While charity is an important aspect of faith in many religions but nowhere it has been made mandatory except in Islam. In Islam it has been made not only obligatory but also has been elevated to the status of one of the fundamental pillars of the religion along with testimony of faith, establishment of prayers, fast during Ramadan and pilgrimage. [Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 2, Number 7] And Holy Quran not only mandates it but also categorically mentions its beneficiaries in which the foremost preference has been given to poor

Al Quran 9:60- Zakat expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect zakah and for bringing hearts together for Islam and for freeing captives or slaves and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the stranded traveler- an obligation imposed by Allah. And he is All Knowing and All Wise.

The importance of charity can be gauged from the fact that most of the verses of the Holy Quran that talk about righteousness, prayer and worship, etc also mention the aspect of charity. For instance, Chapter 5 verse 55 which talks about true friends and allies provides- “Amongst your true friends (besides Allah and his messenger) are those who establish regular prayers and regular charity.”

And in Chapter 89 verse 17-20, it also castigates those who abandon this obligation but unjustly devours the wealth of others and have insatiable greed for wealth- “No indeed, but you show no kindness to the orphan, nor do you urge one another to feed the poor, and you greedily devour the inheritance of the weak, and you have a love of wealth which can never be satisfied.”

Drawing an analogy for those who do not fulfill their charitable obligations, Prophet Muhammad (s) said- “Whoever is made wealthy by Allah and does not pay the Zakat of his wealth, then on the Day of Resurrection his wealth will be made like a bald poisonous male snake with two black spots over the eyes. The snake will encircle his neck and bite his cheeks and say, ‘I am your wealth, I am your treasure” and then he recited chapter 3 verse 180 of the Holy Quran. [Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 486] He often reminded his followers- “Do not withhold your money, (for if you did so) Allah would with-hold His blessings from you.” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 513]

Experts in Islamic studies have praised the obligatory charity in Islam as an act of wealth redistribution without any bloodshed. And indeed this aspect of Islam also belies the oft-repeated claim of Marxists when they claim that religion is the opium of masses meant to preserve the class and wealth status quo. At least Islam does not fit in that category. Also, history stands witness that Islamic societies have seen the largest and most successful inter-class mobility. In fact, most of the influential and successful personalities including rulers and scholars in Islam came from poorer backgrounds and not rich backgrounds and a tentative list of such personalities can be accessed from this link. When a letter of Prophet Muhammad (s) reached Heraclius- the Byzantine Emperor, he summoned some of the Arabs present there and asked whether followers of Muhammad were rich or poor, to which he was told that they were poor. To his question, if they were increasing or decreasing, he was told that they were increasing. When a pandemonium erupted in the court and they were turned out, one of them came out mumbling- ‘Surely the issues of Ibn Abi Kabsha (a derogatory term they used for Muhammad (s)) have reached to such an extent that even the Emperor of Byzantines feels threatened’. And with the grace of the Almighty, within few decades of this incident, those poor and hungry followers of Muhammad (s) were indeed presiding over a huge Caliphate stretching from Rome to Persia after successfully subduing some of the mightiest empires of the world and effectively dismantling and replacing the rule of monarchy, hereditary succession and autocracy with the rule of Islam that favoured the have-nots. Such aspects were prominently highlighted by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iranian Revolution and have been recorded in the book ‘Velayat-e-Faqeeh‘ (Governance of the Jurist) in the following terms-

  1. Islam proclaims monarchy and hereditary succession wrong and invalid. If that is what is meant by the so-called deficiency of Islam, then Islam is indeed deficient. Islam has laid down no laws for the practice of usury, for banking on the basis of usury, for the consumption of alcohol, or for the cultivation of sexual vice, having radically prohibited all of these. The ruling cliques, therefore, who are the puppets of imperialism and wish to promote these vices in the Islamic world, will naturally regard Islam as defective. 
  2. The scholars of Islam have a duty to struggle against all attempts by oppressors to establish a monopoly over the sources of wealth or to make illicit use of them. They must not allow the masses to remain hungry and deprived while plundering oppressors usurp the sources of wealth and live in opulence.
  3. Instead of surrendering to the injunctions of Islam, which provide a solution for the problem of poverty, they (ruling classes) and their agents wish to go on living in huge places and enjoy lives of abominable luxury.
  4. Though the commander of the faithful ruled a vast realm stretching from Egypt to Iran, he lived more frugally than the most impoverished of our clergy students. According to tradition, he once bought two tunics, and finding one of them better than the other, he gave the better one to his servant Qanbar. The other he kept for himself and since its sleeves were too long for him, he tore off the extra portion. And in this torn garment the ruler of a great, populous and prosperous realm clothed himself

