Charity Justice

Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam

21The Review of Religions – March 2004 Service to humanity is part and parcel of the Muslim faith. The ultimate goal of Islam, as with all religions founded on Divine revelation, is to bring man into communion with His Creator. In order to attain nearness to God and to win His favour, it is essential for man to serve His creatures with all faculties and bounties he has, as a manifestation of His grace and providence, bestowed upon man. The Holy Qur’an itself is replete with verses that enjoin upon believers service to humanity and at the same time forbid any behaviour that might be detrimental to society. Most prominent among those verses is one that is recited as part of every Friday Sermon: Verily, Allah requires you to abide by justice, and to treat with grace, and give like the giving of kin to kin; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and transgression… (Ch.16: V.91) This verse not only demands justice on the part of a Muslim, it also requires him to do good to others regardless of what sort of treatment he receives from them, even if maltreated by them. In other words, his conduct should not be actuated by considerations of reciprocity or recompense. The qualities of forg i v e n e s s , charity, giving of alms and social service all fall under this c a t e g o r y. The promotion and patronage of knowledge and the systemisation of its diff e r e n t branches are also included here because they have for their object the material and spiritual well- being of man. Furthermore, a Muslim is expected to do good to others prompted as if by natural impulse, as favours are conferred upon near blood relations or as a mother loves her children. A Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam By Bockarie Tommy Kallon, London, UK. 22 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 mother’s love for her children is the result of a natural impulse. Her sacrifices and the hardships she willingly suffers for her children are prompted by no hope of return or appreciation. They spring from the natural fountain of love which God has implanted in her nature. In addition to the three commandments, the verse also contains three prohibitions of vices and evils to which man can fall victim. These relate not only to that which causes harm and injury to the self but also that which would constitute an infringement of the rights of others in society and which can also do them positive harm. This subject matter is presented beautifully by another verse of the Holy Qur’an which assigns a great status to Muslims: You are the best people raised for the good of mankind; you enjoin good and forbid evil and believe in Allah… (Ch.3: V.111) Muslims are reminded that the real purpose in life is to do good to humanity. They are expected to be torchbearers and contribute to the betterment of their respective communities and other peoples. If they do this, they will remain the best of mankind for therein lies their greatness; greatness propor- tionate to the magnitude of their service to humanity. The moral values inculcated by these, and similar, verses of the Holy Qur’an were illustrated in their perfection by the Holy Prophet(sa) so that mankind could benefit alike from his precept and from his example. He had been raised as a manifestation of God’s mercy to mankind: And We have sent thee not but as a mercy for all peoples. (Ch.21: V.108) God had called him a mercy for mankind and so indeed did he prove himself in every respect. His mercy and humanity were all-embracing, without limit and 23 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 without discrimination, and from which even the lower creations were not excluded. It was grievously painful for him that his people should be distressed, and he was ardently desirous of promoting their welfare. He was tender and compassionate at all times, cheerfully sharing in their sorrows and anxieties, and anxious to apply balm to their wounded spirits. Even towards the disbelievers who subjected him to all manner of persecution and privations, his heart was full of the milk of human kindness that no amount of persecution could make him bitter against them or make him wish them ill. He was so kind and sympathetic towards the disbelievers that it caused him much grief to see them turn away from the path of righteousness and thus invite the wrath of God unto themselves. This is encapsulated in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an: Surely, a Messenger has come unto you from among yourselves; grievous to him is that you should fall into t rouble; he is ard e n t l y desirous of your welfare; and to the believers he is compassionate, merciful. (Ch.9: V.128) The Holy Prophet( s a ) was ever watchful of the poorer sections of society and always sought to ameliorate their plight and raise their status in society. He used to say that no festivity would be blessed unless some poor people were also invited to it. During his time in Madinah, a poor woman used to clean up the mosque. Not having seen her for a few days, the Holy Prophet(sa) made some enquiries about her upon which he was told that she had passed a w a y. He expressed his displeasure that he was not informed of this stating that he would have wished to join her funeral prayers and added, ‘perchance you did not consider her worthy of consideration as she was poor.’ He then asked to be directed to her grave to which he proceeded and prayed for her. Not only was he himself watchful of the welfare of the 24 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 poor but he constantly exhorted others to be the same. If a needy person approached the Holy Prophet(sa) and made a request, he would ask those around him to also support the request so that they would acquire merit by becoming sharers in promoting a good deed. His object was to create on the one hand in the minds of his Companions a feeling of eagerness to help the poor and on the other in the minds of the needy a realisation of the affection and sympathy felt for them by their relatively well-to-do brethren. As the Holy Prophet(sa) pined for the welfare of mankind so did he pay special deference to those who devoted their time and substance to the service of mankind. An Arab tribe once initiated hostilities against the Muslims and in the ensuing battle their forces were defeated and some were taken prisoner. Among these was the daughter of one of them whose generosity had become a proverb among the Arabs. When she informed the Holy Prophet(sa) of her parentage, he treated her with much consideration and as a result of her intercession, he remitted all the penalties imposed on her people on account of their aggression. In his anxiety to safeguard the interest of the poor and needy, the Holy Prophet(sa) went so far as to instruct that no charity was ever to be bestowed upon any of his family. He did this out of fear that through excessive devotion to him, his companions would make his descendants the sole objects of their charity thus depriving the needy. As Islam spread through Arabia, the Holy P r o p h e t(sa) would frequently receive large quantities of goods and money. He would immediately distribute these among the poor and needy. The Holy Prophet( s a ) was setting a very high precedent. In Islam, it is incumbent upon those in authority to show sensitivity to the cause of the people to an extent that there is no need to form pressure groups and unions. His benign example was followed 25 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 by his Successors. Once, Hadhrat U m a r( r a ), during his tenure of o ffice as Khalifa, discovered by chance that outside Madinah a woman and her children had been without provisions for two days, because she lacked the means t h e r e f o r. He returned immediately to Madinah where he collected f l o u r, butter, meat and dates in a l a rge bag and summoned a servant for assistance in lifting the bag onto his back. The servant protested and offered to carry the bundle himself. Hadhrat Umar( r a ) declined his offering, observing, ‘No doubt you can carry this bundle for me now, but who will carry my burden on the Day of Judgement?’ He meant that on the Day of Judgement, the slave would not be in a position to answer on his behalf how he d i s c h a rged his responsibility as head of state. He had to do it himself. It was also a sort of self- inflicted penance because he felt responsible for the pain and anguish of the woman. And thus Hadhrat Umar ( r a ) carried the provisions to the woman, who blessed him for his kindness, and, not knowing the identity of her b e n e f a c t o r, exclaimed, ‘You are far more fit to be Khalifa than U m a r. He knows not how the people fare.’ ‘Well, mother, perhaps Umar is not so bad’, said the Khalifa, gently, smiling. The philosophy of Z a k a t is the bedrock of Islamic social values. Z a k a t is one of the pillars of Islam. Put simply, it is a levy on both capital and income set aside for the benefit of community. The Holy Prophet( s a ) himself described Z a k a t as ‘a levy imposed upon the well-to-do which is returned to the poorer sections of society.’ The Holy Qur’an commands that the proceeds of Z a k a t must be devoted towards relieving poverty and distress, winning over the cheerful co-operation of those who have not yet embraced Islam, helping those burdened with debt, providing comfort and convenience for travellers, supplying capital where talent is available but funds are lacking, providing stipends for scholars and research workers, and meeting the expenses involved in collecting and administering the 26 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 Z a k a t itself. Generally, Z a k a t c a n be employed towards all things beneficial for the community as a whole, such as public health, public works, medical services and educational institutions. Says the Holy Qur’ a n : The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection t h e rewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the f reeing of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is All- Knowing, Wise. (Ch.9: V.60) Through the institution of Zakat, the concept of alms giving acquires a new outlook. No longer does it compliment the donor and embarrass the recipient. The recipient is only receiving his rightful share: And in their wealth is a share belonging to the beggar and the destitute. (Ch.51: V.20) Human dignity is emphasised in the strongest terms in this verse. The recipient is reminded that there is no need for him to be embarrassed or to suffer from any complexes because, in fact, God has granted him the fundamental right to survive decently and honourably. The message delivered to the one who gives is that what he gives to the poor, in reality, did not belong to him. Something has to be wrong with an economy where some people are left destitute or compelled to beg for their living. Apart from the manner in which you give, what you give is also important. If you give something of which you would