"You cannot attain to righteousness
unless you spend (in charity) out of what you love." (The
Holy Quran 3:92)
What is meant by charity in Islam?
Charity, for which the expression used in the Holy Quran is "spending
out of what God has given you", means using your energy, talent,
resources, money, possessions, or whatever else, to help and do good
to those in need. In Islam charity is very often mentioned alongside
prayer because just as the latter is man's relation with God, or man's
duty towards God, the former (charity) represents his relation with
his fellow-beings, and indeed with all the creation of God. Prayer expresses
love for God, submission to Him, and a desire to bring out the Divine
qualities that lie hidden in every person. Charity is an expression
of sympathy and benevolence towards God's creation, putting into actual
practice the lessons you learn in prayer.
Please give some examples of what are acts of charity in Islam.
Innumerable examples can be given because doing any kind of good to
anyone, even to yourself to make you more capable of benefitting others,
by using what God has given you, is an act of charity. Feeding the hungry,
helping the poor, taking care of the destitute such as orphans, lending
a hand to the disabled, helping an unemployed person to find a job,
etc., are the more obvious examples of charity taught by Islam. But
it also teaches that there are other, smaller acts of charity which
one has the opportunity to do everyday. Helping someone in any way,
showing the way to a stranger, speaking a kind word to cheer someone
up, giving useful advice or imparting knowledge to someone, removing
from the road something that could cause an accident, even simply refraining
from hurting anyone, are all acts of charity in Islam.
Charity is usually thought to be giving money or alms to the begging
poor, and is said to degrade them and make them feel inferior. This
is not so in Islam, then?
Most certainly not. Firstly, charity in Islam is much broader than
giving money to the poor, and can be exercised just as well even where
there is no poverty, as shown above. Secondly, giving charity, or the
doing of any good to someone, must be done as a duty, not to degrade
them or to ask for thanks. The Holy Quran tells us:
"A kind word with forgiveness is better than charity
followed by injury.. . . O you who believe, make not your charity worthless
by reproach and injury, like him who spends his wealth to be seen by
people. . ." (2:263-264)
Thirdly, charity should be given solely out of love for God, out of
the desire to do good to His creation, as the Quran says about the righteous:
"They give food, out of love for Him (Allah), to the
poor, the orphan, and the slave, saying: We feed you only for Allah's
pleasure - we desire from you neither reward nor thanks." (76:8,9)
How important is charity?
Being charitable is very strongly urged upon the Muslims, so much
so that the Holy Prophet Muhammad has said that on every limb of the
body, doing a charitable deed is due every day, whether it is with the
hands, feet, or tongue. There is no person at all who cannot do a deed
of charity to others. According to the Holy Prophet, if someone has
nothing to give, he should work and earn, and give out of that; if he
still does not have anything to give, he should help someone in distress;
and if he is unable, for some reason, to do even that, he should try
to do any good he can and refrain from doing any harm to anyone.
Apart from general charity, Islam has made compulsory a sort of tax
on one's possessions, known as Zakaat, to be spent on the welfare
of the disadvantaged. This is explained further in no. 83.
To whom can a Muslim give in charity?
Just as acts of charity have the broadest possible significance in
Islam, similarly the circle of those towards whom charity is to be exercised
is the broadest that can be conceived. Starting with the people around
us - our relations, friends, and neighbours - it extends to all Muslims,
and to followers of other religions. In fact, a Muslim's charity covers
even animals. The Holy Quran emphasizes that one should keep a special
look-out for those who may be in need but who do not ask for help (2:273).
What kind of things should be given in charity?
In case of those acts of charity when we give something away, the
Holy Quran teaches that we should only give good and useful things,
not useless and worthless ones, and they should be the kind of things
we like to have ourselves (2:267). Moreover, things given in charity
must have been earned or acquired lawfully by the person giving them
Please explain what is Zakaat?
Just as Islam has prescribed a set form for prayer, to enable us to
keep it up regularly, similarly it has given an outward form for charity
and made it compulsory, in order to make it a regular duty. That outward
form of charity is known as Zakaat, and consists of giving a specified
fraction of one's wealth every year into a fund. This fund is administered
by the Muslim community or Muslim government, and is used to help the
poor, the disabled, the unemployed, and others in need.
Is Zakaat just like a tax?
In the sense of being collected and spent by the Muslim government
Zakaat is like a tax. However, the great difference is that paying Zakaat
is a religious duty to be done out of obedience to God and sympathy
for people. So giving Zakaat is morally beneficial to the payer because
it develops the spirit of self-sacrifice in him and curbs feelings of
greed. Notice that the word 'tax' means a burden, but zakaat
means something which purifies you.
Why is general charity and Zakaat a basic duty in Islam?
Because it brings out the best and highest qualities in a person,
which is really the object of existence according to Islam. God has
given to each person various capabilities and resources, such as knowledge,
money, strength, some talent or skill, etc. Every individual must use
whatever he or she has been given to benefit other people as well as
the rest of God's creation, and not for selfish ends. If this principle
is neglected, then not only is there no relief for the distress and
the suffering of the needy, but man's increased selfishness makes him
his fellow-man's deadly enemy; and society as well as mankind become
divided into factions and groups all trying to grab things from one