THE Prophet [saw] once told his Companions that Islam was not a Deen of monkism, of people remaining celibate, of us purposefully punishing the flesh or living in caves away from society. One’s detachment from materialism, or zuhd, had to be expressed amongst people.
“Work for this world as if you will live forever, and work for the hereafter as if you will die tomorrow,” said Sayyidina ‘Ali. “Be indifferent to the world and Allah will love you; be indifferent to what people possess and they will love you,” said the Prophet [saw].
Both of the above stress that our ‘otherworldliness’ must come from within society, with other traditions emphasising the need for the family to be maintained, charity to be paid and our elderly parents to be honoured.
No traditions say that Muslims cannot be well off materially, or that they must deliberately shun wealth – unless it is an adult choice with the family provided for. Prophet Sulaiman [as] had massive riches, and a palace so luxurious, that the Queen of Sheba lifted her dress over her ankles because she thought the polished marble floors were wet.
However, Prophet Sulaiman [as] may have enjoyed his riches, but he was not attached to them. They were mere incidentals to his more important prophetic message and the kingdom he had to rule with taqwa.
The Prophet Muhammad [saw] told us that Islam – with its Abrahamic roots – was first, and foremost, a social contract. The fact that ‘adl, or justice, is one of the three most mentioned words in the Qur’an, speaks to a communal ethos, as justice is what underpins Shari’ah, the application of Sacred Law in society, which itself is underpinned by Rahmah, or Mercy.
For that reason, the basic pillars of Islam are all rooted in communal activity. Even the kalimah shahadah, the proclamation of faith, is a public act. Salah is a recommended communal devotion, Ramadan is a communal activity and Hajj is a communal ritual.
Zakah – the compulsory cleansing of residual wealth on an annual basis – is the one pillar that is slightly, if not subtletly, different. This is because Zakah is a private act with concrete public benefit.
In essence, Zakah is what completes the circle of faith; from a declaration of faith we find ourselves returning to faith in action, the giving of benefits to the poor – those whose own faith is bolstered by the love and care of their co-religionists in their dark and dependent moments.
There is huge wisdom in all this. For, if we had been cloistered in a cave contemplating our navels, our families would probably have starved and the poor left to slide deeper into the gutter. It is through our social interaction that we become aware of those around us.
Naturally, relationships tend to be based on a common racial identity, a language or a country. Our communality can insulate us from others. People of the same race, same language, same class or same country do often feel a special affiliation towards each other. However, Islamic communality transcends all these boundaries. As Qur’an reminds us:
“O, mankind! We have created you from a male and a female; and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other. Indeed, the most noble among you in view of Allah is the most pious of you.” [49:13].
Indeed, it is Zakah that breaks all these bounds. The heart has to be filled with compassion. In the giving of Zakah, or any other charity, it is not the amount we give that counts – but how we give it.
If we give with haughtiness and pride, we only demean ourselves; but if we give with humility – and out of a genuine sense of piety – it is everyone who benefits, the giver who brings the gift, and the given who accepts the gift. In this process, the only thing that counts is our humanity, and not our colour or our class.