Imam Michael AbdurRashid Taylor. Photo: Diana Swift
“Canada is a land of promise, opportunity and peace, “but for too many of our people, these promises are not materializing, and in some cases, the promises have been broken,” Imam Michael AbdurRashid Taylor, told attendees at a recent forum on poverty sponsored by Ontario’s Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Committee (ISARC).
Imam Taylor is Canada’s first professionally certified African-Canadian Muslim chaplain and is director of Islamic Chaplaincy Services Canada and former manager of spiritual and religious care services at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Taylor noted that Christianity and Hinduism have spiritual traditions in which voluntary poverty and self-denial are seen as virtues that bring people closer to the Creator. Jewish tradition, in contrast, holds that asceticism is antithetical to Judaism’s basic idea that the provisions of the world are to be enjoyed and renouncing the necessities of life is only rarely justified.
“But while these traditions have some differences, they all want to see that their sister or brother is fed and clothed and have the opportunity to realize every potential they might have,” he said. Muslims fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan “in part to realize what it is to be hungry and to experience the hunger and thirst of those less fortunate than ourselves,” he said.
Like other religions, Islam holds believers responsible for the well-being of others. Quoting from the prophetic tradition that supplements the Q’uran, Imam Taylor noted that “He is not a true Muslim who eats his fill when his neighbour is hungry.” And: “If the poor are hungry or naked or troubled, it is because the rich have deprived them.”
“The haves have a responsibility for the have-nots,” said Taylor, but the poor are also responsible for helping themselves. He recounted the story of an encounter between a beggar and the Prophet. The Prophet told the beggar to bring him the only things he had in his house, a piece of cloth and a wooden bowl. The Prophet auctioned the items to his followers, and told the beggar came back in two weeks having increased the money fivefold. “This is better for you than begging,” said the Prophet, who had engaged both the beggar and his resources and the community around him.
He urged attendees to “hold our social and political entities responsible for the care of the most vulnerable” to seek ways to make changes that will “make the lives of all our neighbours more meaningful. We all have our parts to play.”