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Charity in Islam 

by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA



Charity, preached by every religion of the world, is a way of bringing justice to society. And justice is the essence of religion, Islam has therefore made charity that is Zakah, obligatory and binding upon all those who embrace the faith; it has been made into an institution in order to give in permanence and regularity.

A society can flourish only when its members do not spend all their wealth to fulfil their own desires but reserve a portion of it for parents, relatives, neighbors, the poor and the debilitated. As the saying goes: Charity begins at home. A true believer is thus always prepared, after meeting the needs of his family, to assist other people in need of his help. 

Thus the spirit of kindness and well wishing is the essence of charity. The giver is not to expect any reward from the beneficiary as there awaits for him an abundant reward from God - material, moral and spiritual - what God deems it best to confer on His servant. 

Charity should be lawfully earned or acquired by the giver. It should include such things as are of use and value to others.  

"Charity is for those in need." This is general principle which enjoins us to help people in need, be they good or bad, on the right path or not, Muslims or non-Muslims. No one should judge in these matters. The foremost ends in charity should be God's pleasure and our own spiritual good. The concept of charity in Islam is thus linked with justice. It is not limited to the redressal of grievances. It implies apart from the removal of handicaps, the recognition of the right that every human being has to attain the fullness of life. 

The spirit of helping others to earn God's pleasure is best reflected in Muslim society in the field of education.  The greatest charity for a Muslim is to learn something and then teach it to other Muslims in large numbers.  Thus Muslims have devoted themselves to other's education generation after generation. Knowledge is the most wonderful thing in the whole universe. That is why there is nothing greater then knowledge being imparted by one human being to another. Muslims on a large scale have engaged themselves in receiving education and imparting it to others, individually as well as by establishing maktabs and madrasas, that is, primary schools and Colleges. These educational institutions established in the house of the teachers or in separate buildings, generally made no charges for instruction. During the medieval period, these madrasas flourished in tens of thousands throughout the Muslim world. The wealthy people helped in running these madrasas, not only though Zakah, but also by making endowments (wakf), of their properties as these madrasas. The income from these properties met the needs of these schools. The orphans and poor people were given stipends over and above free board and lodging. (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan) 

There are two forms of charity in Islam - obligatory and voluntary, called Zakah and Sadaqah respectively.

The concept of charity appears in most of the world's religions. The Islamic tradition has rigid laws associated with it. It is said that those Muslims who do not abide by them are surely noticed by their God, Allah (SWT). Charity in Islam is seen as an amplification of the ideal of community within the religion. When a Muslim person raises funds he is not gathering money for a stranger, rather he is acting on behalf of his own family. Everyone in the Islamic community is seen to reside in the house of Allah, as one people. Thus the definition of charity in Islamic tradition differs somewhat from its interpretation in other contexts.

The Qur'an states: 'And be steadfast in your prayer and pay charity; whatever good you send forth for your future, you shall find it with Allah, for Allah is well aware of what you do' (2:110). Charity is central to a Muslim's life.

The best charity is to satisfy a hungry person, said Prophet Muhammad (SAS). He also said "No wealth (of a servant of Allah) is decreased because of charity." (Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 2247).

This writer believes in the axiom "WE KNOW HOW TO MAKE MONEY BUT WE DO NOT KNOW WHO TO SPEND MONEY". We spend the first 20 to 30 years of our lives in acquiring skilled and marketable talents to earn money, but we are not taught how to spend money. We are not given guidance concerning financial transactions.

Spending in the way of Allah 'fee Sabil Allah" e.g. in Hajj, in Jihad, the poor, on widows and orphans or on relatives and friends to help them out. The Qur'an encourages the Muslim to donate their funds: 'the likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain that sprouts seven spikes. In every spike there are 100 grains, and Allah multiplies for whom He will' (2:261). Giving charity is thereby not seen as detracting from income, but rather as a multiplication in terms of spiritual observance. It is like one who sows a good grain of wheat in the field from which grows a plant on which sprout seven ears and each ear yields hundred grains.  As a result, one grain was worth a total yield of 700 grains. When one spends in the way of Allah, he or she receives in return (reward in the Hereafter) on the scale of one to seven hundred.

