What is fasting? What is charity? What is alms?
Strengthening its political existence through the minor campaigns, Islam at the same time continued to perfect its unique spiritual life. An important part of this was the requirement upon Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadan, proclaimed obligatory just after the change of qibla, eighteen months into the Hegira, in the month of Shaban.
It was through the below ayah that the Almighty declared the fasting, or sawm, of Ramadan obligatory:
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard (against evil).” (al-Baqara, 183)
In connection are the words of the Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- :
“Islam has been founded upon five principles: Standing witness that there is no god other than Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet, offering salat, giving alms, pilgrimage and fasting in the month of Ramadan.” (Bukhari, Iman, 1, 2; Tafsir, 2/30; Muslim, Iman, 19-22)
Beautifully expressed are the virtues of fasting in the below hadith of the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace-:
“Allah, the Mighty and the Glorious, has said, ‘Apart from fasting, all deeds of man are for himself. But fasting is for Me alone; thus I shall personally give its reward.’ Fasting is a shield. When fasting, one ought not to engage in foul words or quarrel. Should someone speak foul to him or provoke him, he should simply say, ‘I am fasting.’ By Allah, in whose Hand of Might the life of Muhammad resides, in the sight of Allah, the breath of a person fasting is sweeter than the fragrance of musk. Two moments of joy await one who fasts: One in which he breaks his fast, and the other, the moment he unites with his Lord with the rewards reaped from his fasting.” (Bukhari, Sawm, 9; Muslim, Siyam, 163)
“All deeds of man are amply rewarded; a good deed is multiplied from ten to seven-hundred times. Allah, glory unto Him, declares, ‘But fasting is different, and I shall reward it Myself…for one who fasts leaves his lust and appetite for Me.” (Muslim, Siyam, 164)
“One who persistently gives charity in the way of Allah, will be called from the numerous gates of Paradise, ‘Come, beloved servant of Allah; through this gate awaits goodness and abundance!’ Those who persistently offer their salat continue being invited from the gate of salat, strivers from the gate of jihad, fasters from the gate of Rayyan and the generous from the gate of charity.” Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him- then asked, ‘May my all be sacrificed in your way, Messenger of Allah. Even though one who is called from either of these gates stands in no need of any other, still, will there be people who will be called from all of these gates?’
“Yes, certainly”, replied the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- , “and I am hoping you will be among those fortunate.” (Bukhari, Sawm, 4 Jihad, 37; Muslim, Zakat, 85, 86)
Enabling us to realize the value of the innumerable blessings we have been endowed with, fasting is a deed of worship that awakens feelings of gratitude towards the Almighty; and through ridding the soul of egoistic desires and tendencies, it frees the heart from the shackles of matter and thereby guides one to patience, the highest moral characteristic attainable. Imparting a conscience of relating to the poor and underprivileged, fasting also fills the heart with feelings of compassion. Despite being given command over bountiful chests of treasures, Yusuf -upon him peace- never ate to his stomach’s content, just so he would not remain ignorant, even for a moment, of the condition of the poor.
With all these underlying wisdoms, fasting is a Divine command that exercises the greatest influence in cleansing ill-feelings like malice and jealousy that suffocate society in their uproar. In fasting lies the key to the mystery of abandoning the temporary for the eternal. It is a shield that protects human dignity and honor against the never-ending desires of the self, in the way of consumption and lust.
Its days already revived through fasting, making the nights of Ramadan further prosper is the tarawih salat, a Sunnah of the Light of Being -upon him blessings and peace- .
“Allah the Mighty has made fasting obligatory in Ramadan; and I have made tarawih a Sunnah,” he has stated. (Ibn Maja, Salat, 173)
To reap the utmost benefit from Ramadan, it is necessary to accompany the day long fasts with deeds of worship in the night and, refraining from all kinds of vain behavior, cleanse the tongue with prayer and dhikr and the heart with tears of repentance. Entering itiqaf in the last ten days of the month is an equally important Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- .
“Whoever”, he states “with faith in his heart, revives his Ramadan nights hoping its reward from Allah only, will have his entire past sins forgiven.” (Bukhari, Tarawih, 46)
Aisha -Allah be well-pleased with him- a recounts:
“During a Ramadan evening, the Messenger of Allah had offered a voluntary salat at the Masjid. Many people followed his lead behind him. Come morning, some Companions began talking about ‘the Prophet’s salat at the Masjid the night before.’
The Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- offered the salat the next night, too. People again spoke about it; the number of those who joined had increased even more. On either the third evening or the fourth, people again flocked together at the Masjid. So great were they in number that the Masjid could not fit them all. But the next evening, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- did not make an appearance. In the morning, he said:
‘I have seen what you have been doing. What held me back from coming next to you last night was the fear that this salat may be made obligatory.’” (Bukhari, Tarawih, 1; Muslim, Musafirin, 177)
The Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- did not offer the tarawih salat communally, considering it more appropriate for each person to fulfill the deed according to their capabilities. Tarawih continued being offered individually during the caliphate of Abu Bakr -Allah be well-pleased with him-. Only during the caliphate of Omar -Allah be well-pleased with him- did it begin to be offered communally.
