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No End to Charitable Deeds *

By Adil Salahi

Editor, Arab News Saudi Arabia

Abu Hurairah quoted the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying

A charity is due for every joint in each person on everyday the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

The Arabic term sadaqah (optional charity) is one of a few to which Islam gives a very broad meaning. It is often used interchangeably with zakah (obligatory alms). Indeed, it is the term used to refer to zakah in the Qur'anic verse that enumerates the classes of beneficiaries of zakah. But it is more general than zakah, because the latter denotes only that part of charitable donations that Muslims must pay as a duty. If they refrain from paying it, they incur a grave sin. Indeed, Abu Bakr, the first ruler of the Islamic state after the Prophet and the closest to the Prophet of all his Companions, went to war against Arab Bedouin tribes who declared that they would no longer pay zakah. He considered that a rebellion against Islam and the Muslim state. He stated unequivocally, "By Allah, I am going to fight those who differentiate between prayer and zakah."

Sadaqah, on the other hand, refers to all charitable donations, whether obligatory or voluntary. It is, however, more frequently used to refer to charitable donations that are given voluntarily. The meaning that immediately springs to mind when the term sadaqah is used is financial help given to a poor person, without any obligation on the part of the giver or any conditions imposed on the receiver. Anyone who is familiar with Islamic philosophy can easily appreciate the great value attached to sadaqah. This is further emphasized by the fact that Islam does not confine it to financial help. Kindly actions and good turns done by one person to another are considered in the same light. The term has acquired great significance and it has come to be used in ordinary speech by all people, whether educated or not, to refer to any good and kindly work.

In hadiths, it is often mentioned in this light, especially with repeated encouragement by the Prophet to his followers to do what is good and helpful to others. But the Prophet did not confine his teachings to the encouragement to be good to others, but further stated that a good deed benefits those who do it. By doing it, they do themselves a good turn. It is their duty to give and the benefit is theirs for having done it.

In this light, we may consider the following hadith that is reported by Ibn `Abbas, the Prophet's cousin: "Every kindly word is sadaqah; help rendered by a man to his brother is sadaqah; a drink of water given to someone is sadaqah; and the removal of harmful objects from the road is sadaqah" (Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Ibn Hibban, and authenticated by Al-Albani).

The examples the Prophet gave in this hadith of charitable work refer to physical actions rather than financial help. He first spoke of a kindly word. This is something strongly encouraged by Islam. What people say affects their relations and affects their standing in society. When people learn to use good words all the time and to refrain from using bad ones, they are loved by their companions and by all those who come in contact with them.

The Prophet did not specify any sort of help that qualifies as charity, or sadaqah. Therefore, every type of help, whatever it may be, if given voluntarily and freely, is an act of charity. The recipients may not be in need of that sort of charity or help. They may be able to get and pay for any help they need, but when you come forward to help them, you earn the reward of having been charitable.

A drink of water is considered by the Prophet a charity. This is highly significant because, according to Islam, water is one of the things to which all people have a share. Indeed, they can claim their share at any time. If you are asked for some water, you have to give it because it cannot be your exclusive property. Nevertheless, when you see thirsty people and give them a drink, that is charity. The last example tells us something about the sort of social cooperation Islam promotes. When you see a harmful object on the road and you remove it, you are charitable. That harmful object may be no more than a banana peel thrown on the road by a careless person. It can be harmful because it may cause a pedestrian to slip. If you take it away so that it can cause no harm, you are charitable. It counts as a charity although the act is not aimed at a particular person.

There are further examples of such charitable actions. The same hadith is rendered in a different and more authentic version, reported by Abu Hurairah who quotes the Prophet as saying,

A charity is due for every joint in each person on every day the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto, it is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

I have often said that the order in which examples are given in a hadith or in the Qur'an is significant. Keeping that in mind, the importance of maintaining justice between people becomes readily apparent. Muslim are supposed to be just all the time; that is their duty. By its fulfillment, they earn the reward of doing something for charity. If they have to struggle in order to maintain justice, then that charity becomes great. Their reward for it is proportionately greater.

In the second example, the Prophet specifies one form of help. It is of the type that people may turn away from because they may appear to be serving another person. But the Prophet makes it clear that carrying someone else's belongings and putting them on his mount is an act of charity. By citing this example, the Prophet implies that one must never hesitate to render help to his fellow Muslims regardless of the situation or how he may appear to others when he renders such help.

Again, a kindly word is mentioned in this version of the hadith as an act of charity. What is then added is attending congregational prayers in the mosque. Every step counts as an act of charity.

In another version of this hadith, the Prophet is quoted to have mentioned a different example of actions that count as charity: "To smile at your brother is a charity." It is needless to say that a friendly smile works wonders in maintaining and strengthening good relations within the community.

When you meet your brother with a cheerful face, you promote love, compassion, and kindness within your community. These are values which Islam always encourages.


* Taken with kind permission and with some modifications from

Adil Salahi is the Religious Page editor of the Jeddah-based Arab News.




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