Ramadan is upon us once again Alhamdullilah. Ramadan is a month in which Muslims are commanded by God to withhold from food, drink and marital relations, from the time of sunrise unto sunset. A month of Fasting, Quran and Charity.
While non muslims would be bewildered by how a person can abstain from food and drink (anywhere between 8 to 22 hours depending on geography/season), many Muslims find this month to be the training ground for the year ahead.
The month of fasting is not undue stress for the Muslim but a time to reflect. Reflect upon the fact that – if he can give up what Allah SWT has made permissible for him, how much harder can it to be to give up what is impermissible.
Apart from giving up necessities, Muslims also prefer to pay the Zakat (Annual Poor Due) and increase charity in this month. In the Islamic tradition wealth is a blessing from Alah SWT whom He bestows as He pleases. This doesn’t imply that one doesn’t have to work for his income. Rather a person should put in the effort to the best of his ability and leave the results to Allah SWT. Thus a person shows true reliance on Allah SWT by expecting the reward from Him SWT instead of his own efforts.
A person might question that why poverty exists if Allah SWT is so full of bounty. This is not a new question and was asked by the non believers of Mecca and was recorded in the Quran.
And when it is said to them, “Spend from that which Allah has provided for you,” those who disbelieve say to those who believe, “Should we feed one whom, if Allah had willed, He would have fed? You are not but in clear error.” [Surah Yasin:47]
What one should understand is that poverty and richness are nothing but tests of faith and hence neither situation is particularly an advantage in the sight of God. While no person should want poverty for himself, the condition of wealth is not necessarily a sign of Allah SWT pleasure. He SWT has warned us of how wealthy people and nations commit the folly of transgressing Allah limits because of the perceived security wealth gives them. The ultimate aim of every Muslim is to gain Allah SWT pleasure and wealth is a means to that end.
To achieve this end Allah SWT has obligated on wealth over certain quantities, Zakat (Poor Due). Over and above that He SWT has also promised immense rewards for any voluntary acts of charity. The giving of charity is such a great act that the Prophet SAW has said – Save yourself from the fire even if by the half of a date. In another narration he PBUH mentioned – “Do (good) deeds which is within your capacity (without being overtaxed) as Allah does not get tired (of giving rewards) but (surely) you will get tired and the best deed (act of Worship) in the sight of Allah is that which is done regularly.”
If giving charity has a great reward then giving it regularly is surely greater.
But can giving repeatedly, truly help the society? Toby Ord the founder of Giving What We Can seems to think so. Toby Ord has pledged to give away 1 million pounds in charity. Before you think that he is a Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, you should know he is a philosopher at Oxford University earning a Research Analyst’s salary. What he proposes is that, over a lifetime he will be able to give away 1 million pounds from his salary.
He estimates that over the period of his career he would earn an average of 42000 pounds per annum. He has pledged to cap his salary to nearly half of that at 20000 and donate the rest in charity. His impetus is that if every pound of charity is donated effectively, it could make a real difference to a person who needs it badly. His organisation, studies charities and ranks them according to the impact they have in improving quality of life.
The concept is quite simple – over and above necessities, the amount that is needed to acquire luxuries are significantly higher. By diverting these funds towards the needy, we might give up on creature comforts but will significantly affect the life of another person. Spending on another person allows you to buy for them necessity which can help improve their quality of life and/or increase their life span. In short your money is valuable but when given to someone else.
Besides being practical, charity also has other incentives. A study conducted by Micheal Norton and his group at Harvard Business School shows more – the money given away is not just valuable – it also is a source of happiness. Very simply put, when somebody spends on others there is definitely a feeling of contentment of having done something good.
What really struck me about his campaign to encourage people to pledge ten percent of their income, is how it ties in with saying of the Prophet SAW about regular deeds. Most of us Muslims prefer Ramadan as a time of giving and spend our Zakat and Sadaqah in this month. I only wonder how much further it would take us in the eyes of Allah SWT if we develop habits of giving regularly. Muslims generally tend to be a charitable lot. By developing effective institutions for monitoring and utilising these funds and living on a little less than we are used to, we definitely can do a lot more, to bring change to the society.