The Short Answer
Any good work (ṣadaqah) a believer initiates from lawful means to benefit God’s creatures or creation solely for His pleasure, its divine reward will continue streaming (jâriyyah) into that believer’s Heavenly Balance of Justice even after death for as long as the proceeds of its original charity reach its designated recipients. (See What Is Ṣadaqah Jâriyah?)
Allah said in His Quran:
Indeed, it is We alone who give life to the dead and who inscribe the deeds that they have advanced in this life for the Hereafter, along with their legacies of good or evil. For all things have We enumerated in a clear Heavenly Ledger (Sûrat Yâ Sîn, 36:12).
This verse verifies the principle of ṣadaqah jâriyah — called ongoing, perpetual, or ever-flowing charity — in its divine promise to inscribe the deeds one does with their legacies, meaning the traces of the continuing impact in the world of one’s deeds.
(Be aware that this implies a counterpart of ongoing bad deeds, for those whose sinful works perpetuate in the world for its creatures and creation.)
The Detailed Answer
The Prophet, on him be peace, himself specified the existence of ṣadaqah jâriyah and gave examples of it. He cited this in two well-known authentic statements that name this ever-flowing charity:
“When a human being dies, all one’s deeds cease, save three: a ṣadaqah jâriyah, [religious] knowledge [one leaves behind] from which others benefit, and a righteous child who prays for one” (Muslim).
“The best one leaves behind after death are three: a righteous child who prays for one, a ṣadaqah jâriyah, the rewards of which continue to reach one, and [religious] knowledge that continues to be applied after him” (Ibn Majah).
The Prophet, on him be peace, gave us seven examples of this kind of ongoing charity:
“Of the good works whose benefit flows to a believer after death is knowledge one taught and promulgated, a righteous child who lived after one, a copy of the Quran that one left as inheritance, a mosque one built, a house one built for the two kinds of wayfarers [travelers and the displaced], a stream one ran [that is, dug or directed for others to benefit from], a charity given from one’s wealth while healthy in life such that it will reach one [in reward] after death,” meaning the charity is given with that intent and not for the sake of one’s cure from illness (Ibn Majah).
The common thread of these charities is that someone intentionally causes them in goodness for the sake of God, either through one’s deliberate striving to establish them or one’s good action that brings them about. For this reason, God may count the efforts of others as one’s own earnings. This is specifically true of the good deeds, such as supplication (du‘â), of a child for a parent.
The modern Quran commentator Rashîd Riḍa explained how someone else’s deeds can accrue to the good deeds of another:
“Some works benefit a person and count like his own even though others have done them. This is because the person in question has caused them, like one’s children making du‘â for him, someone performing Ḥajj on that person’s behalf, or giving ṣadaqah on behalf of another, or fasting for someone. Authentic statements of the Prophet, on him be peace, establish all of these [transferable] deeds” (Tafsîr Al-Manâr).
Know well that God considers the child an “earning” of its parents. The Prophet, on him be peace, said:
“Indeed, the best of what one eats comes from what one earns — and one’s child is of one’s earning” (Aḥmad, Abû Dawûd).
This means Allah credits a child’s good strivings for His sake to the accounts of its father and mother, who labored in raising their child as a knowing believer. This gives us great incentive to bring up and train our children upon the guidance of the Quran and the Sunnah, or Way, of the Prophet, on him be peace. For we know their good deeds will accrue to our own Heavenly Balance of Justice in the Hereafter and may save us from Hellfire. (See How Many Types of Ṣadaqah Are There?)
Three ways to give ṣadaqah jâriyah for you and your loved ones now
Zakat Foundation’s Water Well and Hand Pump Program is perhaps the most successful program of its kind. It has installed running water for hundreds of thousands in the world who had no access to it before. It erects a sign at the water source that tells the grateful beneficiaries of its water the name of the one who built it or on whose behalf loved ones established it. It brings the people who will benefit together at the well’s inauguration to make collective entreaty to God for the one on whose behalf the well has been expertly installed. It asks them to pray for that person every time they collect or use the water.
Zakat Foundation’s Livestock Husbandry Project provides an excellent ṣadaqah jâriyah program, benefitting the poor and displaced in Africa, India, and Asia. It gives mating pairs of cattle — sheep, cows, goats — to make these families self-sustaining in high-protein food and income-generating farming and ranching.
The Orphan Sponsorship Program that houses, feeds, clothes, and educates children — while importantly keeping them with their closest surviving family member(s) — offers one of the best ṣadaqah jâriyah opportunities possible for any believer.
Does one have to sponsor ṣadaqah jâriyah fully on one’s own?
No. God rewards the believer’s charity no matter how small or large for as long as what it provides continues to give the intended benefit.
So, if one helps build a mosque, for example, even paying for a single brick, that believer will gain the divine reward of ever-flowing charity into his or her Heavenly Balance in proportion to their gift and capacity in the knowledge of Allah for the duration of that mosque’s establishment and use as such.
What makes ṣadaqah jâriyah so important?
God forewarns us in the Quran that there is nothing that shall abide for a person except that for which he strives (Sûrat Al-Najm, 53:39). This means that death closes the divine account of the human being. One can gain nothing thereafter to benefit him or her with God in the Afterlife (when one’s eternity literally hangs in the balance) save for a few rare crucial exceptions.
Ṣadaqah jâriyah is perhaps the most prolific of these special avenues for the benefit of the dead, and the one that a person can most reliably put in place for himself or herself before death.
The Prophet, on him be peace, said:
“Seven deeds continue their reward for God’s servant in the grave after one’s death: knowledge one imparted for others to learn, construction of a waterway, digging a well, planting a date-palm tree, building a mosque, handing down a written copy of the Quran, and leaving behind a righteous child who seeks forgiveness for one after one’s death.”
At least five of these deeds can count as categories of ṣadaqah jâriyah. In addition, the act of ṣadaqah itself testifies to the truth of the faith one’s lips profess. The Prophet, on him be peace, said: “Ṣadaqah is a proof” (Muslim).
That makes ṣadaqah jâriyah an ongoing witness to one’s belief.