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Chapter 107: Al-Ma‘un (Acts of Kindness)
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Chapter 107:

Acts of Kindness

This chapter is a Makkan revelation.

In this chapter we are told that if we wish Allah to dwell in our hearts there are three things we have to do. In other words, if we wish the Lord of the Ka‘bah to reside in our hearts, we have to fulfil three obligatory conditions and then we will qualify for the throne of Allah being placed in our hearts.

Firstly, we must show kindness and compassion to His creation. Secondly, love for Him and reverence for His Oneness must prevail over everything else. Thirdly, our hearts must be generous and liberal, for Allah, Most High, is not fond of those who are not kind and sympathetic to His creatures; neither does He enter those hearts that are filled with false gods; nor can He live in narrow-minded and constricted hearts, for although the heavens and the earth, vast as they are, cannot contain Him, yet He can be contained in the hearts of those servants whose liberality and munificence of heart surpass the extensiveness of the heavens and the earth.

So Allah cannot live in the hearts of those who do not fulfil these conditions. Their claim to religiosity is baseless and even their performance of salah (prayers) is useless. Thus the Holy Quran says:

Araital-ladhi yukadh-dhibu bid-din 1. Hast thou seen him who belies religion?

Here the denial of religion means denying it in practice, that is, professing devotion to religion in words, but acting contrary to the teachings of the religion.

Dhalikal-ladhi yadu‘ul yatim 2. That is the one who is rough to the orphan,
Wa la yahud-du ‘ala ta‘amil miskin 3. And urges not the feeding of the needy.

Here the first condition of religion is mentioned, and that is kindness to the creation of Allah. It is pointed out that Allah, Most High, will not alight on a heart that does not entertain compassion for His creatures. Here we must observe that so important does Allah consider the duties we owe to our fellow-men that He has given them precedence over the duties we owe to Him, and has placed kindness to His creatures before love for Him and reverence for His Oneness, that is, respect for the commands of Allah.

Everybody in the world fights furiously for his rights and is ready to kill or die for them while others are forced to give those rights to him. But there are two disadvantaged groups who do not have the ability to claim their rights. As a result, fulfilling our obligations to them with compassion is emphasized by Allah Who wanted to place the performance of our duties to others on such a lofty pedestal that not only will we grant the servants of Allah their rights, but we will do so with joy and delight in our hearts and even be prepared to undergo all kinds of sacrifices in struggling for the rights of those who are unable to do so for themselves. These two groups are the orphans and the needy.

Orphans are those who have been left alone in the world in such a condition that they are still unable to work for their own livelihood and cannot look after themselves. For example, an orphan is a young child whose father or guardian had died, or a wife whose husband or guardian has passed away and who is not in a position to work for a living or support herself.

A needy person is one who has the potential to work and support himself but for some reason he has suffered a loss in the resources with which he used to do so. For example, this may refer to a labourer whose hand is now broken, or to someone who was engaged in a skilled profession but has become blind, or to a businessman who has suffered bankruptcy, or to a servant who has lost his job etc.

In Islam, it is the duty of all Muslims not only to support the orphans and the needy but to get together and equip them to become useful and beneficial members of the society.

To be harsh to the orphan does not mean to reprove and drive him from your door if he comes asking for bread. In fact, begging is contrary to the teachings of Islam and our Holy Prophet is reported to have said that on the Day of Resurrection the beggar will be seen without any flesh on his face.

Once Abu Bakr (as) was travelling on camel back and his whip fell to the ground. He dismounted and took up his whip. Standing nearby was a person who addressed the Caliph thus: “O Caliph, if you had asked me I would have taken it up for you.” The Caliph replied: “Then I would have been forced to ask you a favour.” In other words, it was better to get down from the camel and take up the whip than to beg a favour.

Thus to be harsh to the orphans means to be indifferent to their rights or to usurp them. For example, a powerful relative may defraud the weaker ones of their just due, or an influential member of the society may use his authority to deny the orphans their due rights, or rich members of society may refuse to feed and educate them even though this is an obligation from Allah on every member of the Muslim society.

