Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sweet Charity

The Islamic month of Ramadan will [insha’Allah] be back again in just a few weeks. While most people understand the blessed month to be a time during which Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sexual intercourse for the period of the daylight hours, Ramadan holds a much greater meaning.

This 30-day abstention from food and drink gives us an infinitesimal glimpse at the daily lives of the poor while allowing us to refocus our time and energy on other, more spiritual things, the goal being that we will maintain that focus outside of Ramadan.

One of the 5 Pillars of Islam mandates that those whose wealth amounts to more than a specified minimum must give a small percentage of this wealth to those in need [zakat]. Additionally, voluntary donations [sadaqah] are highly encouraged in Islam and are considered to be a proof of one’s faith. While charity in all forms is encouraged year-round, it is especially significant in the month of Ramadan.

Ibn Abbaas reported that the Prophet Muhammad (saws) had been more munificent than the falling rain. He was said to have been even more so in the month of Ramadan, such that his generosity in the previous 11 months would not compare to his giving in that month alone.

But a lot of us hold our money with a clenched fist when it comes to giving it to others. Many give only the required zakat each year and some of us can’t even bring ourselves to do that, let alone give voluntary donations. Recent psychological studies [published in the March 21 issue of Science in 2008] have concluded that people who spend money on others (be it gifts, donations, etc.) reported significant boosts in happiness than those who use their money solely for personal spending. The long-term, compounding effects of charitable spending far outlasted the fleeting pleasure people felt from personal consumption. So if you’re finding that you’ve become less happy or more irritable than you once were, think about how you’ve been using your money- that might just be the cause.

If you can remember all of the times you’ve donated money, you’re probably not giving often enough.

Don’t wait until the last week of Ramadan to start thinking about giving to others. Better yet, don’t even wait until Ramadan- do it now! And don’t let Ramadan be the only time you donate. Give consistently all throughout the year, even if you can only spare a few dollars every week. If your intention is pure, insha'Allah you will be rewarded each time.

You don’t need to be Muslim to give to those in need. And those to whom you give most certainly needn’t be Muslim.

May Allah allow all of us to reach and experience the blessings of this upcoming Ramadan and may He soften our hearts to those in need, allowing us to give freely from what He has so graciously given to us. Ameen.