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Charity 101

I love the word “Zakat”. This Arabic word’s root shoots off many words that give a meaning of purification. The often used beautiful word “Tazkiyah” is from the same root word, which means purification of the soul. In the process of Tazkiyah (for Tazkiyah is a life-long journey, not a destination) we are advised to think of our heart and soul as a barren piece of land. We pull out the unwanted weeds and shrubs of hatred, rancor, arrogance, pride and selfishness, and we plant on this newly cleaned soil the seeds of good deeds and qualities like love, forgiveness, humility and generosity.

Zakat, the obligatory charity in Islam, precisely does that. It purifies our wealth as well as our souls.

In addition to this 2.5 % of obligatory charity we are strongly motivated to give more and more and more. For our own good. Because humans are a meaning-seeking species. We need to feel good about ourselves. Just like we have an inherent need to worship a Divine Being, we also have an inherent need to be beneficial to others, unless our souls get corrupted. The act of giving is beautiful. We end up getting more than we give. And the act of hoarding, or holding back, ironically, takes away a lot.

Today, as I came home after a fruitful and in-depth discussion pertaining to charity in an Islamic learning forum, so many thoughts about charity are overflowing in my head and heart. These are some practical tips and thoughts and things I have learnt over time, and I hope to practice. Whatever I forget, I would love for you to add in the form of comments.

So here goes:

  • Give for the sake of giving. For the seeking of the pleasure of Allah. Without expectation of thanks or gratitude. Without the expectation that now your maid will do your work more obediently and more readily. Without the expectation that the poor relatives that you are giving charity to will sing your praises or do your odd jobs. For when we give charity with the expectation of return, it is not really pure… is not really Zakat. It is being given for the sake of vanity, and not in the spirit of giving.
  • We usually are the closest to God when we are in pain or fear. A bad dream. An accident. An illness. Financial turmoil. All these make us “givers” overnight. Out comes the money and the food in charity. But as a hadith of The Prophet (saw) rightly points out, the best charity is that which you give not when the going gets tough but when it is all smooth. So give charity also in your happiest days. As a form of gratitude.
  • Charity should not be just money. It should include your time and effort. When God has given us enough, one of the easiest things is to hand over an envelope to someone. Very few of us take ownership of what we are spending our charity on. We sometimes sponsor a child’s education but do not even know the name of that child or her progress. Which is why then our charity has no soul….no human-centredness. It is important that we spent time and energy finding out where and on whom to spend charity. And use some physical labour as a form of charity. Zaynab bint Jahash (ra) wife of The Prophet (saw), a woman from a noble lineage, specially use to work at tanning leather and the money she earned, she gave away in charity. There is a certain joy in physically or mentally working at earning what you give in charity. Also, visit the people you give the charity to. See their lives. Share their insecurities. Tire yourself in the pursuit of the pleasure of Allah. The joy shall be multiplied, as will be the reward.
  • The forms of charity can be multiple. Ahadith tell us that even a smile is sadaqa. Helping someone lift a heavy load is sadaqa. Removing a harmful thing such as thorns (or plastic bags today) is sadqa. Every time, at a wedding reception, I see the carpet gathered in a way that someone might trip over it, I think to myself “Rasool Ullah (saw) would have straightened this, and this would be sadaqa”. Dropping off someone in your car is sadaqa. Offering someone your seat is sadaqa.
  • Talking of the word “sadaqa”, well, it is more than something that wards off evils and bad omens. It is anything that you do with “Sidq”…..with the truest intention……to please Allah. It can be obligatory Sadaqa like Zakaat, and it can be voluntary Sadaqa which you give in addition to your Zakaat. It is not just kaala bakra (Black sacrificial goat) and the meat trimmings on the roof for the vultures. It is any and everything you spend or do to make Allah happy.
  • The biggest loss and waste is when we DO give charity but we waste it away. We waste it by reminding the person we give it to of our favour Ehsaan jitaana…..kills the whole purpose doesn’t it? Or we show-off our charity. Or we do follow it with harsh behaviour towards the person we gave it to. If we do that, we are the biggest losers.
  • Start by giving charity in your closest circles. Look around for close relatives and people working for you. Special reward is mentioned for spending on those relatives who are never thankful, for they are a real test of our ego. Our ego holds us back from spending on people close to us. So spend on them, specially the rude or political ones. Even though you can see their true colours and even if they don’t deserve it, spend on them. For Allah spends on us and gives us even though we do not deserve all the blessings that He showers us with.
  • Involve your family and friends. Moms, specially, can do a great job at this. Encourage kids to give and share. Make your child give charity instead of you giving it yourself. Make sure your child and spouse and family see you giving, and let them participate in that. Let your kids give tiny bits out of their pocket money and share their doughnuts with street children. Families that collectively give more charity are happier families. And it is a great bonding experience.
  • Don’t just give food left overs and used clothes. Give, also, the best out of what God has given you. This helps lessen greed and increases reliance on Allah. And Allah, in some form, returns to you better than what you gave.
  • Give charity even when you are financially in a bit of a slump. Even small amounts and acts of charity are necessary for our self-esteem. Also, have faith. You will get it all back. Remember how Aisha (ra) gave away all her food in charity and Allah returned to her a meat platter by the evening.
  • DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT scold beggars, even if you decide to not give them anything. You do not have the right to be rude to them.
  • Be thankful, inwardly at least, to people who are needy. They are your gateway to heaven and are giving you easy chances at good deeds.
  • If you cannot give too much charity yourself, be a collector, a fund raiser. Spread goodness and aid good causes. Ahadith tell us that even the collector or storekeeper of the charity gets reward as if he spent that money in charity himself, and the donor’s reward is not decreased either. Allah is Ar-Rahman…..He is looking for excuses to forgive and reward us. Use those excuses.

Charity is something we do for ourselves, not for the poor and the needy only. We benefit from it in many ways. A society in which economic disparity is under check and money is not stagnant in the hands of a few rich people is a happier and less evil society, with less crime rates. On a personal level, our soul is nourished by giving charity, and Allah’s blessings shower upon us in unseen ways.

May Allah’s Blessings and Mercy be on all of us.