Receiving and Giving Gifts in Islam

Gift-giving is one of the good manners that maintains and strengthens relations between the giver and the recipient. It is one of the acts that Prophet Muhammad SAW (may Allah exalt his mention) recommended Muslims to do. Al-Bukhari may Allah have mercy upon him narrated that ‘Aa’ishah may Allah be pleased with her said: “The Messenger of Allah SAW used to accept gifts and reward people for giving them.”

The phrase: “Reward people for giving them,” means giving the giver (at a later time) something of equal value at least in return.

This Hadeeth (narration) indicates that accepting gifts and giving something of equal value (or more) to the giver is the way of the Prophet SAW.

The Prophet SAW enjoined responding in kind to favors, as he said in an authentic narration: “Whoever does you a favor, respond in kind, and if you cannot find the means of doing so, then keep praying for him until you think that you have responded in kind.” [Abu Dawood]

“Whoever does you a favor,” means, whoever treats you kindly in word or deed or by gifting you.

“Respond in kind,” means to treat him kindly just as he has treated you kindly.

“If you cannot find the means of doing so” means if you do not have the money.

“Until you think that you have responded in kind” means, repeatedly supplicate for him until you think that you have rewarded him his due.

One of the Du’aa’ forms that one can say is ‘Jazaka Allahu khayran’ (may Allah reward you with good). At-Tirmithi may Allah have mercy upon him narrated that Usamah Ibn Zayd may Allah be pleased with him said: The Messenger of Allah SAW said: “Whoever has a favor done for him and says ‘Jazak Allahu khayran’ has done his utmost to thank him.” [At-Tirmithi]

“Done his utmost to thank him,” means that he has done his utmost to express his gratitude because he has acknowledged his shortcomings and that he is unable to reward and thank him enough, so he refers the matter to Allah, to reward him in the best manner. It is said that: “If you are unable to give him back in kind, then speak at length thanking him and supplicating for him.” [Tuhfat Al-Ahwathi]

The Permanent Committee (a supreme Islamic judicial authority in Saudi Arabia, was asked a similar question) and replied as follows:

“There is nothing wrong with accepting it (an amount of money as a gift), without you (the recipient) longing for that, and you can respond in kind if you are able to with an appropriate gift, or you can supplicate for him because the Prophet SAW said: “Whoever does you a favor, respond in kind … (the above-mentioned Hadeeth).” [Fatawa Al-Lajnah Al-Daa’imah]

Difference between charity and gift-giving
Charity is given to the poor and the needy to meet their needs and is done with the intention of seeking the Pleasure of Allah. Its intention is not limited to a specific person; rather it is given to any poor or needy one.

On the other hand, a gift is not necessarily given to a poor person, rather it may be given to rich or poor; the intention is to show friendship and to honor the recipient.

Both of them – charity and gift-giving – are righteous deeds for which a person will be rewarded (and please his Lord), but which is better?

Ibn Taymiyah may Allah have mercy upon him stated that Sadaqah (charity) is that which is given for the sake of Allah as an act of worship, without intending to give it to a specific person and without seeking anything in return, rather it is given for charitable causes, such as to the needy. A gift is given with the intention of honoring a specific person, either because the recipient is your friend whom you love, or because you want something in return.

Hence, the Prophet SAW used to accept gifts and reward people for them, so that no one could remind him of their favors, but he did not accept the “refuse” of people that they gave to purify themselves of sins, namely charity. He did not accept charity for this and other reasons.

Once this is understood, then charity is better, but there is a sense in which a gift is better than charity, such as giving a gift to the Messenger of Allah SAW during his lifetime out of love for him. Also, gifts that a person gives to a relative in order to uphold the ties of kinship or to a brother in Islam may be better than charity.

Based on this, giving to one of your relatives may be better than giving charity, because it is more befitting to uphold the ties of kinship. The same may apply if you give a gift to a friend of yours because that will strengthen the bonds of love between you. The Prophet SAW said: “Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love for one another.” [Al-Bukhari]

What the Hadeeth means is that giving gifts may generate and increase love.

To sum up, gifting vs. giving charity is dependent on the situation but, in principle, spending on charity takes precedence.

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Giving Food

Giving Food in Surah Al-Insan (No.76):

This is a good gesture of Allah’s Mercy to Mention giving food in a Surah that is entitled “Al-Insan”. Allah The Exalted Says (what means): {And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive…} [Al-Quran, Surah Al-Insan, verse 8]

Ibn ‘Abbas and Mujahid said, “This verse denotes that they feed the needy, the orphan and the captive despite the scarcity of food and their need and love for it.”

What about you and your food?

How great a deed is feeding the hungry in our time!

Allah The Exalted Says (what means): {Or feeding on a day of severe hunger…} [Quran 90:14]

An-Nakha‘i commented on this verse saying, “They feed the hungry at times when food is not ample.”

