Charity, sadaqah in Arabic, is one of the most important concepts in Islam. In addition to Zakat (obligatory charity) being a pillar of Islam, charity is one of the most emphasized themes in the Qur’an. For instance, Allah has revealed that helping the needy financially is equivalent to giving a loan to Allah, which He shall generously return: “Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned.” (2:245)
Allah has also declared that a person shall not attain righteousness, and be entitled to Allah’s reward, until one shares with others the possessions that one truly loves: “Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah ] from that which you love. And whatever you spend – indeed, Allah is Knowing of it.” (3:92) Hence, giving away one’s money and other valuable possessions to the needy is an essential means of attaining closeness to Allah.
Although helping someone financially is the most obvious and straightforward form of charity, it is certainly not the only one. In Islam, every good deed, regardless of its magnitude, is considered charity, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “Every good deed is charity.” (Bukhari) This wide concept of charity ensures that the poor and less affluent members of society do not remain deprived of the vast reward to be gained from giving in charity.
Due to the many simple ways of being charitable, it is obligatory upon a Muslim to give in charity, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “Every day the sun rises, charity is due on every joint of a person.” (Bukhari) Let us examine some of the deeds and actions that the Prophet ﷺ has specifically encouraged as excellent forms of charity.
Performing Common Courtesies
“Removing harmful objects from the road is a charity.” (Bukhari)
“Assisting a man to mount his beast or helping him load his luggage on it is a charity.” (Bukhari)
Removing any harmful object such as a stone or a thorn amounts to charity. This is because such an object could be a source of injury to another person or an animal. The Prophet ﷺ was very particular about the comfort of pedestrians and even forbade people from sitting on roads and pathways lest they could be a cause of discomfort for the passers-by. Similarly, extending a helping hand to anyone in need of it is also a form of charity. Once, when the Prophet ﷺ saw Asma bint Abu Bakr walking home amid the morning heat, he offered to ride her home on his mount. He was always ready to lend a helping hand.
Planting a Tree
“When a Muslim plants a tree, whatever is eaten from it is charity from him and whatever is stolen is charity and whatever is subtracted from it is charity.” [Muslim]
“If a Muslim plants a tree or sows a field and men and animals and birds eat from it, all of it is charity from him.” [Muslim]
Trees provide shade to the passers-by and reduce pollution and land degradation. Their leaves serve as food to many animals, and their fruits, to human beings. Hence, planting a tree is a highly meritorious act and one often overlooked in our society. It is a form of continuing charity – one that entitles us to reward even after death for as long as others continue deriving benefit from it.
Speaking Kind Words
“A good word is a charity.” (Bukhari)
A word of comfort to the aggrieved or a word of encouragement to the despairing might mean a lot to them. Similarly, saying something nice to people around us, such as complimenting one’s spouse, admiring the work of a colleague, or congratulating an acquaintance on a success, can have a big impact. The spoken word can thus be an effective way of spreading goodwill and motivating others; it is a highly personalized form of charity.
“Your administering justice between two men is a charity.” (Bukhari)
Acting as a mediator between two individuals is a great virtue because it can resolve disputes in harmony that could otherwise have led to enmity or violent behaviour. The one acting as a mediator must listen to both the individuals carefully, research the matter on one’s own if necessary, and then rule objectively according to the best of one’s judgement. The Prophet ﷺ used to do this frequently, and due to his great conciliatory ability, the Jews in Madinah would also sometimes come to him for resolving personal disputes.
Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil
“There is charity in enjoining good; there is charity in forbidding evil.” (Bukhari)
A Muslim must strive to implement the commands of Allah, enjoining them upon those under one’s authority. In the same way, conveying authentic knowledge to others and admonishing them against obscenities and other evils is also a form of charity. Like the Prophet ﷺ, a Muslim should lead others by example instead of preaching what is good but practising the opposite.
“Every step that you take for Salat is a charity.” (Bukhari)
“There is charity in every ascription of glory to Allah [saying ‘Subhan Allah’]; there is charity in every declaration of His Greatness [saying ‘Allahu Akbar’]; there is charity in every utterance of praise of Him [saying ‘Alhamdulillah’]; there is charity in every declaration that He is the only true God [saying ‘La ilaha il Allah’] … Two Rak’ah of Duha (forenoon prayer) is equal to all this (in reward).” (Muslim)
Although Salat is an obligatory act, every step that one takes towards it is counted as a charitable deed. Remembering Allah in other ways such as praising or glorifying Him also amounts to charity. These acts may only benefit the worshipper, but they are included in the concept of charity, which encompasses every good deed – including being charitable to oneself though the remembrance of Allah! The hadith also conveys the immense virtue of offering the forenoon prayer.
Due to this wide concept of charity, no Muslim can have an excuse for not being charitable. However, most of us become so engrossed in our routine tasks that we forget to be charitable, and overlook small kindnesses that can make a big impact and earn a huge reward. One way to overcome this forgetfulness is to take a few minutes at the end of each day to review one’s deeds of the day – did I help the beggar on the street? Did I speak a nice word to someone? Did I greet anyone with a smile? Did I offer to assist someone in need of it? Did I remember Allah earnestly? Such questions can encourage us to adopt the charitable attitude required of us as Muslims.