Question: “Dear Ustadh as it is directly connected with our topic, let us begin with the nature of the concept of wealth and look at how it ought to be understood.
Wealth in the true sense belongs neither to individuals nor to society.Wealth belongs only to Allah, glorified and exalted be He. Disposal over it has only been granted to the servant for a set period of time and they cannot use it as they wish. They can only use it in the way ordained by its Owner and are required to enable the impoverished and the suffering to benefit from the worldly possessions they themselves utilise. The aim is to be the “Believer from whose hand and tongue others benefit,” as mentioned in a hadith.
For this reason, worldly wealth must be understood as a trust given by Allah, glorified and exalted be He, to His servant. If it is used to the contrary, this would amount to a breach of trust, and the plague of inflation, which societies today complain of, would emerge.
Question:In that case, what needs to be done?
A due share of one fortieth of one’s wealth belongs to the needy. The rights of the needy must be given to their rightful owner in the best possible way. The alms tax (zakat) is a 1-40 partnership of worldly wealth with the poor. If the strong partner fails to give their needy partner their due, they will become an oppressor and usurper and mercy and blessing will be removed (from their wealth). The impurity and stains upon one’s wealth cannot be cleansed.
The alms tax is the minimum tax to be given to the impoverished. Wealth needs to be embellished with charity, spending in Allah’s way and alms giving.
Allah Almighty, the Most High, declares in Sura Taubah, verse thirty-four: “Those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah’s cause: give them (O Messenger) the glad tidings of a painful punishment.”
That is to say, Hellfire is indicated when the rights of the poor and needy are usurped. One must reflect in the face of this Divine warning and strive to well exceed one-fortieth with their charity and alms giving.
Question: Must certain groups be given priority over others when giving the alms tax? If so, which groups must these be?
Those to whom the alms tax must be given are indicated in the Qur’an. There is a great need in our day for a campaign of spending in Allah’s cause. We could have just as easily have been in the situation of those who are impoverished and needy. This is, at the same time, a duty of benefaction towards our Lord.
In the same way that we get our children used to performing the prescribed prayer from a young age, we must also instil in them the enthusiasm of spending for the sake of Allah and must accustom them to being a means to the happiness of the suffering. If we do not begin training in this matter from a young age then we cannot obtain a result in the future. They must be raised in the awareness that Allah is the owner of wealth.
In addition, good manners is very important in the worship of almsgiving.
Allah Almighty declares in a verse, “Prosperous indeed are the believers. They are in their Prayer humble and fully submissive.” Attaining the same humility and submission is recommended in zakat. Again, it is stated in a Qur’anic verse: “Do they not know that surely Allah is He who welcomes His servants’ turning to Him in repentance, and accepts what is offered as charity (prescribed or voluntary) for His sake.”
A hadith declares that, “Charity reaches Allah initially, from where it is transferred to the poor and needy.” This means to say that charity must be offered to Allah. In the same way that we are careful about the wrapping and presentation of a present or trust, charity and the alms tax must be presented with the same delicacy. The same meticulousness that we show when purchasing something for ourselves must be shown, giving up our time our energy, in conferring a trust upon its rightful owner. A smile, a single act of courtesy must not be spared. Ustadh Mahmud Sami Efendi would stop the car, open the door, take a few steps towards the needy person and present the charity amiably and with a smile. Being altruistic, courteous and compassionate towards created beings must be the distinguishing character trait of us Muslims.
One who gives in alms and charity must experience a sense of thanks and indebtedness to the receiver of that alms and charity, as the receiver enables the giver to fulfil their religious obligation and be purified of their sins. Supererogatory charity increases virtue and is a means to protection from affliction and tribulations.
The Most High warns His servants against alms that is given indelicately and crudely:
“Render not vain your almsgiving by putting (the receiver) under an obligation and taunting.” (Baqara, 2:264)
Propriety in charity and almsgiving is advised. If one engages in such behaviour, it is as though they have not given in alms. Again in Sura Baqara, verse 267 it is declared: “O you who believe! spend (in Allah’s cause and for the needy) out of the pure, wholesome things you have earned and of what We have produced for you from the earth.”
And Taubah, verse 103, states: “Take alms (prescribed or voluntary) out of their wealth so that you (O Messenger) may thereby cleanse them and cause them to grow in purity and sincerity, and pray for them. Indeed your prayer is a source of comfort for them.”
