Mian Javed Hussein
Islam teaches us to reach out with open hands, and give charity as a way of life. In the Quran, charity is often mentioned along with prayer as one of the factors that identify true believers. In addition, the Quran frequently uses the words ‘regular charity’, so the charity is best as an ongoing and consistent activity, not just one-off here and there for a special cause. While charity is mentioned dozens of times in the Quran, I have picked up some of the key verses from Surat # 2 (Al-Baqarah) of the Quran, skipping the vast subject of the mandatory charity (Zakat) in this article.
In the Qur’an, Allah has revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): “They ask thee What they should spend (in charity). Say: Whatever wealth Ye spend that is good, Is for parents and kindred And orphans And those in want And for wayfarers. And whatever ye do That is good, —Allah Knoweth it well.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah 2, verse: 215) (ii:215)
Three questions arise in charity:
- What shall we give?
- To whom shall we give? and
- How shall we give?
The answer is here:
Give anything that is good, useful, helpful, valuable. It may be property or money; it may be a helping hand: it may be advice; it may be a kind word; “whatever ye do that is good” is charity. On the other hand, if you throw away what is useless, there is no charity in it. Or if you give something with harmful intent, e.g, a sword to a madman, or a drug or sweets or even money to someone whom you want to entrap or corrupt it is no charity, but a gift of damnation.
To whom should you give? It may be tempting to earn the peoples’ praise by a gift that will be talked about, but is you meeting the needs of those who have the first claim on you? If you are not, you are like a person who defrauds creditors: it is no charity. Every gift is judged by its unselfish character: the degree of need or claim is a factor which you should consider. If you disregard it, there is something selfish behind it.
How should charity be given? As in the sight of Allah, this shuts out all pretense, show, and insincerity.
Allah commands: “ O ye who believe! Spend out of (the bounties) We have provided for you Before the Day comes When no bargaining (Will avail), nor friendship Nor intercession. Those who reject Faith –they Are the wrong-doers”. (Qur-an…..Surat # 2 Al- Baqarah; verse 254)( ii: 254).
Explanation: The believers are commanded to spend in charity, or employ in good works, but do not hoard. Good works would in Islam include everything that advances the good of one that is in need, whether a neighbor or a stranger or that advances the good of the community or even the good of the person himself to whom Allah has given the bounty. But it must be really good and there should be no admixture of baser motives, such as vainglory, or false indulgence, or encouragement of idleness, or playing off one person against another. The bounties include mental and spiritual gifts as well as wealth and material gifts.
The following other verses of Qur’an ( Surat # 2, Al-Baqarah) define the pros and cons of the Charity in depth:-
“The parable of those Who spend their wealth In the way of Allah is that Of a grain of corn: it growth Seven ears, and each ear Hath a hundred grains. Allah giveth manifold increase To whom He pleaseth: And Allah careth for all And He knoweth all things.” …….. ( ii : 261).
“Those who spend their wealth in the cause of Allah, and follow not up Their gifts with reminders Of their generosity Or with injury,- for them Their reward is with their Lord: On them shall be no fear, Nor shall they grieve.”
( ii : 262).
“ Kind words And the covering of faults Are better than charity Followed by injury. Allah is Free of all wants. And He is most Forbearing ”. (ii-263)
A very high standard is set for charity.
(1) It must be in the way of Allah.
(2) It must expect no reward in this world.
(3) It must not be followed by references or reminders to the act of charity. (4) Still less should any annoyance or injury be caused to the recipient, e.g; by boasting that the giver relieved the person in the hour of need.
Indeed, the kindness and the spirit which turns a blind eye to other people’s faults or short-comings is the essence of charity: these things are better than charity if the charity is spoilt by tricks that do harm. At the same time, while no reward is to be expected, there is an abundant reward from Allah – material, moral and spiritual- according to His own good pleasure and plan. If we spend in the way of Allah, it is not as if Allah was in need of our charity. On the contrary, our shortcomings are so great that we require His utmost forbearance before any good that we can do can merit His praise and reward. Our motives are so mixed that our best may really be very poor if judged by a very strict standard.
Allah commands: “ O ye who believe! Cancel not your charity By reminders of your generosity Or by injury- like those Who spend their wealth to be seen of men, But believe neither In Allah nor in the Last Day. They are in Parable like hard, barren rock, on which Is a little soil: on it Falls heavy rain, Which leaves it (Just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing With aught they have earned. And Allah guideth, not Those who reject faith.”
(Surat Al-Baqarah, verse 264) (ii-264) .
False charity,“ to be seen of men”, is really no charity. It is worse, for it betokens disbelief in Allah and the Hereafter. “Allah seeth well Whatever ye do” (ii-265). It is compared to hard barren rock on which by chance has fallen a little soil. Good rain, which renders fertile soil more fruitful, washes away the little soil which this rock had, and exposes its nakedness.
“ And the likeness of those Who spend their wealth Seeking to please Allah And to strengthen their souls, Is as a garden, high and fertile: heavy rain falls on it but makes it yield A double increase Of harvest, and if it receives not Heavy rain, light moisture Sufficeth it. Allah seeth well Whatever ye do.”
(Surat Al-Baqarah, verse-265)(ii-265).
