His Generosity


How was the generosity of prophet muhammad? What is the generotisy in islam?

“Those who (in Charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” (al-Baqara 2; 274)

Generosity is conveyed in Arabic with the words of “saha” and “jud.” It is a high moral quality which ensures a person to help the needy out of his/her means for the sake of Allah the Almighty. Muslim scholars express that generosity has different manifestations depending upon the state of the heart and grade it as follows:

  • Sahawat which means to give part of one’s property and it constitutes the lowest level of generosity.
  • Jud which denotes, just as Abu Bakr (r.a.) did, to distribute most of one’s property and to leave behind only a small amount of it.
  • And I’sar which means to give up something which is needed by the owner and endure the loss and hardship that occurs from giving it up.

Good morals such as kindness, forgiveness, munificence, helping and giving charity to friends and relatives are the distinct characteristics of a generous person. What is important here is not the action itself but the intention and the reason which leads to generosity. Therefore, generous contributions, which are done out of vanity or pride, do not mean anything because of the insincere intentions. True generosity is the one done for the sake of Allah and out of piety.

Generosity is one of the attributes of Allah, for one of His names is “al-Karim” (al-Infitar 82; 6) meaning the One who is very kind and endlessly generous towards His servants. In addition, other Divine names such as al-Rahman (Most Gracious), al-Rahim (Most Benevolent), al-Wahhab (The Bestower), al-Latif (The Subtly Kind), al-Tawwab (The Ever Relenting), al-Ghaffar (The Forgiving), al-Afuww (The Effacer), al-Rauf (The Pitying), and al-Hadi (The Guide) prove Allah’s generosity from different perspectives. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said that:

“Allah the Almighty is Jawad, or He is Generous and Kind; therefore He loves generosity. He also loves good morals and dislikes bad morals.” (Suyuti, I, 60) Again in a similar saying, the Prophet (pbuh) calls Allah the Almighty as Jawad:

“Indeed Allah is Good and He loves good and pleasant; He is Clean and he loves cleanliness; He is Kind and loves kindness; He is Jawad and loves generosity.” (Tirmidhi, Adab, 41)

These Divine Names show that the most perfect state of generosity belongs to Allah the Almighty; because He knows what every creation in the universe needs and how much when they need it, so He bestows upon them properly. Since He also does not need anything or anybody and is free from deficiencies, He does not need anything in return for His blessings. In Ibn Arabi’s words, “when there was no creation, Allah the Almighty did the most generous action and created the creation.”

The Most Generous Allah orders His servants to get shares from these Divine Names and to become characterized by the same moral qualities. Allah the Almighty states in the Qur’an:

 “O you who believe! Spend out of the bounties We have provided for you, before the day comes when no bargaining will avail, nor friendship nor intercession. Those who reject faith are the wrongdoers.” (al-Baqara 2; 254)

In this verse, Allah the Almighty expresses that generosity can be performed only during the life in this world. When the time comes and the doors of opportunities are closed, servants will not have the chance to do generous actions; because the afterlife is not the place of earning but the place of getting accountable for. This verse also points out that generosity will protect humans from all kinds of hardships, sadness, and grief in the Hereafter. Those who do not act accordingly will do the greatest harm to themselves for they are ungrateful for the blessings of Allah the Almighty.

In some other verses, generosity is likened to trade and is regarded as the best loan given to Allah the Almighty:

“Who is he that will lend unto Allah a goodly loan that He may double it for him and he shall have an excellent reward?” (al-Hadid 57; 11)

This good loan (qard hasan) asked by Allah the Almighty from His servants should be given sincerely and from the part of the property which may satisfy the needs. Giving loans to the needy, giving them enough time for payment, treating the loaner nicely and even donating the debt if it is necessary are all included in the meaning of qard hasan. Another verse in this regard is as follows:

“And if (the debtor) is in straitened circumstances, then let there be postponement until (he is in) ease; and that you remit (the debt) as alms would be better for you, if you knew.” (al-Baqara 2; 280)

Expressing that generous people are among the people whom can be coveted, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Do not wish to be like anyone except in two cases. (The first is) A person, whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously; (the second is) the one whom Allah has given wisdom (the Holy Qur’an) and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.” (Bukhari, ‘Ilm, 15)

Property and wealth only belong to Allah and He is the Bestower of the blessings. The poor and the needy have their right in these blessings. This is why the most decent action for a believer is to spend the wealth on the path of its real Owner. The feeling of generosity comes from this belief, too.

