Contemporary and Social Issues

The Philosophy of Gift-Giving

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Tariq Mahmood, Toronto, Canada

Think back to the last gift you were given. Perhaps someone bought you food, or your sibling gave you perfume; the idea of receiving a gift makes us feel warm inside. For most, it doesn’t matter whether the gift is an article of clothing or just a box of chocolates; what is important is that someone thought of you and went out of their way to make you happy. It’s an honour to have someone remember you fondly and spend their hard-earned money on you.

Gift-giving holds a special place in Islam: the blessed practice is abundantly promoted within the Holy Qur’an, and by the Holy Prophet (sa).

The Holy Qur’an has inculcated and instilled gift-giving into many important parts of a Muslim’s life. Charity is one such form of gift-giving. The Qur’an commands Muslims to give to the poor, the needy, the neighbour, the relative, the traveller, and many others.

In fact, the Holy Qur’an even says in a verse that a person who doesn’t urge others to feed the poor, forsakes his religion, signifying that it isn’t just enough to give to the poor, rather, the person should help foster a society of givers.[1]

Such a philosophy of gift-giving is interwoven into all types of relationships, as the Prophet of Islam (sa) beautifully stated:

‘Give gifts to one another, for giving gifts creates love and gently extracts resentment and ill-will.’[2]

We’ve all felt the truth of this hadith in our lives. Whenever we might be angry at someone or annoyed, a gift cuts through thoughts of malice, and fosters a stronger connection, even if that gift is a kind word.

This sentiment is extended far beyond the family unit. Indeed, the Holy Qur’an extensively talks about showing kindness to those beyond your four walls.

There are some who shy away from giving gifts because they cannot afford to give luxurious and expensive gifts; this is not the attitude of Islam. The Holy Prophet (sa) once addressed women and said:

‘O Muslim ladies! A neighbour should not look down upon the present of her neighbour even if it were the hooves of a sheep.’[3]

The Holy Prophet (sa) explains in this saying that even if gifts are small, they should still be accepted. He also sought to eliminate the feeling that some gifts are too small. In reality, many people are happy with small gifts. We see this in the modern day as well. Many would be elated if their friends dropped by with some fast food. These feelings demonstrate the reality of gift-giving: even small gifts are welcome by most.

I personally recall in my early years at the Jamia Institute of Theology, that the president of the Sport Rally decided to replace medals with socks. Every student took home 15-30 pairs depending on their success, but not a frown was to be seen. Smiles graced the face of every student, happy that they wouldn’t have to spend money on such a trivial thing for the foreseeable future.

For those who may scoff at such small gifts that others may present to them, the Holy Prophet (sa) has reprimanded this attitude as well. He would accept any gift, so long as it wasn’t charity, and would command his companions to accept the smallest of gifts. He once said, ‘He who is presented with a flower should not reject it, for it is light to carry and pleasant in odour.’[4]

Thus, Islam seeks to promote the idea that small gifts are also appreciated.

Finally, chief among the list of gift-giving is the sharing of food. It constitutes perhaps one of the most important social habits of humans. It also comprises a large part of gift-giving. It is only right then that the Islamic attitude of sharing meals be emphasised.

The Holy Prophet (sa) once said: ‘I shall accept the invitation even if I were invited to a meal of a sheep’s trotter, and I shall accept the gift even if it were an arm or a trotter of a sheep.’[5]

Examine the beautiful message of this hadith: the trotter was the cheapest part of the sheep, often regarded as a meal of the poor in early Asian and Arab cultures. Thus, the bond of friendship in Islam lovingly destroys such classism.

Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, nor do they exchange gifts specifically for this festival, because Islam does not encourage celebrating the birth of a prophet. Further support of this belief lies in the fact that no prophet celebrated their own birthday, or the birthday of any other prophet. Neither Moses (as) nor Jesus (as) nor the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) ever celebrated such a holiday.

Though Muslims do not specifically celebrate Christmas or exchange gifts on the holiday, the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) has explained that Muslims can give gifts on New Year. In this way, Muslims also participate in a practice of Islam without creating an unnecessary innovation. His Holiness (aba) himself mentions that he sends various gifts on the New Year to all his neighbours, a beautiful sentiment that Islam promotes.[6]

Gift-giving is a passion shared by both the holiday of Christmas and the religion of Islam. In other parts of the year, Muslims should find opportunities to give gifts to their fellow neighbours and friends, as well as to those they don’t know.

As the Prophet of Islam (sa) said, perhaps this will cut through malice and resentment in a time when hatred and division abound. With every gift given and every morsel shared, perhaps we will find those close to us happier, and every day will become a cause for celebration.

About the Author: Tariq Mahmood is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Canada and serves as Secretary of The Existence Project Team for The Review of Religions.


[1] The Holy Qur’an, 107:2-4.

[2] Muwatta Imam Malik, Book 47, The Book of Good Character, Hadith 16.

[3] Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 6017.

[4] Sahih al-Muslims, Hadith 2253.

[5] Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 2568.

[6] ‘Can We Give Christmas Gifts?’, Class with His Holiness (aba) – December 25, 2020.