Sayyidna Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA) said: The rewards of spending one dirham in Jihad and Hajj is equal to 700 dirhams.

How to get 700 grains out of one grain?  This is possible only when the grain is good. The farmer is an expert in the art of farming. The soil for the grain should be good; we need to add fertilizer, water, and sunshine to the plant. One needs to prevent disease to the plant and also prevent the plant to be eaten by cattle, etc.  Similarly that which is spent in the way of Allah should be clean, pure and Halal (lawful)- BECAUSE ALLAH ALMIGHTY ACCEPTS NOTHING EXCEPT WHAT IS CLEAN, PURE AND HALAL.

Spender should be good in intentions and righteous in deeds. The one to whom Sadaqah (charity) is given should also be deserving of it. It should not be wasted by spending on the non-deserving.

Masnoon (according to Sunnah)

Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) as saying that Allah, the Most Blessed and High, said: O son of Adam, I will spend on you. The right hand of Allah is full and overflowing and nothing would diminish it, by overspending day and night. (Sahih Muslim; Kitab al-Zakat; p. 477)

The following five words are the most frequently used words to describe charity in the Noble Qur'an:

1. Infaq fi Sabil Allah (spending in the path of Allah).   Infaq Meaning spending benevolently

2. Ihsan Meaning the doing of good or (kindness and consideration

3. Zakah   Meaning growth or purification

4. Sadaqah Derived from the root sidq and meaning truth, and comes to signify charitable deed

5. Khayrat Meaning good deeds


'Lo those who believe and do good deeds and establish Salah and pay Zakah, their reward is with the Sustainer; and no fear shall come on them, nor shall they grieve.' (Qur'an 2:227)

Zakah, is derived from the verb zaka, (which signifies "to thrive," "to be wholesome," "to be pure") means purification. Giving up of a portion of the wealth one may possess in excess of what is needed for sustenance is to "purify" or legalize it so that the remainder may lawfully be used by the alms giver. The law of Zakah is to take from those who have wealth and give it away to those who do not. This rotation of wealth is a way to balance social inequality.

Islam has established this institution to make concern for the poor a permanent and compulsory duty. This means an annual contribution of two and a half percent of one's income to public welfare. The rate on other types of wealth such as agricultural produce and jewelry is more. It is incumbent on minors and adults, males and females, living or dead.


Zakah in spirit is an act of worship while in its external form it is the carrying out of social service. It is thus not just the payment of a tax as it is generally understood but is rather an act of religious significance. Its importance is underscored by the fact that the Qur'an treats it at par with salat (prayer). The Qur'an frequently enjoins the believers 'to perform the worship and pay the Zakah.'  It goes to the extent of saying that one cannot attain righteousness unless one spends out of one's wealth for the love of God: "By no means shall you attain righteousness, unless you give of that which you love."(3:92)

So the test of charity lies not in giving away something we have discarded but the things that we value greatly, something that we love. It is unselfishness that God demands. It may be in any form - one's personal efforts, talents, skill, learning, property or possessions.

Zakah is the type of Muslim charity that is obligatory, as decreed by the Glorious Qur'an. This basic law is seen as a solution to poverty and suffering. The Muslim community is obliged to donate a certain portion of their yearly earnings in the name of Allah, so that the needy and the sick can have a brighter future.

The Qur'an states: 'Of their wealth take alms to purify and sanctify them' (Tauba 9:103). Thus Zakah is looked upon as a means of spiritual purification; therefore, it is an obligation whether or not there are needy members of the community. Zakah acts to remind the Muslim of Allah's gift of wealth bestowed upon them, and of those others not so fortunate.

Zakat forms a part of the whole for a Muslim, in terms of religious observance. Along with prayer and faith, Zakat enables the Muslim to be true in his/her belief of Allah. The law states that 2.5% of a wealthy Muslim's savings must be donated to the cause.

