Islam, Sadaqah and The Local Need
About five or six years ago, two homeless gentlemen came to my work place looking for some support. At the time I was working on an employment project that helped people into work, and whilst the first gentleman was receiving support from one of the employment advisors, the other explained to me that although he too was homeless, he had dedicated his life to supporting other homeless people. He showed me a website he had developed himself that listed support resources for the homeless, including lists of local support organisations, shelters, soup kitchens, etc. I noticed that the soup kitchens were practically all run from churches (which isn’t surprising if you understand the emphasis placed on charity within Christianity and also the practices of Christians, Jews and other groups in London, particularly following World War 2) and that there was no mention of any support services from mosques.
He then proceeded to tell me that his name was Abdur Rahman and that about three years previously, he had converted to Islam. For a moment, I was quite confused; why had a Muslim created a website listing support resources for homeless people and not mentioned the resources available from the mosques? Why hadn’t he at least included the details of soup kitchens run from mosques? The reality of the situation struck me – there were no soup kitchens for homeless people run from (or by) mosques in Tower Hamlets and, to the best of my knowledge, there still aren’t.
How strange that in Tower Hamlets we have over 70,000 Muslims, about 40 mosques and probably several hundred restaurant owners and not a single mosque-run soup kitchen to feed the poor? We all know that charity is a fundamental part of Islam; we’ve read the verses in the Qur’an and heard the sayings of the Messenger of Allah (saw), so what’s gone wrong?
As the vast majority of the Muslims in Tower Hamlets are first generation immigrants or descended from them, we tend to have poor relatives in countries like Bangladesh or Somalia that need our financial support, so we tend to send charitable donations ‘back home’. There’s nothing wrong with this, as in Islam charity really does begin at home:
The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessing be upon him said): “Give sadaqah.” A man said: “I have a dinar.” He replied: “Give it to yourself as sadaqah.” He said: “I have another dinar.” He replied: “Give it to your wife as sadaqah.” He said: “I have another dinar.” He replied: “Give it to your child as sadaqah.” He said: “I have another dinar.” He replied: “Give it to your servant as sadaqah.” He said: “I have another dinar.” He replied: “You would be able to assess better (to whom to give it).”
However, is simply sending some money to relatives abroad enough? Allah (swt) strongly encourages us to spend it charity in numerous verses of the Qur’an, including:
“Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [Surah Baqarah, 2:274]
What’s interesting is that in Islam, no-one has an excuse for not giving sadaqah, as the concept extends far beyond giving financial assistance, as is clearly shown in the following ahadith:
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 an act of charity, every word of takbir (saying Allahu akbar) is charity; every word of hamd (praise) is charity; every word of testimony of the oneness (of Allah) is charity; counselling good is charity; counselling 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”
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) also said:
“It is imperative on everyone to render acts of charity every single day that the 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.”
“Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam (peace be upon him) every day the sun rises.” He was then asked: “From what do we give charity every day?” The Prophet answered: “The doors of goodness are many: enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms – all of these are charity prescribed for you.”
“Your smile for your brother is Sadaqah. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is Sadaqah. Your guidance of a person who is lost is Sadaqah.”
What becomes apparent is that no matter who you are, where you’re from or what your financial situation is, you have something to offer (even if all you have to offer is a smile). The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) mentions such things as restoring peace between people (mediation or counselling), removing litter, supporting the deaf, blind and feeble, etc. Sadaqah is not simply about giving money, it’s about your time, expertise and effort.
Based on the above, and numerous other evidences that we are all aware of, Muslims should be a dynamic force for good in our communities, supporting the needy and destitute and also the community in general. If we truly believed (and acted on those beliefs) then surely our communities would be buzzing with activity, with Muslims working hard for the service of mankind and making a real difference? However, we all have our ‘excuses’ for not being able to do these sorts of things ourselves. We imagine that we have no time (although we seem to find time for other trivial things) or that we have too many commitments; that we have nothing to offer, that we don’t know what to do, that there are more urgent priorities or, may Allah have mercy on us, that what we’re already doing is enough . I doubt whether these excuses will be accepted on the Day of Judgement (may Allah (SWT) have mercy on us all), but surely the very least we could do is to help fund projects so that other people can fulfil these obligations on our behalf.
We’re all aware of the needs of the community in Tower Hamlets; we all know people who are having difficulties in their spousal relationships, but where are our counselling services? We see the poor and homeless on the streets everyday, but where are our soup kitchens? Where are our anti-drugs projects, our projects to provide for and support the elderly or our Muslim funded youth centres to keep our youth off the streets and out of trouble? And who’s ever heard of a local Muslim-funded project to remove litter (one of the things the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) specifically mentioned as being an act of sadaqah)?
We can’t even claim that we don’t have enough resources. Allah (SWT) has blessed this community with a great amount of wealth and a generous heart; in one blessed night the East London Mosque managed to raise over one million pounds (may Allah reward those who donated) and this is not an isolated example. We donate millions of pounds every year; mosques are being developed and built so that more people can pray, Alhamdulillah. But we also need to ensure that we are funding projects and activities that we can deliver from these mosques, so that the mosques are alive with activity every day, not just on Fridays. If we donated just £1 a week for every Muslim in Tower Hamlets, we’d raise over £3.5million a year! We also have an abundance of talent in our community: accountants, lawyers, doctors, mechanics, builders, electricians, plumbers, restauranteurs, entrepreneurs – the list is endless.
It seems as though we’re all waiting for someone else to take a lead – there are very few people willing to be the vanguard of Islam. So I suppose this article is, first and foremost, an invitation to those dynamic individuals whom Allah (SWT) has blessed with energy and enthusiasm, to come forward with their ideas and develop the projects we need. Secondly, it is a reminder to the rest of us that we are obligated to support these projects with our time, effort and money when the call comes.
How much longer will we sit around waiting for someone else to take the lead? If there is one thing that we are definitely short of, it’s time:
“By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
Verily Man is in loss,
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,
and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.”
[Surah al-‘Asr, 103]
By Hanif Osmani