As a species, we are naturally inclined to self-preservation and self-growth. This makes us predominantly selfish creatures. Yet, the aspect of preserving others through charitable spirit remains a prevalent trait of the human psyche. As much as we want to look out for ourselves, something within us seeks to look out for others.
Renowned American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead was famously known for giving her answer to the first sign of civilisation. It was not found in the tools and primal remnants of technology from old tribal grounds.
The first evidence of civil establishment was in the form of a 15,000 year old fractured femur bone found in an archaeological site. This bone had been healed, which indicated that someone cared for another enough to stay by the person’s side for six weeks (the rough span it takes for a femur bone to heal) while tending to the wound. The charitable nurturing of others is what makes a civilisation, according to Margaret.
In line with this, the concept of giving in the form of sadaqah retains its prominence in the Islamic faith, carried forth from the inception of the religion to present day. In a modern context, the simplest way to describe sadaqah would be a “voluntary charity” of sorts, and is derived from the Holy Quran to depict a form of voluntary offering in which the amount is at the will of the benefactor.
So why is sadaqah so important (especially in this day and age), and why should you consider participating in this form of voluntary charity? Here are 11 reasons:
1) To quell societal hardships
Time and time again, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ stressed on the importance of helping others by calling on the Muslims to continuosly support each other, their families, their neighbours, the ummah and their broader communities. The Prophet ﷺ said:
‘Generosity is near to Allah, near to Paradise, near to the people, and far from the Hellfire…’ [Jami’ al-Tirmidhi]
The relief of poverty through charitable trust, either through feeding the hungry, offering provisions to the needy, or taking care of orphans among other things, paves the way to more potential for social inclusion across the board and the reduction of general hardships brought on by societal burdens – especially during a crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic or the recent floods in Malaysia.
2) To strengthen one’s Iman
In the process of performing sadaqah for others, we directly contribute to the strengthening of our own Iman. The Arabic word of Sadaqah may be directly translated to mean ‘righteousness’ – stemming from the root Arabic word ‘sidq”. This implies that the very act represents a sincerity of faith upon the benefactor. Righteous behaviour is one of the few ways that we can strengthen our Iman while contributing to the wellness and balance of society as a whole.
In fact, beyond that, Iman is of levels and is constantly fluctuating, determined by the active obedience or disobedience to Allah (swt). Thus, we must always work to maintain its strength and sadaqah is one effective method for this.
3) To ensure economic stability
We can observe the widening gaps between the rich and the poor in numerous societies throughout the world. As economies thrive and countries gradually develop, capitalism drives the powerful call for progression in the form of greater spending, better competition among businesses, better enterprise activity in general, and higher rates of consumption.
However, the careless push towards development could also lead to severe income disparities, a lack of opportunities for the financially disadvantaged, and a greater struggle for the common people. If left unchecked, this situation can worsen to a point of no easy return. Due to this, Islamic concepts like sadaqah, zakat and waqaf are integral to pushing back against the natural cycle of economic inequality in any given country.
4) To reinforce psychological well being
The psychological and spiritual impact of giving on one’s own mind and body is commonly and severely underestimated. A wide range of research has linked generosity to improved health and happiness. In fact, it has been extensively documented that altruism in any shape or form can be beneficial to mental health.
Michael Babula from the Humanities and Social Sciences Department of the Khalifa University posited that those who engage in exocentric or altruistic action by helping the needy without regard for the self are psychologically healthier compared to those who don’t engage in any altruism.
We see it even in the countless examples of those who only pursue self-interests and are dedicated solely to the ‘dunya’ (earthly matters) yet end up feeling miserable and incomplete in the end. Sadaqah is a fundamental solution to such an illness.
5) To develop a “giving culture”
The concept of a “giving culture” in relation to the way our society is built and at a smaller level, the way our communities and families are structured, has always been a core aspect to wholesome development in Islam. The values, dimensions and principles that are derived from such a culture can directly affect the behaviours, attitudes and actions of the Ummah, which is why such emphasis is put on the practice of sadaqah.
6) To remove one’s sins
We have undisputed references in Islam that tie back to sadaqah removing the sins of the benefactor. The Prophet (saw) said:
“Sadaqah extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire,” (Tirmidhi).
He also spoke about how Allah (swt) offers relief on the Day of Judgement for whoever gives Sadaqah:
“The believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection will be their charity,” (Tirmidhi).
7) To purify the Nafs
Since the very early stages of the revelation in Makkah, Muslims have been instructed to purify their hearts from sin, which is derived from the ‘purification of the soul’ (tazkiyyat an-nafs). Allah (swt) said:
“He has succeeded who purifies the soul, and he has failed who corrupts the soul.” (Qur’an, 91:9-10)
The most direct meaning of Nafs is the ‘self’, or the ego of the individual. The Nafs is a multi-dimensional concept with many parts, but the most frequently referred part of the Nafs is the one part of the self which clings to desires or appetite – which directly affects the Ruh (the soul of the human being). In order to fight against the beckoning call of the desires of the ego, one should actively partake in sadaqah. Charity leads to humbleness and a wholesome development in the character of an individual, which can help to tame the overexertion of the ego.
8) To prevent malevolence
In societies that lack the fundamental traits of altruism, there is a clear and severe rise in malevolence or evil in the form of higher crime rates and unwholesome behaviours. More often than not, the types of crime that are committed in such environments are due to desperation and oppression caused by a lack of charitable intent. Sadaqah might be able to prevent or disable some of the many factors that lead to a dangerous society.
9) To open one of the gates of Jannah
Sadaqah can also open one of the gates of Jannah to benefactors who dedicate their selfless acts in the name of Allah (swt).
‘But those who feared their Lord will be driven to Paradise in groups until, when they reach it while its gates have been opened and its keepers say, “Peace be upon you; you have become pure; so enter it to abide eternally therein.”’ [Holy Quran, 39:73]
10) To earn rewards even after death
In Islam, there is a way to invest in your afterlife, so that you may receive blessings even after death. This is through the act of Sadaqah Jariyah which can be referred to as an ongoing or perpetual form of charity.
Sadaqah benefits a person on one occasion, but Sadaqah Jariyah will continue to benefit recipients in the long term and thus allow benefactors to receive countless rewards. This can be done in various ways from helping to build mosques to planting trees.
According to Abu Hurairah (ra), the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
‘When a person dies, his deeds come to an end except for three: Sadaqah Jariyah (a continuous charity), or knowledge from which benefit is gained, or a righteous child who prays for him’. (Muslim)
11) To be closer to Allah (swt)
Finally, we should all perform sadaqah if we wish to be in favour of our Creator and gain closeness to Allah (swt):
According to the narration of Abu Dharr, Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said:
“In the morning charity is due from every bone in the body of every one of you. Every utterance of Allah’s glorification is an act of charity. Every utterance of praise of Him is an act of charity; every utterance of profession of His Oneness is an act of charity; every utterance of profession of His Greatness is an act of charity; enjoining good is an act of charity; forbidding what is disreputable is an act of charity; and two rak’ahs which one prays in the forenoon will suffice.” (Muslim 1557)