Generosity has many great worldly and otherworldly consequences. First of all, Allah the Almighty loves His generous servants and makes His other servants love them, too. Consequently, generous people get close to Heaven and away from Hell. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) stated that:

“A generous person is close to Allah, to Paradise, to other people, and is away from the Hell fire; whereas a stingy person is away from Allah, away from Paradise, away from people and is close to the Hell fire. The generous but illiterate is more endearing to Allah the Almighty than the stingy that is observant of his/her religious duties.” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 40) This is why it is reported that Allah the Almighty will not befriend the miserly, foolish, and arrogant people.

The Prophet (pbuh) showed the highest form of generosity in knowledge, in his wealth, and in his life for the sake of his ummah. He taught his followers different kinds of generosity through his actions such as conveying the religion of Allah, giving advice to the illiterate, feeding the hungry, taking care of the needs of the deprived, and enduring the troubles of the people. Abdullah b. Abbas (r.a.) talks about the generosity of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) as follows:

“Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was the most generous of people in charity, but he was generous to the utmost in the month of Ramadan. Gabriel (pbuh) would meet him every year during the month of Ramadan until it ended, and Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) recited to him the Qur’an; and when Gabriel met him Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was most generous in giving charity like the blowing wind.” (Muslim, Fadail, 50)

Mawlana Khalid al-Baghdadi (q.s.) makes the following statements about the generosity of the Prophet (pbuh):

“He (pbuh) was such a great generous person that because of the generosity which came forth from his existence, a pearl comes out from the seas; a ruby comes out from hard rock; and a rose comes out from the thorns. If his good morals are talked about in a garden, you cannot see a single bud which does not smile or transform into a rose.” (Diwan, p. 65-66)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) would not want to keep extra property in his possession and would donate the things that were more than needed. In fact, once Umar (r.a.), who informed us in this respect, entered his son’s house and joined him for a meal. When he noticed a taste of oil in addition to a taste of fat in the meal, he said: “these two never came together on the table of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). He would eat one and give the other one as charity.” And he refused to eat the meal. (Ibn Majah, at’imah, 57)

When something was asked from the Prophet (pbuh), he would never say “I do not have it.” (Bukhari, Adab, 39) Hasan b. Thabit (r.a.) praised the Prophet (pbuh) and tried to explain this side of him in one of his poems as follows:

“He would never say “لا” or “No” except in declaration of his faith.٭ If it were not in the declaration of faith, the word “لا” or “No” would not be heard from him.” (Baghdadi, IX, 210)

When something was asked from the Prophet (pbuh) but if he did not have anything, he would borrow it and then give it to the needy. One day someone came to Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) and asked for something. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) told him: “I do not have anything with me to give you, go and buy something on my behalf. When my goods come, I will pay it.” Umar, who was not content with putting Allah’s Messenger into hardship, said:

“O Messenger of Allah! If you have something with you, then you can give it in charity. Allah has not made you responsible for something you cannot afford.” The signs of discontentment from Umar’s words could be seen in the face of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh). Upon this a companion from Ansar said:

“May my mother and father be sacrificed for you O Messenger of Allah! Give. Do not be afraid for the owner of the universe would reduce His blessings.” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was pleased to hear these words, smiled and said:

“I have been ordered to do so.” (Haythami, X, 242)

The generosity of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was far more than this. When he saw a needy who could not ask for anything because of their modesty, but their needs were obvious from their appearance, he would again help them as much as he could even if it was at the cost of borrowing. Bilal (r.a.) describes this characteristic of the Prophet as follows:

“When a Muslim man came to him and he found that he was in need, he would order me to help him. I would go, borrow some money, and purchase some food and clothes for him. Then I would clothe and feed him.” (Abu Dawud, Haraj, 33, 35)

The poet elegantly expresses the high level of the generosity of Allah’s Messenger as follows:

“If he did not have anything but his life; he would give it, too;

This is why the person who asks from him should fear Allah.”

