Is God to Blame for Our Food Crisis?

A one-liner by Indian actor Kamal Haasan caught my eye on social media recently. It read, "I don't need a God who doesn't feed a hungry child today, but promises you a heaven tomorrow."

We have all heard some form of this clichéd argument at one point or another. If God exists, why do people go hungry? Why does He let us suffer from disease? Why do people die?

Critics who raise such points apparently believe that the existence of a Creator and human suffering should be mutually exclusive. This is flawed reasoning. Whether God created the laws of nature or whether they magically came about by themselves, hunger, disease and death are very much a part of existence. They are a part of the human experience on this planet, as He has Himself described.

Yes, all humans hunger and get sick. But why does God not intervene and save hungry kids from dying?

The Quran answers this question elegantly. It says, "And when it is said to them, 'Spend out of that with which Allah has provided you,' those who disbelieve say to those who believe, 'Shall we feed him whom Allah would have fed, if He had so willed? You are but in manifest error.'" (36:48)

In this verse, God elucidates that apart from providing mankind with ample food, He also has a mechanism for feeding those who have a lesser share of it. This mechanism is us!

The Quran lays immense emphasis on caring for the poor and needy and spending out of one's wealth to cater to the hungry and less fortunate. It repeatedly describes the believers as those who feed the poor, the orphans and the prisoners, only to win God's pleasure, desiring no reward or thanks in return (76:8-9). God asks believers to eat of His favors and not only feed those who beg for food, but actively seek those who appear contended but might in fact be needy of food (22:36). Numerous other verses admonish believers to feed the distressed and the needy (e.g. 22:28).

This insistence on feeding the hungry is just as profound as the punishment for ignoring the commandment. The Quran states, for instance, that when the guilty ones will be asked on Judgment day how they ended up in hell, they will say: "We did not feed the poor." (74:44 & 69:34)

Kamal Haasan says he does not understand a God who does not feed a hungry child. Well, maybe he does not understand God's mechanism for feeding the hungry. Maybe he does not understand that instead of blaming God on a full stomach, we could busy ourselves doing what He wants us to do - share our food with the poor and needy. This is also one of the major purposes of fasting in the month of Ramadan.

As a resident of the world's second most populous country, there is ample opportunity for Mr. Haasan to help in this regard.

India is the world's largest producer of milk, and holds the second position in the world in fruit and vegetable production. It is also one of the largest exporters of agricultural produce worldwide.

Despite this apparent wealth of food, almost a quarter of the world's undernourished population is housed in India. Ironically, scarcity of food remains a major contributor to the country's mortality. This phenomenon is even more painfully apparent at the international level where millions of children die of hunger every year despite an overall net surplus in food production. It is heartbreaking to note that over three fourths of malnourished children below the age of five live in countries that have enough food to feed their whole populations.

This huge mismatch between the production and distribution of food is painful to witness, thanks to the craziness of the so-called free market. But what is free about a market that drives food prices so high and food distribution so inefficient that 1 in 6 people worldwide go to bed hungry every night? More relevant to this conversation, how is it God's fault that we consciously choose to act with greed instead of grace in feeding our fellow human beings?

And if you want an even better idea of the extent of the crisis, consider these facts: In the year 2012, the 100 richest people on earth made enough money to feed the whole world 4 times over. The United States' defense budget for this year alone is enough to feed the entire world's hungry people for twenty years straight.

And shamefully, more than one third of the food produced annually for human consumption goes to waste -- should we blame God for this too?

The problem is not a lack of provision. Far from it, it is a tragic mix of poverty and greed. It is the colossal and ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is to counter this disparity that Islam instructs believers to pay obligatory alms called the Zakat. This aims to ensure proper circulation of wealth within society. In addition, the Quran reiterates that it is our basic human duty to ensure no one remains hungry at any time.

Yet, as I write this, over 200 million Indians - and 800 million worldwide - are going to bed on an empty stomach.

Instead of resting the blame on a God who commands selfless service to humanity, we should fulfill His work on earth. This is why my Muslim community is conducting food drives in 206 counties across the globe, and even knocking at the door of the American Congress to help in the fight against hunger.

Yes Mr, Hasaan, God does promise a heaven tomorrow, but to those who feed His children today.