On the expansive canvas that is the internet, reading the news, searching for information, randomly browsing its pages, I see it. It is the picture of a dark-skinned child, African I think, hunched over in hunger, in agony, in hopelessness, body emaciated. The child – hairless so that I can’t tell if he’s a boy or she’s a girl – is so thin, skin wrapped tightly around the bumps and pokes of bones too-small.
I wonder what photographer could have captured this image without shattering the lens to his own heart, without lying down, curling up, and weeping in guilt over all the extra-helpings and excessive dinners eaten over the years. I wonder what photographer did not drop everything, search for food, give up her own lunch, pull it out of her own mouth, in order to feed this child. So much skin and bones on someone so small is devastating enough in picture; to see this child in person seems like too much to bear. This child I am describing, this child whose image haunts the public domain of the internet and the collective conscious of mankind, is not new to me. I have seen this child before, elsewhere, and I am not surprised to hear that you have, too. It is the same child. It is the same child, I tell myself, the same image, for to think – to realise the truth – that this state of existence belongs, not to a single child, but to nations and generations of children is also too much to bear.
Perhaps it was too much to bear. Because it seems the internet has not been entirely oblivious to this child who could have been our son or our daughter had Allah only decreed it to be so, may Allah protect us and our children. The expansive canvas that is the internet expands further, with new pages and new scenes, new ways to raise awareness and ease the pain of the child. I travel across it and find new sites. These are sites that encourage charity and helping those in need, facilitating monetary donations by easy transfer from bank accounts, encouraging the collection of supplies, food, clothes, books, gathering the resources from people who need only be willing to give.
In particular, a few sites catch my attention. They are a new type of site, ones that allow you to give by simply clicking the button of your mouse. Take these for example: freerice.com, a vocabulary game that donates 20 grains of rice for every entry answered correctly; and a similar freepoverty.com, a geography game that helps donate water, clean water, to people badly in need of it – and who knew that clean water was such an issue?
I pause, and I think these sites are perfect for me. They are convenient and automated, like so much else I am used to in life; they are easy. They remind me to take a break from my normal clicking activities to intend and click a little for a cause. A break from work, they are beneficial to others and educational to me. It is all a win-win-win situation. I rejoice, because I see in the internet a solution to humanity’s twin suffering and guilt. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an: “By no means shall you attain piety unless you spend of that which you love” (Aal-Imran: 92). Elsewhere, Allah (SWT) describes those slaves of His who will go to jannah, saying that
“they give food, in spite of their love for it, to the poor, the orphan, and the captive” (Al-Insan: 8).
I recall again that clicking a mouse button requires no sacrifice on my part. Sacrifice is that act of pulling the food out of my own mouth, at a time when I am hungry, and giving it to the starving child.
And contact? There is nothing I can think or say on this matter that the Prophet (SAW) did not say better. In the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, it is narrated that the Prophet (SAW) said, “The best of charity is that which leaves you still independent of means, and the upper hand (the one that gives) is better than the lower hand (the one that receives), and start with those who are under your care.” He (SAW) also said, “Bring the orphan close to you, wipe his head and give him some of your food, for that will soften your heart and fulfill your need” (Al-Silsilah al-Saheehah).
When I reflect on either of these traditions, I see in them a command to be near those you are giving to, or perhaps simply to give to those who are near.
I think back to those sites, freerice, freepoverty, freeotherthings.com, and I think no less of them. What brilliance, to be able to help people I might never otherwise be able to, people thousands of miles away! What creativity to turn it into a beneficial game, an asset to both the giving and receiving ends! Certainly, as long as there are people in need, there is no reason to limit the ways and means of aiding them.
But I think also of contact and sacrifice, those two ingredients that contribute so much to the spirit of charity. I think of what it means to see and know the child behind the heart-wrenching image. I think of how interaction can lend strength to a community, and how sacrifice can bring purification to the soul. I think of all these and I know: I must incorporate these aspects more often into the act of truly giving.
Bint Abdel Hamid is a student of English and Psychology, and hopes to benefit others with what she learns.