True charity is like a field with good soil in a high situation. It catches good showers of rain, the moisture penetrates the soil, and yet its elevated situation keeps it well-drained, and healthy favorable conditions increase its output enormously. But supposing even that the rain is not abundant, it catches dew and makes the most of any little moisture it can get, and that is sufficient for it. So a man of true charity is spiritually healthy; he is best situated to attract the bounties of Allah, which he does not hoard selfishly but circulates freely.
In lean times, he still produces good works and is content with what he has. He looks to Allah’s pleasure and the strengthening of his own soul.
“ Does any of you wish That he should have a garden with date-palms and vines And streams flowing Underneath, and all kinds Of fruit, while he is stricken With old age, and his children Are not strong (enough To look after themselves)-That it should be caught In a whirlwind , With fire therein, And be burnt up? Thus doth Allah make clear To you (His) Signs; That ye may consider.” (Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 266) (ii-266).
Suppose we had a beautiful garden well watered and fertile, with delightful views of streams, and a haven for rest for mind and body; suppose old age was creeping in on us, and our children were either too young to look after themselves or too feeble in health: how should we feel if a sudden whirlwind came with lightning or fire in its train, and burnt it up, thus blasting the whole of our hopes for the present and for the future, and destroying the result of all our labor and savings in the past?
Well, this life of ours is probation. We may work hard, we may save, we may have good luck. We may make ourselves a goodly pleasance and have ample means of support for ourselves and our children, a great whirlwind charged with lightning and fire comes and burns up the whole show. We are too old to begin again: our children are too young or feeble to help us to repair the damage. Our chance is lost because we did not provide against such a contingency.
The whirlwind is the “wrath to come”; the provision against it is a life of true charity and righteousness, which is the only source of true and lasting happiness in this world and hereafter. Without it, we are subject to all vicissitudes of this uncertain life. We may even spoil our so-called “charity” by insisting on the obligation which others owe to us or by doing some harm because our motives are not pure.
“ O ye who believe! Give of the good things Which ye have (honourably) earned, And of the fruits of the earth Which We have produced For you, and do not aim At anything Which is bad, Out of it ye may give away Something, when ye yourselves Would not receive it Except with closed eyes. And know that Allah Is Free of all wants, And Worthy of all praise”.
(Surat Al-Baqarah, Verse 267)(ii-267).
According to the English proverb “Charity covers a multitude of sins”. Such a sentiment is strongly disapproved in Islam. The charity has value only if
(1) something good is given, (2) which has been honorably earned or acquired by the giver, (3) which can be referred to as a bounty of Allah.
(1) may include such things as are of use and value to others though they may be of less use to us or superfluous to us on account of our having acquired something more suitable for our station in life.
(2) applies to items or gains and profits fraudulently acquired or earned. Islam will have nothing to do with the tainted property. Its economic code requires that every gain should be honest and honorable. Even ‘charity’ would not cover or remove the taint.
(3) lays down a test in cases of doubtful gain. Can we refer to it as a gift of Allah? Obviously, the product of honest labour or agriculture can be so referred to. In modern commerce and speculation, there is much of quite the contrary character and charity will not cover the taint.
Some kind of art, skill, or talent are gifted by Allah: it is the highest kind of charity to teach them or share their product. Others are the contrary: they are bad or tainted. In the same way, some professions or services may be tainted if these tend to moral harm. Good and evil draw us opposite ways and by opposite motives, and the contrast is well marked out in charity.
When we think of doing some real act of kindness or charity, we are assailed with doubts and fear of impoverishment; but evil supports any tendency to selfishness, greed, or even too extravagant expenditure for show, or self-indulgence, or unseemly appetites. On the other hand, Allah draws us on to all that is kind and good, for that way lies the forgiveness of our sins, and greater real prosperity and satisfaction.
No kind or generous act ever has ruined anyone. It is false generosity that is sometimes shown as leading to ruin. As Allah knows all our motives and cares for all, and has everything in His power, it is obvious which course a wise man will choose. But wisdom is rare, and it is only wisdom that can appreciate true well being and distinguish it from the false appearance of well-being.
There are some other commands and directions given in the Quran regarding giving of charity which I have not reflected here intentionally as it will be too lengthy to incorporate the same word by word. To summarise, it is better to seek no publicity in charity. But if it is known there is no harm. If it is for a public purpose, it must necessarily be known, and a pedantic show of concealment may itself be a fault. The harm of publicity lies in motives of ostentation. We can better reach the really deserving poor by quietly seeking for them. The spiritual benefit ensures to our own souls, provided our motives are pure, and we are really seeking the good pleasure of Allah. By giving charity, we relieve those in dire need, whether they are good or bad, on the right path or not, Muslims or otherwise. It is not for us to judge in these matters. Allah will give light according to His wisdom. The chief motive in charity should be Allah’s pleasure and our own spiritual good. (Ref. Verses 269-72, Surat Al-Baqarah).
Indiscriminate acts of so-called charity are condemned as they may do more harm than good. The real beneficiaries of charity must be in need and their need must be due to some genuine cause. Such men do not beg from door to door. It is for the well-to-do persons/charity givers to find them out.
(Note: The subject of‘ mandatory charity’ (Zakat) is not touched in this article).
(The compiler is retired Indian Forest Service officer)