I wrote this article some years ago for a South African Islamic Magazine, An-Nisaa.


Before I was married, I worked in a Muslim self-help group. In my five years there, I was involved in various family, youth and educational programmes for the community. It was hard work and often emotionally draining. Nevertheless, the experience was invaluable experience. It gave me an opportunity to work with passionate Muslims who wanted to make the world a better place – it was exciting and yet at the same time, humbling.

It was there that I truly opened my eyes to the problems that the ummah is facing. It was there that I came into contact with people who were poor and who were afflicted with problems that I had never even conceived of. It was also there that I saw heroic figures striving against almost insurmountable odds.

This world of ours that places a great emphasis on image and illusion often overlooks these anonymous souls who plod along with solid virtues and fervent hope. I have learnt many valuable lessons from these unsung heroes. One that comes to mind is the one about charity and selflessness…

Once, the self-help group organised a large trade fair. Among the activities conducted over the 3-day event was fundraising. It was no easy task – the volunteers had to stand with cash boxes for long hours and approach visitors for donations. Many generous souls gave but I noticed that a significant number refused. Still others would rush past the volunteers, pretending not to see or hear them.

An old lady walked close by as I was chatting to the volunteers. She was wearing shabby clothes and an old and faded headscarf . On her tired feet were slippers which were cheap and worn. In a crowd of fashionably dressed, if not affluent, people, she stood out like a sore thumb. Her poverty was so obvious that I could not help but feel sad. I felt guilty as well because I realised how I had not, before that, fully appreciated the comfort and ease that Allah had bestowed upon me.

The old lady had a kind smile and watched the volunteers as they tried to ask members of the public to donate. If she felt awkward about her shabby appearance or distressed about her needy state, she did not show it. She stood for a long while, staring wistfully, as if deep in thought. I began to wonder if she was thinking of approaching us for financial help. Many would attend the organisation’s events in the hope of joining a financial assistance programme.

Then, I saw her clutching something in her hand and closely examining it. I realised that she was busy counting some coins. Again, I felt a wave of sympathy – the poor lady was trying to figure out if she had enough for her bus ride home or for some food, I thought. I could not help but to compare her to all the others – they had come keen to spend unstintingly on all the pretty clothes, fancy housewares and delicious food, while she had to think more than twice about parting with only a few cents.

She then began to move resolutely to the volunteers, who smiled at her encouragingly. She dropped a few coins into the box hurriedly and smiled shyly. Sounding embarrassed and awkward at what she must have thought was a paltry amount, she said, “I know it isn’t much… I just wanted to help.”

I tear up every time I think of that old lady, who had so little and yet looked beyond her own needs because she wanted to give… because she wanted to do her bit. Her actions remind me of the hadeeth about the dirham that triumphed over the hundred thousand dirhams.

Abu Dawood and Al-Hakim reported that Abu Hurairah radhiallahu `anhu narrated that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: “A dirham won the race against a hundred thousand dirhams.” A man asked, “How, O Messenger of Allah?” He sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “A man who had great wealth and who spent a hundred thousand dirhams from it in charity, in contrast to a man who has only two dirhams and gave away one of them in charity.” [an-Nasa`i, ibn Khuzaimah & ibn Hibban – hasan]

Give and You will be Given!
That humble old lady, with all of her limited means, was a shining example of selflessness. As Muslims, we want to do our utmost to serve our Lord. We want to further the cause of Islam and we want to do it in a huge way. This is a noble ambition, but in our pursuit for the greater good and the big picture, we sometimes lose sight of the little deeds that may be our stepping stones to Jannah.

Abu Dharr radhiallahu `anhu reported: “The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, ‘Do not belittle any good deed, even meeting your brother [Muslim] with a cheerful face.'” [Muslim]

There are numerous verses in the Qur`an that exhort us to spend in the cause of Allah. Charity is referred to as a “goodly loan” to inspire us and to encourage us to give – Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala said, “Who is he that will lend to Allah a goodly loan so that He may multiply it to him many times? And it is Allah that decreases or increases [your provisions] and unto Him you shall return.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:45]

Allah has promised us a great reward for our altruism – “Those who spend on their wealth in the Cause of Allah, and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury, their reward is with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:262]

In addition, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Allah the Exalted said, ‘Spend, O son of Adam and Allah will spend on you.'” [al-Bukhari & Muslim]

The Benefits of Sadaqah
Abu Dhar al-Ghifari once said, “The prayer is the pillar of Islam, Jihad is the pillar of deeds and charity is an amazing thing, charity is an amazing thing, charity is an amazing thing.” [Tanhibul Ghafilin] Indeed, there are abundant rewards in this act. Allah said, “The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah is as the likeness of a grain [of corn], it grows seven ears and each year has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He wills. And Allah is All Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.” [Surah al-Baqarah 2:261]

There are numerous rewards to be reaped from sadaqah. Allah has promised Paradise to those who give for His sake. Sadaqah helps to cleanse the Muslim’s heart of greed, stinginess and the excessive love of the pleasures of this world. It also cleanses the money and the body of sins – Allah said, “Take Sadaqah from their wealth in order to purify them and sanctify them with it.” [Surah at-Tawba 9:103]

Sadaqah extinguishes sins and punishment in the Fire. The Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Avoid hellfire even by a part of a date [that you give away in charity].” [al-Bukhari & Muslim] He also said, “Sawm [Fasting] is a junnah [shield] and sadaqah extinguishes sin, just as water extinguishes fire.” [Sahih at-Targhib wat-Tarhib, al-Albani]

Avoid Miserliness
Greed and selfishness often hinder us from giving to others. We dislike seeing our wealth diminish and we worry about poverty striking us. This shows a lack of tawakkul in Allah and His promises for Allah has assured us that He would compensate us, both in this world and the hereafter if we were to spend for His sake.