The Qur'an stipulates the specific uses of Zakah within the community: 'The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and for those employed in connection therewith, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and for the freeing of slaves, and for those in debt, and for the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarer' (Al-Tauba 9:60). Above all, Zakah is given in the name of Allah to further His ways amongst the Muslims.

Zakah is a form of worship, rather than a levy.

Zakah (welfare contribution) is obligatory on every Muslim who is sahib-e-nisab. That is, wealth equivalent to the value of three ounces of gold or 21 ounces of silver - at present this value in the USA  $1,000. It is a pillar of Islam and the Qur'an has emphasized it equally as Salah (prayer). The Prophet (SAS) of Allah said: 'If they accept Islam, then inform them that Allah enjoined on them Zakah to be taken from their rich, and given to the poor among them.'

Deducting Zakah from one's earnings is a material acknowledgment of the fact that the actual giver is God. Since the giver is God, the recipient is duty bound to spend it in His cause. Giving Zakah reminds us that our wealth belongs to Allah, and He has blessed us with this wealth as a test. It is important that we should give our Zakah in the way Allah would wish. Zakah should be paid at the rate of 2.5% on any wealth (cash, savings, investments, gold and silver, etc.) remaining after meeting the expenses for such necessities as food, clothing, housing, vehicles and craft machines, which has been held for over 13 months. The family home is not zakatable. Mortgage is not classed as debt (resale will pay it off). According to the Qur'an, Zakah is only for (1) the poor and needy, (2) those who collect it (Zakah), (3) for those whose hearts are to be reconciled, (4) for the freedom of those who are captives, (5) those who are in debt, (6) for the cause of Allah (This category allows such funds to be used for the general welfare of the community - for the education of the people, for public works, and for any other need of the Muslim community) and (7) for the wayfarers. As Zakah is compulsory on those who can pay, it is important that it is calculated accurately.


 Sadaqah is also a means of moral learning.  Sadaqah (Charity) is an Ibadah (worship). According to Hadith, Sadaqah is prescribed for every person every day the sun rises.  Hadith is much more explicit. To remove from the road anything, which may cause hurt is called Sadaqah or a charitable deed.  According to another Hadith  "there is a Sadaqah (charity) on every limb with every new sun, and to do justice among people is also a charity". On every limb there is a Sadaqah (charity) every day. If a man allows another to ride his animal, it is a charity; or if he helps him to load his animal, this is also a charity.  And so is a good word. Every step, which a man takes in going to pray, is a charity; and to show the way is charity. Sadaqah is a very wide term and is used in the Quran to cover all kinds of charity.  Examples of other charitable deeds are; "your salutation to people," "your enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong", "refraining from doing evil to any one", of a smile or a glass of water to a thirsty person, or they may even just utter a kindly word and so on. The circle of those toward whom an act of charity may be done is equally wide. To give food to one's wife or one's children is called a charitable deed, while to maintain even one's self is not excluded from the category of charitable deeds. The Noble Prophet said, "Whatever you feed yourself with is a charity, and whatever you feed your children with is a charity, and whatever you feed your wife with is a charity, and whatever you feed your servant with is a charity." The doing of good to the dumb creation is also called a charity; Planting something from which a person, bird or animal later eats also counts as charity. The Glorious Qur'an also speaks of extending charity not only to all men (including believers and unbelievers) (2:272), but also to the dumb creation (51:19).

The Qur'an lays stress on the believers to care for the needy, the orphans, the destitute and the unfortunate members of the society. 'The believers ... are steadfast in prayers, and in whose wealth there is a right acknowledged, for the poor and the destitute. (Qur'an 70:22-24). There is no limit on Sadaqah. Prophet of Allah (SAS) said,  'your smile for your brother is Sadaqah. Your removal of stones, thorns or bones from the paths of people is Sadaqah. Your guidance of a person who is lost is Sadaqah.' (Related by Bukhari from Ibn Hibban's Sahih).

'A Muslim does not plant, or sow anything from which a person, animal or anything eats but it is considered as Sadaqah from him.' (Prophet of Allah (SAS) related by Bukhari.)

