Definitions of Poverty

Islamic Relief aims to alleviate the suffering of the world’s poorest people. Poverty, whether it is at the global, national or community level, is widely considered to be a multidimensional problem. 

Author: Contributors
Country: International
Category: Human Development & Poverty

Understanding poverty as a poverty of assets is to recognise that poor people have a diverse set of physical, human, social, and environmental assets. Assets can be tangible or potential and material or social, and individuals, households and communities can draw from them in times of need or crisis.  A shortfall in these assets results in individuals living in poverty.

Poverty as a breach of human rights is often understood, not as a form of poverty, but as a strategy through which poverty alleviation can be based on international law.  Many agencies apply this notion through a Rights-Based Approach (RBA).  RBAs hold that a person for whom a number of human rights remain unfulfilled (such as the right to food, health, education, or information), is a poor person.  As such, realising human rights is not distinct from alleviating poverty.

There is no consensus and there are many definitions, most of which partly overlap. However, there is broad agreement that an interpretation of poverty that looks at monetary income alone is too simplistic. Comparing the various interpretations of poverty with Islamic guidance on justice, development and support, Islamic Relief understands poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon, with a special focus on capability deprivation. Poverty encompasses not only material deprivation (measured by income or consumption), but also forms of deprivation such as unemployment, ill health, lack of education, vulnerability, powerlessness, and social exclusion.

In Islam, poverty is defined by five groups of activities and things which make up the human needs:  religion, physical self, intellect or knowledge, offspring and family, and wealth. The fulfilment of these needs is considered one of the basic goals of Islam.

The Islamic perspective correlates with the broad consensus of poverty being a multi-dimensional issue, as it is based on human needs that cannot be reflected in monetary terms alone.  In particular, in as far as operational measurement is concerned; the last four types of basic activities that make up basic human needs in Islam are similar to the indicators in the Human Development Indices developed by the United Nations, which stress the importance of income, education, and health.

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