As regards the needy, Allah says that the person who belies religion is the one who does not help to devise an organized system for feeding the poor and providing regular employment for them. For instance, a society may be formed to develop a capital fund for the purpose of giving “goodly loans” for business or education or to set up factories, businesses etc. to create jobs for the unemployed or to provide homes for the aged or the handicapped where they can work according to their ability and earn something for themselves. These efforts should also include such relatives, friends and neighbours who need our assistance. In short, performing with compassion our duties to our fellow human beings is the first condition of truly religious persons. If this is lacking, Allah will not visit the heart of such people.

Wailul-lil musallin 4. So woe to the praying ones,
Al-ladhina hum ‘an salatihim sahun 5. Who are unmindful of their prayer!
Al-ladhina hum yura’un 6. Who do good to be seen,
Wa yamna‘unal ma‘un 7. And refrain from acts of kindness.

Ma‘un means small household possessions and provisions that you lend to others for their use. Zakat is included in the meaning of ma‘un. Now we come to the second condition we have to fulfil if Allah is to dwell in our hearts; that is, obedience to and reverence for the commands of Allah.

Here it is said: Woe to the praying ones who are unmindful of their prayer and do it only for show. Heedlessness in prayer comes in three ways. Firstly, by not performing it regularly and also by not observing the rules and rituals of prayer in the proper way.

Secondly, by performing it without understanding and just repeating the words by rote like a parrot. That is, by not concentrating on the prayer and being distracted by extraneous thoughts.

Thirdly, by not fulfilling the correct objective of prayer, which is to develop righteousness, to shun evil and shameful words and deeds and to make our hearts soft through the fear of Allah, and also to show love and compassion for the orphans, the needy and other creatures of Allah. We must remember that we tend to be heedless when our hearts are obsessed with all kinds of personal desires and worldly ambitions and if unfortunately, we fall prey to these concerns we become negligent towards Allah and His commandments. In such a condition prayer becomes a burden to us and if we do perform it at all, our hearts would not be in it and we will do it superficially and without regard to the proper observance of the rituals. So, if our hearts are under the sway of personal desires and worldly concerns to the exclusion of Allah, then they will not be a fit place for the throne of Allah.

Look how beautifully the poet expresses this point:

Huwa sar ba sajdah jo main kabhi, to zamin se ane lagi sada

Whenever I place my head in prostration a voice rises from the ground telling me

Tera dil to hai san‘am ashna, tujhe kya milega namaz men

O heedless one, your heart is in love with worldly things, so what do you expect from your prayer?

The third condition for the descent of the Lord of the heavens and the earth on the heart of a human being is liberality or generosity of spirit. The throne of the Lord of the Ka‘bah cannot be placed in a straitened heart, that is, the heart of a person who refrains from small acts of generosity and who is reluctant to lend or to give to his neighbours or to his friends or to other people even the smallest necessities of life. His heart becomes so constricted that he is unwilling to pay the zakat which Allah has ordained as a means of showing mercy to the poor and which for the wealthy is a negligible amount. In fact, he goes so far as to prevent others from paying it. How can Allah reside in a heart like that — Allah Who cannot be contained in the heavens and the earth and Whose providence and beneficence encompass all the worlds?

A miser is despised in Islam. Allah, Most High, wishes to inspire the hearts of people with feelings of sympathy and generosity. Generally speaking, the animal passions of greed and niggardliness are present in man. In order to subdue these base emotions and replace them with lofty qualities like compassion and kindness, it is necessary to be of assistance to others in small matters. For example, someone wants to borrow a small household utensil, or needs some medicine and you give it to him. If we develop the habit of giving little things, we will find that our stinginess of heart begins to diminish and instead our hearts begin to expand to such an extent that, having nourished our hearts on a diet of liberality and munificence, we shall ascend to such a height that we become the embodiment of kindness and broadmindedness. The payment of zakat also is the first step in the journey to kindness, benevolence, bountifulness and self-sacrifice for the sake of others. This little bit of charity and goodness we should take upon ourselves as a pleasant duty, and then the habit of performing little acts of benevolence to others gradually will develop in us the active potential to carry out greater and greater deeds of goodness to mankind and so by slow degrees we will become perfect manifestations of humanity.