The Prophet of Mercy -upon him blessings and peace- would enhance his devotion and deeds of worship in the month of Ramadan, entering an insatiable atmosphere of an intimate connection with the Almighty. Testifying this are the words of Ibn Abbas -Allah be well-pleased with him-:
“The Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- was the most generous of all people. The time which his generosity seemed boundless was when he would meet with Jibril -upon him peace- in the month of Ramadan. They would get together during each night of Ramadan and recite the Quran to one another. After meeting Jibril –upon him peace-, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- would hence become more generous than winds of mercy that continually blow.” (Bukhari, Bad’ul-Wahy, 5, 6; Sawm, 7; Muslim, Fadail, 48, 50)
Commanded not long after fasting were the salat of eid and charity of fitr. The Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- laid down the obligatory amount of fitr for every Muslim, young and old, male and female, free or slave, as a sa’ of dates or an equal measure of barley. And concerning the underprivileged, he said, “Save them today (eid) from walking around on an empty stomach.” (Ibn Saad, I, 248)
If given before the salat of eid, the charity of fitr fulfils its purpose and is accepted. But if given after the salat, then though it is accepted as charity, does not count as fitr.
Anas -Allah be well-pleased with him- explains:
“At the time when the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- arrived in Medina, the locals observed two festivals during which they held celebrations. The Prophet of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- then inquired as to the significance of these two festivals. ‘It was these two days we used to celebrate in the days of ignorance’, they replied.
‘Allah has replaced your two festivals with another two better than them’, then said the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- . ‘Adha and Ramadan!’” (Abu Dawud, Salat, 239/1134; Nasai, Iydayn, 1)
After leading the eid salat for the first time on the 10th of Dhilhijjah, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- ordered Muslims to slaughter stock for sacrifice. In his ten year stay in Medina, the Noble Messenger observed the sacrifice of eid every year. Each year he would offer two sacrifices; one on behalf of the members of his ummah who lacked the means to do so, and the other for himself and his family.
Hanash -Allah be well-pleased with him- narrates:
“I saw Ali -Allah be well-pleased with him- slaughter two rams for sacrifice. When I asked him the reason, he replied, ‘before passing away, the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- requested me to offer sacrifice on his behalf, too. So I’m slaughtering another to fulfill his request and will continue to do so each year.’” (Abu Dawud, Adahi, 1-2/2790; Ahmad, I, 107)
From the fajr salat of the eve of the eid of Adha until the asr salat of the fourth day of the eid, a total of twenty-three salats, all Muslims, male or female, residents or travelers, whether offering individually or communally, are required (wajib) to say the takbir’ut-tashriq:
Shortly after the charity of fitr, there came the command for alms or zakat. The Quran proclaims:
“And in their wealth the beggar and the outcast had due share.” (adh-Dhariyat, 19)
“…who are active in deeds of charity.” (al-Muminun, 4)
“Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray for them; surely your prayer is a relief to them…” (at-Tawba, 103)
Zakat is mentioned twenty-six times in the Quran alongside salat and four times on its own. Among the latter is the ayah in surah al-Muminun, which although is given mention independent of salat, is only a continuing praise of Believers who uphold their salats. The reason for this joint reference is that among all deeds of worship, physical or financial, it is these two that are the most essential and are of equal importance. A hadith in fact declares:
“There is no goodness in the salat of one, who does not give alms despite offering salat.” (Haythami, III, 62)
Alms cannot be accepted by corporate entities such as schools or hospitals, insofar as its receival remains the right of the eight groups of people determined by the Almighty. Given they do receive zakat, such corporations may not spend it for any other cause than for the basic needs of the underprivileged. They may only use it on, say, needy students or those seeking knowledge simply for the pleasure of Allah, glory unto Him, and therefore devoid of the means to work for their living. Among the prerequisites of zakat is to give where it may best cover the basic needs (hawaij-i asliyya) of the underprivileged who cannot make ends meet, and to do adequate research to ascertain people in such conditions. Corporations given the duty of acting as mediums in delivering zakat must therefore approach this issue with utmost sensitivity, lest they are held responsible in the sight of the Almighty.
The Quran classifies the rightful recipients of zakat as follows:
“Alms are only for the poor and the needy, and the officials (appointed) over them, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth) and the (ransoming of) captives and those in debts and in the way of Allah and the wayfarer; an ordinance from Allah; and Allah is knowing, Wise.” (at-Tawba, 60)
Corporate entities like foundations and associations may thus only receive zakat on the condition that they deliver to any one of these eight groups. This is something of tremendous importance.