Mohammed ibn Al-Munkadir said, “Feeding hungry Muslims guarantees the forgiveness of sins.” He also said on another occasion: “Feeding the hungry and saying kind words to others usher you to Paradise.”

Dear brother and sister, you may notice how our days – in some Muslim countries – have turned into days of severe hunger. Food has become scarce and meat has also become scarce as well as being too expensive for the poor.

What about you, dear readers? What about your food?

An Explicit Command:

Feeding people in general and a hungry person, in particular, has been explicitly mentioned in the command of the Messenger of Allah SAW. Abu Moosa Al-Ash‘ari, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet SAW said: “Feed the hungry, pay a visit to the sick and free the captives.” [Saheeh] A reported saying reads, “The best charity is to satisfy a hungry person.” Alas, a Muslim may sit at an Iftar table with delicious and tasty dishes while his neighbors break their fast with a few morsels of food if they can be found!

The Righteous Predecessors

Our righteous predecessors were keen to feed people and favored this act of worship over many others, whether it was for a hungry poor person or feeding a righteous Muslim. Poverty is not an essential condition in this regard. The Messenger of Allah SAW said: “O people! Spread the Islamic greetings amongst yourselves, feed the hungry, maintain kinship relations, observe prayer at night while people are asleep and you will peacefully enter the Paradise.” [Saheeh]

Some of the righteous predecessors said, “It is better for me to invite ten of my friends and feed them delicious food that they like than freeing ten slaves from the children of Isma‘eel (i.e. Arabs).”

Abu As-Siwar Al-‘Adawi said, “Some men from the ‘Uday tribe used to pray in this mosque and none of them would break his fast alone. If one found someone to eat with, he would eat. If he could not find someone to eat with, he would take his food and go to the mosque to share it with the people in the mosque.”

Fruits of Feeding the Hungry:

The act of worship of feeding the hungry gives rise to many other acts of worship such as showing affection towards one’s fellow Muslims whom he feeds and this can be a reason for him being granted Paradise. The Prophet SAW said: “You shall not enter Paradise as long as you do not affirm belief (in all those things which are the articles of faith) and you will not believe as long as you do not love one another.” [Muslim]

It also gives rise to (the act of worship) being in the company of righteous people and hoping for the rewards of Allah The Almighty in offering them food as they gain strength to perform acts of worship.

Food Baskets:

Some righteous predecessors used to send their friends a basket full of sugar or other such food.

Yunus ibn ‘Ubayd Yahdi said, “I gave a basket of sugar to Al-Hasan Al-Basri as a gift and I have not seen any sugar better than this one. He opened the basket and said to his companions, “Eat and enjoy.”

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The Virtue of Charity

Abu Huraira narrated that Allah’s Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

A man-made an intention that he would give something in charity. He went out with his object of charity and unknowingly gave it to a thief. The next morning the people said that he had given in charity to a thief.

(On hearing that) he said: “O Allah! All the praise is to You. I will give in charity again.”

And so he again went out to give charity, but he (unknowingly) gave it to an adulteress. The next morning the people said that he had given his alms to an adulteress last night.

The man said: “O Allah! All the praise is to You. (I had given in charity) to an adulteress. I will give in charity again.”

So he went out with his charity again and he (unknowingly) gave it to a rich person. (The people) The next morning said that he had given his charity to a wealthy person.

He said: “O Allah! All the praise is to You. (I had given in charity) to a thief, to an adulteress and to a wealthy man.”

Then someone came to him in his dream and said to him:”The alms which you gave to the thief, might make him abstain from stealing, and that given to the adulteress might make her abstain from illegal sexual intercourse (adultery), and that given to the wealthy man might make him take a lesson from it and spend his wealth which Allah has given him, in Allah’s cause.”

From this story, we learn that we shouldn’t always take a person’s actions on face value alone. Although the man’s charity didn’t go to a needy person directly, it can still yield benefits. We must note that the man did not give in charity to the types of people mentioned knowingly, rather his intention was sincere and he only found out afterward that he had given the money to a thief, adulterer, and a wealthy person, so we know from this that we can’t hide under a sincere intention when we know the action itself is incorrect.

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Zakat + Sadaqah: The Productive Investment of a Lifetime

What if I told you about an offer where you can get the product, plus double your money back, plus extra prizes? What would you do? You’d probably immediately text all your friends to tell them about it and then rush down to the shop to make the purchase.

While many of us tend to chase after special offers and reduced prices in this dunya (world), we often overlook the fact that Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) has offered us an even better deal that will benefit us both in this dunya and the akhirah (hereafter). What deal am I talking about? Sadaqah (voluntary charity).

The following points show how this noble act can increase our productivity in this life and in preparing for the next.

1. Sadaqah is a guaranteed investment.
‘Who is he that will loan to Allah a beautiful loan which Allah will double unto his credit and multiply it many times?’ [2:245].

The above verse teaches us that by generously giving to the poor and needy, Allah will increase our wealth and blessings in this life, wipe out sin, increase reward and provide shade on the Day of Judgment and more insha’Allah!

