Can You Give Sadaqah to Non-Muslims?

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The Short Answer

Yes. In Sadaqah’s meaning of ‘voluntary charitable offerings’, which is now its most common usage among Muslims, one can freely provide help and kindness at any time, in any form to any person, creature, or creation of any kind, so long as it fulfills three requirements:

  1. It is given by a Muslim with the intention of pleasing God alone and drawing near Him in this life and the real life to come in the Hereafter.

  2. What is given as Sadaqah comes from what one legitimately possesses or has lawfully gained.

  3. The Sadaqah is given to fulfill rightful, wholesome purposes.

Does Sadaqah have other meanings?

Yes. Its original usage in the Quran, the revealed scripture of Islam, and by the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, often meant Zakat, the obligatory yearly alms on certain kinds of wealth possessed by Muslims and earmarked (generally) for Muslims. (See What Is the Difference Between Zakat and Sadaqah?)

Does some Sadaqah have priority over other kinds of Sadaqah?

Yes. The nearer the relation in need of assistance, the greater the precedency, or divine preference and reward, for that voluntary charitable offering. So near relatives over far relatives, relatives over neighbors, near neighbors over far neighbors, and so on concentrically outward covering all humanity and the creatures and creation of the earth.

In addition, the Sadaqah a person gives for the sake of God to help another, when the giver him or herself is personally in need of it, may outweigh in the divine balances of reward hundreds of times the amount or effort present in the surplus Sadaqah of another, even though the former may appear to us as of much less value in worldly terms.

God mentions both these charitable priorities of personal nearness and need as signs of genuine righteousness and true faith in the Quran:

Righteousness in the sight of God … dwells in one … who – despite his love for it – gives of his wealth in charity to close relatives and orphans, and to the indigent and the wayfarer, and to beggars, and for the emancipation of slaves …” (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:177)

And also:

Thus they feed with food – despite their own need for it – the indigent, and the orphan, and the captive.” (Surat Al-Insân, 76:8)

When is the best time for one to give Sadaqah?

First, the Prophet, God grant him blessings and peace, was once asked this same question. A man came to him and said:

O Messenger of Allah! Which Sadaqah is the one that gives the greatest reward?”

The Prophet, on him be peace, answered:

The voluntary charitable offering that you give when you are in good health and feeling the miserly desire to hoard the wealth you possess while harboring a fear of poverty for yourself and a hope for riches.” (Bukhari, no. 1419)

The Prophet, on him be peace, is making an important point about giving Sadaqah. Many wait until death is upon them, and they fear what they will face in Hereafter, when they have no more need for their worldly wealth and possessions, before they begin to disburse these material blessings that God has entrusted to them. Hence, the Prophet, on him be peace, said in this same advice to the man who asked him about the best Sadaqah:

Then do not delay [in giving of your wealth] until you are at the threshold of death, whereupon you say: ‘Give this to so-and-so, and give that to so-and-so,’ when, in fact, it already belongs to someone else [meaning through obligatory inheritance].”

In addition, the Prophet, on him be peace, greatly increased his already matchless Sadaqah giving when Ramadan came, that is, the month of the Quran’s first revelation celebrated by an obligatory daily fast from dawn to sunset.

Ibn ‘Abbâs said:

The Messenger of Allah, God bless him and grant him peace, was ever the most generous of people. Yet he was more generous than ever in Ramadan.” (Bukhari)

Does Sadaqah have a minimum or maximum threshold like Zakat?

No, but giving Sadaqah is absolutely crucial for the believer in this life and especially to one’s outcome before God’s judgment in the Hereafter. So, one should give Sadaqah whether it is a little or a lot and in times of hardship and ease.

The Prophet, on him be peace, said:

Shield yourselves from the Fire [of Hell], even with a morsel of a date.” (Muslim)

What if one literally has no wealth to give in Sadaqah?

Money and possessions are not the only things of value one can give in Sadaqah. Our kind words to one in need, our physical and emotional help to a struggling or downhearted person, the welcoming, cheerful look at our brother – all such actions are themselves Sadaqah if we intend good by them for the sake of God.

The Prophet, on him be peace, said:

As for one who finds not even a morsel of a date [to give in charity], then let him save himself from the Fire [of Hell] with a good word.” (Muslim)

The meaning of “good word” here is expansive. It means saying something kind and encouraging to someone in need, rather than ignoring them or overlooking their condition. It means consoling the aggrieved or worried, or uttering a prayer for one burdened with poverty or loss, even supplicating God on their behalf and saying it directly to them, like “God grant you good,” or “God ease things for you.”

A good word may be a statement of guidance or informed advice, including exhorting others who have some wealth or means to give to those needful of charity; or directing the needful themselves to those who can help them with their specific needs, or, better still, accompanying and assisting one in need, sharing the burden of this endeavor, until that person is able to satisfy his or her need.

There is also, of course, the Sadaqah avenues of volunteering to help others whom one sees in need and of assisting those who are working to aid the needful.

Even something as seemingly simple as a smile can be a charity, when it is given from the heart purely for the sake of God to make another feel happy, supported, and valued.