be ashamed of receiving yourself, this does not fall under the definition of alms, according to the Holy Q u r’ a n : O ye who believe! Spend of the good things that you have earned, and of what We p roduce for you from the earth; and seek not what is bad to spend out of it when 27 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 you will not take it yourselves except with eyes downcast with shame. And know that Allah is Self-Sufficient, Praiseworthy. (Ch.2: V.268) In any case, the Holy Qur’an tells us that spending in the cause of Allah wins His favours and those who do so shall have their reward with Him: Those who spend their wealth by night and by day, secretly and openly, have their reward with their Lord; on them shall come no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Ch.2: V.275) The Promised Messiah( a s ) a n d Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community followed the example of his illustrious master, the Holy Prophet ( s a ) in his concern for the welfare of humanity in particular and God’s creatures generally. One of the conditions he laid down for initiation into the community was ‘that he [the initiate] shall keep himself occupied in the service of God’s creatures, for His sake only; and shall endeavour to benefit mankind to the best of his God-given abilities and powers.’ Elsewhere he writes: ‘Be kind and merciful to h u m a n i t y, for all are His ( G o d ’s) cre a t u res: do not o p p ress them with your tongue, or hands, or in any other way. Always work for the good of mankind. Never unduly assert yourself with pride over others, even those who are placed under you. Never use abusive language for anyone even though he abuse you. Be humble in spirit, kind and gentle, and forg i v i n g , sympathetic towards all and wishing them well, so that you should be accepted. There are many who pretend to be kind, gentle and forgiving but inside they are wolves; there are many on the outside who look pure, but in their hearts they are serpents. You cannot be accepted in the presence of the Lord unless you are pure, 28 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 both on the outside and inside. If you are big have mercy on those who are small – not contempt; if you are wise and well versed in learning serve the ignorant with words of wisdom: never desire to bring disgrace on their ignorance by trying to show off your learning. If you are rich, instead of treating them with self-centre d disdainful pride, you should serve the poor.’ (Kashti Nuh – Quoted from Our Teachings, pp.2-3) The community he founded is actively engaged in social welfare and in meeting the educational needs of not just its own members but also in the communities in which they reside, particularly in Africa where scores of schools and hospitals have been established. These humanitarian services also extend to aid relief and medical supplies to the victims of natural disasters or human conflict. In recent history, the world witnessed the horrors of war in the former Yugoslavia. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community, under the instruction and direction of its then Supreme Head, Hadhrat Mirza Ta h i r Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV(ru), was able to deliver over 100 tonnes of food aid valued at over £1 million to the victims of war. In these humble efforts, which may be deemed small by some, the community sought sincerity of purpose and ensured that the aid reached Serb, Croat and Bosnian alike. Muslims are duty bound to assist all those in need without any discrimination. This was in consonance with the gracious spirit of universal compassion and non- discriminatory benevolence inculcated by the Promised Messiah(as): ‘A religion which does not inculcate universal com- passion is no religion at all. S i m i l a r l y, a human being without the faculty of compassion is no human at all. Our God has never discriminated between one people and another. This is 29 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 illustrated by the fact that all the potentials which were granted to the Aryans were also granted to the races inhabiting Arabia, Persia, Syria, China, Japan, Europe and America. The eart h , created by God provides a common floor for all people alike and His sun and moon and many stars are a source of radiance to all alike; they also have many other benefits. Likewise, all peoples benefit from the elements created by Him such as water, fire, earth and other similar products such as grain, fruit and healing agents. These attributes of God teach us the lesson that we too should behave magnanimously and kindly towards our fellow human beings and should not be petty of heart and i l l i b e r a l.’ (A Message of Peace, pp. 7-8) Returning to the humanitarian endeavours in the former Yugoslavia, those humble eff o r t s inspired and prepared the grounds for the Community’s aff i l i a t e d independent charity org a n i s a t i o n , Humanity First, which after the cessation of hostilities continued to assist the displaced refugees in the reconstruction of their country and their lives. Humanity First has since been able to render assistance to the victims of war in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, to the victims of earthquakes in Tu r k e y, India and recently Bam in Iran, and in general, is involved in various projects, ranging from feeding the poor to orphan care, designed to promote the preservation of human life and d i g n i t y. The Ahmadiyya Muslim community has also been able to organise charity events such as marathon walks and cycle marathons to raise funds for, and support the noble objectives, of several other charities. But such activities are not limited to one- off events. Whether it is visiting the sick and elderly in hospitals and old-peoples’ homes, or providing a welcome meal to the homeless on the streets, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community seeks to help in any way it can. 30 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 In discharging its duties to h u m a n i t y, the community always admonishes its adherents to do so purely for the sake of God. The verses oft quoted in this regard are from the Holy Q u r’ a n : And they feed, for the love of Him, the poor, the orphan and the prisoner, saying: ‘We feed you for Allah’s pleasure only. We desire no re w a rd nor thanks from you. (Ch.76: Vs.9-10) This is because Islam seeks to inculcate the attitude whereby it is considered against dignity and modesty to accept gratitude. The Holy Qur’an instructs the donor to serve mankind for a higher and nobler cause rather than merely to satisfy a natural urg e or earn a good reputation by benevolent acts. The Holy Q u r’an repeatedly reminds men to do acts of goodness for the sake of God and only to win His pleasure and earn His favours. All services to humanity are to be provided without any ulterior motives. Once a favour is shown to anyone, Islam would require him to forget about it. To exult over one’s act of goodness and to rub in one’s favour are declared suicidal and self-annihilatory to the very act of goodness. This is declared comprehensively in the following verses: They who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, then follow not up what they have spent with taunt or injury, for them is their re w a rd with their Lord, and they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve. A kind word and f o rgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is Self-Sufficient, Forbearing. (Ch.2: Vs.263-264) Quite apart from its socio- economic values, Islamic teachings also ensure that people in a community behave with d i g n i t y, and that particular attention is paid to the maintenance of order in public places. Islam teaches that persons using public places must 31 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 take care that no undue inconvenience is occasioned to others using the same, nor should any person be exposed to risk or injury. In elaborating this point the Holy Prophet(sa) mentioned all such articles on pathways and roads which could in anyway be injurious to passers by. Thus he warns that if you profess to be among the faithful, you must take heed and begin the journey into higher achievements from there. If someone sees a nail, banana skin, a thorn or anything which could cause injury to an unwary person or cause accidents of a larger dimension, and yet does not take the trouble of removing it from the path, he would be deficient by that much in his faith. The Holy Prophet( s a ) e x p l a i n e d that faith is divided into seventy tiers. At the highest point faith can be summed up as a total dedication to the Oneness of God and the lowest of them is to clear the path of undesirable things. That the removal of such articles from pathways as may cause injury is a constituent of faith is worth pondering over if we are to understand the underlying wisdom. True faith in God requires that security and protection which one receives from God by virtue of faith, should also be extended to one’s fellow human beings. God’s mercy and benevolence extend equally to all His creatures. Hence, if someone is remiss in discharging his responsibility of extending security and protection to others, by that much he would be considered as having faltered in his faith. It is evident from this that Islam’s sphere of instruction comprises everything that may be required even at the lowest levels. But, perhaps, the most comprehensive direction within the domain of service to humanity is the promotion of righteousness and virtue: And help one another in righteousness and piety; but help not one another in sin and transgression… (Ch.5: V.3) 32 Service to Humanity – A Religious Duty in Islam The Review of Religions – March 2004 When the Holy Prophet ( s a ) s a i d on one occasion, ‘Go to the help of your brother whether oppressor or oppressed’, he was asked, ‘We understand what is meant by going to the help of a brother who is oppressed, but how shall we help a brother who is an oppressor?’ The Holy P r o p h e t(sa) replied, ‘By restrain- ing him from oppressing others.’ He once defined a Muslim as ‘one from whose hands and tongue his fellows apprehend no h a r m . ’ It is patently obvious, from the foregoing, that Islam has placed great emphasis on the day-to- day pattern of one’s conduct in relation to his fellow human beings which in the case of the true believer distinguishes him from the non-believers in decency and refinement. For Muslims, service to humanity is a moral prerogative, a spiritual privilege and, above all, a religious duty. Bibliography • Holy Qur’an with Translation and Commentary – by Hadhrat Malik Ghulam Farid(ra). • Life of Muhammad – By Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad(ra). • Absolute Justice, Kindness and Kinship – by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru). • I s l a m ’s Response to C o n t e m p o r a ry Issues – by Hadhrat Mirza Ta h i r Ahmad(ru). • Islam and Human Rights – by Hadhrat Muhammad Zafrullah Khan(ra).