Poverty “Speak up for those who cannot

Poverty In World Religions
As the Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “In a country well governed, poverty is

something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed
of.” (Brainy Quote 1) Poverty has plagued the world throughout all of history, and within each
individual community, poverty impacts it differently. There is an aspect in all religions that links
them and allows for peaceful communication. This is known as Inter-religious Dialogue, or
dialogue and understanding between religions. Each religions understands different issues
differently and has different approaches to attempting to extinguish them. Religions all around
the world discovered that cooperating with other religions leads to a greater understanding and
acceptance of all cultures therefore giving them the acceptance they desire. This project will lead
to a greater understanding of how the worlds major religions go about combating the specific
problem of poverty. Poverty clearly affects each of the world religions in a different way but
some are very similar. In Christianity, the bible has extensive teachings on the correct way to
approach poverty and act towards the poor. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for
themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
This proverb is taken from the bible and is essentially translated to say those who do not have
power to stand up and speak up for themselves, you must find the will to speak up for them and
give them help in their time of need. The bible also teaches of how those who give to the less

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fortunate will be rewarded and lead to the lord. Similarly, Judaism looks to help those in need
and their Sacred Scripture also contains a plethora of examples of giving to the poor and
attempting to help poverty in their cultures. In the Tanakh, there are multiple instances
addressing the topic of giving food to the poor in forms of organized charity. For example, the
tamhui literally meaning “dish” helps in feeding the poor and supporting the basic needs of an
individual in poverty. Although those two are similar, there are also some differences in views on
the poor. In Hinduism, there is a system of class and status known as the caste system. In this
system there are five major classes. The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and Dalits.
Dalits are the lowest class and were previously referred to as the “untouchables”. Unlike other
religions, people in this caste were looked down upon and not helped. They were not allowed
powerful positions and almost always denied jobs solely due to their caste. Buddhism has a
strange approach towards poverty. Instead of looking down upon those plagued by poverty, the
buddhists voluntarily place themselves into this state of poverty to experience the suffering that
the poor experience. The buddha himself before receiving the title left his life of prestige and
lavish living to experience poverty by giving up all of his material possessions. Lastly, the
approach to poverty in the Islamic religion a very common practice. The religion of Islam has
five main pillars of faith that lead their beliefs and teachings. The first is Shahada, then Salat,
Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj. All of these are essential teachings and necessary for all followers to
abide by. On of these is Zakat which is known as charity or almsgiving. Instead of suggesting
charity like most religions, people of the islamic faith are actually required to give 2.5% of their
yearly income to charity. Through these examples and more, every one of the world religions has
a separate and distinct approach to poverty.

Chapter 1: Christianity

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Quote: “He who bestows his goods upon the poor shall have as much again, and ten times more.”
— John Bunyan

Extensive research into this topic has revealed a plethora of insight into the reality of
poverty within each of the major worlds religions. This chapter will be focusing on the Christian
view on poverty and teachings on what should be done about it. Today, one of the most
population dense areas for Christianity is South America. Poverty in South America vastly differs
from what we know as poverty here in the United States. In this area, poverty is considered to be
living on somewhere near four dollars a day. In the northernmost area of this continent, close to
Panama, there is the largest amount of impoverished people throughout all of South America at
about twenty to forty percent of the population. In total, one in every five South Americans live
in extreme poverty. There are many teachings set in place through the Bible that teach how
poverty should be faced for Christians. For example, in Proverbs 11:25 “A generous person will
prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” This quote is helping explicate the claim
that if you give to the poor, you will receive ten times as much when you arrive in heaven. In
many quotes from the bible about poverty, there is an underlying theme that relates to giving and
in turn, receiving. Jesus on a multitude of occasions showed examples of giving to those in need
by breaking bread for all the poor people with no food as well as instructing his followers to give
what they have to the poor because what you have on earth is not what you will have in heaven.
The teachings include the fact that in heaven you will not have your material possessions but
instead be rewarded for your actions. This in turn allows Christians to have an incentive to give

charity and alms. Jesus taught his followers that on the day of Judgement, God will ask what you
have done for the poor and he will be rewarded accordingly. God says, “As you did it to one of
these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40) This shows that every little deed
towards the needy is a deed towards God. Pope Benedict XVI has taught that “love for widows
and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the
sacraments and preaching of the Gospel”. Preferential option for the poor was a trend throughout
the bible for the preference given towards those who were powerless and and lived on the
“margins of society”. John Paul II then advanced the meaning of option to the poor to encompass
those who were in spiritual and material poverty as well. All the people in society that were
marginalized such as children, women, people with disabilities, widows, and more. In
conclusion, the Christian faith and the Bible contain an extensive amount of examples and
teachings towards those experiencing poverty in the world today and what should be done about

Chapter 2: Judaism

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Quote: “Say little and do much, and receive all men with a cheerful face.” -Mishnah 15

The ever-present mission of eradicating poverty very well may never come to an end. As
stated in Deuteronomy verses four and eleven, “There shall be no needy among you, For the poor
will never cease from the land.” This is quite contradictory and in fact, paradoxical to the
mission of Judaism. Throughout their Sacred Scripture known as the Torah, there are a plethora
of passages presenting the false pretense that their God will eradicate poverty, yet in the verse
provided, it can be interpreted that this act will never transpire. References throughout the Torah
and other teachings of Judaism including Don Isaac Abravanel formulation, poverty is viewed in
a very crucial dilemma to be addressed.