What more could we ask for? Money back, profit, good health, barakah (blessings) in our wealth, shade on the Day of Judgement, sadaqah is definitely the best investment for our dunya and akhirah.

Forget special offers, reduced prices and buy one get one free deal – a productive Muslim knows the ultimate best way to spend his/her wealth – in the way of Allah.

2. Sadaqah is a means of gaining barakah in your wealth.
It may be hard for us to give sadaqah when we are barely able to make ends meet. However, it is reported in Sahih Muslim that the Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

Charity does not decrease the wealth and the servant who forgives, Allah adds to his respect; and the one who shows humility, Allah elevates him in the estimation (of the people).”


”There is not a day in which the obedient slaves rise in the morning except that two angels descend, and one of them says: ‘O Allaah! Compensate the one who spends.’ The other angel says: ‘O Allaah! Destroy the wealth of the one who is niggardly.”

If we truly believe and apply these hadiths, we will come to learn that we can never lose from giving sadaqah, but instead, we gain immensely from it.

However, gaining from sadaqah may not always be in a physical form. When we give sadaqah, it doesn’t necessarily mean that our salaries will increase or we will miraculously stumble upon a goldmine. It may mean that Allah will put barakah into our wealth and possessions instead. By regularly giving sadaqah, we will quickly notice that although we are still spending the same amount of money on the same expenses, we will still have plenty of left insha’Allah.

Giving sadaqah can also put barakah in our time and personal matters. We may find that after giving sadaqah, Allah will ease all our affairs.

If you have been trying to save up for something, or if you have debt that you haven’t been able to repay, or if you have a goal that you just haven’t been able to achieve; as a productive Muslim you should set aside a portion of your salary every month for sadaqah – even if it’s a very small amount. The difference it will make in your life will be worth it insha’ Allah.

3. Sadaqah serves as a means of reaping continuous rewards after your death.
When we work for something that will grant us benefit in this worldly life (e.g. a promotion, etc.), we tend to put in a lot of time, effort and sometimes money in order to achieve our goals.

A productive Muslim does the same for the akhirah. He/she invests time, hard work and money in activities that will bring great reward, and some that will continue to benefit him even after death.

Why not invest money in building a mosque, digging a well, opening a school, planting a tree or any other form of sadaqah jariyah (ceaseless charity)?

“When a man dies, his acts come to an end, but three, recurring charity, or knowledge (by which people) benefit, or a pious son, who prays for him (for the deceased)” [Muslim].

If you’ve provided money to build a well, you will be rewarded for every single drop of water drunk from it while you’re alive and after your death until the Day of Judgment insha’Allah. If you contribute to building a mosque, you will be rewarded for every single prayer performed in it. If you put in the time and effort to teach someone Qur’an or some form of knowledge, you will be rewarded every time that person recites the Qur’an or shares the knowledge with someone else.

SubhanAllah. Imagine the reward you will find reserved for you in the akhirah, perhaps it will take you to higher and higher stations of Jannah by His Mercy!

Sadaqah is a special offer from Allah that stands as long as we’re alive. Make sadaqah a productive habit this Ramadan, and a habit throughout your life before it’s too late!

”And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous; Who spend [in the cause of Allah] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good” [3:133-134]

May Allah, The Most Generous, make us from those who give regular sadaqah and may He accept it from us. Ameen.

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Giving Charity Brings More Sustenance.

Islam encourages its followers to give charity. There are many verses of the Qur’an that recommend Muslims to give charity. Among them is verse (ayat) 254, in Chapter 2 (Surah Al-Baqarah):

Which means: “O ye who believe! Spend out of what (the bounties) We have provided for you, before the Day comes when no bargaining (will avail), nor friendship nor intercession. Those who reject Faith they are the wrong-doers.” [Al-Quran, surah al-Baqarah, verse 254].

Giving charity (sadaqah) comes from the word al-sidqu which means true. It means that giving sadaqah is proof that one truly believes in his religion. A believer will be in the shelter of his sadaqah on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet (may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him [pbuh]) said in a Hadith which was narrated by Ibn Hibban:

Which means: “Everyone is under the shelter of his sadaqah until he is judged.” [Narrated by Ibn Hibban].

Giving sadaqah does not lessen one’s sustenance or wealth as some people think. In fact, sadaqah opens the door to a person’s sustenance. The Prophet (pbuh) said in a Hadith which was narrated by Imam Muslim:

Which means: “Charity (sadaqah) does not in any way decrease the wealth”. [Narrated by Muslim].

Islam encourages us to give sadaqah especially when we have the desire to be rich but feel afraid to give charity thinking that it will make us poor. The Prophet (pbuh) said in a Hadith which was narrated by Imam al-Bukhari and Muslim:

Which means: “A man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and asked, “O Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), which charity is the most superior in reward?” He replied, “The charity which you practice while you are healthy, niggardly and afraid of poverty and wish to become wealthy…” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim].

