The Concept of Charity in Islam

Aid and charity

Inspired by the verses of the Qur’an and the traditions and practices of the Prophet and his Companions, the giving of Sadaqah (charity) to individuals or institutions has remained widespread among the Muslims. The Prophet was the most generous of men. He used to give with his own hand. When asked for anything, he never refused. If he had nothing to give, he would borrow from one of his Companions and pay him later.

The Prophet’s wives were also known for their almsgiving. Of them, Zaynab bint Jahsh was the most generous and was called by the Prophet “the longest in arm.” She was also known as the “mother of the poor” (umm al-masakin) for her almsgiving. A’ishah, the youngest wife of the Prophet, was also known as the mother of the poor. Whenever anyone uttered words of blessing for her, she used to return the same with some alms. After them we have shining examples of generosity set by the pious caliphs. Once when the Prophet urged them to give Sadaqah, Umar ibn Al-Khattab brought half of what he owned, but only to find that once again Abu Bakr had outdone him by giving away all that he had.

There is a very interesting example of the generosity of Uthman, the third caliph. During the caliphate of Abu Bakr, people were in great distress due to a drought. The caliph told them to remain patient, for Allah would soon relieve them. Before longUthman’s caravan arrived with its merchandise from Syria. There were one thousand camels in the caravan, all of them loaded with wheat and foodstuffs from Syria. When the news got around Madinah, all the great traders of Madinah rapidly converged on `Uthman’s house. When he emerged to meet them, they expressed their urgent desire to purchase the foodstuffs so that they could pass it on to those townspeople who needed it.

Ushering them inside, he asked them how much profit they were prepared to give him on this merchandise. “Twelve dirhams on every ten dirhams’ worth,” they replied. “But I can get a better price,” said Uthman. “Then we’ll give you fourteen,” they said. Uthman again said that he could get a better price, whereupon they put their price up to fifteen dirhams. But Uthman stood firm. Bewildered by his attitude, they asked him who could give him a better price, considering that all of the merchants of Madinah were already assembled there. “I can get ten dirhams for every dirham’s worth,” he told them, then asked them if any one of them could give a better price than that. No one spoke up. Then Uthman recited the verse of the Qur’an which says that those who do good will be rewarded tenfold (6:60). He explained to them that he intended to give away all the wheat and other foodstuffs to the needy people of Madinah.

According to the teachings of Islam, the giving of Sadaqah serves a number of functions. Sadaqah first and foremost acts as expiation for sins. The believers are asked to give Sadaqah immediately following any transgression. Voluntary alms-giving can also compensate for any shortcoming in the past payment of zakah. Sadaqah also gives protection against all kinds of evil. Sadaqah wards off affliction in this world, and punishment on Judgment Day. It is therefore recommended to give Sadaqah by night and by day, in secret and in public, to seek Allah’s pleasure. The constant giving of a little is said to please Allah more than the occasional giving of much.

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