Zakah - a Means for Financial Growth and Purification

cont'd ... from 2/3


Charity: Too Much or Too Little


We quoted earlier several Hadiths making it clear that Islam prefers that people should steer a middle way when giving money for charity, without being stingy or careless. Even when a person is approaching death, the portion of his own estate he may leave for charity, for relatives who are not his heirs, and for good causes is set at a maximum of one-third. Another highly authentic Hadith that may be quoted in this regard is one related by both al-Bukhari and Muslim quoting Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas (Radhiallaahu Anhu), a close companion of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam).


'Allah's messenger came to visit me when I was very ill at the time of his farewell pilgrimage. I said to him, 'Messenger of Allah, you see how poor I am and I have some property. I have no heirs other than my one daughter. May I leave two-thirds of my property for charity.' The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, 'No.' I said, 'Then, what about one-half?' again, the prophet said, 'No.' I asked again, 'What about one-third?' He said, 'You may leave one-third, even though one-third is plenty (or too much). To leave your heirs well-off is better than leaving them in poverty, asking people for help. You will certainly be rewarded for any amount you give away for Allah's sake, even the bite you put in your wife's mouth.'


Abu Dawud and al-Darimi transmit a report that may be seen to contradict what we have quoted above. Both quote Umar ibn al-Khattaab as saying,


'One day, the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) asked us to donate to charity, and I happened to have some money. I thought that this provided me with the chance of doing better than Abu Bakr, if I could ever do better than him. I took half of my property and gave it to the Prophet.' He asked, 'What have you left for your family?' I said, 'I have an equal amount to this.' Then Abu Bakr (Radhiallaahu Anhu) came with all his property. The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) asked him, 'What have you left for your family?' he said, 'I have left them with (faith in) Allah and His Messenger.' I said, 'I will never try to compete with you again.'


This report, however, which suggests that a believer is free to give away half or all his property for a cause to earn Allah's pleasure and reward, relates to a case of emergency and Jihaad. The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) had learnt that the Byzantines had mobilized to invade Arabia, and the Muslims were going through a period of hardship, with farm produce at a very low level and blazing summer heat. Hence, the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) encourages his well-off followers to donate for army equipment and to help others who did not have enough to provide themselves with mounts and arms. The Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) needed an army to withstand a very long march to meet the Byzantines at Tabuk in North Arabia. That army was termed, 'The hardship army', and it was for equipping it that Abu Bakr (Radhiallaahu Anhu) donated all his wealth and Umar (Radhiallaahu Anhu) donated half his wealth, while Uthmaan donated 10,000 Dinaars, 300 fully-equippe!

d horses. That donation had a profound effect on the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) who said, 'My Lord, be pleased with Uthmaan, for I am pleased with him.'


These were exceptional circumstances, when the Muslim community was facing a very serious external threat. In fact, it was a situation of life and death for many Muslims and their newly-born state. Hence, the Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) accepted such large donations like half the property of Umar and the whole property of Abu Bakr (Radhiallaahu Anhu). But exception does not override the rule. In fact, it confirms it. The rule here is that the best charity is that which leaves the donor self-sufficient.


We may reflect on these verses in which Allah orders his Messenger to donate to charity, and if he has nothing to give, then to speak kindly to those in need, as he hopes to get something of Allah's favours when he can help the needy. It is in this context that God tells His messenger not to give away carelessly, so that he would not come to rue his actions. The best charity is that which leaves the donor in a good situation to look after himself and his dependants. It is not the charity that takes away his means so as to leave him poor. Allah Ta'ala says in the noble Qur'aan:


'Give to the near of kin their due, and also to the needy and the wayfarer. Do not squander your substance wastefully, for the wasteful squanderers are Satan's brothers, and Satan has always been ungrateful to His Lord. But if you must turn aside from them in pursuit of an act of kindness you hope to receive from your Lord, then at least speak to them kindly. Do not be miserly, allowing your hand to remain shackled to your neck, nor stretch it out fully to maximum limit, lest you find yourself being blamed or reduced to destitution. Your Lord gives in abundance, or in scant measure, to whom He wills. He is indeed fully aware of all His servants, and sees them all.' (Qur'aan 17:26:30)


A believer may feel ashamed or guilty if he holds on to what he has without giving it away to poor and needy people. But Allah reassures us that it is He who gives some of His servants in plenty, while He gives others in a scant measure. That which He does has a wise purpose behind it. A believer, however, helps the poor and donates for charity, but leaves himself enough to look after his family and cater for any emergency. He is keen to belong to the believers described by Allah in the following terms, 'Successful are the believers who humble themselves in their prayer, and turn away from all that is frivolous, and who pay out their Zakaat.' (Qur'aan 23:1-4)


I am not calling on believers to reduce what they give away in charity, but I am simply saying to them that they must not feel any sense of guilt or deprecate their own action when they hear that some devout people of the past used to give away everything they earned. When all Muslims pay out their Zakaat on time, the eradication of poverty may not require anything more than such Zakaat or a little more in Sadaqaat or voluntary charity.


A believer, who limits himself to spending a portion of his money, retaining the larger part for himself is neither guilty, nor failing to meet his duty. When he remains in funds, this means that he will be able to give to charity repeatedly. giving away a little amount on a regular basis is better than giving a large donation once only. We should remember Allah's statement, 'They ask you (O Muhammad) what they should spend in charity; say, 'Whatever you can spare?' (Qur'aan 2:219). Al-Qurtubi, a famous commentator on the Qur'aan, says that this means what a person can easily dispense with, without having to struggle within himself for giving it away. Thus, Allah tells us to spend in charity what we can spare without leaving ourselves in a position of need.


Dr Muhammad Kamal al-Shareef

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