PROPHETIC WISDOM FOR OUR TIMES series [The Message Magazine]
عنْ أبي موسى الأشعري، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، قَالَ : ” عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ صَدَقَةٌ ” ، قِيلَ : أَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ لَمْ يَجِدْ ؟ ، قَالَ : يَعْتَمِلُ بِيَدَيْهِ ، فَيَنْفَعُ نَفْسَهُ وَيَتَصَدَّقُ ، قَالَ : قِيلَ : أَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ ؟ ، قَالَ : يُعِينُ ذَا الْحَاجَةِ الْمَلْهُوفَ ” ، قَالَ : قِيلَ لَهُ : أَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ ؟ ، قَالَ : يَأْمُرُ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ أَوِ الْخَيْرِ ، قَالَ : أَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ لَمْ يَفْعَلْ ؟ ، قَالَ : يُمْسِكُ عَنِ الشَّرِّ فَإِنَّهَا صَدَقَةٌ “
The Prophet stated:
Every Muslim should give charity.
He was asked, What if one cannot? Then he should go find work and help himself and others.
He was asked, What if one cannot? Then he should help someone in need.
He was asked, What if one cannot? Then he should command what is right or good.
He was asked, What if one cannot? Then at least he should refrain from evil, and that would be charity for him.
The spirit of charity, volunteerism and service to others is the hallmark of Islam and among its greatest teachings. The Prophet never lost an opportunity to teach this message to others and on its basis, he built a prosperous and charitable society oriented to public service.
The Prophet exhibited this paradigm in his own life in a marvelous way. Before he became a Prophet preaching revelation to mankind, he earned their trust by being al-Ṣādiq (the truthful) and al-Amīn (the trustworthy). People confided in him, trusted him, asked for his advice and even kept their valuables in his safekeeping. It was these ethical qualities in his early life that enabled him to be a successful Messenger later on. And so, when the first revelations came down to anoint him as a Messenger of the Divine and he rushed home fearful and full of great distress, his beloved supporter, confidante and wife Khadījah consoled him and gave him confidence by listing his service to others:
كَلَّا أَبْشِرْ ، فَوَاللَّهِ لَا يُخْزِيكَ اللَّهُ أَبَدًا ، وَاللَّهِ إِنَّكَ لَتَصِلُ الرَّحِمَ ، وَتَصْدُقُ الْحَدِيثَ ، وَتَحْمِلُ الْكَلَّ ، وَتَكْسِبُ الْمَعْدُومَ ، وَتَقْرِي الضَّيْفَ ، وَتُعِينُ عَلَى نَوَائِبِ الْحَقِّ
“No, rejoice! By God, He would never disgrace you! For you uphold the ties of kinship, always speak the truth, bear the people’s burdens, help the destitute, honor guests, and serve those whose rights are due.”[i]
This tradition of service continued throughout his Prophethood and became an integral part of his mission and message. When he arrived in his adopted home of Madīnah to construct the first Islamic society, his very first words to the people summed up that message:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ , أَفْشُوا السَّلامَ , وَصِلُوا الأَرْحَامَ , وَأَطْعِمُوا الطَّعَامَ , وَصَلُّوا بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّاسُ نِيَامٌ
“People, spread peace among yourselves, uphold family ties, feed each other and pray during the night while the rest of the people sleep, and you shall enter Paradise in peace!”[ii]
The formula was simple. Build a peaceful society, which consists of service to others (your families and those who are needy) and service to God (in the form of prayers). That, in essence, is the road to salvation. The balance between the body and spirit, between personal and civic responsibilities, and between spirituality and public service is a wonderful legacy of Islam to humanity.
In this Prophetic lesson, he emphasized the need for financial independence so that one could be in a position to help others. Charity, primarily in the form of contributions, is a responsibility of every believer. These could be monetary donations or other types of material assets depending upon the need. And for those unable to afford such, the Prophet strongly urged them to find work to earn something with their own hands so that they could then help themselves and then others. In other words, real donations are among the greatest forms of charity, and being in a state of financial independence is a sought after value in Islam.
When these avenues are exhausted and for those who truly are not in a position to giveto others, then the Prophet recommended them to go out and help someone in need. Financial assistance takes precedence but if that is simply not possible, then service to others is a priority. The principle of charity is so important that no single person should be deprived from practicing it, even those who cannot afford it.
For those who are neither in the position to give nor in a position to help, then they were urged to at least enjoin something that is good or virtuous, i.e. teach someone something beneficial. Finally, those not in a position to practice any of these approaches must, at the very least, stay out of trouble and protect the people from their own potential harm.
So charity and public service should involve everyone in a sound and healthy society. There are no exceptions, because there are many forms of helping others. Financial and material donations always take precedence, followed by physically serving others and teaching. At the least, withholding ones potential troubles or harm to others is also a form of helping.
In an atmosphere where public assistance and charity have been frowned upon by some and in a political discourse that often vilifies groups such as the 47% who are forced to accept forms of public assistance, these lessons on charity are very timely. At the same time, there are hopeful signs in the rejection of that message by the majority—as the recent elections have shown—and the great response of many who rose to the challenge of public service in the aftermath of the recent natural disasters that placed so many people in a position of need.