Notwithstanding some of its shortcomings, this document laid down the visions and objectives of an Islamic Government (in Iran) which was thousand times better than the elite Shah regime supported by the Western Capitalists in those times. It is no wonder that many western capitalist nations have always been wary of Islam inspired socio-political movements in the Muslim world and have always relied on their puppet dictators and monarchies to curb such uprisings. If this is the case then one should wonder whether Islamophobia is a bourgeois conspiracy and no wonder if that’s why most amongst the privileged and hereditary/racial cultures, classes and societies all over the world fear and hate Islam and have been consistently conspiring against it for a long time. 

If we take a sincere look at Islamic history, we find that even the Caliphs were not spared by people if they were found to be in violation of egalitarian Islamic values. Caliph Uthman ibn Affan (r) was brutally killed on the mere accusation of nepotism that he had appointed some of his relatives on some important posts. Later it emerged that those appointments were made by the previous Caliphs. Many who took part in the rebellion repented and many succumbed to horrible diseases. Holy Quran rightly says in this regard that- “O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterward become full of repentance for what ye have done.” [Al Quran 49:6]

Now coming back to the aspect of charity in Islam, apart from its religious and spiritual significance, it has a great social and economic significance as well. In terms of its social significance, it ignites in the mind of the donor a sense of fraternity with the less fortunate members of his/her society and stirs his/her moral conscience to make a sacrifice for their sake. From the economic point of view, if practiced correctly it discourages hoarding and concentration of wealth and helps its steady and constant flow from the rich to the poor. It also enhances the purchasing power of the poor which in turn strengthens the overall economy. In Islam besides obligatory charity which is known as ‘Zakat’, there is also a non-obligatory charity which is called ‘Sadaqa’. Though the latter is not mandatory still it is highly recommended so much so that Prophet Muhammad (s) once remarked that every act of goodness is a Sadaqa. [Sahih Muslim Book 5, Number 2197] He also said- “Sadaqa is due on every joint of a person, every day the sun rises. Administering justice between two men is also a Sadaqa. And assisting a man to ride upon his beast, or helping him load his luggage upon it, is a Sadaqa; and a good word is a Sadaqa, and every step that you take towards prayer is a Sadaqa, and removing of harmful things from the pathway is a Sadaqa.” [Sahih Muslim Book 5, Number 2204]

Etiquettes of Charity in Islam-

Etiquettes regarding charity in Islam whether it is in the form of Zakat (mandatory) or Sadaqa (optional but recommended) emerge from the Holy Quran and Hadiths. The nisab or the minimum amount of wealth a Muslim must possess before they become eligible to pay Zakat is mentioned in the Hadiths but one should also ascertain it from their local mosques as it varies from region to region.

One of the etiquette of charitable spending in Islam is that while being cognisant of his/her financial status, one should spend generously and not worry much about the amount spent on charity nor should he/she be very particular about it for Allah’s messenger said- “Spend and do not calculate, (for) Allah would calculate in your case; and do not hoard, otherwise Allah would be withholding from you.” [Sahih Muslim Book 5, Number 2244]

Show-off in Charity has been disapproved-

Generally, the rich engaging in charity tend to show off their philanthropic deeds but the not so well offs are often concerned or ashamed about the small amount they set aside for charity. Allah’s messenger therefore cautioned in this regard that charity should not be ostentatious nor should small amount be discouraged or looked down upon and he also said that richness does not lie in the abundance of (worldly) goods but the real richness is the richness of the soul. Holy Quran in Chapter 9 verse 79 provides- “Those who criticize the contributors among the believers concerning their charities and criticize the ones who find nothing to spend except their effort, so they ridicule them – Allah will ridicule them, and they will have a painful punishment.”

Abu Hurairah reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: ‘0 Muslim women, none of you should consider even a sheep’s trotter too insignificant to give to her neighbor’. [Sahih Muslim Book 5, Number 2247]

It has been narrated by Aisha (r) (wife of Prophet Muhammad (s)) that once a lady along with her two daughters came to her asking for some alms, but Aisha at that time found nothing except one date which she gave to her and she divided it between her daughters, and did not eat anything herself, and then she got up and went away. When the Prophet came in, she formed him about this incident and he reportedly said, “Whoever is put to trial by these daughters and he treats them generously with benevolence then these daughters will act as a shield for him from Hell-Fire.” [Sahih Bukhari- Volume 2, Book 24, Number 499] He also said- “When a woman gives in charity some of the foodstuff (which she has in her house) without spoiling it, she will receive the reward for what she has spent, and her husband will receive the reward because of his earning, and the storekeeper will also have a reward similar to it. The reward of one will not decrease the reward of the others.” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 506] 

It is also evident from many of the hadiths that a person who gives charity and conceals it to such an extent that the right-hand does not know what the left has given is better than the one who indulges in ostentatious display. Similarly Holy Quran also provides- “If ye disclose (acts of) charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those (really) in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your (stains of) evil. And Allah is well acquainted with what ye do.” [2:271]

Another major etiquette regarding charity is that it should be a reasonable and justified amount keeping in mind one’s financial abilities and the needs of his/her dependents. It should not exceed to such an extent that either the donor runs into financial difficulties or his/her dependent get deprived of their necessities. The Prophet said- ‘The most excellent Sadaqa or the best of Sadaqa is that after giving which the (giver) remains rich and the upper hand is better than the lower hand and begin from the members of your household.’ [Sahih Muslim Book 5, Number 2254]

Also, the receiver of charity should not be greedy but should politely accept whatever he has been given without demanding for more. Prophet Muhammad (s) said- ‘He who begs the riches of others to increase his own is asking only for live coals, so let him ask a little or much.’ He also said- “When a woman gives in charity from her husband’s meals without wasting the property of her husband, she will get a reward for it, and her husband too will get a reward for what he earned and the store-keeper will have the reward likewise.” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 518] At one place the Prophet even disapproved begging and said that begging his permissible only for one of the three (classes) of persons: one who has incurred debt, for him begging is permissible till he pays that off, after which he must stop it; a man whose property has been destroyed by a calamity which has smitten him, for him begging is permissible till he gets what will support life, or will provide him reasonable subsistence; and a person who has been smitten by poverty the genuineness of which is confirmed by three intelligent members of his peoples, for him begging is permissible till he gets what will support him, or will provide him subsistence. [Sahih Muslim Book 5, Number 2271] This clearly establishes one should resort to begging only in extraneous circumstances when there is no other option left for him/her. Messenger of Allah said- “It is better for anyone of you to take a rope (and cut) and bring a bundle of wood (from the forest) over his back and sell it and Allah will save his face (from the Hell-Fire) because of that, rather than to ask the people who may give him or not.” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 550] 

Charity on dishonestly earned money is invalid-

It is one of the foremost conditions of charity in Islam that it should be paid on an income which is Halal ie income which been honestly earned without fraud, cheating, etc. Allah’s Messenger said that Allah accepts charity only on the honestly earned money even if it is a small amount and he enlarges its reward for that person, so much so that it becomes as big as a mountain. [Sahih Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Number 491]

To conclude-

  • Obligatory charity is one of the fundamental pillars of faith in Islam. 
  • There are two kinds of charity in Islam- Zakat and Sadaqa. Whereas the former is mandatory, the latter is optional but highly recommended. The eligibility for Zakat is mentioned in relevant Hadiths and should be ascertained from local mosques. 
  • The charity can be given openly and secretly but the spiritual significance of the latter is higher. The Almighty takes cognizance of the intention and not the show-off. 
  • There are various etiquettes for both the donor and the receiver of charity.  Prophet Muhammad (s) once remarked that every act of goodness is a Sadaqa. 
  • The donor should not indulge in ostentatious display. 
  • Charitable amount should be reasonable and justifiable as per the financial status of the donor. 
  • The receiver of charity should accept the charity with utmost politeness. A small amount should not be discouraged nor should it be looked down upon either by the receiver or anyone else. 
  • Charity is valid only on the honestly earned amount. 
  • It has an enormous spiritual, social and economic significance. 

May the Almighty grant us understanding and capacity to spend in charity and help those in need. Ameen!