12 October 2019 / 13 Saffar 1441
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HUMANITARIAN organisations will often encourage their donors to attend their outreach programmes to see how things are being done. It’s a way of proving that they are doing the job properly, and offers a unique perspective to the donor.
So whether one travels across continents to see the digging a well, or follows a local distribution of food hampers, the occasion is always instructive – if not emotionally uplifting. This is because we inevitably leave such events having been humbled by the experience.
The humility that we feel boils down to an overwhelming feeling of shukr, or gratitude; a gratitude that Allah has been kind to us, that He has bestowed upon us things such as shelter and food; and that we have not been sorely tested with qada’ and qadar – fate and pre-destiny – like those we have just visited.
The point is that we feel humbled because we have been shown the true value of our rizq – our sustenance – through what others don’t have. We feel gratitude more specifically because we quickly realise that our Creator could take everything away from us in the mere blink of an eye.
Our gratitude soon extends to the fact that we have not suffered a tsunami, a flood, a drought, a famine, a mass family bereavement or a tectonic-shifting earthquake; that we have not been struck down by warfare, socio-economic collapse or oppressive leadership like some of our neighbouring countries.
Indeed, we are given a profound life-lesson that the Creator is the Generous, the Preserver and the Powerful – that He pulls the strings of the universe. We are taught through all of this that the distribution of charity, where the right hand should not know the left, has nothing to do with the self or the ego, but everything to do with the heart – the seat of taqwa and iman (God awareness and faith).
If serving others is done for the satisfaction of the ego, then it is not charity, but simply self-aggrandisement, say the scholars. Caring and giving has to be unconditional. Therefore, it must have no strings attached. But, humanitarian activism is not easy. It is facing the frailty of the human condition with all its energy-sapping demands.
“So it’s never about your name, or your fame. You must drown your ego in the sea of mercy,” said a Shaykh to an aid worker, “drown your nafs and feel happy, especially when you get a kick up the backside.”
The importance of caring for others less fortunate than us is given context by the Qur’an, which has ordered Zakah – the purification of wealth – as a pillar of faith. By doing this, our Creator has codified communal generosity, and stripped out its conditionality and pride.
Zakah is executed not only with empathy for those who will benefit from it, but with an awareness of Allah in the presence of Allah. It is done in a state of ihsan, perfect sincerity. This is one reason why it cleanses our wealth.
Hence, it is important to note that Surat ul-Hajj (one of the chapters which mentions Zakah) concludes with a mention of Zakah. True believers, say its last two verses, must kneel and prostrate to their Lord. They must do this, for Muslims have been gifted the faith of Abraham.
The verse continues that Muslims have also been granted viceregency, which is explained as the Prophet having witness over us, so that we can have witness over mankind. In other words, the Muslim must strive for rectitude in the shadow of Muhammad [saw]. The verses conclude:
“Therefore, say your prayers regularly and pay the Zakah and hold fast to your Lord…”
Zakah is mentioned 32 times in the Qur’an, but here it is explicitly linked to faith in action. And what’s more, if the believer obeys these injunctions he will find in Allah, an “excellent Master and an excellent Helper”.
The next Surah, the Chapter of the Believers, immediately reinforces the previous message by saying in its opening lines that those who are humble in their prayer, and those who pay the Zakah, will ultimately be the heirs of Paradise.
And whilst Zakah and charity is executed without fanfare and without a need for public recognition, it does get the ultimate accolade in the eyes of Allah, for as verse 94 in the Chapter of the Prophets declares:
“He, who does good works while he is a believer, shall not see his efforts disregarded, We record them all…”