The angels will pray to Allah the Almighty to replace all the wealth that is spent by those who give sadaqah. The Prophet (pbuh) said in a Hadith which was narrated by Imam al-Bukhari and Muslim:

Which means: “There is never a day wherein servants (of God) get up at morn, but are not visited by two angels. One of them says: 0 Allah, give him more who spends (for the sake of Allah), and the other says: 0 Allah, bring destruction to one who withholds.” [Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim].

Allah the Almighty will also ease the affairs of a person who spends his wealth to facilitate other people’s problems in this world and in the hereafter. The Prophet (pbuh) said in a Hadith which was narrated by Imam Muslim:

Which means: “Whoever facilitates the affairs of a person in distress, Allah the Almighty will facilitate his affairs in this world and in the hereafter….” [Narrated by Muslim].

Allah the Almighty also promises a reward for the people who spend their wealth for the sake of Allah as He mentioned in the Quran in Chapter 8 (Surah Al-Anfal), verse (ayat) 60:

Which means: “… Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.” [Al-Quran, surah al-Anfal, verse 60].

Giving sadaqah will not make us poor. On the contrary, this practice opens up the door to more sustenance from Allah the Almighty. Let us give sadaqah to the needy but at the same time, we must not forget our responsibility to give the obligatory sadaqah known as zakat. We must realize that regardless of how much we give in sadaqah it will not lift our obligation to pay zakat. Let us ponder the appeal from Allah the Almighty as stated in the Quran in Chapter 2 (Surah Al-Baqarah), verse (ayat) 245:

Which means: “Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned.” [Al-Quran, surah al-Baqarah, verse 245].

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The Definition and Value of Generosity.

As humans, we have an innate sense of morality. No matter what religion, race or color we are, certain qualities serve as the moral standard. We admire justice, bravery, honesty, and compassion. We abhor those who demonstrate treachery, cruelty or corruption. Moral standards are universal, and one of the most important aspects of Islam is adherence to high moral standards and good manners. Prophet Muhammad. May the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, taught Muslims to have the best manners and personal characteristics. The Prophet’s own high standard of morals and manners made him the best example for Muslims to follow. God said in the Quran:

“And verily you, O Muhammad, are on an exalted standard of character.” [Al-Quran, surah al-Qalam, verse 4]

Generosity was among the countless good qualities of the Prophet Muhammad. He was the most generous of people and he used to be most generous in Ramadan [Refers to Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]. One day the Prophet Muhammad offered the prayer in the mosque and then hurriedly went to his house and returned immediately. A companion asked why he left and he replied,

“I left a piece of gold at home which was given for charity and I disliked letting it remain a night at my house, so I bought it for the mosque to distribute.” [Refers to Sahih Al-Bukhari]

Our worldly possessions are bounties from God, who is Al-Kareem, the Most Generous. Muslims believe that everything originates from God and everything will return to Him, thus, it is logical to behave as if that which we possess is merely a loan, something we are obligated to preserve, protect and ultimately share.

Whenever Prophet Muhammad met a miserly person, he advised him to be more generous and charitable. Ibn ‘Abbas said that he heard Prophet Muhammad say, “The believer is not the one who eats when his neighbor beside him is hungry,” another companion heard the Prophet say, “The believer is simple and generous, but the wicked person is deceitful and ignoble.”

Generosity Defined

Princeton University wordnet defines generosity as the willingness to give freely. Islam encourages this concept of generosity so much so that it is embedded in one of the five pillars of Islam, the obligatory charity known as Zakat. In Arabic, the term zakat literally means purification of the heart, however; it is also the payment, from surplus money, of an obligatory charity designed by God to provide for all the needy members of the community. It is a fixed calculable amount.

There is also another form of generosity in Islam called sadaqa. Linguistically, sadaqa means truthfulness, and some scholars have described it as the heart being truthful to its Creator. Anything given generously – freely to others – with the intention of pleasing God is sadaqa. Sadaqa can be as simple as a smile, helping an elderly person with their groceries or removing objects from the road or path.

Generosity can be viewed as a wise investment in the future. Generosity or sadaqa may pave the way to Paradise because with every generous act comes great reward from God. However, being generous does not only mean giving freely from what you have in abundance. Generosity does not lie in giving away something that is no longer useful but in giving freely from the things we love or need.

Aisha (the wife of the Prophet) said, “A lady, along with her two daughters came to me asking for some alms, but she found nothing with me except one date which I gave to her and she divided it between her two daughters.” [Refers to Sahih Al-Bukhari].

God tells us in the Quran that whatever we give away generously, with the intention of pleasing Him, He will replace it. God knows what is in the hearts of men.

