What is the sovereignty of Allah? What does sovereignty mean in islam?
The Almighty gives Solomon (as) as an example as a prophet of means, who kept all the riches of the world he was given, out of his heart. If entire mankind was to come together with the aim of making just a single person as rich as Solomon (as), they could still never succeed. That is because Solomon (as) had command over winds, wild animals, unruly devils and demons. Yet, despite all this wealth, Solomon (as) kept company with the poor and forlorn, saying:
“I am a poor man! And it is best I keep company with my like!”
Rumi (qs) beautifully explains the spiritual gains to be had from being in the company of the poor:
“Hearts drowned by poverty and need are like a house filled with smoke. Listen to their problems and lend a helping hand, so that you open up a window inside that house for the smoke the leave and for your heart to become refined!”
This state of mind has no better expression than charity. Giving charity is also to thank the Lord for one’s means and wealth. The Lord pledges that wealth is, in fact, increased by charity:
“If you are grateful, I will surely increase you in blessing.” (Ibrahim, 14: 7)
The Prophet (saw) loved donating. He has said:
“Son of Adam! Give so that you will be given!” (Bukhari, Tafsir, 11/2)
The Prophet (saw) wished for generosity to became the nature of all Muslims. He has stated:
“Only two people merit envy. A person who Allah has given has given wealth and the ability to spend it in His way; and a person who Allah has given knowledge and the ability to practice and teach others (i.e. a person who donates his knowledge).” (Bukhari, Ilm, 15; Muslim, Musafirin, 266-268)
The Qur’an declares:
“O mankind! You are the ones who stand in need of Allah. And Allah, He is the Sufficient, the Praiseworthy.” (Fatir, 35: 15)
As understood by the verse, sovereignty –including power and wealth- belongs neither to individuals nor society. Sovereignty is Allah’s (jj) alone. All beings live on the Almighty’s property and survive through the things He gives. All individuals have is a limited use of wealth for a set period of time.
Wealth, property and rank are the greatest means of a trial. A time came when Solomon (as) had his entire kingdom taken away; and he could only regain it through repentance. In light of this, the below advice from a saint has great meaning and wisdom:
“Do not chase after provisions, but chase after the Provider!”
It is narrated that upon seeing the splendour of Solomon’s (as) kingdom, the ant leader told his fellow ants:
“How magnificent is Solomon’s kingdom!”
Solomon (as) heard that and remarked:
“My kingdom is fleeting; but the kingdom brought by the word of God’s oneness is eternal!” He well knew that true sovereignty and kingdom belonged only to Allah (jj).
The Qur’an declares:
“Whoever seeks honor, know that honor entirely belongs to Allah.” (Fatir, 35: 10)
“There is none in the heavens and the earth that is not a servant to the Merciful.” (Maryam, 19: 93)
“To Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and Allah has power over all things.” (Al-i Imran, 3: 189)
“Say, ‘O Allah, Master of all sovereignty! You give sovereignty to whomever You wish, and strip sovereignty of whomever You wish. You make mighty whomever You wish, and You abase whomever You wish. All good is in Your hand. You certainly have power over all things.” (Al-i Imran, 3: 26)
“You make the night pass into day and the day pass into night. You bring forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living. And You provide for whomever You wish without any reckoning.” (Al-i Imran, 3: 27)
These verses show that the real kingdom on earth lies in remembering Allah (jj), serving His creatures and donating in His cause.
Charity, which the Qur’an mentions on more than 200 occasions, is to devote both the wealth and the self to Allah (jj). In other words, it is to spend the blessings Allah (jj) has given, in His way. In this sense, a Muslim is a person who has devoted all his existence to Allah (jj).
The first fruit of faith is mercy. A heart distant from mercy cannot be considered alive. Both the basmala and Al-Fatihah, which are the keys to all things good, begin with the divine names Rahman and Rahim, signifying Allah’s (jj) mercy and compassion. Consummate examples of mercy and compassion are also embodied in the lives of prophets and saints.
