Charity: the spirit of islam

Charity: the spirit of islam

You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you –– John Bunyan

The idea that helping others is part of a meaningful life has been around for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote that finding happiness and fulfillment is achieved “by loving rather than in being loved.”

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 zakat is a cardinal act of piety in the holy month of Ramadan.

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.’”

The Qura’nic word for charity is zakat. Other than sachet, which is obligatory, people can also offer voluntary alms known as sadaqah. Several different categories of charity are defined in Islam, the two most important being zakat (obligatory charity) and sadaqa (voluntary charity). Zakat is a specific, standardized percentage of one’s extra wealth (over and above the necessities of life) that must be given to specified categories of people. Sadaqa can be given to anyone in many forms including a smile, wise advice, or helping to build a home

Muslims are obliged to purify their wealth by calculating 2.5 percent of their assets — including money in bank accounts, shares, investments, pensions, gold, etc. — and giving it to those less fortunate. Zakat represents the minimum amount of charity that each individual is obliged to give as a virtuous human being. The spending of wealth for the sake of God purifies the heart of man of the love of material wealth. In a way, the man who spends it  a humble gift before the Lord and thus 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.

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.

Recipients of the zakat include the poor and needy, the collectors themselves, and “those whose hearts it is necessary to conciliate”—e.g., discordant tribesmen, debtors, volunteers in jihad (holy war), and pilgrims.

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.

Zakat takes the egotism out of the traditional Bedouin personality. Instead of exhibiting their reckless, excessive liberality, they make a regular contribution to the weaker members of the tribe.

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.

An oft-repeated story in the Muslim world tells of a Shah in Persia who came upon an old man planting an olive tree, which takes decades to produce good fruit. When asked why he is planting a tree that will not benefit him, the old man replies, “Those who came before me planted, and we benefited. I am planting so that those who come after me shall benefit.” Intrinsic to the obligation of giving in Islam is the universal truism that a love of humanity and a love of God beget charitable deed.

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.

The Prophet said: “Your smile for your brother is a charity. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is a charity. Your guidance of a person who is lost is a charity.” (Bukhari)

Another hadith 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)

The Prophet said: “The believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection will be his charity.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

On the day when all other shade will be gone, God will shade and shelter those who give charity and care for the poor. The Muslim’s sacrifice in this life will be their protection on the Day of Judgment.

By sacrificing part of one’s wealth and giving it in charity, the individual is guaranteeing protection for himself from tragedy and misfortune.

The Prophet said: “Give charity without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

It is considered better to give charity than receive it. One should be wary of repeatedly soliciting and taking from sadaqa and zakat funds. Those who refrain from taking these funds (so that more will be left for the other needy) will be provided for by God and be made self-reliant by Him.

The Prophet said: “The upper hand is better than the lower hand (he who gives is better than him who takes). One should start giving first to his dependents. And the best object of charity is that which is given by a wealthy person (from the money left after his expenses). And whoever abstains from asking others for some financial help, God will give him and save him from asking others, God will make him self-sufficient.” (Al-Bukhari)

We can figure out   the importance of zakat from the fact that it is mentioned at eighty two places in the Qur’an in close connection with prayer .This word is derived from Zakd, which means it (a plant) grew. The second derivative of this word carries the sense of purification.

Zakat is the most effective measure for improving the economic condition of the poor. It is not, however, a mere tax, but a form of worship whereby a man comes close to his Lord. The Muslims have, therefore, been enjoined to pay zakat with the same sense of earnestness and devotion in which the seeker of the Lord offs his prayer. The primary motive of zakat is religious and spiritual, while the social and economic aspects are subservient. Its social significance is that it awakens   brotherliness   with less fortunate leading to an empathetic relationship. From the economic point of view it discourages hoarding and concentration of wealth and facilitates equitable flow of goods and commodities. It it is verily mentioned in the holy Qur’an that God says: “Take alms of their property that you may purify and sanctify them and pray for them. Verily, your prayers are a comfort for them” (Al-Taubah 103).

. 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 pressure 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.

The real magic of    giving goes even deeper than that momentary sublimation. As Simone de Beauvoir emphasizes:”That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing.”Kahlil Gibran suggests something still better: “Give while the season of giving is here so that your coffer is not empty when you die.”

Every giver possesses two disconnected commodities:  wealth and   convictions. Alone, they have no spiritual value. But the alchemy of these virtues can empower the wealthy to transmute the dross of their wealth   into the gold of a happy human community. Abraham Lincoln puts it more pithily:” To ease another’s heartache Is to forget one’s own”.

Kahlil Gibran emphases 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.”

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Dr. Moin Qazi
Dr. Moin Qazi is a well-known banker, author and journalist. He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He received an Honorary D Litt at the World Congress of Poets at Istanbul in 1991. He is author of several books on Islam including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar. He writes regularly for several international publications and was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at