[Surah Al-Qalam 68:4]
He gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves.Al Baqarah Verse 177
It is difficult for a person to part with his wealth because he is insecure about the future and has ambitions of using his wealth for future use. Still, when he notices the needy he gives them a priority. The list of the beneficiaries includes relatives, orphans, needy, travelers, those who ask for help and for freeing the slaves. There are six categories of the beneficiaries in the above verse and it begins with relatives.
I) Relatives - First option for charity
It is easy to be good to the needy strangers but difficult to maintain the attitude of goodness towards the needy close relatives; Either because of differences with them, or because of their hurtful behaviour. As long as you are good towards them, they will be nice to you but even a little misstep from your side leads them to turn against you. It is indeed a very high level of character to overlook such hurtful and thankless behaviour and continue doing good to your relatives. The Prophet ﷺ said:
The one who maintains ties of kinship is not the one who reciprocates. The one who maintains ties of kinship is the one who, when his relatives cut him off, maintains ties of kinship.Al-Adab Al-Mafrad: 68
A man came to the Prophet ﷺ and said: "O Messenger of Allah! I have relatives with whom I try to keep in touch, but they cut me off; I treat them well, but they treat me badly; I try to be kind to them, but they are cruel to me." He said: "If you are as you say, it is as if you are putting hot ashes in their mouths. You will continue to have support from Allah against them so long as you continue doing that."Reported by Muslim, no. 2558
Never abandon your good Akhlaq (character) because of hurtful behaviour of others
Uqbah ibn Amir (May Allah be pleased with him) said:
The Prophet ﷺ said to me, “Should I inform you about those deeds which are best among the virtuous deeds?”
I replied in affirmative. The Prophet ﷺ said, “They are three; first is to be good towards those relatives who break off their ties with you. Secondly, pardon those people who commit atrocity upon you and thirdly, give even to those who do not give to you”.
Taking revenge (for self) is not encouraged in Islam.
Consider this: You requested help from someone but he refused. When he comes to you for help after that, you probably would not like to extend help but Islam teaches us not to refuse him and to extend him help as much as we can.
There is a beautiful example in the Qur’an regarding this. A rumour was spread by some hypocrites, slandering Aisha, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ
Mistah was a cousin of Abu Bakr. He was the son of Abu Bakr’s maternal aunt, and a poor man with no wealth except whatever Abu Bakr spent on him. He was one of those who had migrated for the sake of Allah, but he was amongst those who mistakenly participated in spreading the rumour slandering Aishah.
Abu Bakr was known for his generosity and he extended assistance (of all kinds) to his relatives and strangers alike. When Allah revealed the ayah to declare Aishah’s innocence, reprimanding those who participated in spreading the rumour, Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) swore that he would not help Mistah anymore. In fact, he said, “By Allah, I will never spend on him (again)” ,and in another version, “By Allah, I will never provide for Mistah anything after what he has said about Aishah.”
Then Allah revealed:
And let not those among you who are blessed with graces and wealth swear not to give to their kinsmen, al-Masaakeen [the poor], and those who left their homes for Allah’s Cause. Let them pardon and forgive. Do you not love that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Al-Ghafur (the Most-Forgiving), Ar-Raheem (the Most Merciful).Surah Noor, verse 22
Islam prefers generosity in mutual dealings and also when pardoning other people’s faults. This is an important lesson in character building of Muslims. A person who harmed a person like Abu Bakr and Aisha (May Allah be pleased with them) is also being asked to be forgiven. The lesson is not to stop doing good deeds because someone has harmed you. A good Muslim is supposed to forgive and pardon and in return he is given the glad tidings of being pardoned by Allah.
The moment the verse was revealed, Prophet ﷺ called upon Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) and corrected him. Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) responded in a humble manner and accepted the command of Allah, with a hope that he, too, would be pardoned by Allah in return. Another narration says that Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) ordered his men to be more generous towards Mistah and give him more than usual because he was aware of the virtues of pardoning people.
II) Spending on Orphans
A person who prioritises the poor, needy and the orphans, needs to step back from his own selfish monetary desires and ambitions.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
"I and the one who looks after an orphan will be like this in Paradise," showing his middle and index fingers and separating them.”Sahih Bukhari: 5304
III) Needy, the poor and the one who asks
We should be good to the Miskeen (needy) as well as the poor. The difference between the two has been explained in the Quran, too. A poor person can be identified by his torn clothes, his homelessness and he might be begging for food or money. A miskeen (needy) is a bit difficult to recognise though they are all around you. They are those who do not beg but are in desperate need of help. They might be wearing clean but old clothes. They have dignity and self respect but you can see the traces of their hardships on their faces. They might owe a debt, or are unable to pay their house rent or school fees, or are trying hard to meet both ends but are failing to do so. Islam encourages us to help them generously.
IV) A traveller: One who has no money to return home
A co-traveler is also considered as your colleague or relative while you travel. An interesting incident is mentioned with regards to the rights of a co-traveler. Sanaullah Amritsari was a well known Indian scholar of the last century. He was once traveling in a train, which had iron rods above the seat to strengthen the seat, at that time. His co- traveler was an old pandit, traveling with his disciples. Suddenly the pandit got up and hurt his head. He started bleeding profusely, fell down and fainted. His companions were stunned. Sanaullah Amritsari immediately lifted the Pandit, wrapped his wound with his own turban and kept his head on his lap till he regained his consciousness.
When the Pandit saw himself being served by a Muslim, he was touched and he thanked him for his help. His disciples, too, gathered around to thank him, but Sanaullah said, “Do not thank me because it was my duty, as instructed in the Qur’an, to help my co traveler”, and then he recited the verse of Surah Nisa’ which speaks about the a co traveler being treated like a relative, irrespective of his caste or religion.
V) Setting the slaves free
At that time, slavery was very common all across the world. Islam encouraged to set the slaves free as much as possible to slowly eradicate the slavery from our lives. There are many instances in which Islam recommends setting the slaves free as an expiation to sins. A few of such instances are mentioned below:
- For the sake of Allah
- Expiation of a broken oath
- Expiation for having sexual intercourse while fasting in Ramadan
- Expiation for killing someone by mistake
- During Solar eclipse (Sahih Bukhari: 1054)
Some people blame Islam for promoting slavery but slavery was not initiated by Islam. Islam also issued strict instructions to treat the slaves kindly, granted them rights and encouraged manumitting slaves.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
"If somebody manumits a Muslim slave, Allah will save from the Fire every part of his body for freeing the corresponding parts of the slave's body, even his private parts will be saved from the Fire) because of freeing the slave's private parts."Sahih Bukhari: 6715
VI) Salah, the act of worship and giving zakat
In the above verse, good Akhlaq (character) is placed between having the correct Belief and worshipping Allah.
Those who fulfil their promises and vows, who bear financial difficulties patiently, who protect their emaan from corruption, who bear severe sickness or illness patiently and remain steadfast and composed during tough battles.
“These are the truthful Believers and people of righteousness”
The above verse covers Emaan (Faith), Akhlaq (character), Ibadah (worship) and Maamlaat (fair dealings amongst fellow humans)
In this way, Islam connects Emaan (faith) with good Akhalq (conduct) towards the people.