It’s 8:40 a.m., and my young son and I should have left the house ten minutes ago. Somehow, despite being awoken at a ridiculously early time, we are going to be late for school – again. There is a morning void, I’m sure of it – I call it ‘the lost time zone’, in which keys, shoes and coats inexplicably vanish, just when you need them. The frown on my forehead spreads across my face and, exasperated, I sigh in frustration.
“Smile, Mummy,” my son requests, and I am suddenly reminded of one of the most basic acts of charity:
“Your smile for your brother is charity” (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98)
I grin in spite of myself, the mood immediately lifted somewhat, and my son beams straight back. The smallest charitable action within this brief exchange is a simple example of how effective and easy it is to give and how sharing is often also reciprocated.
Charity, or Zakat, is an Islamic obligation, with the literal meaning of ‘purity’ and is one of the five pillars of belief in Islam. Muslims are required to give two and a half percent of their wealth in zakat each year, which is to be paid on the net amount remaining, after all necessary expenses have been considered. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said; “Give regular charity, for truly it is a purifier, and be kind to your relatives and acknowledge the rights of the poor, neighbours and those in need who seek your help.” (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 3)
Sadaqah is a voluntary charitable donation and can be given at any time. It can also be reflected through the kindness and consideration of others and not only through financial contributions. Abu Hurairah (RA) reported that the Prophet (SAW) said, “A good word is charity; administering justice between two people is charity”. If someone “performs good deeds and keeps away from evil deeds, then that will be regarded as a charitable deed.” (Bukhari)
Islamic history gives many examples of women who have demonstrated philanthropic qualities. Zainab Bint Jahsh (RA), a wife and sahabah (companion) of the Prophet (SAW) was renowned for her generous nature; she would use the earnings made from selling her handiwork to spend on the needy. She became known as ‘The Mother of the Poor’, through reaching the most vulnerable in society, in particular, orphans and widows.
Queen Zubayda, the wife of the ninth century Caliph Harun Ar-Rasheed of the Abbasid dynasty, was a well-educated and influential woman. She used her immense wealth to build a large number of wells to vastly improve the route that pilgrims took when travelling from Iraq to Makkah. Following her Hajj pilgrimage, Zubayda also observed the scarcity of water around areas of ‘Arafat and Mina and used her resources to build a canal. This canal provided free drinking water, continuing to do so for over a thousand years.
As royalty, Queen Zubayda enjoyed the privileges that came with her lifestyle but was also aware of her people’s needs and recognised the responsibilities that automatically came with financial prosperity. Acquiring wealth is often regarded negatively, but it is greed for money, rather than money itself, which can become a source of trouble amongst us.
In the ninth century, Fatima al-Fihri of Fez, Morocco used her substantial inheritance (following the death of her husband and brothers) to found the al Qarawiyyin Mosque, which later became the oldest degree-granting University in the world. Her legacy was, and still is, the gift of education. Similarly, her sister Maryam used her own wealth to build the Al-Andalus Mosque, also in Fez.
Islam places particular emphasis on intention in all our actions, and this is to be remembered when giving zakat. It is best to give discreetly, remembering that our deeds are between Allah (SWT) and ourselves.
The scholar Ibn Taymiyyah said, ‘The soul of one who gives Zakat is blessed and so is his wealth’.
“The example of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is like a seed [of grain] which grows seven spikes; in each spike is a hundred grains. And Allah multiplies [His reward] for whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing.” (Al-Baqarah:261)
The sharing of wealth is also a lesson in humility. When we give to the needy, we are not only acknowledging their suffering and hopefully alleviating some of their hardships; we are also realising empathy in our hearts. It is easy to be conscious of what is lacking in our lives and make comparisons with those who appear to have more that we do, and this is one of the reasons why charity has been likened to spiritual purification. Genuine and frequent charitable acts will cultivate a habit of gratefulness for the positive aspects of our lives, that perhaps we had not previously recognised.
How we spend our good fortune is a test of character; we can enjoy the benefits of having wealth, but at the same time remain mindful of our roles within society and the contributions that we can make to improve it. Whilst it is an important duty to endeavour to provide for your family and loved ones, it must be remembered that those of us that have a roof over our heads and regular food on the table are already rich.
We have also been advised to “Be in this life as if you were a stranger or a traveller on a path” (Ibn Umar). This is a reminder that our lives are a journey; as travellers, we do not require or become attached to an excess of worldly goods. When we genuinely free ourselves from the love of possessions and realise that everything comes from Allah (SWT), we accept that all of our belongings are, effectively, on a short-term loan; these belongings are as temporary as our mortal lives here on earth.
As I rummage around for missing items, yet again during ‘the lost time zone’, with the clock ticking away in the background, I realise that this last hadith is one that my son and I would benefit from by putting into practice. I may choose to blame an imaginary metaphysical void in time, but perhaps this is easier than admitting that I have too many items scattered about my house! Well, they do say that charity begins at home…
Khurshid loves writing, particularly articles relating to ethical issues or transforming personal journeys. Her educational background is in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry, and she has previously worked as a Scientist, Broadcast Assistant and Researcher. She has recently started writing flash fiction and is currently studying with the Open University on a creative writing course.