Medieval Islamic society viewed poverty both as a social problem and as a form of religious piety. Therefore, understanding the attitudes of medieval Muslims towards poverty and the poor turns on the distinction between the involuntary poor as an identifiable group or groups in society and the adoption of voluntary poverty as a spiritual value by elite groups of pious men and women. Although the poor constituted an inherent part of the social order, in medieval Islamic societies the general tendency was to leave beneficent actions in the hands of personal rather than institutional initiative. After all, the existence of the poor provided the context for the expression of charity.