The Prophet (saw) invites believers to develop a mercy that envelops all creatures:
“Allah (jj) shows mercy to those who show mercy. Have mercy on those on earth, so those in the sky have mercy on you!” (Tirmidhi, Birr, 16; Abu Dawud, Adab, 58)
Mercy best shows itself in giving charity, which, as servants, is also our duty.
A serious campaign of charity is needed in our society, where feelings of brotherhood have faded, and peace and serenity have made way for hate and hostility. We should bear in mind that those suffering and in need, could well have been us. What we donate to them, is therefore a thanks we owe to the Lord.
When listing the traits of righteous people, the Almighty adds:
“…and they spend out of what We have provided for them.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 3)
Sadaqah and infaq, which are Arabic terms for charity in general, come in many types.
Charity begins with donating what is unneeded. For those without means, even half a date is wonderful charity. It is the genuine intent behind it that will protect the provider from hellfire.
The Prophet (saw) wants mercy, compassion and their natural outcome, charity, to become part of every Muslim’s nature. From that perspective, he considers all believers rich. In fact, in many hadith, he tells us that all good deeds like encouraging the good, forbidding evil, helping the oppressed, consoling the dejected, comforting the needy, removing harmful obstacles off streets, visiting the ill and even putting on a smile, are types of charity.
True wealth, therefore, lies in a contented heart. People are rich only to the extent they are content. A smile from a person with a rich heart, counts as charity. That is because his smile reflects a ray of the peace, love and tranquillity within his heart, to those around; and what a splendid donation this is. In contrast, nothing could enrich a person who is poor at heart.
This means that true wealth lies not in money or property but rather a content heart. True believers are those whose richness of heart shows in what they donate. Charity is a perfect manifestation of a sensitivity and selflessness that all believers are obliged to have.
An evocative case in point is provided by Haris ibn Hisham (ra), Iqrimah ibn Abi Jahl (ra) and Iyash ibn Abi Rabia (ra), who were all martyred during the Battle of Yarmouk. These heroes of Islam lay side by side on scorching sand and were parched with thirst, when in their dying moments they were offered a glass of water. But each of them passed it on, thinking the other needed the water more. In the end, they all ended up drinking from the cup of martyrdom, before they could ever have a sip of water. The glass of water was left untouched. (Hakim, Mustadrak, III, 270)
The above represent the pinnacle of charity referred to as isar or altruism, which is to prefer the needs of a brother over one’s own.
The Almighty declares:
“Those who spend in ease and adversity, suppress their anger, and excuse the faults of the people. And Allah loves the virtuous.” (Al-i Imran, 3: 134)
It is narrated that Jafar Al-Sadiq had a slave, who did his household chores. One day, the slave brought a bowl of soup and accidentally spilled it all over Jafar Al-Sadiq. He ended up with soup all over him; and for a moment, looked at the slave with anger. The slave then said:
“Sir, the Qur’an praises those who suppress their anger!” and recited the relevant verse.
“Then, I have suppressed my anger”, assured Jafar.
“Sir, the same verse also praises those who excuse the faults of people” the slave said before reciting the relevant part.
“Sure thing”, said Jafar. “I have forgiven you!”
The slave added, “The rest of that verse says ‘Allah loves the virtuous’”, and recited the remainder of the verse.
Jafar Al-Sadiq then declared:
“In that case, go! From now on, you are free! I have set you free for the sake of Allah!”
These are wonderful cases of charity for believers to follow.
The Prophet (saw) tells us that a sinful woman will be admitted to paradise only for giving water to a dog panting heavily from thirst. In contrast, another woman will end up in hell only for mistreating her cat and ignoring its hunger. (Bukhari, Anbiya, 54; Muslim, Salam, 151-152)
All these are examples laden with lessons capable of setting our hearts straight.
Like the moon lighting up a dark night, a believer must be selfless, sensitive, kind, merciful, compassionate and generous.