Say: “Truly, my Lord enlarges the provision for whom He wills of His slaves, and also restricts it) for him, and whatsoever you spend of anything (in God’s Cause), He will replace it. And He is the Best of providers.” [Al-Quran, surah Saba, verse 39]

The Value of Generosity

The companions of Prophet Muhammad understood the value of being generous. Abdullah ibn Omar was seen in the market buying fodder for his camel on credit. One of the men queried this knowing that Abdullah had received 4000 dirhams and a blanket the previous day. It was explained that before nightfall Abdullah had distributed the money amongst the needy. He then took the blanket, threw it over his shoulder and headed home, but by the time he arrived even the blanket was gone, he had given it to a needy person.

After the death of the Prophet, the people faced great hardship due to drought. They came to Abu Bakr asking him to provide them with enough to sustain them, but he was unable to help, the treasury was empty. Just at that time, the camel caravan belonging to Uthman arrived from Damascus. It was filled with foodstuffs and other goods. The merchants gathered at Uthman’s house offering him large amounts of money for the goods; however, he turned them down saying he was prepared only to give the goods to the One from whom he would receive the greatest reward. Uthman gave all the goods to the starving people of Madinah and did not charge them. He knew that God would reward him with something far greater than money.

Even in the direst of circumstances, a person who is a true believer in Almighty God is able to be generous.

The people came to the Prophet Muhammad and asked, “If someone has nothing to give, what will he do?” He said, “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked, “If he cannot find even that?” He replied, “He should help the needy who appeal for help.” Then the people asked, “If he cannot do that?” He replied, “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.” [Refers to Sahih Al-Bukhari].

And God says in the Quran that He will repay the generosity of a believer.

“And whatever you spend in good, it will be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged.” [Al-Quran, surah al-Baqarah, verse 272]

God is the One who provides for us and He expects us to share generously. We are encouraged to be benevolent and unselfish with our possessions, with our time and with our exemplary behavior towards others.

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Allah Will Never Forget The Good We Do For Others.

Allah Most High said in the Qur’an, in Surah Ali-Imran (which means):

“And their Lord responded to them, ‘Never will I allow to be lost the deeds of [anyone] among you, whether male or female…” [Al-Quran, surah Ali-Imran, verse 195].

From the mercy of Allah Most High, is that He will never forget what we do. Whatever we do for His sake raises our station with Him and it pleases Allah Most High, and the best way to please Him is by doing good by His creation. Allah said at the end of Surah Al-‘Ankabut (which means):

“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good. (muhsineen).” [Al-Quran, surah al-‘Ankabut, verse 69].

The doers of good are those who not only do good but also those who love, enjoy and perfect all that is good. We say to ourselves and to those whom we love, “keep doing good and enjoy it.” Gravitate from one good to the next. Whatever you do for the creation of Allah Most High, you are in actuality, doing it for Allah Most High, as He said in a Hadith Qudsi (which means):

I was sick, and you did not visit me, I was hungry and you do not feed me, and I was oppressed and you did not help Me. They will say: ‘How is that possible?’ So-and-so was sick and you did not visit them, so-and-so was hungry and you did not feed them, and so-and-so was oppressed and you did not help them!”

Thus, it is a great honor for us to do something for others, and this is how Allah Most High raises our station.

Allah Most High will never forget the good that you offered to someone, the anxiety of someone you helped to ease, the happiness you gave to someone who was broken and tearful, the smile you shone in someone’s face, and your accompaniment of someone lonely! But, when you feel you cannot help, tell them how much you wish you could help them, and remind them of the One who can help them and Who is always watching them!

Let us live this life by the principle of spreading goodness (ihsan). Even when we do not get goodness from people, let us still choose goodness, because Allah Most High loves the doers of good.

May your days and nights be those of goodness, and may Allah Most High facilitate for us His Divine Assistance to implement it in all that we do.

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Kitab Al-Kasb Series (Part 43): Elucidating that the Giver is Superior to the Taker, and Its Elaboration at Length.

Every Wednesday, I will share a part of the translation of the book Kitab Al-Kasb (the book of Earning a Livelihood) written by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani.

Part 43: Elucidating that the Giver is Superior to the Taker, and Its Elaboration at Length
Imam Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani says, “The giver is superior to the taker, even though the giver by giving is fulfilling an obligation on him.” This problem involves three elucidations.

One of them is that the giver is fulfilling an obligation, while the taker is capable of earning except that he is in need. In this case, the giver is superior to the taker by scholarly consensus, for in giving he is discharging an obligation, whereas the taker in taking is only doing a voluntary act, for he may opt not to take but earn instead. The rank of discharging an obligation is higher than the rank of volunteering, as is the case with all other religious observances, for the reward in discharging the mandatory is greater than the reward in discharging the supererogatory.

The proof of this is that the one obliged is working for himself, while the one volunteering is working for other than himself, whereas a person’s work for himself is superior, for the Prophet says, “”Begin with yourself” [Narrated by Muslim, al-Nasa’i, and al-Bayhaqi].