In addition, our liberality will become so worthy of honour that Allah Who cannot be contained in the heavens and the earth will find room in our hearts.

Here we must note carefully that Allah has made this third condition part and parcel of the duties we owe to Him. That is, the paying of zakat and the habit of treating with people with kindness in everyday life are in fact part of the obligations we owe to Allah. This, in other words, is tantamount to worship of Allah but in a financial way.

This point is strikingly elucidated in the following hadith:

The Holy Prophet (sas) once said:

“On the day of Judgement, Allah will address a particular individual:

O Son of Adam! I was sick but you did not attend to Me.

Bewildered, this individual will say:

‘How is that possible? You are after all the Supreme Lord of all the worlds (and cannot fall sick).’

Allah will reply:

Do you not remember that so and so among My servants was ill and lying close to you and you did not turn to him in sympathy? If you had but gone near him, you would have found Me beside him.

In a like manner, Allah will address another individual:

O Son of Adam! I had asked you for a piece of bread; but you would not give it to Me.

The individual will submit:

‘How is that possible? Can Allah feel hunger and need bread?

Allah will reply:

So and so among My servants in a moment of hunger had asked you for bread, and did you not refuse to give it to him? If you had given him food, you would have found Me beside him.

Similarly, Allah will turn to yet another and address him:

O Son of Adam! I was thirsty and I asked you for a cup of water, but you did not give it to me.

The individual will cry out:

‘How is that possible? How can Allah feel thirsty?’

Allah will reply:

So and so of My servants were thirsty and asked you for water, but you did not give it to him. If you had given it to him, you would have found Me beside him” (Muslim).

Thus how can a person claim to be a true follower of the religion if he does not observe the three conditions explained above? That is, he entertains no sympathy in his heart for his fellow-men, he does not observe the commands of Allah in the proper way, and he does not put Allah above everything else, and his heart is so narrow and constricted that he does not observe even the smallest courtesies of life?

So the claim of such a person is false, for his actions belie religion and run counter to Allah’s teachings. As a result, his heart cannot be a worthy place for Allah’s throne. He may be a regular performer of prayers but one should not be deceived by that for his prostration is not to Allah but to his own desires. That is why Allah refers to such people as al-musallin (those who merely say their prayers) and not as muqiminas-salat (those who establish prayer), for to establish prayer means that there must not be any negligence in it — it should be performed regularly and punctually while observing carefully all the details of prayer and the spirit of it. Further, it must be performed with full understanding and concentration and in the most proper manner and not for show but solely for the pleasure of Allah. In all this, the purpose of the prayer must not be forgotten — that is to save ourselves from indecency and evil, to deal with Allah’s creation with love and compassion, to pay our zakat and to fulfil our obligations to our fellow human beings and to Allah, Himself. It is only then that that prayer can be regarded as a genuine one which has been established. If we perform our prayer like that then our devotion to religion will be honest and sincere and Allah will reside in our hearts. We shall also become the happy recipients of favours through Allah’s providence. But even more, we shall attain the supreme rank for which we were created, that is, we shall become slaves of Allah as the Holy Quran tells us:

“We have not created the jinn and the men except that they become slaves of Mine.”

In conclusion, the point is worth remembering that perfect union with Allah, Most High, cannot be achieved until a servant has submitted himself and his possessions completely to the will of Allah. That is, instead of obedience to self and others, his love for Allah and obedience to His commands should be paramount. Such a servant, having purged himself of heedlessness, pride, lustful desires and ostentation, has perfectly established the Oneness of Allah in his life and so his sacrifice is accepted by Allah for Allah knows it is for Him alone and that the servant has already sacrificed personal ambitions and possessions for His sake. So completely has Oneness of Allah permeated his being that he shows compassion and mercy to others only for the pleasure of his Lord and selfish desires do not obtrude in his service. His worship, too, is only for Allah, without any trace of egoism or show.

Next: Chapter 108: Al-Kauthar (The Abundance of Good)
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