Poverty: It’s All Made Up

Now hold up.

What am I saying here? There are poor people everywhere. If I had a dollar for every time I read a comparison of how much money is spent on global defense and how much is needed to eradicate worldwide poverty I would have about 10 dollars. Surely, I don’t actually mean that it’s all made up?

Well, yes and no. The standard answer for you to think that I know what I’m talking about.

This isn’t one of those feel good pieces that tell you that all you need to do to not be poor is to have a positive attitude. It isn’t one that tells you to count your blessings because in today’s world that just doesn’t cut it. No doubt, content is an integral part of being a Muslim but I think there is a fine line between content and complacency.

Poverty is a thing and some people can’t even feed themselves or their loved ones. So it’s not made up. That’s the poverty we all know (or know of) very well.

Poverty is a construct to drive everyone and everything in society to generate profit. So it is made up. Let’s break this one down:

What are the most lucrative professions? You will find they almost always have something to do with banking and investment: the movement of money. They are the most lucrative professions because they make other people money. In other words, your value is determined by how much profit your labour can generate. But, value to society is incredibly diverse. Everyone in society is a major contributor in their own way. Artists, thinkers, care givers, teachers (students, even!), parents, children, wildlife, you name it and surely it will have a purpose. Except maybe mosquitos they are useless.

So, why is it that making money is so coveted? A friend of mine, a software engineer, worked in healthcare for a few years then moved to the finance industry doing very similar work. He told me there is a lot more pressure in finance and much smaller margins for error. “People’s money is more important than their health.” Sometimes he will get called in on off-hours to troubleshoot – something that never happened in healthcare.

So, why is it that money is holy? It is because you can only live well if you make money and you only make money if you live well.


Living “well” almost exclusively has to do with how much money you make because that determines your access to everything important. Education, physical and emotional healthcare, nourishment and even companionship. And if you don’t have money it is assumed (rightly so) that you don’t have that much access to these things so society thinks there is something wrong with you (not rightly so). And when you are shunned by society you have even less access to education, healthcare, nourishment and companionship. It is the most defining cycle of modern history.

Have I lost you yet?

Quite simply, your probability of success in life (which we will define for now to be access to the aforementioned list of important things) is determined by how much money you are born into more than, so I thought, your race or any other factor. That is why even within whiteness there is a divide: poor white people are a race of their own. That is never to say that you should accept where you are in life just because you have a lack of access and opportunities but it is certainly to say we need to rise up and revolutionize the system – for ourselves and for future generations. The most positive change in the world is social change and whatever you do with your life, if you do not induce social change then, in my opinion, you fail. Grow and become successful but always use your success as a platform to improve access for the less fortunate.
Poorness is a symptom of the system. Not the result of lack of effort.

That realization has been one of the most freeing that I have ever experienced. I graduated from university in 2015 and spent a year searching for full-time work living under the poverty line. But not once did I feel poor. I have always been surrounded by amazing people who I continuously learn from. I have access to a university campus that I am changing every year and finally a purpose in life that feels right: to be an instrument for social change. The concept of poverty in Islam and the word poor only exist when comparing creation to Creator. He is infinite in every way but we are not and in that way only we are poor. The poverty that we know is no measure of a human being and it is only a measure of quality of life because it is tied to material, man-made riches. Products, private institutions and commodified rights.

This, my friends, is very basic analysis of a system we are all part of – one we still have so much to learn about. I hope to have sparked the revolution inside of you and hope to see you on the frontlines.



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ISNA Canada is an Islamic organization committed to the mission and movement of Islam: nurturing a way of life in the light of the guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah for establishing a vibrant presence of Muslims in Canada. ISNA exists as a platform for all Muslims who share its mission and are dedicated to serving the needs of Muslims and Muslim communities.