Allah (jj) informs us that to get closer to Him, we must donate out of the things we love:
“You will never attain birr until you spend out of what you hold dear, and whatever you may spend of anything, Allah indeed knows it.” (Al-i Imran, 3: 92)
Scholars interpret the term birr as the pinnacle of goodness, the mercy of Allah (jj) and His paradise. In another verse, the Almighty defines it as:
“Birr is not to turn your faces to the east or the west. Rather, it is personified by those who have faith in Allah and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets, and who give their wealth, for the love of Him, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, the beggar and the slave; and maintain the prayer and give alms; and those who true to their promise, patient in stress, distress, and in the heat of battle. They are the ones who are true. And it is they who are the pious.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 177)
As is defined in the verse, the term birr includes all the superior traits a believer must embody. The Prophet (saw) points to this when he says:
“Whoever puts this verse into action will have perfected his faith.” (Nasafi, Madariqu’l-Tanzil, I, 249)
A waqf is charity, both spiritual and material, that has come into life in an institution. A waqf is an endowment, where altruism towards all beings -which every Muslim must have- becomes manifest. It is an establishment in which love, mercy, compassion towards the created for the sake of the Creator, are put on display. The Almighty says all things are a trust. Everything in the universe has been entrusted in man’s care; and they include children, wealth, possession and health. Man must be rigorously sensitive in protecting them. Returning a trust intact is also means to receive mercy and blessings.
The previously mentioned dialogue between Solomon (as) and a sparrow contains an important lesson in highlighting the sensitivity that must be shown to waqfs. It is especially vital for those who serve in endowments to take heed.
The secret to acquiring wealth lies in the hadith, “The best of men are those with most benefit to others” (Suyuti, al-Jamiu’s-Saghir, II, 8). It must be remembered that money belongs in the wallet, not the heart! A wise poet vividly illustrates how negligent man is in relation to the world:
The vile earth is but a hostel
Whether you live in a mansion or rubble
But I’m lovesick without cure for my trouble
For I have built a home inside a hostel
It must be known that for people of wealth and power, the prayers of the poor and weak are means of mercy. It must also be known there is no shame in being needy. It could perhaps be part of a deeper wisdom and grace that could shine an eternal light on the person in the hereafter.
Umayyah ibn Khalid (ra) narrates that the Prophet (saw) used to pray Allah (jj) to help and give Muslims victory for the sake of the poor immigrants from Mecca. (Tabarani, Mujamu’l-Kabir, I, 292)
Abu’d-Darda (ra) also remembers the Prophet (saw) saying:
“Call the poor to me…for you are only helped and fed through their prayers!” (Abu Dawud, Jihad, 70; Ibn Hanbal, V, 198)
Human beings are the most honourable of all creation. Differences that exist between individuals like being strong or weak, healthy or ill, knowledgeable or ignorant, rich or poor are only there to ensure social order and harmony.
Wealth and poverty, which occupy an important place among these divisions, refer to opposite economic conditions. Being rich or poor contains a deep and delicate divine wisdom that serves the whole purpose of man’s trial. Thus, being rich is not an honour, just as being poor is not a shame. Both are divine allotments, and reflections of a wise divine decree. The Almighty declares:
“Is it they who dispense the mercy of your Lord? It is We who have dispensed them their livelihood in this life, and raised some of them above others in rank, so that some may take others into service. Your Lord’s mercy is better than what they amass.” (Al-Zukhruf, 43: 32)
Alms, or zakat, has many wisdoms. It serves to curb possible transgressions by the rich who have a soft spot for wealth, remove feelings of resentment and hate from the poor before these ever take hold of their hearts, protect social life and connect individuals to one another through love. Thus, Islam has made alms compulsory for all Muslims with means. Alms and charity are key in striking a balance between the rich and the poor, and allowing love to flourish between them.
The rich will answer to Allah (jj) on how they earnt and spent their money, as well as whether they observed their duty of giving alms, donations and putting their wealth to good use. The rich are subjected to a great test, as they are obliged to spare a portion of their wealth for the poor. Yet, if they pass this test along with the others, they will attain the Lord’s pleasure and a place in paradise.
The poor will also answer to Allah (jj) on whether they were able to avoid impatience, complaining, voicing unnecessary requests, being a burden on people, being spiteful, jealous or rebellious and if they kept away from selling their morals and honor for material gains. If they pass these questions, then their troubles on earth will transform to eternal bliss.
