Rights to Duties: The Moral Imperative of the Right to Sustenance


“The Right to Sustenance” is regarded as a fundamental right for individuals and communities to obtain the resources and conditions necessary to sustain their lives. It includes the right to basic necessities like food, water, shelter, clothing etc. The right to livelihood in terms of ethics and moral responsibility calls for equitable distribution of resources and collective efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger. It fosters a society where the well-being of all is a priority.

The concept of the right to sustenance is rooted in principles of justice, equity and social welfare. According to the philosophical view of natural rights, the right to sustenance is linked to the existence of every human being, so it is a natural right inherent in every human being. Philosophers such as John Locke argued that individuals have rights to life, liberty, and property, while the basic requirements for sustaining life include the right to sustenance.

Utilitarian philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill included the right to sustenance as a fundamental right from the perspective of maximizing overall happiness. Marxist philosophy sees the right to sustenance in the broader context of economic structure and class relations. It argues that the right to sustenance is linked to the distribution of resources in a society and calls for the transformation of the economic system to ensure an equitable share of needs.

Western liberal ideologies, emphasize individual freedom and rights, advocating the right to sustenance as a basis for personal autonomy and acknowledging the individual’s autonomy to access wealth and resources. From a socialist and social democratic perspective, the right to sustenance takes on a collective dimension where they prioritize the well-being of people and communities and advocate for equitable distribution of resources.

The Concept of Sustenance in Islam

In Islam, the concept of sustenance is centered on a divine covenant and fundamental rights granted to all living beings. In various verses of the Qur’an, particularly Surah al-Hijr (15:19-23), the right to sustenance becomes an acknowledgment of God’s contribution as the ultimate provider and sustainer of all life.

God provides sustenance to all creations.  In the Quranic verse (15:19-23): “And the earth – We have spread it out wide, and placed on it mountains firm, and caused (life) of every kind to grow on it in a balanced manner, and provided thereon means of livelihood for you (O men) as well as for all (living beings), whose sustenance does not depend on you. There is not any means ˹of sustenance˺ whose reserves We do not hold, only bringing it forth in precise measure. And We let loose the winds to fertilize, and we send down water from the skies and let you drink thereof: and It is not you who hold its reserves. We alone – Who grants life and deal death, and it is We alone who shall remain after all else will have passed away!”

This passage of the Qur’an emphasizes the idea that God is the source of sustenance and sustenance for all living beings. It highlights the idea that everything in the world has its source in God, and it is He who gives life and embraces death. The passage also mentions that God provides for all creatures in a balanced way and that He controls the natural processes such as air and water that sustain life on earth. The passage also conveys the idea that humans do not have complete control over the source of their food and that it comes from God. Overall, this passage reinforces the idea that God is the ultimate provider and sustainer of all life and that He is in control of all natural processes that sustain life on earth.

Therefore all creatures have the right to sustenance. The right to sustenance is a “Haqq” or right given by God to all creation. It is based on the belief that all wealth and sustenance ultimately come from Allah and are not truly owned by any individual or group or government. According to this belief, Allah is the ultimate giver of all life, to Him is the source of all things, and He fulfills the needs of all living beings.

It is a “right” that entitles us to sustenance. But at the same time, it creates duties and responsibilities for us when we enjoy or gain them, thus creating a duality between rights and duties. Just as “Haqq” gives us the right to sustenance, when we encounter another human being, our “rights” create a moral obligation to uphold that person’s right to sustenance. With this ‘Haqq’ comes two levels of duty – the first is the duty to God, the Provider and the second is the duty to the creation. Thus, the duties of the Right to Sustenance are-

A: Duty to God, the Provider:

The understanding derived from the Qur’anic passage emphasizes the belief that God is the ultimate provider and sustainer of all life, including the means of sustenance. As a result, man’s duty to God arises. This duty includes acknowledging God’s role as the ultimate source of sustenance and expressing gratitude for the provision. People are obliged to show gratitude for the sustenance given by God. Recognizing that all wealth and sustenance ultimately comes from God, the Provider. Believers will be aware of God’s source of sustenance. This awareness leads to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things and their dependence on God for their needs. It instills a sense of humility and dependence on God, the Provider.