Abu Hurairah radhiallahu `anhu said that the Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Wealth is not diminished by giving in charity. Allah augments the honour of one who forgives; and one who displays humbleness towards another seeking the pleasure of Allah, Allah exalts him in ranks.” [Muslim]

In a hadeeth narrated by al-Bukhari, the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Who among you loves the wealth of his inheritors more than he loves his wealth?” They said, “Everyone among us loves his own wealth more, O Allah’s Messenger!” He said, “Verily one’s wealth is that which he spends while the money he keeps will end up with his inheritor.” This shows us that our wealth INCREASES when we give it away for it adds to our scale of good deeds.

We would do well to emulate the Salaf who were repulsed by tightfistedness. Umm al-Banin, daughter of `Abdul-`Aziz bin Marwan said, “Woe to al-Bukhl [miserliness]! If it was a shirt, I would never wear it and if it was a road, I would never take it.”

They never tired of charity and hated to turn the needy away. `Ali bin al-Hasan bin `Ali would say, when approached by the poor, “Welcome to he who is carrying my provisions for the Last Life.”

Women & Sadaqah
I would often hear women asking, not without some measure of frustration, “What can we sisters do for Islam?” True, there are the day to day hurdles that we face – managing a family, nurturing the children, caring for our elders, doing our utmost at school and in our careers… the list goes on. Our thoughts are occupied and our agendas full.

However, with a little creativity and dedication, we will find that there are many avenues for us. Charity is but one of them. Let us remember that the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam specifically encouraged the women to spend in the way of Allah. He said, “O women, give charity even from your jewellery.” [al-Bukhari]

He sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam also urged women to repel the Fire by giving: “O women! Give charity and seek Allah’s forgiveness frequently for I saw that you comprise the majority of the people of the fire.” [Muslim]

The female companions of the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam took his advice to heart. Umm Sinan al-Aslamiyah said that during the preparation for the Battle of Tabuk, she saw a cloak laid in front of the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam on the floor of `Aishah’s radhiallahu `anha house. She said, “… it contained jewellery, bracelets, ear-rings and rings. [Muslim] women had donated these items that filled the cloak to help Muslims in preparation of the battle.” [Al-Isabah fi Tamyeez as-Sahabah, by Ibn Hajar, vol.4, p.350]

Even poverty did not deter them from giving. `Urwa radhiallahu `anhu said regarding `Aishah radhiallahu `anha: “I witnessed `Aishah give away 70 thousand but she would mend her garments.”

What Can We Do?
Let us not delay further in doing this good deed. There is a beautiful piece of advice from Amr bin Qais al-Milai, who said, “If you hear about an aspect of righteousness, perform it even once so that you become among its doers.”

Here are a few ideas on how we can give in charity:

[1] Actively seek out the needy person
`Ali bin al-Hasan used to carry bread on his back, following the needy at night, saying, “Charity given at night extinguishes the Lord’s anger.” [As-Siyar, vol. 4, p.393] Sisters can take an active role by making enquiries with masajid and various organisations that provide assistance for the needy. Many which serve the poor, the handicapped and the old are often in need of donations in cash and in kind to keep operations running. Set aside a certain amount from your income and allowance each month to give to these organizations. Spread the word and encourage other sisters to chip in.

[2] Care for the orphans & under-privileged
One can donate to orphanages or participate in various orphan sponsorship programmes in various poverty-stricken or war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Chechnya, China, Africa and so on. If one’s finances do not permit, one can invite the poor and the orphans to a meal and share the favours that Allah has bestowed upon oneself. `Abdullah bin `Umar, for instance, always made sure that an orphan shared his meals. Remember what the Messenger of Allah said: “I and the caretaker of the orphan will be like this in Paradise,” and he pointed with his index and middle fingers. [al-Bukhari]

[3] Give what you love
This may be a particularly difficult task for surely, we want to keep what we love for ourselves. We would prefer to give away what we have no need of or no longer like. However, we must bear in mind that “By no means shall you attain Al-Birr [piety, righteousness, Paradise] unless you spend of what which you love; and whatever good you spend, Allah knows it well.” [Surah al-Imran 3:92]

I know of a sister in Pakistan who raises money for the poor by selling the good and expensive gifts she receives from others. Even though she could surely use some of the appliances and decoration pieces for herself, she keeps her life simple so she can concentrate on da`wah and charity.

[4] Take advantage of every opportunity
What can sisters who have no income or allowance do? Well, take heart for charity is not just financial. Abu Hurairah radhiallahu `anhu reported: The Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said, “Every day the sun rises, charity is due on every joint of a person: if one judges between two persons with justice, it is an act of charity. If one helps a person to mount his beast, or helping him load his luggage on it, all this will be regarded as charity. A good word is an act of charity and every step one takes to offer the congregational prayer is regarded as charity and removing harm from the road is regarded as charity.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

[5] Be creative
There are numerous ways in which we can do charity – big and small. Each of us has our own skills, talents and inclinations. What we need to do is to take advantage of every opportunity. One can be kind to animals – we know of the unchaste woman who was granted Jannah for giving drink to a thirsty dog. We are also told that a smile is sadaqah.

Let us encourage each other to Birr and Taqwa.