Hasan b. Thabit describes the Prophet (pbuh) in one of his odes as: “Even at times of hardship which prevents generosity, he would generously give what he has, be it income or inheritance.” Perhaps the following lines of another poet best describe the Messenger of Allah:

“If someone likens you to the clouds in generosity, he makes a mistake in his praises. Because clouds give and cry, but you give and smile.”

When we learn his level of generosity, we can clearly understand why Allah the Almighty called him the most kind and merciful in the Holy Qur’an (al-Tawbah 9; 128). Our Prophet (pbuh), who carried endless mercy for all of humanity in his heart, always looked after the people around him and kindly helped those in need without hurting their feelings. We may see an example of his endless generosity and benevolence in one of his transactions with Jabir (r.a.). When they were returning from the Battle of Dhatur Riqa’ Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was chatting with Jabir (r.a.). During their conversation, the Prophet (pbuh) learned that Jabir (r.a.) was newly wedded and he owed people a lot of money. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) asked Jabir (r.a.) if he had any goods to sell. Jabir (r.a.) said that he had only a camel. Upon this Allah’s Messenger asked Jabir (r.a.) to sell the camel to him in order to relieve him from the burden of his loans. Jabir (r.a.) sold his camel on the condition that he would ride his camel until they reached Medina. When they arrived at Medina, Jabir (r.a.) went to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to deliver the camel. He, then, witnessed an incident, which made him very happy and amazed other people. Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) both paid the camel’s price and gave the camel back to Jabir as a present. (Bukhari, Jihad, 49; Buyu’, 34; Muslim, Musakat, 109)

Jabir (r.a.) narrates that:

“When the Prophet (pbuh) paid my camel’s price and then gave it back to me, I met a Jew whom I had known. I told him about this incident. He was astonished and he kept saying that “he really both paid the price and then gave the camel back to you?” And I told him “Yes, he did.”” (Ibn Hanbal, III, 303)

In that transaction, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) aimed to relieve Jabir (r.a.) from his burden and pretended like he was making a trade. He also gave Jabir (r.a.) more than the market price for his camel. This incident had such an impressive place in the hearts of the believers that that night has taken its place in the memories as “laylat al-ba’ir” or “the night of the camel.”

Here is another exemplary incident that shows the endless generosity of the Prophet (pbuh). Safwan b. Uyaynah, one of the prominent members of Quraish, was with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in the battles of Hunain and Taif even though he had not been converted to Islam. When Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) was walking and checking around the war booty gathered in Jiranah, Safwan was with him. He was admiringly looking at the valley filled with camels, sheep, and shepherds. Allah’s Messenger was watching him and then asked Safwan:

“O Abu Wahb! Do you like this valley?” He replied:

“Yes, I do.” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) told him:

“Then this valley and everything in it are yours.” Upon this Safwan could not help saying that:

“Nobody’s heart except the prophets can be so generous.” And he converted to Islam by pronouncing the proclamation of faith (shahadah). (Waqidi, II, 854-55) Then he went back to Quraish and told them,

“O my people! Embrace Islam. By Allah, Muhammad donates so much without fearing to fall in need and poverty.” (Muslim, Fadail, 57-58)

It can be easily seen in the above mentioned examples how little wealth was worth for the Prophet (pbuh). He would not keep the wealth he had, be it a valley filled with riches or a single dirham as it was narrated by Bilal (r.a.), and he would not feel comfortable until donating it to a needy. (Abu Dawud, Haraj, 33, 35) In Bilal’s report, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) did not even want to hold two dirhams that he had and said that he was going to stay in the mosque and was not going home until donating them to people. Because he could not find needy people to accept his donation, he stayed in the mosque for two days. (Ibn Hibban, XIV, 262-264)

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) warned his companions whenever he felt a weakness in their feelings of benevolence and encouraged them to be generous. One day the Prophet (pbuh) went to the land of the sons of Amr b. Awf. He said:

“O the community of Ansar!” They replied:

“O Messenger of Allah! Tell us what is it?”