The Prophet, on him be peace, famously said:

Smiling in the face of your brother is a Sadaqah.”

This charitable deed is, in fact, a well-known quality of the Prophet, on him be peace, whose prophetic way, that is, his Sunnah, was to ever to smile upon his Companions, even until the coming of his death. The notable Companion Anas reported:

The Muslims were offering the Dawn Prayer on the Monday of the Prophet’s passing [when he was ill and could not attend the prayer with them]. When the people lined up for the prayer, the Prophet, on him be peace, drew back the curtain of his [wife ‘Aisha’s] bower [which was connected to the mosque] and gazed upon us. He was standing at the time. His face was [as radiant] as a page of the Quran, and he smiled [at us] cheerfully.”

What rules apply to giving Sadaqah?

There are no rules, per se, but there is an etiquette (adab) that should accompany the giving of Sadaqah set by Allah and exemplified by His Prophet, on him be peace, that believers are to follow.

First, Allah warns us in the Quran that what we give in Sadaqah should be pure in every sense:

O you who believe! Spend charitably from the wholesome things you have earned and from all that We have brought forth for you from the earth. Thus do not target what is vile to spend from it in charity, though you yourselves would not take it, without closing your eyes to accept it. And know that God is self-sufficient, all-praised. (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:267)

Also, one who gives Sadaqah should neither brag about it nor remind the one who receives of it, in any way.

Those who spend their wealth in the path of God – then do not follow up what they have spent in charity with boastful reminders or any harm – they shall have their reward with their Lord in full. And there shall be no fear upon them when they assemble for Judgment. Nor shall they ever grieve over the life this world. (Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:262)

Additionally, Allah deems it a serious act of hypocrisy to ridicule those who pay their Sadaqah through service because they lack the material wealth to give in charity:

[Among the hypocrites] are those who slander the believers as to the charitable offerings they volunteer. Indeed, they slander those who find no more to offer in charity than their personal efforts. (Surat Al-Tawbah, 9:79)

As to the Prophet, on him be peace, while this is not an inclusive list, embodied seven qualities in relation to Sadaqah:

  1. He was generous by disposition and unsurpassed in his giving of Sadaqah by any other.

  2. He deemed nothing that was wholesome as too precious or too meager to be given in Sadaqah.

  3. If anyone asked him for anything of his personal wealth, small or great, he gave it to him or her in Sadaqah without hesitation. He never said no.

  4. His joy in giving Sadaqah always exceeded the happiness of the one who received the Sadaqah from him.

  5. He gave preference to the needs of others over his own needs, even when it came to his own food and clothing.

  6. He became even more incomparably generous in the fasting month of Ramadan.

  7. He unfailingly and persistently commanded whoever would follow him in Islam to give Sadaqah as much and as often as possible, but not to the point of leaving oneself and one’s family with nothing.

What other special virtues does Sadaqah have?

Our ability to do good deeds that benefit others in the world and our own souls in the Afterlife end with our deaths, but there is a kind of Sadaqah that continues on in the welfare of both giver and recipient after we die: Sadaqah Jariyah, or Charity Ever-Flowing, or Running Charity.

It is so named because its benefits continue to flow to the needful in the world even after we depart it, and its blessings, therefore, keep flowing into our Heavenly Scales of Reward after our deaths.

Sadaqah Jariyah is more commonly known in English as Ongoing Charity or Perpetual Charity. Essentially, it is an endowment that one sets up for specified charitable purposes to benefit Muslims, non-Muslims, creatures, or creation through a charitable offering designed to continuously renew itself and provide a targeted benefit to its designated recipients open-endedly. Hence, its benefits “flow” in this world and the next for as long as it lasts. (See What is Sadaqah Jariyah?)

How does Sadaqah specifically connect to faith?

First, the Prophet, on him be peace, said of Sadaqah:

Sadaqah is a proof. (Muslim)

This means that it materially evidences the sincerity of faith in Islam we proclaim to dwell in our hearts. It does so because one separates from something he or she has and wants for the sake of pleasing God alone and coming closer to Him. Hence, the Sadaqah gift demonstrates true belief in the heart of its giver.

What’s more, God Himself receives the Sadaqah from us first and foremost and then causes it to intervene in the giver’s life in more than a dozen highly significant earthly and spiritual ways (which you can read about in Why Is Sadaqah Important?).

But in a word, one cannot come to true faith and a good outcome, nor can the world flourish and humanity thrive in peace and prosperity, without the giving of Sadaqah. The fact is, while we call Sadaqah a ‘voluntary’ charitable offering, it is every bit an obligation on the Muslim set by God and enjoined by His Prophet, on him be peace.

So, if earthly life is the canvas for testing and exposing the truth of who we say we are and what we really believe by the faultless self-portrait we draw on it with our own deeds, as the Quran tells us it is (Surat Al-Mulk, 67:1-2), then Sadaqah – given to Muslims, to non-Muslims, to all other living creatures, and the rest of creation – indeed, becomes one of the finest implements we hold to lay down the ink of our lives.