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Lesson - 14

Al-Baqara

"Who believe in the Unseen and keep up prayer and spend out of what We have given them. And who believe in that which has been revealed to thee and that which was revealed before thee, and of the Hereafter they are sure." — The Holy Quran, 2:3,4.

Broad concept of charity

In the previous two lessons we discussed the keeping up of prayer. In our lesson today, we shall discuss the verse, "and spend out of what We have given them (sustenance, rizq)." The Arabic word for sustenance (rizq) is ordinarily considered as meaning food and drink, or material wealth. It, however, has a much broader meaning. The dictionary meaning of the word rizq (sustenance) is, Ď any beneficence of Allah that is ongoing either in this life, or the life Hereafter.í Sometimes it stands for the share, or fortune which a person has received, or the food he consumes. ĎWhat we have given them,í includes not only the material wealth, but also the physical, mental and spiritual faculties a person is given. A personís intelligence, insight, or knowledge are all included in the meaning of the word rizq (sustenance). In fact, the position in society, skills, or opportunities in life one receives are all included in this category. Knowledge signifies understanding about both spiritual and temporal matters. If one thinks about it, the physical faculties given to us are not by our own choice or will. In a similar manner our intellectual and spiritual faculties are all a benefaction of Allah, some are given more, some less. The more blessed a man is with these faculties, the greater is his degree of accountability.

All Sustenance from Allah

The sustenance provided in the form of material wealth, may be taken as an example. In the very beginning, a person benefits from the wealth he receives from his parents. It depends upon the will and discretion of Allah, that a person is born in a rich family, or a middle income household, or to poor parents. Every individual comes into, and leaves this world empty-handed. Who is it that inspires the love of their children in the hearts of parents? They spend all their wealth for their children when they are alive, and leave behind for them what remains of it, when they pass away. A man cannot even control what he earns. His earning is not dependent upon his intelligence, knowledge, skill or degree of effort. For example, nobody works harder than a manual laborer, but what sort of return does he get? I have observed many highly learned and knowledgeable people who go hungry and remain in a state of poverty. On the other hand, totally ignorant people are overwhelmed with abundance of riches. Individuals with degrees in business and commerce can hardly make a living, while affluent businessmen, most of whom have no degrees, in fact are totally uneducated, and cannot even sign their names, are earning millions. If acquisition of wealth was under the control of man, every person would have been the owner of the fabulous riches of Korah. This, however, is not the case. The reason why money is worshipped all over the world today, is because all daily affairs of business are conducted through it. Acquisition of wealth has become the purpose of life, and man has forgotten God. On seeing this very detrimental effect of material wealth, religions other than Islam, felt that the emancipation of mankind lay in encouraging their followers towards adoption of nunnery and monasticism.

The Middle Course

Islam takes the middle course. It encourages its followers to earn wealth honestly, discourages its hoarding, and enjoins its spending in the way of Allah Who has provided it. This is why it is stated, "out of what We have given them," meaning whatever sustenance is provided, is granted by Allah. If someone takes possession of the wealth of a donor, and considers it his own right and property, he would be considered a dishonest person, in fact an outright thief. For example, if you give a hundred dollars to a person with the instructions to spend a certain amount for helping the poor and needy, and to utilize the remainder for his own personal needs. If this person then turns around and spends all the money on himself, disregarding and resenting your instructions; would you not consider such a person as dishonest and thankless and hand him over to the police for criminal prosecution?

Means of spiritual development

Why is there promise of so much reward, for spending according to Divine injunctions out of what He has given us? Good news of this reward being ten times, seventy times or even seven hundred times the original has been given by the Holy Quran. Why is this so? The reason for this lies in the fact that, it appears to man that he earns this wealth with his own hands, and often he does not consider it to be Divine providence. He, therefore considers it his own property. The things that can be accomplished with money, the fineries of this world and the luxuries that can be bought with it, all lead man to the great love for acquisition of wealth. Allah says, in the Holy Quran that when We ask of hell, if it is full? Itís reply will be, ĎIs there more?í The craving for wealth manifests in a similar manner. The one who earns hundreds is yearning for thousands, and the one who makes thousands desires to make millions, and so on. The greed for more money is never satisfied, it flares up and spreads out of control like an inferno.

In contrast to this the love of Allah, His Prophet, Religion, His Book, the love of oneís poor brothers and sisters, and Godís creation, is a form of love that is cool in nature. It has a calming effect over the warm and burning fire of the lust for wealth. A fire that is under control is useful. The one that flares up and burns out of control, becomes the fire of hell. The act of giving makes the desire for wealth subservient to the love of higher moral values. Sacrifice of the love of wealth to serve God and His creation, by spending oneís wealth in His way, becomes a source of recompense for mankind. The Holy Quran states, "and spend out of what We have given them." They, the believers spend out of what has been given to them, according to the need and requirement. To spend every thing during the time of an important national, or religious need as demonstrated by Hazrat Abu-Bakr on one occasion, or to spend half of oneís wealth as done by Hazrat Umar is the correct way. On other occasions, one should spend according to need. Since all the wealth belongs to Allah, why did He not keep all of it under His own control, and spent it on important religious and social needs? If He had done so, how would we have had the opportunity to develop spiritually and earn reward for the life Hereafter? The only wealth that one could acquire over there in abundance, is the recompense one would receive for righteous spending in this life. By spending oneís wealth in the way of Allah, Divine attributes are evolved and nurtured in mankind, and there is no greater success than this. There are four basic attributes of Allah as narrated in the Chapter Al-Fatihah:

  1. Rabb-il-Alameen (Lord of the worlds), One Who nurtures, or evolves all His creation from the lowest to the highest stage of perfection;

  2. Al-Rahman (the Beneficent), One Who gives without asking, purely out of His mercy;

  3. Al-Raheem (the Merciful), One Who rewards manifold, on our asking for it, and making the effort;

  4. Maalik-i-yaum-i-deen (Master of the Day of Requital).

The attributes of Allah are generated in us, to a degree proportionate to the amount of wealth we spend in His way. A person is doing the work of rabubiyat (nurturing unto perfection), when he aids his poor and destitute brothers financially, and helps to improve their lot. Spending for religious propagation, to draw the attention of the worldly inclined towards religious duty, is nurturing them from a lower to a higher state of spiritual existence. Similarly, if a person helps Godís creation without their asking for it, and voluntarily spends for the cause of religion, the attribute of Al-Rahman, becomes a part of his character. Giving bountifully upon being asked, reflects the color of Al-Raheem, and paying a laborer more than his due wages is invoking the attribute of Maalik-i-yaum-i-deen. A person who spends in the way of Allah will be wealthy not only in the Hereafter which is a permanent abode, but by generating the Divine attributes within himself, he receives perpetual joy and contentment.

Service of humanity

I have explained earlier that the word rizq (sustenance), signifies Divine benefaction to a person in the form of his physical faculties, intellectual capabilities and skills. A nurse who uses his or her physical and mental faculties to serve humanity, or an individual who strives in the way of Allah, are all included amongst those, "who spend out of what We have given them." A person serving God and His creation with his intellect and knowledge also falls under this category. In a similar manner those who serve their religion by dispersing their spiritual sustenance or knowledge, that they receive through the keeping up of their prayers, and the study of the Holy Quran, are also included amongst those, "who spend out of what We have given them."

Universality of Divine Revelation

Now I will discuss the last verse of our lesson today:

"And who believe in that which has been revealed to thee, and that which was revealed before thee, and of the Hereafter they are sure."

How can it be that God creates the whole universe for mankind, but does not inform him about the purpose of his own creation, or guides him towards the fulfillment of this objective? In my commentary on Al-Fatihah, I pointed out that the highest goal of mans creation is to find God. In discussing the first verse of Al-Baqarah, I mentioned that the Holy Quran shows us the path which leads towards God. By following its guidance, one can establish a relationship with God. It is, therefore necessary to believe and act upon the teachings of the Holy Quran. In the verse, "And who believe in that which has been revealed to thee, and that which was revealed before thee," the Holy Quran enjoins belief in the previous scriptures to prevent the development of arrogance in the Muslims. This also discourages narrow-minded beliefs like those of previous nations who received revealed scriptures. They believed that they were the only recipients of Divine guidance. The Quranic teaching, therefore promotes the feeling of universal brotherhood.

The Holy Quran also informs us, and other religious authorities agree with this, that the previous scriptures have either been lost, or subjected to alterations and interpolations. It is, therefore difficult to believe in them today, and accept that they are Divinely inspired. This is the reason why belief in the Holy Quran is mentioned first, although the other books were revealed earlier. Only by believing in the word of the Holy Quran, can one acknowledge these previous scriptures to be Divinely inspired. This shows the great spirit of tolerance and benevolence of the Holy Quran towards other faiths. Only by recognizing the scriptures of other religions can mutual tolerance and peace be promoted. Due to the fact that these revelations have either been lost or interpolated, it is now not feasible to act upon them. In addition, these scriptures were revealed to certain nations, for example, the Israelite nation, or the Indo-aryans, and their teachings were temporary and incomplete. The Bible acknowledges this in John 16:12-14. The teachings of the previous scriptures that needed to be preserved and were practical, have been included in the Holy Quran as stated in the verse, "Wherein are (all) right books" (98:3). Thus, acting upon the teachings of the Holy Quran is equivalent to following all the excellent teachings of the former scriptures.

Belief in Life After Death

The last part of the verse under discussion is:

"and of the Hereafter they are sure."

This is the greatest piece of good news for mankind, because no human being wants his life to end with death. In this verse he is informed that just as death is certain in this life, it is equally true that death is not the end, but the beginning of a new and higher existence. In the life Hereafter one has to account for his actions in this earthly abode. If man conducts his life in accordance with the Quranic injunctions, then the life Hereafter would be blessed with the joy and contentment of paradise. Remedial purification will otherwise be brought about through the chastisement of hell-fire, which is an unhappy and fearful closure.

In this life the righteous are sometimes faced with difficulty, and the evil-doers have a good time. The end result of righteousness is, however good, and that of evil is bad. It, therefore, makes sense to show concern for the Hereafter, and not be misled by some temporary benefit, or convenience. The pupil who remains oblivious of the end result, and wastes his time in play and entertainment, eventually faces disgrace and despondency. On the other hand, the student who foresees a better future after the qualification of an exam, and works hard to achieve this by not wasting his time in useless undertakings, will eventually be rewarded with everlasting satisfaction and ease. Without belief and conviction in the Hereafter, reformation of man cannot take place, nor can he undertake the hard work and struggle involved in the pursuit of righteous action. The purpose of manís life is to seek and find God; meeting with Allah and closeness with Him in a more perceptible form is only possible in the life Hereafter.


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