This means that by the very act of discharging of an obligation for himself, a person is discharging a duty to himself (and thereby relieving his self’s conscience), and so he is working for himself by doing so; whereas the taker is not benefitting himself by merely taking, but rather by partaking after having taken, but he does not know whether he will endure until he partakes or not endure. For this reason, there is no largess of the rich on the poor in the taking of charity by the poor; for what the rich attain by giving it is more than what the poor attains (by taking it), such that the poor carries for the rich what he (the poor) does not need at the moment that he may reach for it when he is in need of it, while the rich are in need of giving that he may attain to his objective at the very moment of giving, which is to discharge his duty of charity.

If all the poor were to concord on forgoing the taking (of charity), they would not be sinning in doing so, but rather, they would be commended for doing so; in contrast to (the case) if all the rich were to converge on desisting from discharging the obligatory (alms). Hence we know that the largess is of the poor on the rich.

The second elucidation is that the giver and the taker are each doing a voluntary act, such that the giver is volunteering, while the taker is capable of earning. In this case, the giver is also superior, for by giving what he gives, he is detached from his wealth and is assimilated into poverty, while the taker by taking is assimilated into affluence; and we have explained that the rank of the poor is higher than the rank of the rich, and therefore whoso is assimilated into poverty by his work is higher in rank.

Moreover, the religious observances are ordained by way of trial, for Allah says, “To test which of you is best in conduct” [Al-Quran, surah Hud, verse 7]. The meaning of trial by giving is more manifest than by taking, for the trial is in a deed to which the self is not inclined, whereas in the self of every person there is motivation to take instead of to give; hence the Prophet says, “Truly the Muslim, by his charity of a dirham, is in need of breaking the desires of seventy devils” [Narrated by Ahmad and al-Tabarani].

When the meaning of trial is more apparent in giving, then it is superior, especially in the light if what was narrated that the Prophet was asked about the best of works, whereupon he said, “The most biting,” that is the most difficult on the body. And he was asked about the best charity, he said, “The exertion of a person of small means” [Narrated by Abu Dawud and al-Nasa’i].

Moreover, the one taking produces for his self that by which he attains to the satisfaction of his desires, while the giver releases from his ownership that by which he satisfies his desires; and the highest of ranks is denying the self from the satisfaction of desires.

The third elucidation is (the case) when the giver is volunteering, while the taker is obliged, such that he is incapable of earning and is in need of that by which to keep body and soul together; in which case according to the scholars of jurisprudence the giver is superior also.

However, the scholars of hadith, among them Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ishaq ibn Rahuyah say, “The taker is superior here, for by taking he is discharging an obligation on himself, whereas the giver is only supererogating.” We have explained that discharging the obligatory is higher in rank than performing the supererogatory. Moreover, the taker, if he was to decline to take, in this case, he would be sinning; while the giver, if he was to decline to give he would not be sinning when there is someone else to whom he can give what is obligatory on him (to give).

A reward is commensurate with a penalty. Do you not see that Allah has threatened the wives of the Messenger of Allah with double of that with which He threatened women other than them, and thus He says, “O wives of the Prophet, if any of you were openly indecent, her penalty should be doubled; and that is easy for Allah” [Al-Quran, surah al-Ahzab, verse 30]. Then He gave them as a reward for obedience double of what was due to women other than them, for He Most High, says, “But any of you who is humble to Allah and Allah’s messenger, and acts with integrity, her We will give her reward doubly; and We have prepared a generous provision for her” [Al-Quran, surah al-Ahzab, verse 31]. Hence, since the sinning in this regard applies to the taker rather than the giver, then correspondingly, the reward applies more to the taker than to the giver.

However, all this consideration becomes ambiguous (less than clear-cut and straightforward) with the case of returning salutation of peace, for salutation of peace is legally recommended but returning salutation of peace is obligatory; and yet in spite of this (being the case), to initiate salutation of peace is superior to returning it, in line with what the Prophet has said, “For the initiator of salutation of peace twenty merits, and for the returner ten merits” [Hadith of this meaning are documented by al-Haythami as narrated by al-Bazzaar and al-Tabarani].

And perhaps they may say, “The taker strives to revive the self, whereas the giver strives to protect the self or to augment wealth, and reviving the self is higher in rank than augmenting wealth.”

Our argument in this regard is what was narrated from the Prophet that he said, “The upper hand is better than the lower hand, ” [Abu Ghuddah] without differentiating between supererogatory giving and discharging an obligatory giving.

If it is said, “What is meant by the upper hand is the hand of the needy, as it stands for the hand of the Law. Indeed, the charity-giver renders his wealth for Allah in sincerity, by realizing it from his ownership and then giving it away to the needy, that it may be a security for him from (the penalty of ) Allah; while the needy stands for the Law in taking (the charity) from the rich.

The explanation for this is in the statement of Allah, “Do they not know that Allah accepts repentance from servants and takes contributions, and Allah is relenting, most merciful?” [Al-Quran, surah al-Tawbah, verse 104]. And the Prophet says, “Truly charity falls into the hand of the Merciful, and He nurtures it like one of you nurtures his colt (filw) until it (the charity) becomes like (the mountain of) Uhud” [Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim]. By this, it is manifest that the upper hand is the hand of the needy in meaning.