Sadaqah-e-jaria (an everlasting Sadaqah): Leaving a contribution in your will in the form of a Sadaqah to some charitable institution is surely a noble decision and will be deemed as a Sadaqah-e-jaria. Sadaqah in the form of wakf is also Sadaqah-e-jaria, i.e. permanent alms. Helping someone to establish himself in business, giving someone a proper education; helping someone to recover from some disease by monetary assistance; to looking after the orphans and the destitute; giving scholarships to students, all such charitable works, come under Sadaqah-e-jaria  - that is why so many centers of social welfare have continued to function in the Muslim community. The reward for giving voluntary alms in secret is seventy times that of giving it publicly (Al-Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanazil, 2/211). Any gift from a Muslim's estate will live on in the lives of other brothers and sisters less fortunate than the donor and his/her heirs.

The scope of Sadaqah is so vast that even the poor who can have nothing tangible to give can offer Sadaqah.   Good conduct is frequently termed Sadaqah in the Hadith. In this extended sense, acts of loving kindness, even greeting another with a cheerful face, is regarded as Sadaqah. In brief, every good deed is Sadaqah.

Sadaqah should start at home

'When one of you is poor, he starts with himself. If anything is left, he spends it on his dependants. If anything is (still left) then on his relatives, and then, if more is left, he spends it here and there.' (Prophet of Allah (SAS) related from Jabir.)

The very words used to denote charitable deeds are an indication of the broadness of its conception. The Glorious Qur'an not only lays stress on such great deeds of charity as the emancipation of slaves (90:13; 2:177), the feeding of the poor (69:34; 90:11-16; 107:1-3), taking care of orphans (17:34; 76:8; 89:17; 90:15; 93:9, 107:2) and doing good to humanity in general, but gives equal emphasis to smaller acts of generosity.  And in a similar vein, the speaking of a kind word to parents is referred to as Ihsan (doing good) in 17:23, and generally the use of the words is recommended as in itself a charitable deed in 2:83, 4:8 and other places.

The three basic rules involved with donating funds emphasize charity as a religious function. Firstly, a Muslim must always donate in the name of Allah alone. Secondly, all money donated must be from a legitimate source. Money that has been stolen or earned unethically is annulled in the eyes of Allah. Thirdly, all excess wealth is seen as Allah's ownership in Islam. Therefore it is left up to the individual as to how much they are willing to give back to Him, in the form of charity.

The Qur'an affirms: 'Those who believe, and do deeds of righteousness, and establish regular prayers and regular charity, will have their reward with their Lord: On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve' (2:277). Thus charity, on a generic level, plays a major role in Muslim society. One of the key purposes of the religion is grounded in a sense of community, which charity emphasizes.

The Practice of Sadaqah

 The Prophet was the most generous of men. He used to give with his own hand. When asked for anything, he never refused. If he had nothing to give, he would borrow from one of his companions and pay him later.

The Prophet's wives were also known for their alms giving. Of them Zainab bint Khuzaimah was the most generous and was called by the Prophet "the longest in arm." She was also known as the "mother of the poor" (umm al-masakin) for her alms giving. Áisha, the youngest wife of the Prophet too was known as the mother of the poor."(Al-Ghazali, Ihya ulum al-din, vol-1/298).


According to the teachings of Islam the giving of Sadaqah serves a number of functions. First and foremost act of Sadaqah is expiation for sins. The believers are asked to give Sadaqah immediately following any transgression (Ihya-e-Ulumuddin, Al-Ghazzali, 1/298). Voluntary alms giving can also compensate for any shortcoming in the past payment of Zakah.   Sadaqah also gives protection against all kinds of evil. Sadaqah wards off affliction in this world, and punishment on Judgment Day. (Ismail Hakki, Tafsir Ruh-alBayan, 1/418). It is therefore recommended to give Sadaqah by night and by day, in secret and in public to seek God's pleasure (Quran, 2:274). The constant giving of a little is said to please God more than the occasional giving of much. (Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)


The Concept of Charity in Islam By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan,   ( Date: 30 March 2000 


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