WHETHER IT IS millions for natural disasters victims or hundreds of thousands for the city’s homeless, dollars from near and far pour in to help others in need. Allah’s words in the Quran and the Prophet’s examples clearly explain the obligations that we must help our brothers and sisters, and they provide vivid details of the rewards for helping those in dire need.
A Muslim, in addition to other attributes, is characterized by generosity and altruism. Our most basic form of charity is zakah, which is mandatory for every Muslim, man or woman, who owns at least the minimum amount of wealth liable for zakah. In fact, several verses of the Quran confirm that zakah is as important as another pillar of faith, salah. Salah and zakah are interdependent, as is illustrated in the Quran:
Those who perform salah and give zakah… [Surat Al-Ma’idah, 5:55];
And establish salah and give zakah. [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:43]
Abu Bakr warned,
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By Allah, I will fight whoever separates salah from zakah. (Muslim)
The importance of giving charity is evident, but what is even more significant are the various forms of charity that Allah rewards.
Though no one can argue against the obligation of zakah, for some women, offering charity other than zakah becomes troubling. Without a source of personal income, many women find it difficult to offer charity. The good news is that a Muslim can quite easily give charity without ever having to earn, and therefore spend, a penny. There are many ways to help others, and some are easier than you might imagine. For example, a woman who wants to multiply her good deeds can perform several simple acts that she might perform on a daily basis anyways. While cooking tonight’s dinner, perhaps she can make a little extra food and send it to her sister, who has recently had a baby and can’t find as much time to cook. The Prophet encouraged,
O Aisha, protect yourself from the Fire, even with half a date, for it can benefit a hungry person as much as one who has enough to eat. (Ahmad)
This grants a woman the chance to give charity with the food that her husband has paid for, if he supports it. And it would favor him to allow her to do so, since not only is she rewarded for her efforts, but he too is rewarded for what he has earned.
Furthermore, a housewife can also visit with a sick relative or friend, which is rewarding in itself, but if she were to maybe do a load of laundry while she was there anyway, or just do some dusting, she would be giving charity, without spending a dime. Offering a ride to a stranded mom at the playgroup is charitable, as is carrying a heavy load of groceries up a flight of stairs for an elderly neighbor. Or, for a great reward, how about babysitting for a friend who has an important appointment?
A believing woman understands that every favor is valuable and she will strive to do as much as she can to earn as much as she can in the sight of Allah. Mercifully, every good deed is considered an act of charity. As the Prophet said,
Every Muslim must give charity. They said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what if he cannot do that?’ He said, ‘Then let him help one who is in desperate need.’ They said again, ‘And what if he cannot do that?’ He said, ‘Then let him do good and refrain from doing evil, and that will be an act of charity on his part.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
Thus, even the proverbial ‘starving student’ can earn rewards for sadaqa by simply doing the absolute best she can. The rewards in Islam are not limited to the rich; the poor have equal opportunities for earning rewards since Allah rewards all good deeds just as He rewards every dollar donated by a rich person. Students have ample chance to do good deeds for others: they can share notes with a classmate who missed a lecture due to illness; they can carpool with a friend who doesn’t have a car. In fact, the Prophet guarantees that
Every good deed is sadaqa. (Bukhari and Muslim)
By being offered such rewards for simple acts of kindness and generosity, it would seem most likely that Muslims would not only act upon opportunities to perform good but even seek such opportunities. A Muslim should not just wait for another person to ask for help, she should be able to detect a need without a request. Those in need might be unable or too embarrassed to ask for help, so it becomes the able Muslim’s duty to find those who need help and offer it to them. Such people include orphans and widows, and helping them is among the most noble of deeds. The rewards for helping orphans, for example, are extraordinary. As the Prophet promised,
I and the one who sponsors an orphan will be like this in Paradise, and he held up his index and middle fingers and held them together. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Sponsoring an orphan need not be limited to financial support. Raising an orphan, as with any child, requires providing the child with an education, with food and shelter. A woman who cannot afford to care for a child financially can educate and tutor him/her; she can teach a child basic skills that can help him/her develop his/her own abilities; she can offer emotional and spiritual support that parents offer their own children. The love and affection that one shows an orphan is recompensed in ways that are beyond conception.
As with every deed, the intention is the first step towards reward. We should remember to make a conscious intention to seek opportunities to do good whenever we can. But beware: Our good deeds are most valuable if we refrain from reminding our beneficiaries of our favors to them. In other words, a good deed is best as long as we don’t brag about how we helped someone and as long as we don’t embarrass those that we’ve helped. Allah reminds us:
O you who believe! Cancel [lose the reward] not your charity by [bragging] reminders of your generosity or by injury… [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:264]
Intention makes even the simplest deed a good deed, worthy of reward. So, next time you do a little favor for someone else, remind yourself that you are doing the deed for the sake of Allah alone, and the reward that you receive will only add to the honor and self-respect that you will feel when you help someone. Keep in mind however that smiling in your brother’s or sister’s face is yet another great form of charity