Both the generous rich and the patient poor are honored and shareholders of divine pleasure. With that said, Islam also berates the rich, who are conceited and miserly, and the poor, who are impatient and rebellious against divine will. Thus, both wealth and poverty are great tests. It is for that reason the Prophet (saw) would pray:
“My Lord…I seek your protection from the disaster of poverty and wealth!” (Bukhari, Daawat, 45)
The truly rich are, therefore, those who are more content, and have amassed greater reliance and submission.
By nature, human beings incline to the world. The soul takes a liking to the world’s pleasures. Yet, those who fall for these pleasures can never find satisfaction. The more the wealth, the greater is the ambition. Greed for wealth eradicates mercy and compassion, to the point that giving charity becomes the most difficult chore. Such a person is spiritually ill and physically ailing. His ego tells him to ‘get richer’ so he could ‘help the poor more in the future’. Yet, it has also been said that “Perished are those who say I will do it tomorrow.” All tomorrows are really an unknown.
The Almighty tells us how in the moment of death, man will come to his senses as if he is waking up from a dream, and with an unrelenting remorse, plead:
“My Lord, why did You not spare me for a short time so that I might have given charity and become one of the righteous!” (Al-Munafiqun, 63: 10)
By then, however, it will be too late. In the same verse, the Almighty therefore commands His servants to donate from what they are given, before that time comes. Otherwise, they will be struck by an insufferable remorse, which the verses below evocatively illustrate:
“The day they see it, it will be as if they had not stayed on earth except for an evening or forenoon.” (Al-Naziat, 79: 46)
“The day when they will rise from their graves, nothing about them will be hidden from Allah. To whom does the sovereignty belong today? To Allah, the One, the Supreme.” (Al-Mumin, 40: 16)
“If you would only see when the guilty hang their heads before their Lord, and confess, ‘Our Lord! We have seen and heard. Send us back so that we may act righteously. We are now truly convinced.” (Al-Sajdah, 32: 12)
Propriety in Charity
It is extremely important to be polite when donating. The giver must especially feel appreciation towards the recipient, for giving him the opportunity to carry out a financial duty and pay off his debt of gratitude to the Almighty. Donations also serve as a shield against troubles and illness. The Qur’an expresses the importance of this deed, by saying, “It is Allah who accepts donations.” (Al-Tawbah, 9: 104).
The Qur’an also lays down the proper manners to observe when giving charity:
“O you who have faith! Do not render your charities void with scolding and insults, like those who spend their wealth only to show off to people and have no faith in Allah and the Last Day.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 264)
While these verses encourage being charitable, they at the same time lay out the proper manners one must have during the act of giving. A donation that comes with patronizing, taunting and looking down on the poor, and breaking their hearts, has no value in the sight of Allah (jj). This is in fact a major sin that brings punishment. The heart is precious: it is the very spot that Allah (jj) gazes at. Rumi (qs) says:
“Kindly donate from the wealth that you have and win over a heart…so that the prayers voiced from that heart enlightens your grave and serves as a light in that darkest of all nights!”
In his words of wisdom, Rumi also explains how the poor are a blessing for the rich, as it is through them that the rich pay off their debt of gratitude to the Lord; and how proper care is needed not to break the hearts of the poor, as if it was not for them, generosity would not have an outlet:
“The poor are mirrors for the generous. Do not fog the mirror up by saying hurtful things to it!
The poor are the appearance of Allah’s (jj) generosity. These poor only seek help from the benevolent. They open up only to them. By doing so, they open up the paths of bliss for the charitable rich. And by finding a way into the hearts of the poor through kindness and charity, the rich let the flowers of love and mercy bud in their hearts.
The poor are therefore also the mirrors of the Lord’s generosity. The rich see their generosity in these mirrors. The righteous rich, who have lost themselves in the Truth, have gained knowledge of themselves before the Lord by realizing that their wealth is only a trust. And for that, they have become reflections of divine generosity. They have a share of the Almighty’s benevolence and are lost in it.