“A rabbinic story tells about a group of people traveling in a boat. One passenger takes
out a drill and begins drilling a hole under his seat. The other passengers, quite understandably,
complain that this action may cause the boat to sink. “Why should this bother you?” this man
responds, I am only drilling under my own seat.” The others retort, “But the water will rise up
and flood the ship for all of us!”” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6). The teachings that are portrayed through
this little anecdote show that the actions of one individual can be the downfall of the whole
society, yet the help of one person may also be the reason for a society to flourish.

Judaism has a similar approach to poverty as many other religions. They are taught from
their God and Sacred Scripture that tending to the needs of the poor and those experiencing
poverty is the way of God and the righteous path. The Jewish people are taught a plethora of
meaningful lessons through the portrayal of one word, achikha which means ‘your brother’. This
word insists that the Jews look upon the poor no differently from themselves and see the help
that is required. A similar teaching in this religion to Christianity is how Jews are created in the

likeliness of God. The significance of this is due to the fact that God has taught that if you
degrade or disrespect any human it will be as if you are doing it to God self.

The teachings of the Torah include three main reasons for good deeds to be done. The
first of these reasons is known as tzedakah, essentially meaning to convey a sense of mercy for
the poor. It is said that one should give help to the poor out of pity. Having mercy for the poor is
not what it sounds like, in fact, it is giving out of pure generosity and kindness and not believing
that the recipients are deserving of this. This is similar to how the Jews pray for mercy from God
even though they have not done anything to truly deserve it. Secondly, it is taught that the poor
should be looked at as family members. In doing this, people are more inclined to help and see
the poor in a way that they should receive respect. As Laurence Sterne once said, “Respect for
ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.” Lastly, helping the poor
should not just be seen as an act to help the individual, but rather to help the community as a
whole. There are many instances and formulations of ideas that are viewed beneficial to society,
for example teachings of Judaism include educating the poor to generate a more productive and
effective environment in society.

Chapter 3: Hinduism

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Quote: “No religion on earth preaches the dignity of humanity in such a lofty strain as Hinduism,
and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as
Hinduism.” -Swami Vivekananda

“I know of no system other than Hinduism under which a class has been set apart from
generation to generation for the exclusive pursuit of divine knowledge and consigned to
voluntary poverty” (Gandhi). Most of the world religions are similar in terms of how they view
the poor and what they do to help, but Hinduism is not at all the same.

The caste system in Hinduism is “The system which divides Hindus into rigid
hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but
here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old” (BBC 2). The caste
system is organized into five groups, the brahmins who were the priests, scholars and teachers as
the highest class. Then were the Kshatriyas who were rulers and warriors. Next was Vaishyas, or
the farmers and merchants, and the Shudras who were laborers. All the way at the bottom of this
system was the Dalits, or as they were commonly known, the untouchables. This class consisted
of the most disrespected and unimportant people in Hindu culture. People who practice
Hinduism are born into a specific caste, or more accurately class. Their caste in their present life
is determined by their actions known as karma in their past lives. If they lived a righteous life,
they were born as a higher up. This cycle of life death and rebirth known as samsara would
continue until they reach Moksha. Moksha is known as spiritual liberation and is what all
Hindu’s strive to achieve. For example, if a person lived a sinful life and committed a plethora of

acts against the teachings of the sacred scripture, known as the Vedas, they would be born in a
lower class, or even as a Dalit. The Dalits are heavily discriminated against in society, putting
them in a place of poverty. They are not given most jobs because of their caste, they can not get
married to other castes, and they are treated like trash. The Dalits were never helped or respected
because the other Hindu’s believed they deserved to suffer since they were the ones that caused
themselves to be born into that class. This belief is the reason why in the Hindu religion, there is
the so little almsgiving and help towards the poor. “India’s caste system is among the world’s
oldest forms of social stratification surviving to this day” (BBC 3). India’s society has changed
and due to the growth of urbanization and secular education, the Dalits are gradually making
their way back into society. For example, in recent years, Indias constitution has made it illegal
to discriminate due to social class. Although it was made into a legitimate law, some teachings
are instilled in the hearts of the culture, so deep that not even laws can break them. Inter-caste
marriages are becoming more common as well as different castes working the same jobs. Today,
this discrimination has majorly declined, yet it still is in existence.