B. Duty to Creation:

In addition to this duty to God, humans also have a moral obligation to share sustenance and wealth with others. It is based on the belief that all wealth and livelihood ultimately come from God, the Ultimate Provider, and are not truly owned by any individual or group or government. The concept of sole acquired ownership is contrary to the fundamental belief of Islam, rather, it is the fundamental belief that God is the provider of all and the real owner is God. Therefore, it is considered a moral responsibility to enjoy and share these resources fairly and equitably to maintain balance and fairness in society. It is considered as other people’s “Haqq” or right.

The duty to share wealth and earn livelihood is based on the belief that God has provided for the needs of all living beings. Just as “Haqq” gives us the right to sustenance, when we encounter another human being, our “rights” create a moral obligation to uphold that person’s right to sustenance. This belief is a reminder of the interdependence and connectedness of all living things, and that we all have a responsibility to care for each other on the Earth. We must ensure that these resources are used for the benefit of all. 

Zakat or Charity in Islam

Zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a mandatory form of charity that requires Muslims to give a percentage of their wealth to the needy. Charity or “Zakat” and “Sadaqah” in Islam is considered a significant aspect of one’s duty to creation based on the principles discussed above. Our responsibility, both individually and collectively, includes the moral obligation to share livelihoods and resources with others.

Zakat is a compulsory charitable contribution wherein Muslims are obligated to donate a portion of their wealth to those in need. “Zakat” is a means by which organizations fulfill their collective moral responsibility for equitable distribution of wealth. This approach ensures the circulation of resources within communities, addressing social imbalances and poverty. By actively participating in Zakat, Muslims fulfill their moral responsibility to share wealth, alleviate suffering, and benefit the entire creation.

Muslims are encouraged to engage in charity work as a way of fulfilling their duty to fellow human beings. This includes voluntarily donating to the needy, sharing one’s wealth and providing assistance to the less fortunate. The Qur’an and Hadith emphasize the virtues of charity and the rewards associated with helping the needy. Donation is seen as an expression of gratitude to God for sustenance. By willingly sharing one’s resources, individuals acknowledge the interconnectedness of humanity and the responsibility to care for one another. This act of giving is not just a financial transaction but a moral responsibility that strengthens the bond within the community.

Moral Responsibilities to Creation:

By acknowledging God’s ownership of all resources, believers are entrusted with the responsibility of being good stewards of the earth. These responsibilities include taking care of the environment, using resources wisely, and ensuring fair distribution of sustenance, as human beings are considered custodians (Khalifah) on Earth in Islamic teachings. Collectively, societies bear a moral responsibility to establish systems of social justice and fairness. This involves creating structures that ensure the fair distribution of resources, economic opportunity, and social benefits. Governments and communities are called upon to address systemic issues that contribute to equitable distribution of resources and poverty reduction. Ethical responsibilities also include transparency and accountability in public resource management; and introducing policies that prioritize the welfare of all citizens.

Conclusion: A Call for Moral Duties and Responsibilities

In summary, the right to sustenance is not just a right but also a call to duty. It emphasizes the importance of establishing just structures in society and for individuals to express gratitude through responsible use of resources. Rooted in the verses of the Quran, particularly Surah Al-Hijr (15:19-23), the right to sustenance emerges as a divine covenant, acknowledging God as the ultimate provider and sustainer of all life. As “Haqq” grants us the entitlement to sustenance, our encountered “rights” impose a moral duty to respect the sustenance rights of others.

This right is not limited to access to the basic necessities of sustenance. It forces us to create an ethical framework that includes equitable distribution of wealth and collective efforts to eradicate poverty. The right to sustenance emphasizes the interconnected nature of human life through a complex relationship of rights and duties; and calls us to prioritize justice, fairness, and compassion for all.

Duties arise from these rights, constituting a dual responsibility. Duty to God requires gratitude, awareness and humility, acknowledging God’s role in sustaining life. At the same time, the responsibility of creation compels us to share resources fairly, practice responsible stewardship, and advocate for social justice and equity.

Shallow Insan

We strive to break the barrier of the superficial form of thinking to understand and explain complex and interrelated designed events and systems.

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