By no means shall you attain righteousness, unless you give of that which you love.
(Q 3: 92)
The idea that helping others is part of a meaningful life has been around for thousands of years For Muslims, charity is a central aspect of their faith and practice. Governed by a worldview in which all things come from God and finally return to God, Muslims are taught to live as trustees of God’s blessings. Along with fasting and prayers, charity is a cardinal act of piety in the holy month of Ramadan. Islam is a complete way of life and within this there is a duty to serve those who are less privileged than ourselves.
The Qur’an enjoins that if we believe that all things, ultimately, belong to God, then it behoves on us to spend everything in accordance with the plan of God. Frugality with self and generosity with others is the underlying Qur’anic message of charity (Q2:219): “They ask thee how much they are to spend; say: ‘What is beyond your needs.’”
The idea that helping others is part of a meaningful life has been around for thousands of years.
For Muslims, charity is a central aspect of their faith and practice. They are taught to live as trustees of God’s blessings. Along with fasting and prayers charity is a cardinal act of piety.The Qur’an provides both a spiritual framework for the possession of wealth, and practical guidelines for its dispensation. If we believe that all things, ultimately, belong to God, then it behoves on us to spend everything in accordance with the plan of God. Frugality with self and generosity with others is the underlying Qur’anic message of charity (Q2:219), “They ask thee how much they are to spend; say: ‘What is beyond your needs.’”
Muslims are obliged to give charity on a regular basis in the form of either Zakat, which is mandatory giving, or Sadaqa, which is voluntary and meant to go beyond the mere religious obligations. Zakat is more of a social contract between rich and poor societies where each individual shares a moral and duty-bound obligation to help one another. Zakat means purification and comes from the Arabic verb zaka, which also signifies “to thrive,” “to be pure” and “to be wholesome,” .Muslims “purify” their wealth by giving a portion of it every year in charity. As the Qur’an says: “Of their goods, take Zakat, so that you might purify and sanctify them.” (Q9:103).
In the Islamic faith,five foundational goals–known as Maqasid al Sharia include the protection of faith, progeny, life wealth and intellect. According to the rules of the Qur’an, all Muslims obliged to pay zakat to pay it must donate at least 2.5% of their accumulated wealth for the benefit of the poor, destitute and others – classified as mustahik. It is one of the largest forms of wealth transfer to the poor in existence. The 2.5% rate only applies to cash, gold and silver, and commercial items. There are other rates for farm and mining produce, and for animals.
The spending of wealth for the sake of God purifies the heart of the love of material wealth. In a way, the man who spends of his wealth affirms the truth that nothing is dearer to him in life than the love of God and that he is fully prepared to sacrifice everything for His sake. The equitable division of the wealth of society and the bounty of the earth between all people, regardless of their social station, is seen as a cardinal obligation for Muslims.
Zakat is levied on five categories of property—food grains; fruit; camels, cattle, sheep, and goats; gold and silver; and movable goods—and is payable each year after one year’s possession. The beneficiaries of zakat are mentioned in the Quran: “(Zakat) charity is only for the poor, and the needy, and those employed to administer it, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth), and (to free) the captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer”. (Q9:60). Zakat serves as a reminder of one’s broader social responsibilities to the community.
Deeply embedded in the Islamic concept of zakat are the notions of welfare, altruism and justice which can be seen as a way of harnessing human potential to resolve insurmountable challenges to human society. In other words, charity and altruism are rooted in the basic concern for the welfare of others, while Islam has added to it the notion of justice, which is seen as a way of building a just and equitable society. According to the Qur’an, “the likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain that sprouts seven spikes. In every spike there are 100 grains, and Allah multiplies for whom He will”. (Q 2:261).
When reading the Quran, the significance of zakat appears to be equal to prayer as an expression of faith. The two are often mentioned simultaneously in the symmetrical rhythm of the Holy Book’s verses. Why paying zakat is so crucial. It is God’s way of ensuring the re-distribution of the wealth He has placed in our possession. It has the ability to balance disparities between people and possessions — as every single person has equal access to God in all moments, there should be no barrier preventing individual assets that belong to God from flowing between people. Thus charity is not just an instrument of economic justice; it also helps in breaking social barriers .The rich experience a new affinity for the poor.
It is the human predilection for riches that the Quran cautions against, yet it acknowledges that spiritually immature souls may jeopardise their own moral standing by indulging in reckless acts of charity that leave them destitute. Some verses (including Q17:29 and 25:67) speak of maintaining a balance between extravagance and parsimony. This is in recognition of human nature, which has the dual impulses of compassion and an inherent love of wealth. In this way, Islam’s legal teachings counsel temperance and prudence; whereas Islam’s spiritual teachings urge selflessness and generosity.
Extravagance is abhorred by Islam. “Indeed the prodigious spenders are the brothers of the Satan and the Satan is ungrateful to his Lord,” says the Qur’an. The existence of countless starving, poor and destitute Muslims and non-Muslims in the world points to the need for this essential teaching to be put into practice. Affluent Muslims may not realize how their wealth could strengthen whole communities. Giving charity correctly is crucial to both the well-being of the needy as well as the ultimate happiness of the wealthy. The Prophet emphasized this principle repeatedly.
A well known saying of the Prophet illustrates the importance of every part of a person’s body performing a charity:
“A charity is due for every joint in each person on every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim)
Charity lies in the sharing and giving of knowledge, the ability to speak with humility, the willingness to provide hope in all forms of adversity, the ability to forgive, to give respect and dignity, in the simple understanding that what really ties me to a common humanity is compassion.
Our faith in God and human beings is shown in small acts of kindness, brotherhood or sisterhood and familiarity in our day-to-day lives. We don’t have to go out and look for an opportunity to do this duty. It stands before us all the time, and we need only to do very well the work that we have been given. If we are mothers, we should be great mothers; if we are civil servants, we should serve people with great energy, honesty and courtesy.
The real magic of giving lies in the way you give. It must not be with an eye on the returns, but because you want to give. Giving with motives attached not only nullifies one’s own happiness but also burdens the receiver. It makes the other person come under the burden of an obligation. You should give with your whole being, with your whole heart – remember, half a seed cannot germinate. After planting your seeds, you should expect absolutely nothing in return. It is nobler to follow the Biblical injunction. “Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth.” Giving and receiving are one in truth. When you give to someone with no strings attached – whether it is a physical gift, a compliment or your time – you are as nourished as the receiver.
Kahlil Gibran emphaises that we should give with our full emotional being .it should not just be a physical gift, but a pouring out of our entire love. He writes in The Prophet: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” He further suggests: “Give while the season of giving is here so that your coffer is not empty when you die.”
(The author is a regular columnist of this newspaper and can be reached at: [email protected])