Charity, for which the expression used in the Holy Quran is “spending out of what God has given you”, means using your energy, talent, resources, money, possessions, or whatever else, to help and do good to those in need. In Islam charity is very often mentioned alongside prayer because just as the latter is man’s relation with God or man’s duty towards God, the former (charity) represents his relation with his fellow-beings, and indeed with all the creation of God. Prayer expresses love for God, submission to Him, and a desire to bring out the Divine qualities that lie hidden in every person. Charity is an expression of sympathy and benevolence towards God’s creation, putting into actual practice the lessons you learn in prayer.
How important is a charity?
Being charitable is very strongly urged upon Muslims, so much so that the Prophet Muhammad PBUH has said that on every limb of the body, doing a charitable deed is due every day, whether it is with the hands, feet, or tongue. There is no person at all who cannot do a deed of charity to others. According to the Holy Prophet, if someone has nothing to give, he should work and earn, and give out of that; if he still does not have anything to give, he should help someone in distress; and if he is unable, for some reason, to do even that, he should try to do any good he can and refrain from doing any harm to anyone.
Apart from general charity, Islam has made compulsory a sort of tax on one’s possessions, known as Zakat, to be spent on the welfare of the disadvantaged.
Who can we give charity too?
Just as acts of charity have the broadest possible significance in Islam, similarly the circle of those towards whom charity is to be exercised is the broadest that can be conceived. Starting with the people around us – our relations, friends, and neighbours – it extends to all Muslims, and to followers of other religions. In fact, a Muslim’s charity covers even animals. The Holy Quran emphasises that one should keep a special lookout for those who may be in need but who do not ask for help (2:273).
When was the Zakat first decreed and to whom?
According to the Quran, Zakat was decreed from as far back as the time of Abraham:
“We made them leaders who guide by Our command and We inspired them to work good deeds, to observe the Salad and to give the Zakat, they were worshippers of Us.” 21:73