Islama’s emphasis on charity

Charity towards man, in its widest sense, is laid down in the Holy Quran as the second great pillar on which the structure of Islam stands. Spending out of whatever has been given to man stands for charity in a broad sense, i.e. for acts of benevolence to humanity in general. For what Almighty God has given to man is not only the wealth which he possesses but at the faculties and power with which he has been gifted.

The most frequently recurring words for charity in the Holy Quran are Infaq, which means spending benevolently; Ihsan, which means the doing of good; Zakat, which means growth or purification, and Sadaqah, which is derived from the root, Sidq, meaning truth, and comes to signify a charitable deed.

The very words used to donate charitable deeds are an indication of the broadness of the concept.

The Holy Quran not only lays stress on such great deeds of charity as the emancipation of slaves, the feeding or the poor, taking care of orphans and doing good to humanity in general, but gives equal emphasis to smaller acts of benevolence. It is for this reason that the withholding of maa’n, which specially indicates small acts of kindness and charity, is stated to be against the spirit of prayer.

And in a similar strain the speaking of kind words to parents is referred to as Ihsan, and generally the use of kind words is recommended as in itself a charitable deed in many places in the Holy Quran. The Holy Book also speaks of extending charity not only to all men, including believers and non-believers, but also to the dumb creations.

Charity, in the sense of giving away one’s wealth, is of two kinds, voluntary and obligatory. Voluntary charity is generally mentioned in the Holy Quran as Infaq or Ihsan or Sadaqah, and though the Holy Book is full of injunctions on this subject, and hardly a leaf is turned which does not bring to mind the grand object of the service of humanity as the goal of man’s life, the subject is specifically dealt with in the 36th and 37th sections of the second chapter.

A charitable deed must be done as a duty which man owes to man, so that it conveys no idea of the superiority of the giver or the inferiority of the receiver. Love of Almighty God should be the motive of all charitable deeds so that the very doing of them fosters the feeling that all mankind is but a single family. Only good things and well-earned money should be given in charity.

Charity has value only if something good and valuable is given, which has been honourably earned or acquired by the giver or which is produced in nature and can be referred to as bounty of Almighty God.

These may include such things as are of use and value to others though they many be of less use to us or superfluous to us on account of our having acquired something more suitable for our station in life, for example discarded clothes, or an old horse or used motor car. But if the horse is vicious, or the car engine is so far gone that it is dangerous to use, then the gift is worse than useless, it is positively harmful, and the giver is doing a wrong. It applies to fraudulent company promoters, who earn great credit by giving away in charity some of their ill-gotten gains, or to robbers (even if they call themselves by high sounding names).

Charitable deeds may be carried out openly or secretly, although the latter form is better. Those who do not beg should be the first to receive charity.

Obligatory charity is generally mentioned under the name of Zakat. The word Zakat is derived from Zaka, which means it (a plant) grew. The word Zakat is also used in the sense of purity from sin.

Zakat is wealth which is taken from the rich and given to the poor, being so called because it make the wealth grow, or because the giving away of wealth is a source of purification. In fact, both these reasons hold true. The giving away of wealth to the poor members of the community, while, no doubt, a source of blessing to the individual, also increases the wealth of the community as a whole. At the same time it purifies the heart of the giver, ridding it of the inordinate love of wealth, which brings numerous sins in its train. The holy Prophet himself has described Zakat as wealth “which is taken from the rich and returned to the poor”.

The two commandments, to keep up prayer and to give Zakat, often go together, and this combination of the two is met within the earliest chapters of the Holy Quran as well in those, which were revealed towards the end of the holy Prophet’s life. Not only are prayer and charity mentioned together in a large number of passages but these two are also treated as being the basic ordinances of the religion of Islam.

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