Classes within a Muslim community

Q102 :In my country, people are classified as either sayed or sheikh or pathan. There are restrictions on intermarriages between these groups which would prevent, for example, the marriage of a sayed girl to a pathan man. It is also said that sayeds are not allowed to receive zakah. Could you please comment on these classifications.

A102 : In all societies, you find sections of people claiming privileges for themselves. They may base this on wealth, birth, race, etc. If the community is willing to concede such privileges to them, they will try to consolidate their position and claim more privileges. What happened in Europe before the French Revolution was the clearest example of what evils may spread in a society or class as a result. This, however, was not limited to Europe. We have only to remember the caste system in India which made the minority of the people subservient to the elite. The best society is that which refuses altogether the notion of classifying people into masters and slaves, aristocracy and masses, feudal lords and peasants, etc. It was not long ago that democratic societies tried to establish the principle of equality of all people in practice after it had been preached in theory for a long time. Nevertheless, the wealthy and the powerful continue to exercise influence which is disproportionate to their number. Under communism on the other hand, the party members enjoyed great privileges and made themselves into a class of their own. What does Islam say to all that? In the Qur'an we read: "Mankind, we have created you out of one male and one female and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may get to know each other. The most noble among you in Allah's view is the most God-fearing." (49;13) This verse establishes the basic Islamic principle that all human beings are equal, since they descend from the same man and woman. Over the centuries, they have formed different nations and numerous tribes. When they get to know each other, they stand to enrich human life. The only recognized field of excellence in which it is possible to distinguish any one person or group of them over the rest is fearing Allah, a quality which does not fail to bring out the best in every human being. The division you have mentioned in your country is alien to the basic principles of Islam. You speak of an automatic blockage of the marriage of a man from one group with a woman from another. How could this be justified when Allah says in the Qur'an: "Believers are but brothers" (49;10) The possibility of objecting to a marriage is limited to such a situation as when a woman feels that marrying a particular person will not give her the sort of life to which she is used to. In other words, the marriage will mean a downgrading of her. Otherwise, the guiding principle in sanctioning a marriage is the Hadith which tells all Muslim parents and guardians: "If a man whose strength of faith and honesty are of acceptable standard, comes to you with a proposal of marriage, then accept his proposal. If you do not, you will cause friction and a great deal of corruption in the land." Let us look briefly at the class known as 'sayed'. A 'sayed' has come to refer in many parts of the Islamic world to a person who claims to be a descendant of the Prophet. I can tell you that many who claim to be 'sayed' cannot substantiate their claims. However, even if the claim is correct, it does not confer any particular status to the person concerned. He is still required to do his Islamic duties as everyone else. He will be rewarded in the same manner and his sins will be taken against him in the same way. He will either be forgiven or punished by Allah as He, in his sole discretion, determines. His descent does not give him any immunity. Nor does it give him any special status in society. Let us remember what the Prophet said to his own daughter: "Fatimah, work for your future life because I shall avail you nothing (if Allah is not pleased with you)." This is a clear instruction by the Prophet to his own daughter that her own actions are the only factor which determine her standing in the life to come. If this applies to Fatimah, who can say that his [being] descendent gives him any privileges whatsoever. It is true that the Prophet has made it clear that zakah is not to be paid to him, his household and descendants. They have, however, different sources of income from the Islamic state, such as a share of what the Muslim state may gain in the fighting. However, many scholars are of the view that it is permissible to give zakah to descendants of the Prophet if they are poor, particularly because the other sources from which they would have benefited are largely unavailable.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )