Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He will multiply it for him and he will have a noble reward? (57:11)
In Trevor Noah’s book Born a Crime, he recalls a childhood experience in which his mother gives him a sweet. They are driving and at one of the traffic lights someone taps on their window asking for food. His mother instructs him to give the man a sweet and Trevor is reluctant, as he only has one sweet.
When his mother sees him hesitating, she offers Trevor more sweets saying that he could take as many as he wanted. Suddenly Trevor realised that the only way he could take as many as he could he needed to give the man the sweet he had to free his hands. Looking back, Trevor notes that this was a valuable lesson his mother taught him – the more you give the more you can receive.
This simple principle of self-improvement through the upliftment of others is one which is continuously echoed in the Quran and Hadith. On a fundamental level it speaks to the very purpose of our existence and is a process which when manifested is proof that as humans we can rise above the station of Angels.
The Merciful highlights the importance of charity in Surah Al-Layl, describing those that continuously engage in charity for self-improvement in the Sight of their creator:
Preserved from the Fire will be the righteous
who gives away his money to purify himself,
not in recompense of any favour done to him by anyone,
He simply seeks the pleasure of His Lord, the Most High.
He shall indeed be well content. (92:18-21)
Allah mentions that the act of giving should be with sincerity and with the sole intention of self-improvement in the Sight of Allah. Even if one sets out with the correct intention, it is all too easy to enjoy a little “accidental” recognition by others. This could potentially detract from the deed.
In Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah, the Sublime, describes a higher level of generosity:
If you disclose your charitable expenditures, they are good; but if you conceal them and give them to the poor, it is better for you and will serve as an atonement for some of your bad deeds. And God is aware of all that you do. (2:271)
In a famous Sahih hadith the prophet also highlights the value of secret charity, stating that one of the seven people that will be shaded by Allah on the day when there will be no shade except His will be for a person who practices charity so secretly that his left hand does not know what his right hand has given.
Imam Al Ghazzali describes in his Ihya `Ulum-ul-Din why secret charity is so highly valued:
- It protects the identity of the receiver of charity
- The receiver remains safe from the envy of others
- There is no disgrace in accepting secret charity – those in need don’t need for beneficiaries to feel ashamed or indebted
- It conceals the giver’s identity, removing doubt that you are doing the deed for recognition or show and guaranteeing that the deed is done solely for the pleasure of Allah
The following story related by Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak gives us a good example of a secret charity.
Harun al-Rashid was once walking through a plantation when he saw a hunched old greybeard putting in sapling date palms. He greeted the him, saying “Take it easy, father!”
“Thank you my son” the old man replied.
“What are you doing, father?” asked the caliph.
“As you see, I am planting sapling date palms.”
“How many years does it take a date palm to bear fruit?”
Ten, twenty, thirty years. Some take as long as a hundred years.”
“Will you be able to eat the fruit of these palms you are planting?”
“I may not live to see the day,” said the old man, “but we eat from those our forebears planted. So let us plant, that those who follow us may eat in turn!” His words impressed the caliph, who tossed him a purse of money.
The old man took the gold pieces, saying, “I give praise to Allah, for the saplings I planted have borne fruit immediately!” The caliph was pleased to hear him say this, and he gave him another purse of gold.
The old man then exclaimed, “I give praise to Allah, for trees normally bear fruit once a year, but mine have produced two crops in one year!”
Throwing him yet another purse of gold, the caliph turned to his companion and said, “Quick, let us get away from here before this old man leaves us penniless!’
This story beautifully demonstrates not only the unexpected reward resulting from a secret charity, but an example of a secret charity that will benefit people that we do not know – our future generations, a sadaqah jaariyah or perpetual charity which procures rewards after our passing into the hereafter.
Far too often do we think of charity in terms of giving money, food or clothes to the poor. However the concept of Sadaqa is not limited to these forms of giving. The following hadith illustrates this:
Abu Musa narrated that the Prophet said, “Every Muslim has to give sadaqah.” The people asked, “O Messenger of Allah, If someone has nothing to give, what will he do?” The Prophet said, “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity.” The people further asked, “If he cannot do even that?” The Prophet replied, “Then he should help the needy who ask for help.” Then the people asked again, “If he cannot do that?” The Prophet replied, “Then he should perform all that is good and beneficial and keep away from all that is sinful and harmful and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.”
Just like the father planting palm trees we can give charity through performing acts of environmental justice.
A few weeks ago, my wife bought a metal straw online. When I asked her about it she said that straws being non-biodegradable caused massive environmental damage and that from now on she would not take straws when buying beverages from restaurants or retailers and would use this metal straw instead. Internally I laughed thinking that it’s all good and well saving the environment one straw at a time but realistically carrying this metal tube around everywhere, getting used to a metallic taste and cleaning that straw at the end of the day – it seemed like a lot of effort for very little reward.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the movement that had caused her to take up this seemingly crazy commitment. I learnt that because the type of plastics used in most straws do not biodegrade, every piece of this plastic manufactured is still in our environment, even if it is incinerated we are breathing the toxins which are released in the air and eating them as they settle in our crops.
The systematic contamination of our environment is unfortunately something that we are wittingly or unwittingly collectively responsible for. Published in the journal Science in February 2015, a study conducted by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), quantified the input of plastic waste from land into the ocean. The results: every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans.
After realising this, I feel that it is not only a charity but my duty to change from plastic straws to metal straws to at least start making a difference.
Abu Huraira (ra) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.” (Sahih hadith from Sunan Ibn Majah)
Here are 5 small changes we can make in our daily routine which will benefit the environment for us, for life around us and for future generations include:
- Replace your plastic toothbrush with a Miswak or bamboo toothbrush.
- Invest in a reusable water bottle instead of buying water plastic water bottles.
- Take a reusable shopping bag to the store instead of purchasing plastic bags
- Drink from a reusable cup instead of buying your coffee in disposable coffee cups
- Invest in a metal straw instead of drinking out of disposable plastic straws
My challenge to myself and the jamaa is to start with one of these small changes. Let us see if we can make a concerted effort to keep it up for 2 weeks so that it can become part of our daily routine.
Let us pray:
O Giver of life, we thank you for the beautiful earth you have blessed us with
We ask your forgiveness for unwittingly polluting the environment
Give us the strength to make the small changes in our life that will benefit others and through our charity, benefit us.