“You were placing yourselves under heavy burden, giving to the needy, and helping the wayfarers even before you were worshipping Allah in the Age of Ignorance. Have you begun to put and protect your wealth in castles after Allah gave you Islam and His Messenger? There are spiritual rewards for the sons of Adam because of what the animals and birds eat.”

Upon this, the sons of Awf stood and immediately went to their date gardens and each one of them opened thirty gates on the wall around their gardens. (Hakim, IV, 148) It was because Allah the Almighty says in the Qur’an:

“Say: Verily my Lord enlarges and restricts the Sustenance to such of His servants as He pleases: and nothing do you spend in the least (in His Cause) but He replaces it: for He is the Best of those who grant Sustenance.” (Saba’ 34; 39)

Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), whom Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) presented to us as guiding stars to follow, manifested many exemplary and magnificent deeds in respect to generosity. Uqba b. Amr (r.a.) says that:

“When the verses of charity were revealed, we used to work as porters and give our earnings as charity. A man came and distributed objects of charity in abundance. And the hypocrites said, “He is showing off.” And another man came and gave one sa’ (a small measure of food grains) of dates; they said, “Allah is not in need of this small amount of charity.” And then the Divine Revelation came: “Those who slander such of the Believers as give themselves freely to (deeds of) Charity, as well as such as can find nothing to give except the fruits of their labor, and throw ridicule on them, Allah will throw back their ridicule on them: and they shall have a grievous penalty.” (al-Tawba 9; 79)” (Bukhari, Zakat, 10; Muslim, Zakat, 72)

From the different versions of this tradition we find out that the one who donated in abundance was Abdurrahman b. Awf (r.a.) He donated four thousand dirham, which was half of his wealth; While Abu Aqil al-Ansari was the one who donated only one sa’ of dates. In return for two sa’ of dates he had drawn water all night. He brought one of them to the Prophet (pbuh) for the sake of Allah and kept the other at home for his family. What hypocrites could not stand was that all companions, rich and poor, were willingly bringing half of their earnings or wealth to the Prophet (pbuh). Even though the amount of charity in the two incidents varies, the level of sacrifice was the same.

Ottoman civilization is also known as the “civilization of endowments” because of the generosity, hospitality, and benevolence of the Ottomans. Instead of leaving behind palaces, mansions, and wealth they left social institutions, like caravansaries, bath houses, mosques, fountains, madrasas, and dervish lodges, for the future generations. Thus, they put the seal of Islam on the lands where they lived. They generously spent their wealth for the happiness of humanity and they considered to serve the creation as to serve the Creator. Their feeling of benevolence was so advanced that they used to compete with each other to host their guests. The following experience of the famous Tunisian traveler Ibn Battuta, who travelled the entire Anatolia in the fourteenth century, is a remarkable example in this respect. While travelling in Anatolia, Ibn Battuta and his friends stopped at the city of Denizli, which was known at the time as Ladik:

