Why is Charity So Important in Islam?
You know that zakat, or charity, is the Third Pillar of Islam, a major teaching. Being charitable and providing for the needy are important features of the Muslim character. Why is charity so important?
The existence of countless starving, poor, hungry and destitute Muslims and non-Muslims in the world points to the need for this essential teaching to be put into practice. Affluent Muslims may not realize how their wealth could strengthen whole communities. Giving charity correctly is crucial to both the well-being of the needy as well as the ultimate happiness of the wealthy. The Prophet emphasized this principle repeatedly.
The Forms of Charity
Several different categories of charity are defined in Islam, the two most important being zakat (obligatory charity) and sadaqa (voluntary charity). Zakat is a specific, standardized percentage of one’s extra wealth (over and above the necessities of life) that must be given to the poor and those in need. Sadaqah can be given to anyone in many forms including a smile, wise advice, or helping to build a home or masjid.
The Prophet said: “Your smile for your brother is a charity. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is a charity. Your guidance of a person who is lost is a charity.” (Bukhari)
Another Hadith illustrates the importance of every part of a person’s body performing a charity:
“A charity is due for every joint in each person on every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim)
Shade on the Day of Judgment
The Prophet said: “The believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection will be his charity.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
On the day when all other shade will be gone, Allah will shade and shelter those who give charity and care for the poor. The Muslim’s sacrifice in this life will be their protection on the Day of Judgment.
A Protection From Calamity
By sacrificing part of one’s wealth and giving it in charity, the individual is guaranteeing protection for themselves from tragedy and misfortune.
The Prophet said: “Give charity without delay, for it stands in the way of calamity.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
Better to Give Than To Take
It is considered better to give charity than receive it. One should be wary of repeatedly soliciting and taking from sadaqa and zakat funds. Those who refrain from taking these funds (so that more will be left for the other needy) will be provided for by Allah and be made self-reliant by Him.
The Prophet said: “The upper hand is better than the lower hand (he who gives is better than him who takes). One should start giving first to his dependents. And the best object of charity is that which is given by a wealthy person (from the money left after his expenses). And whoever abstains from asking others for some financial help, Allah will give him and save him from asking others, Allah will make him self-sufficient.” (Al-Bukhari)
Relieving a person in debt is charity
The Prophet said: “If anyone would like Allah to save him from the hardships of the Day of Resurrection, he should give more time to his debtor who is short of money, or remit his debt altogether.” (Muslim)
If someone owes you money, it is considered charity if you show mercy, give the debtor more time to pay back his loan, or even cancel out the person’s debt. If charity is a person’s shade on the Day of Judgment, canceling a person’s debt will also serve as a protection.
Helping Family in Need
It is acceptable to give one's charity to those in need in one's own family.
The Prophet said: “To give something to a poor man brings one reward, while giving the same to a needy relation brings two: one for charity and the other for respecting the family ties.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
The Pitfall of Greed
Be careful of greed. The longer one holds onto money and fails to share it as charity, the harder it may be later on to part with that hoarded wealth. Hiding away one’s wealth and depriving the needy of even a small kindness will not only come back to haunt the greedy, but their misfortune will be multiplied and they will be led down a misguided path.
The Prophet said: “Avoid doing injustice to others, for on the Day of Judgment, it will turn into manifold darkness, and safeguard yourself against miserliness, for it ruined those who were before you. It incited them to murder and treating the unlawful as lawful.” (Muslim)
Charity That Keeps On Giving
If a person performs a deed that continues to benefit others in a good way, the performer of the deed will continue to collect the rewards for her single act for as long as it benefits others (even after the person passes away). This is referred to as sadaqa jariyah, or perpetual charity.
The Prophet said: “When a person dies his works end, except for three: ongoing charity, knowledge that is benefited from, and a righteous child who prays for him.” (Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi, others)
The degree of the reward is dependent on the degree and significance of the benefit of the charitable act, and to what degree the charity was given for the sake of Allah.
Charity serves as a way to bring justice, balance and kindness to every society and community. It is our hope that the Muslim community fulfills their charitable duty correctly and does their part to eliminating poverty in communities everywhere.