What is incumbent upon the servant is to be able to fulfil this social worship with a heart filled with love, ardour and spiritual rapture. A believer must be as profound, sensitive, magnanimous, refined of spirit, benevolent and fair-minded as the moonlight on a dark night. Rumi states that, “the heart is the focus of Divine sight”. Belief is a matter of the heart. Compassion is a fruit of the heart. We should be merciful towards those on earth so that the inhabitants of the heavens can have mercy on us. A Prophetic Tradition informs us that Allah Almighty forgave a woman given to transgression who gave water to a thirsty dog and that He sent a worshipping woman to the Fire because she caused a cat to starve to death due to her hard-heartedness.
Question: We see that charitable foundations (waqfs) have, throughout history, been the means to great good. What are your thoughts concerning such foundations as institutions of benefaction?
Institutionalising charity brings into being the charitable foundation. The charitable foundation constitutes presenting figurative ownership, too, to Allah, glorified and exalted be He, the rejection of exclusive personal possession (tamlik) and any claim to its ownership (tamalluk), and as such its being immortalised for the sake of Allah. The aim is to approach all created beings with mercy, compassion and a smiling countenance for the sake of Allah, glorified be He.
Charitable foundations have a life parallel with the individuals who work in them. When the lives of those individuals come to an end, the lives of the charitable foundations do so also. Charitable foundations are a society’s monuments of compassion and the finest sites from which spending in the way of Allah emanate. How much in need of this are we today! It is essential that these institutions are revived in our society and that they become an affectionate embrace for the poor and needy. Can a citizen who lives in an up-market suburb feel the anguish of a person who lives in a slum? Are they aware of their existence and their manner of living?
The human being is a trust, all things are a trust. Everything pertaining to the world is a trust. Returning a trust to its rightful place is a mercy. Spending in the way of Allah is not only material. Everything that the Lord has bestowed upon human beings should be spent in His name. An Islam that is conveyed through living practice is the best of such acts of charity.
Our forefathers have provided admirable examples of this. They competed in the great race of giving their wealth for the sake of Allah and even went as far as preferring others to their own selves. Such selflessness cannot be expected from all societies. Such a consciousness existed in the Prophets, the friends of Allah and in exalted societies. For instance, ‘Ali and Fatima, may Allah be well pleased with them both, had fasted for three days without eating anything, consuming only water. Right at the time for breaking their fast, they gave up their bread to the needy who came to their door.
Going beyond the prescribed annual alms and making greater room for spending in Allah’s way must therefore be encouraged.
Question: How must the prescribed annual alms tax be given? What must we pay attention to?
When giving charity and the alms tax, this must be done truly with compassion, benignity, as though you were giving to yourselves, with the understanding that this is one of the tableaux of Divine destiny and that you could have just as easily have been in such a predicament. That is to say, the situation of one who receives the alms tax changes in accordance with the state of your heart. That state in your heart reflects on them. However sincere your heart is when giving, you will feel that same sincerity from the person across you, in return. If you rush to give and then leave, the spiritual blessing you receive will be in accordance with your attitude.
The manner of presentation holds great importance. If one were to present their alms as though they were presenting it to Allah, with the sense of thankfulness and in the consciousness of this being yet another Divine favour, the spiritual taste they receive will be greater. The greatest charity is that which is given to those in need personally. If it is given in respect and with thanks, by virtue of its relieving one of a religious obligation, then of course the spiritual illumination to be received will be even more marked.
Another issue is the Qur’an’s message to us the fact that the poor and the destitute have a due share in one’s wealth. These poverty-stricken people who cannot ask from others out of shame are people who have received a certain cultivation and training. These people must not be neglected. One must not assume from their outward appearance that they have no such need.
Question: Our history is most certainly replete with countless examples of selflessness and spending in Allah’s way. Though they may be few, we encounter exemplary cases in point in our day also. Can you relate a few such incidents that have affected you deeply?
My father and uncle first come to mind. When they were about to present something to the poor, they would first package these in the finest way and would present these with an admirable delicacy, without causing any offence, but on the contrary, by pleasing those to receive them. Both the receiver and the giver were joyous. One would receive, with the acknowledgement that it had come from Allah, and the other would convey the trust conferred by Allah to its rightful place.
Thank you for this engaging discussion.
I thank you.