We say that this interpretation is a long shot, for Abu Hurayrah has narrated that the Prophet said, “Hands are three: the hand of Allah Most High, then the giving hand, then the taking hand, and it is the lowest until the day of resurrection” [Abu Ghuddah]. And in a narration, “Then the giving hand, then the taking hand, and it is the lowest until the day of resurrection.”

Therefore, by this, it is manifest that the meaning of the higher hand is the giver’s hand, for the giver is purified from squalor by giving, while the taker is tarnished.

The explanation of this is that Allah says, “Take contributions from their wealth, to purify them and justify them thereby” [Al-Quran, surah al-Tawbah, verse 103]. And so we know that in giving the charitable contributions there is the meaning of purification and justification, and in receiving (the meaning of) blemish. The Messenger of Allah has called charitable contribution the refuse of people [documented by al-Suyuti]; and he named it the wash water, thus he said, “O children (or clan) of Hashim, Allah Most High has disapproved for you the wash water of the hands of people” [Narrated by al-Tabarani], meaning charitable contribution.

This is borne out by the fact that the Messenger of Allah, himself used to give, but receiving charity for himself was forbidden for him, as he has said, “Charity is neither permissible for Muhammad nor for the family of Muhammad” [Narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawud, and al-Nasa’i].

The people (i.e., scholars) then discuss this issue with regard to the case of all other prophets, on whom be blessing and peace, and so some of them say, “Receiving charity was also not permissible for all other prophets but it was permitted for their relatives; and then Allah honored our Prophet by forbidding charity for his relatives, to manifest his eminence, such that their rank in this ruling is like the rank of the prophets.”

It is said (by some scholars), “But rather, charity is permissible to all other prophets, and this (ruling of impermissibility) is specifically for our Prophet.” Whatever the case may be, it is (still) feasible to say that in the prohibition of charity there is the raising of ranks in the meaning of bestowing honor and exclusivity on him (our Prophet). If taking was in any way, superior to giving then there would not be (any) meaning of exclusivity and honoring for him in the prohibition of taking.

The proof of this is that the Law recommends that everyone give to charity, and recommends everyone to be on guard against asking. The Prophet said to Thawban, “Do not ask anything of people, whether they give you or deny you” [Narrated by Abu Dawud, Ahmad, and al-Tabarani].  And the Prophet said to Hakim ibn Hizam, “Beware, beware, that you should ask anything of anyone, whether he gives you or denies you (what you have asked of him)” [Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim].

After this statement, he (Hakim) used not to ask anything of anyone, nor take anything from anyone, even when Umar ibn al-Khattab presented to him his share of what was given, he did not take it. He said, “I do not take anything from anyone after the Messenger of Allah said to me what he said.” And Umar testified with regard to him, saying, “O people, I verily testify to you about him that I offered to him his right, but he declined.”

 With this, it is clear that giving is superior to taking. Allah says, “The ignorant think they have no needs, because of their modesty. You will know them by their mark” [Al-Quran, surah al-Baqarah, verse 283], that is by their modesty of not asking and taking. The Prophet says, “Whoever strives to be modest, Allah will cause him to be modest; and whoever strives to be independent, Allah will cause him to be independent. But whoever opens up on himself a door to asking, Allah will open up on him seventy doors of neediness” [Narrated by al-Bukhari, Muslim and al-Tirmidhi].

Now, when modesty lies in abstention from taking, then resorting to taking is prima facie tantamount to forsaking modesty; hence the giver is superior to the taker, but in each there is good.


22 The Book of Earning-700x700

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Action On Hunger: A Shared Obligation

With more than 1 billion undernourished people – many of them children – across the globe, hunger is a problem that affects all religions and nationalities. The roots of hunger are as diverse as the communities that it affects; conflict, natural disaster, water shortages, disease, climate change, and, of course, poverty is among the many other factors involved.

Solving a problem that affects people of all faiths requires the active support and participation of people from all those faiths. Individually, all major faiths call upon their adherents to exhibit compassion by helping the needy. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others have since time immemorial supported projects, activities, and organizations dedicated to helping feed the poor, sick, and hungry. Maximizing the impact of these efforts by increasing interfaith collaboration is an important next step to eradicating hunger; fortunately, this collaboration has already begun in the United States and abroad.

A Shared Compulsion to Act

Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others all find clear language in their holy books and traditions that compel them to fight hunger and poverty.

For Muslims, this fight is fundamental to the faith; it is the essence of zakat, the third pillar. The importance of charity is underscored throughout the Quran [e.g., Surah 2 (Al-Baqarah), verse 110]. This charity is not only directed toward fellow Muslims. The Quran [Al-Nisa’ (4): 36] calls believers to “do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the Companion by your side…” Charity should be directed broadly, not limited to fellow Muslims. Recall that “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues” [al-Maidah (5):48].

