To give in charity is a very coveted human trait. Looking after the need of others is an acknowledgement of God's favours on one's self. It is also our unwritten obligation towards the society. People who are sensitive to the needs of others will find others sensitive to their own needs. The pinnacle of this charitable attitude towards others is to spend on them even if we ourselves are in need. The Qur'an while extolling believers says: "Those who, in spite of being needy, give preference to the needs of others." (59:9)
However, at times spending in charity is marred by blemishes and shortcomings. We need to be very careful about them. Some of the common ones are:
i. At times we condescendingly remind people of our charitable behaviour towards them and in this way hurt their self-esteem. The Qur'an has emphatically stopped us from this and said: "Believers! Do not mar your charity by reminders of generosity and by hurting [the recipients]." (2:264)
ii. Many a time we show off and even blatantly publicize the amount we spend in charity. This obviously is very detrimental to our own inner-purification and spiritual advancement.
iii. More often than not we shy away to give in charity if we do not have a substantial amount; we may be going through stringent circumstances and can only afford a meagre amount to give in charity. We should realize that it is not the amount that counts; it is the concern and capacity that we have that counts. If our capacity is to give a few pennies, we should not shy away. It is our responsibility to look after the needs of others in proportion to our own financial status. The Qur'an states: "Those who spend in all circumstances whether they are in ease or in hardship." (3:134)
iv. There are instances in which we do not take pains to find out the most deserving recipients of our charity.
At times, we do not realize that people among our friends and relatives are in need while we spend huge amounts in charity by giving to various charities not directly related to us. It is a natural right of our close ones that if they are in need they should be the first recipients of our charity.
Similarly, there may be people around us who in spite of appearing financially sound are in fact in deep financial stress; however, their self-esteem does not let them make fuss of the situation and they conduct themselves in a dignified manner. It is our responsibility to find out such people; it only requires a little insight and careful observation. The Qur'an points out: "This [spending] is for the poor who are stranded in the cause of God and are not able to travel in the land to earn their livelihood. The ignorant take them for men of wealth on account of their modest behaviour. You can recognize them by their faces – they are not annoyingly insistent in begging." (2:273)
v. At times, we end up scolding a beggar or a person who asks for monetary help. This is something very despicable. If a person is not in a position to help, he can still show sympathy and then withdraw in a dignified way. The Qur'an says: "A kind word and forgiveness [at unpleasant instances] is better than charity followed by inflicting hurt." (2:262)
These are some points that we need to ponder while spending in charity. They may go unnoticed. Let us resolve to be more cautious and more vigilant about them.
(Dr Shehzad Saleem)