“As we entered the city, we saw some people, who went out their shops and pulled the reins of our horses. Another group came and stopped them. They began to argue. Then their argument got worse and they took out their knives. We began to feel scared for we did not understand their language. We thought they were from the principality of Garmiyan known by banditry. And we began to feel concerned about our lives and possessions. Then Allah the Almighty sent us a man who went to pilgrimage and knew Arabic. I asked him what these people wanted. He told us that these men were ahis (a sufi group whose members are called ahi meaning brother). The first group was the disciples of Ahi Sinan and the second one were the followers of Ahi Duman. They were arguing because each group wanted to host us in their own lodge. It was impossible not to admire their hospitality. Finally, they agreed upon drawing lots and the winner was going to host us. Ahi Sinan’s dervishes won the drawing. When Ahi Sinan heard this, he came out to welcome us with some of his disciples. We stayed in his lodge. They presented us all sorts of foods. After resting for a while, Ahi Sinan took us to the bath house and he personally served me. Three or four of his disciples were serving one of my friends. After taking a bath, they prepared another table for us. We listened to the recitation of the Qur’an and together we chanted the names of Allah. The following day we saw Ahi Duman’s dervishes coming to take us to their lodge. There, too, we were met by all kinds of generosity.” (Ibn Batuta, p. 305-306)

The following quotation from the Turkish poet Hâlide Nusret Zorlutuna’s article, published in the İslâm Mecmuası in 1956 (no. 7, p. 21), about the Ottomans’ perception of generosity is a nice example:

“In old times – in fact it is not so old, for about forty years ago – there were small, modest, and clean houses next to our great mansions. Low-income families, retirees, old people, widows, and orphans would peacefully and prosperously live in these houses. Yes, prosperously! Because, some of the supplies for the winter and for the month of Ramadan carried to the mansion by cars used to be secretly taken to these little houses. In order to protect the self-respect of those people, special attention was given to secrecy. Our grandmothers used to say: “The left hand should not know what the right hand gives.” Like people do these days, they would not announce what they did by publishing the pictures of dressed up poor children.

Let’s assume in a little house a young girl is getting married. The unseen hand of “the charitable organization” of the district, motivated by Islamic and humanitarian feelings, would immediately take action by itself. There was neither a president nor a vice president or secretary of this organization. Because, they were not “volunteers in appearance” but “volunteers in essence.” Serving the servants of Allah for His sake and relieving them from their burdens, and achieving their happiness and welfare were their only object. These unseen hands, which acted secretly by themselves, would disappear as soon as their job was done. Meanwhile, the orphan girl of the district would be married in a wedding ceremony just like the ceremony of a girl with living parents.

New mothers, the sick, and families of the deceased would be taken care of – and always with its solemn secrecy – by this organization. Additionally, it would always bring in time the provisions for the poor families and eid (holiday) attires for their children in the month of Ramadan…”

As seen in those examples, generosity is one of the most significant characteristics of a Muslim. It is impossible to imagine for a believer not to be generous, because faith and stinginess can never come together in the same heart. The following narration of Anas (r.a.) expresses the same point:

“A man had died. Someone said loudly as Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) could hear: “May Paradise be a blessing for him!” Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) asked: “How do you know (that he will be in Paradise)? Maybe he had spoken useless and meaningless talks or maybe he had shown stinginess even in so small amounts that would not decrease his wealth.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 11)

In another saying, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) informed us about the sorrowful end of the meager both in this world and the Hereafter. Jabir b. Abdullah reported that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said: “Be on your guard against committing oppression, for oppression is a darkness on the Day of Resurrection, and be on your guard against stinginess for stinginess destroyed those who were before you, as it incited them to shed blood and make lawful what was unlawful for them.” (Muslim, Birr, 11.) For this reason, if stinginess exists in a believer’s nature, he/she should do everything to abandon it and replace it with generosity; because generosity is one of the qualities which will be most beneficial in the afterlife. Generosity constitutes the spirit of alms and charity. Disciplining the inner self can also be possible through generosity. The ways to achieve this are to make donations even in times of need, to forgive those who oppressed, and to show patience before the situations which are not liked, thinking of its rewards in the Hereafter.

Generosity is one of the most important parts of praised morality, which is necessary for the soundness of our personal and social life both in this world and in the Hereafter. As it was stated by Imam Ghazali: “Contentment not greed should be the character of those who do not have much wealth; while, generosity not stinginess should be the quality of the wealthy.”

٭ That is “I witness that there is no god but Allah.”

Source: An Excellent Exemplar, Osman Nuri Topbaş,  Erkam Publications

The Human Reality