No End to Charitable Activities
Abu Hurairah who quotes the Prophet 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.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Commentary by Adil Salahi
THE Arabic term “sadaqah is one of a few to which Islam gives a very broad meaning. It is often used interchangeably with zakah. Indeed, it is the term used to refer to zakah in the Quranic verse which enumerates the classes of beneficiaries of zakah. But it is more general than zakah, because zakah denotes only that part of charitable donations which a Muslim must pay as a duty. If he refrains from paying it, he incurs 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 which are given voluntarily. The meaning which immediately springs to mind when the term “sadaqah” is used in 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 does not confine his teachings to the encouragement to be good to others, but he further states that a good deed benefits the one who does it. By doing it, he does himself a good turn. It is his duty to give and the benefit is his for having done it.
In this light, we may consider the following Hadith which is reported by Ibn Abbas, the Prophet’s cousin: “A human being has 360 joints (or bones). every day he has to give some sadaqah for each one of them. 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.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab, Al-Mufrad and by Ibn Hibban)
The examples the Prophet gives in this Hadith of charitable work refer to physical actions, rather than financial help. He first speaks of a kindly word. This is something strongly encouraged by Islam. What people say affects their relations and affect their standing in society. When a person learns to use good words all the time and to refrain from using bad ones, he is loved by his companions and by all those who come in contact with him.
The Prophet does not specify any sort of help which qualifies to be considered as charity, or sadaqah. Therefore, every type of help, whatever it may be, if given voluntarily and freely is an act of charity. The recipient may not be in need of that sort of charity or help. He may be able to get and pay for any help him he needs, but when you come forward to help him 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 three things in which all people have a share. Indeed, they can claim their share at any time. If someone asks you for some water, you have to give him because it cannot be your exclusive property. Nevertheless, when you see a thirsty person and give him 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 the skin of a banana 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 it is not given to a particular person.
There are further examples to 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 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.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
I have often said that the order in which examples are given is a Hadith or in the Quran is significant. Keeping that in mind, the importance of maintaining justice between people becomes readily apparent. A Muslim is supposed to be just all the time; that is his duty. By its fulfillment he earns the reward of doing something for charity. If he has to struggle in order to maintain justice, then that charity becomes great. His 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 to actions which counts as charity: “To smile to 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 that promotes love, compassion and kindness within the community. There are values which Islam always encourages.