is indubitably a means to fulfilling that obligation. And, for those who spend in this path, there is a bounteous reward:
Those who spend their wealth for God’s cause may be compared to a grain of corn which sprouts into seven ears, with a hundred grains in each ear, for God grants manifold increase to whom He wills… [Qur’an 2:261].
Written with acknowledgments to CAGE