Chapter 4: Buddhism

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Quotation: “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some
suffer too much, others too little.” -Buddha

Buddhism has an approach to poverty very different from all other religions. When a
religion teaches about poverty, the teaching is mainly to help in some specific way. The
difference in Buddhism is not that they help minimize poverty or ignore it completely, but rather
they are sensitive towards it and offer different viewpoints. The view presented by Buddhism is
that poverty is adverse because it involved dukkha. This is a commonly misunderstood and
misinterpreted topic in Buddhist teaching. It is commonly interpreted as suffering, but a more
accurate representation is “ill-being”. The mission in buddhism is to eliminate all dukkha. The
way to do this is to give up all material possessions, yet this is not the same as poverty. Some
people see Buddhist’s who have nothing to their name and immediately assume they are
experiencing poverty, yet this is much different. Poverty for buddhists is sometimes defined as
“lacking the basic material requirements for leading a decent life, free from hunger, exposure,
and disease” (Loy 91). The difference between the poor and Buddhists is that they allow
themselves the four necessities known as food, shelter, clothes, and proper health care. As well as
sympathizing with the poor and bringing themselves to an aspect of voluntary poverty, Buddhism
teaches extensively on giving to the poor and helping the sick. There is one story where the
Buddha himself walked thirty miles just to educate and feed a poor person, then spiritually help
him. The wealthy are not necessarily less likely to achieve nirvana due to their possession, but
they are seen to be the ones that should give more because they have more. The wealthy are seen

as deserving of their wealth because their karma has led them to achieve it. Therefore, a strain of
Buddhist belief is that the poor are in a state of poverty due to repercussions of past actions. Two
main topics that give people an understanding of Buddhist view on the poor is voluntary poverty
and extensive benevolence. “Through voluntary poverty we have the means to help our brothers.
We cannot even see our brothers in need without first stripping ourselves. It is the only way we
have of showing our love” (Day 109). Voluntary poverty is how the Buddhists relinquish all
possessions except the previously explained four necessities and live a life of spiritual work
towards salvation. Not worrying about the wants or infatuations of common humanity. The
second is extensive benevolence. Not only do Buddhists put themselves in the position of the
poor and experience their sufferings, they also find a need to help in many ways. From simply
giving money to spiritually educating the poor, Buddhists find creative and extensive ways to
give alms towards those in need. “Poverty, seen as a virtue rather than merely as material
renunciation in order to achieve a spiritual ideal, seems to be invariably associated with service,
love, compassion, and benevolence” (Donald 8). These four terms that poverty is associated with
explain the understanding of Buddhism on the need for giving and experiencing suffering equal
to those without a choice.

Chapter 5: Islam
The last of the major religions of the world that has a very specific view on the work that

should be done towards poverty is Islam. In this religion, there are five pillars that lead their
beliefs and teachings, and is the framework of their entire religion. One of these five pillars
includes required charity and giving to the poor.

The first pillar of Islam is Shahada. This pillar is a declaration of faith into the religion
where you submit to God and admit the belief in the singularity of Allah and how Muhammad is
the messenger of God. “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This
quotation what their first pillar centers its beliefs about.

The second pillar is Salat. Salat is the prayer that is required of the Muslims to participate
in daily. There are five times of day that Muslims are compelled to pray including dawn, noon,
afternoon, evening, and night. Before every prayer time they must wash themselves in a custom
known as Wudu or purification. They must pray for at least five minutes each time, and face
towards mecca, their holy land, each time. Muslims are unlike most religions and their prayer is
the same if you do it in the divinity of a temple or in the peace and quiet of your home. This
constant prayer keeps Muslims in union with their God and remembrance of the importance of
their submission to him. A group prayer is held every Friday and seen as the most important
prayer of the week.

The third pillar of Islam is the main point of focus for this chapter. This is a necessary
almsgiving or charity that is required of all Muslims. The giving of charity in this religion is
regarded as worship and a form of self purification. There is a required 2.5% of an individuals
wealth each year for the help of the poor. Although, this amount does not include the extra

donation out of generosity that is common with Muslims. This 2.5% does not need to be in cash,
in fact it can be donated in gold, silver, stocks, jewelry, or other commercial items. Zakat is
commonly known as purification because it cleanses ones heart of greed. In Islam belief, money
is given to them as a gift from God, therefor a portion of it is for the poor. This pillar helps the
Muslims remember that everything they own truly belongs to God. Zakat is important today in
many ways. Zakat is used for rebuilding a society in poverty or for communities devastated by
natural disasters. This pillar is crucial to the long standing importance of Muslims community.

The fourth pillar is known as Ramadan. Ramadan is a month long celebration during the
ninth month of the Muslim calendar. During the entire month, participating Muslims do not eat
from sun up to sundown. This act of abstaining from eating is known as fasting. “Fasting helps
Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of God’s gifts and greater compassion
towards the deprived” (islamreligion.com).

Lastly, the fifth pillar of Islam is a pilgrimage or as it is commonly known, Hajj. Once a
year, muslims travel from all corners of the world to visit their holy land, Mecca. This pilgrimage
is a requirement for every able Muslim adult to complete within their lifetime. Moreover, it is
important because it replicates the steps of Muhammad over a thousand years ago. 


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