Apart from those who carry their wealth outside of their hearts and keep guard against becoming enchained by their riches, all others are miserable and destitute in the hereafter. These people are not really waiting by the gates of the Lord. Their existence is relative. They are simply the decorations and images outside the gate.
These are the truly miserable and poor, whose hearts have fallen distant from the Lord. Their visible existence are lifeless shades and faded images of their miserable state. They are people devoid of spirit and heedless of the truth, and from whom you should keep away! Do not throw a bone at a picture of a dog!
They are slaves to their personal interests, unaware of their thirst for the Truth.
Beware of putting a plate of food in front of these dead people! Do not show them any affection or pay them any compliment! They are destined to become sordid beggars on the Day of Judgment!
These are dervishes, not of spirit, but of bread! They are like mudfish. They look like fish but are scared to death of the sea.
They take their misery as happiness, and enjoy what they think is good food and a sweet drink. Yet, they have no share of the divine platter.
And you, who does not want to fall in this misery! Encompass creatures with generosity so that you become one of the wise!”
Charity is the mirror of generosity; and the most proper manner of donating is indicated in the adage, “not to let the left hand become aware of what the right hand gives.” The Prophet (saw) in fact tells us that those who donate this way will be among the blissful who will be shaded on Judgment Day under the Throne. To this aim, our ancestors have founded numerous endowments. These endowments operate in such a way that the donations come from undisclosed donors. This protects the donor from showing off. At the same time, the recipient prays for the donor, without ever finding out who he or she is. A wonderful example is the following charter issued by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror:
“I, the Conqueror of Istanbul and Allah’s helpless servant, Mehmed, declare that:
…I have endowed the 146 shops which I earned with the grease of my elbow, to public use under the below conditions:
Meals are to be prepared in the dining hall of the complex and served to the wives and children of martyrs, and Istanbul’s poor! And to those who cannot come to eat due to certain drawbacks, their meals are to be taken to them in sealed containers, secretly, in the dark of night.”
As is clear in the charter, while laying down guidelines to protect the society’s weak, Sultan Mehmed also sticks to the rules of etiquette.
With a ruler with such impeccable sensitivity, the society of the time also had an etiquette to match. They used to leave their alms discretely inside ‘alms stones’ set up across the city’s mosques, for the needy to collect it without having to see the donor.
On the other hand, it is also important to find and donate to those who are too shy to voice their needs. The Almighty declares:
“Charities are for the poor who are reduced in the way of Allah, incapable of moving about in the land for trade. The unaware suppose them to be well-off because of their reserve. You recognize them by their mark; they do not ask the people demandingly. And whatever wealth you may spend, Allah indeed knows it.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 273)
“Those who give their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly, they shall have their reward near their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve.” (Al-Baqarah, 2: 274)
The true purpose of religion is to affirm Allah’s (jj) oneness, and to then achieve a peaceful society by raising individuals of great elegance, sensitivity and depth. This level of maturity is possible only by cultivating hearts with mercy and compassion, and allowing these feelings to show in the best manner they can, through alms and charity. The heart of a believer must envelop all of God’s creatures with mercy and compassion.
We live on Allah’s (jj) land. We are fed by what He gives. Those who neglect their financial duties should ask themselves: whose wealth am I really withholding?
The natural outcome of love is sacrifice. One sees it as a duty and derives enormous pleasure from making sacrifices for the person he loves. This follows all the way until the lover, if need be, gives his life for the beloved. Donating to the Lord’s creatures is one of the best ways for the lover to show his feelings for the One he loves. Alms and charity are essentially given for Allah (jj); and it is solely for that reason that the Qur’an says ‘it is Allah (jj) who takes them’:
“Do they not know that it is Allah who accepts the repentance of His servants and receives the charities, and that it is Allah who is the Clement, the Merciful?” (Al-Tawbah, 9: 104)
My Allah, the True Owner of wealth and sovereignty! Let mercy, compassion and all forms of spending on Your path become boundless treasures in our hearts!
. See, Bukhari, Adhan, 36.