By Muneeb Nasir
Generosity, compassion and hospitality are defining features of the Muslim community and they are on full display during the month of Ramadan.
In homes, neighborhoods, and mosques, Muslims are engaged in hosting friends and neighbors for iftar (fast breaking meals), giving to the less fortunate and those in need of support, organizing food drives and performing many other acts of charity - indeed acts of generosity are turbocharged during Ramadan!
The Islamic teachings seek to cultivate generosity and compassion in every aspect of life. Generosity is extended to all good that is given, from giving of one’s time, to providing a listening ear, to a word of kindness, and a smile.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Charity is prescribed for each descendant of Adam every day the sun rises."
He was then asked: "From what do we give charity every day?"
The Prophet answered: "The doors of goodness are many...enjoining good, forbidding evil, removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one's legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one's arms--all of these are charity prescribed for you."
He also said: "Your smile for your brother is charity." (Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 98).
The generosity of Muslims is borne out by polls about charitable giving conducted across the world.
According to recent research, Muslim Americans contribute more of their wealth and income toward charitable causes than the general population, making them one of the largest and most generous religious groups in the United States.
The report, titled “Muslim American Giving 2021,” shows that despite making up just 1.1 percent of the U.S. population, Muslim-Americans’ contributions toward various noteworthy causes and campaigns comprise 1.4 percent of all donations, totalling $4.3 billion.
Similar research on the giving pattern of people of faith in the UK showed that Muslims give more money to charity than people of other religions.
These findings follow a Pew Research Center survey conducted a few years ago of more than 38,000 Muslims in 39 countries that found that 77 percent or the respondents said they donated to charity.
A few years ago, I attended a screening of the documentary, ‘Love is a Verb’, that profiled one of the large transnational social movements coming out of the Muslim world.
Attendees at the screening were inspired by the selflessness, generosity and hospitality of Muslims who are part of this social movement.
After the screening, the director of the documentary commented that the Western world has a spirituality problem but Muslims have a marketing problem.
Yes, Muslims don’t adequately tell their stories or they are reserved about publicizing good works as they are taught that charitable giving and generosity is more cherished by God if it is done anonymously.
The quiet acts of compassionate giving cultivates humility and sincerity which may be a good thing in today’s world where fundraising and charitable solicitation have become big business driven by hype, flashy marketing and celebrity-driven galas and donors are encouraged to publicly compete by displaying their donations.
A good example of an everyday act of compassion is illustrated by an incident that took place a few years ago in Vancouver when an off-duty bus driver took a photo and reported an incident on a bus that went viral on social media.
On the bus there was a man wearing a plastic bag on his feet instead of shoes.
The bus driver and other passengers then witnessed something surprising.
A Muslim man riding on the bus took off his socks and shoes and gave them to this man.
“It made my heart melt,” the bus driver told a news agency. “He just took his shoes and socks off and said, 'You can take these, don't worry about me — I live close by and can walk.'”
The bus driver said, "People usually don't care or even look at other people on the bus, they didn't even want to sit beside this guy because of how he was dressed.”
When the Muslim man was contacted by a news organization, he said he wished not to be identified because in his Islamic faith, charitable acts should be anonymous. He was also reluctant to have his photograph published.
“I felt bad for the guy,” the 27-year-old Surrey resident said. “He was wearing plastic hair nets on his feet. I was only about a two-minute walk from home, so I thought I could give him my shoes.”
The Muslim was returning from prayer at the mosque and the Imam at the mosque told the newspaper that, “Whenever we do a good deed, even if it's to help someone out, the Islamic teachings maintain this should remain only for the pleasure of God,” he said. “It's nice to see people practicing the teachings.”
This instinctual act of selflessness, of giving of himself by this Muslim, is what true generosity and altruistic giving is all about - a means by which one person facilitates something for another.
The unfavourable view of Muslims and Islam in Canada continues to be at disturbingly high levels and there needs to be greater interaction of Muslims with their neighbours so that others can see these beautiful traits that are practised by Muslims.
According to a recent Angus Reid survey, two-in-five Canadians outside of Quebec (39%) hold an unfavourable view of Islam and in Quebec that number reaches half (52%).
Of course, beyond marketing acts of goodness and charitable giving, there is also the issue of how much outward looking Muslims are - that is, how much interaction our neighbors have with us - for wasn’t this how Islam became so attractive to others in the past and spread so peacefully in various societies around the world?
Overall, Muslims are known for many beautiful features, including generosity, compassion, and hospitality which are on full display during Ramadan.
These features are deeply rooted in the Islamic faith and are considered essential traits for Muslims to cultivate in their daily lives.
God revealed in the Qur’an, “You will not attain true goodness until you give of what you love.” (Qur’an, Surah Al ‘Imran, 92).
And in one of his sermons, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: “Adorn your Islam with generosity and pleasing moral values. I wish you to know that generosity is a heavenly tree, with its roots in Paradise and its branches in this world. Those of you who are generous will adhere to one of those branches, and that branch will carry him to Paradise.
As for parsimoniousness, that is a tree with its roots in Hell and its branches in this world. Whoever clings to one of those branches by being parsimonious, it will carry him to Hell.” (Bayhaqi, Shuabu’l Iman, VII, 435).