The Concept of Charity in Islam

It goes without saying that Islam pays great attention to the concept of charity and giving alms to the poor and the straitened. However, charity in Islam is not restricted to giving out money to help the poor and the needy. Rather, the concept of charity extends to include many other acts such as enjoining good, counseling against corruption and evil, treating others with compassion and benevolence, as well as any act of kindness towards any creature of Allah.

On this, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a prominent Islamic scholar, states the following:

Islam undoubtedly attaches great value to constancy in charity and giving alms to the poor and needy as a fundamental aspect of religion; however, Islam in no way restricts charitable deeds to the economic realm. Rather the concept of charity includes every imaginable act of kindness or contribution that one can possibly do in order to improve for humans or any of God’s creatures. Even as the concept of worship in Islam extends to all aspects of life, likewise, the definition of charity embraces all aspects of life.

At the core of Islamic message is empathy and compassion towards those who are less fortunate. The early Qur’anic revelations repeatedly stress the vital link between religion and acts of compassion. They even go as far as denying faith to those who are deprived of compassion towards the poor and the destitute:
(Have you seen the one who denies the Religion? Such is he who repulses the orphan, and who does not urge others to feed the poor. Woe to worshippers, who are absent-minded to their prayer, those who make a show (of piety), and refuse to render small acts of kindness (towards others).) (Al-Ma`un 107: 1-7).
While emphasizing charity and alms-giving as an important aspect of religion, especially in case of those who are well to do, Islam simultaneously stresses the importance of good works in a general sense. In other words, it reckons every single word or deed one can possibly do with a view to improve the quality of life for God’s creatures as a great act of charity meriting infinite rewards. Abu Dharr Al-Ghifari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that once a group of poor Companions, who were perturbed by their inability to give alms and charity because of lack of financial means, appeared before the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saying, “The rich people have mostly seized all of the rewards. They pray as we do, they fast as we do, and, on top of that, they give away the excess of their wealth in charity.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) asked, “Didn’t Allah appoint for you other ways of charity? Every word of tasbih (glorification of Allah) you utter is act of charity, every word of takbir (saying Allahu akbar) is charity; every word of hamd (praise) is charity; every word of testimony of oneness is charity; counseling good is charity; counseling against corruption is charity; and you also stand to gain reward for your conjugal acts.” Then they asked, “Are we going to be rewarded for fulfilling our sexual desires?” He asked, “Will you not be punished for fulfilling your sexual desires outside the bounds of marriage? Likewise, you will be rewarded for doing so with your own spouses” (Muslim).

On another occasion, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) expounded on the concepts of virtue and charity even more broadly: “It is imperative on every one to render acts of charity every single day that sun shines in the sky in order to express gratitude to Allah for every single joint or faculty in his body. It is charity to restore peace between two people with strained relations, it is charity to give a stranded person a ride on his mount or lift his load onto it, it is charity to utter a good word, every step one takes towards mosque for prayer is charity, to remove litter or objectionable things from people’s path is charity.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

There are numerous traditions that extend the concept of charity to include every imaginable act of virtue or kindness that humans are capable of performing. Imam Ibn Rajab sums up the Islamic teachings in this regard: “Human beings are obligated to give thanks to Allah every single day for His blessings on them by performing acts of virtue and charity on a daily basis. Among such acts that we ought to perform are those deeds or actions whose benefits extend to others. These include all acts of benevolence and compassion, helping those in distress or need, treating others compassionately, rendering acts of kindness towards them, protecting them against harm or injury, as well as any act of kindness towards each and every creature of God. Secondly, there are such works whose benefits affect only the person who is doing them. These include various kinds of dhikr (remembrance of Allah), saying benedictions on the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), reading the Qur’an, walking to mosque, simplicity in manners and conduct and attire, earning one’s livelihood in lawful ways, engaging in introspection and self-examination, etc.”

It becomes abundantly clear from the above that if anyone volunteers time, money, or energy in whatever beneficial ways in order to improve the quality of life for those around us, it is undoubtedly considered as a noble act of charity in Islam, meriting infinite rewards. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “There are only two kinds of people in the world: They are either keys to good or keys to evil; so blessed are they who serve as keys to good and locks to evil.” (Ibn Maja’)

May Allah the All-Merciful make us all among those who are able to make a difference in the lives of those around us; may He make us serve as keys to good and locks to evil so that we are able to leave this world better than we found it. Ameen.