Upon receiving the Divine proclamation concerning alms, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- had a manuscript written, spelling out which commodities came under zakat, of what ratio they were to be given and the minimum amount of wealth needed for obligation, which he then tied to his sword. He had the manuscript by his side till the day he breathed his last and acted in strict accordance with it. Both Abu Bakr and Omar -Allah be well-pleased with them- followed the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- to the letter.
Zakat is interwoven with numerous individual and social reasons of wisdom. Building a barrier against the probable transgressions of the rich who may come under the spell of their wealth, preventing the needy from fostering feelings of dissent against the rich, safeguarding social harmony and bonding its members together with love, are just to cite a few. In the Islamic social order, the deeds of zakat and infaq, or charity, are the keystones in maintaining balance and love between the rich and the poor.
Another wisdom underlying alms and charity is to thwart individual capital from excess growth and thereby protect the poor from exploitation before it ever happens and to eradicate the potential growth of hatred and dissent. Richness, taken as a means for pride and conceit, is only the precursor of a pitiful end awaiting the rich. The truth is that all members of a society, both the helpers and the helped, stand in a physical and spiritual need for each other.
It should be remembered that, in the absolute sense, wealth belongs only to Allah, glory unto Him. The power human beings exercise over wealth is analogous to time-sharing which has become fashionable of late. Simpler put, wealth is a trust handed over only temporarily by the Almighty. The manner of its use is therefore bound by certain Divine measures. It should be put to use appropriate to the way commanded by its True Owner. Used defiantly against Divine commands, wealth becomes the ultimate means of driving one to deviation through conceit and indulgence in injustice. The love of wealth becomes entrenched in the heart of people steered into this tragic path. Among all the blessings on earth, the fact that Allah, glory unto Him, mentions only wealth and children as causes of fitna, or tribulation, is due to the ease with which they enter the heart and become idolized therein. Against those who have fallen in the depths of this misery, the Almighty delivers the below warning:
“…and (as for) those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah’s way, announce to them a painful chastisement! On the day when it shall be heated in the fire of hell, then their foreheads and their sides and their backs shall be branded with it; this is what you hoarded up for yourselves, therefore taste what you hoarded.” (at-Tawba, 34-35)
The pitiful plight of those who neglect giving their zakat is also illustrated by the Noble Messenger -upon him blessings and peace- :
“‘Each piece of gold or silver whose alms were not given on Earth shall be heated in the Hereafter and brought in the form of a panel to their owners, and be used to scald their sides, foreheads and backs. Each time they cool down, they will be reheated to continue the punishment. This will continue for a day equivalent to fifty-thousand years, until the verdicts of mankind are given. In the end, the person will see his path lead either to Paradise or Hell.’
‘What about the camels whose alms are withheld?’ the Companions present then asked.
‘Each camel owner who does not pay their camels’ due –and that includes milking them at waterheads and giving it to the needy- will be made to lie down on a straight, vast field,’ replied the Messenger of Allah -upon him blessings and peace- . ‘With not even a single calf left back, the camels will then come in their fleshiest conditions, and stomp on the person with their hoofs and gnaw away at him with their teeth. Once they are done, the other camels will follow. This will continue for a day equivalent to fifty-thousand years, until the verdicts of mankind are given. In the end, the person will see his path lead either to Paradise or Hell.’
When the Companions posed another question regarding the fate of cattle and sheep owners, the Blessed Prophet -upon him blessings and peace- gave similar responses.” (Muslim, Zakat, 24; Bukhari, Jihad, 48)
A polite approach when giving charity and alms, is just as important. One needs to abstain from behavior that could annul these deeds altogether, like insults or offering from low quality goods. The benefactor, especially, needs to be in a grateful state of mind towards the receiver, for providing him with an opportunity to fulfill an obligatory duty he otherwise would not have been able to fulfill. Charities at the same time act as impenetrable shields protecting the benefactor against illness and misfortune. The underprivileged are in fact a great blessing for the rich, for it is their prayers that open the gates of Paradise.
Spelling out the appropriate manners to adopt when giving charity is the ayah below:
“As for those who spend their property in the way of Allah, then do not follow up what they have spent with reproach or injury, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve. Kind speech and forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury; and Allah is Self-sufficient, Forbearing. O you who believe! Do not make your charity worthless by reproach and injury, like him who spends his property to be seen of men and does not believe in Allah and the last day…” (al-Baqara, 262-264)
 Ibn Saad, I, 248.
 A sa’ is a volumetric scale that can fit approximately 1040 dirhams of wheat or barley. According to the shari dirham, a sa’ weighs 2,917 kgs, and 3,333 kgs according to the customary dirham.
 Bukhari, Zakat, 70-78; Muslim, Zakat, 13.
 Ibn Maja, Zekât, 21.
 Ibn Saad, I, 248-249.
 Abû Dawud, Adahi, 3-4/2792; Ibn Saad, I, 249.
 Muwatta, Hajj, 205.
 See, Tawba, 60.
 Bukhari, Zakat, 38; Ahmad, II, 14.