This broader sense of community and the individual’s responsibility toward those in need regardless of identity suggest that Muslims should extend their hands across faith lines to collaborate in the struggle against hunger. The Prophet Muhammad is commonly quoted as having said that “the person who sleeps full while his neighbor sleeps hungry is not a true believer.”

Similarly, the Bible calls all Christians to take action and provide for the poor and hungry without discrimination. “If a brother or sister lacks food and one of you says, ‘go in peace,’ and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? Faith if it has no works is dead” (James 2:15-17). Helping the hungry has great spiritual benefits for Christians: “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (Isaiah 58:10). The Good Samaritan parable in the Gospel of Luke (10: 25-37) makes clear the importance of loving and helping one’s neighbor regardless of identity.

Recent Christian thought has emphasized the unambiguous value of helping the hungry. A powerful statement about the importance of fighting hunger came from Pope Benedict XVI in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Drawing inspiration from earlier writings by his predecessor Paul VI, Pope Benedict XVI stated that feeding the hungry “is an ethical imperative for the universal [Roman Catholic] Church.”

For Jews, the Torah places hunger and poverty at the center of the faith. Leviticus (19:9-10) calls on Jews to give to the poor the corners of their fields and to leave them any fallen fruit. This is in the context of a concern for others that is not limited to fellow Jews; it is in the spirit of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev.19:18).

Alleviating hunger is of great importance to those outside of the great monotheistic traditions, as well. The Mahabharata (XIII.59.11), one of Hinduism’s great Sanskrit epics, states that “[t]here is none other who does greater good than the one who removes the hunger of those in a difficult situation, helpless, weak and disturbed.” Gandhi and other leading thinkers and activists throughout the faith’s history have been inspired by Hinduism’s call to action against hunger.

If the concern for the poor and hungry is shared across religious boundaries, and there is agreement that this concern must not be limited to co-religionists, then there is a reason to work together to defeat the scourge of hunger. Interfaith action to fight hunger is, therefore, a way for members of each religion to practice their personal faiths, while strengthening their capacity to have a positive social impact through coordinated action across faith lines.

Interfaith Action against Hunger

Why is it important to increase the number of interfaith approaches to the hunger problem rather than to develop free-standing initiatives for each faith tradition?

The efficiency argument dictates that interfaith initiatives are more likely to succeed in reaching a greater percentage of people in need. In much of the world, adherents to different religious groups live side-by-side within their communities. An interfaith approach can help compassionate projects reach more of society’s neediest and thus maximize a project’s impact. The spirit of compassion that can be found in all major religions is best expressed by an approach that builds bridges and extends a helping hand to all who are in need.

Tackling hunger – or other pressing issues – in a joint manner can also have noticeable side benefits. In the United States, working together with non-Muslims can allow members of the country’s diverse and growing Muslim population to contribute positively to both the fight against hunger and the struggle against unfair negative stereotypes of Muslims. For example, in New York City, the Islamic Cultural Center on East 96th Street collaborates with the Jewish Theological Seminary and a Presbyterian church to operate a soup kitchen. The shared compulsion to feed the hungry and protect the vulnerable in one’s community drives a collaboration that has forged bonds of friendship and respect among volunteers of multiple religions.

Other examples, both small and large, can be found around the United States and the world. The Indiana-based Interfaith Hunger Initiative – a partnership between local Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh congregations – is founded on the belief that “working together across faith lines on an important project will strengthen our community.” The initiative supports several local food pantries in Marion County, Indiana and a school lunch program in Kenya that feeds some 2700 vulnerable children, including many AIDS orphans. Other programs, from the New Jersey-based Middlesex County Coalition to Combat Poverty and Hunger to the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger, provide opportunities for local interfaith action.

In countries with a history of conflict characterized by friction between members of different religious groups, interfaith projects can help build trust and reduce tensions. In this way, programs that seek to relieve the most pressing hunger can alleviate conflict and thus address an important root cause of hunger.

An additional vehicle for interfaith action is advocacy designed to change policies and increase investments in programs to end hunger. A leading advocacy group is the Alliance to End Hunger, which includes influential Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and secular organizations in its campaign to raise the issue of hunger on the national agenda.

Around the world, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and others are hard at work, working together to eliminate hunger. Individual Muslims and other can support these efforts in any number of ways, as interfaith action is valuable in a wide range of initiatives that target hunger, from local soup kitchens and food banks to programs that invest in international food security or engage in global advocacy.

Growing Interfaith Action on Hunger

With these and countless other examples of interfaith collaboration on hunger, there is little doubt that the idea has caught on, and that people of all faiths are acting upon their religious duty to care for the needy among us and broaden our conception of the global neighborhood. As the Prophet Muhammed said, “None of you has faith until you love for your brother what you love for yourself” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith no.13), and “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself” (Sahih Muslim , Kitab al-Iman, 67-1, Hadith no.45). When such love turns into acts of true compassion across faith lines, it can forge a better future for everyone.

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