Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verse 177..........Part 2

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Session 176

Chapter 2

Verse 177

A continuation

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west; rather righteousness is belief in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and to give wealth, however cherished, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, to those who ask, and for freeing slaves; It is to establish prayer and give zakat; to honour the promise when it is made; and to be patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the mindful.

 (Chapter 2: Verse 177)

To whom should we give charity? Allah wants you to give from the wealth that you love to the people you love.  He says: “to relatives.”  How would a person feel if he or she earns more than enough money yet sees his or her relatives suffering in poverty? He or she must suffer emotionally.  It is our duty as Muslims to treat all humanity as our brother and kin.  Take the example of the story of Mu’awiyah when he was a Caliph.  Once his guard came to him and said: there is a man at the gate who claims to be your brother.  Mu’awiyah replied to the guard: don’t you not know my brothers? Do not keep him at the door, let him in.  When the man entered, Mu’awiyah saw a stranger and questioned ‘which of my brothers are you?’ The man replied: ‘your brother from Adam.’  Mu’awiyah said: ‘this relation has been severed long ago.  By God, I will be the first one to restore and honour this broken kinship.’

You may not have the means to look after your kin from entire mankind, but at the very least you should take care of the close relatives around you.  How can you truly enjoy the pleasures of life if the ones close to you are in need?  Even if we do not look at this issue from a religious view, taking care of family and relatives should always be part of our humanity.   

Allah wants the whole society to be a social safety net for each and every individual.  Thus, He legislated and encouraged marriage because marriage provides the children with a healthy and safe environment to grow up in.  Moreover, Marriage is made public through witnesses, weddings and celebrations so everyone knows the relation between the man and the woman, and everyone knows who is responsible for the future children of this marriage.  This is the reason why hidden marriages and common-law marriages are discouraged.  A man hiding his marriage is a man who does not live up to his responsibility and may deny a child if the woman gets pregnant.  When you see an abandoned child, rest assured that he or she is the result of an illegitimate relationship or an irresponsible father.  Moreover, when a father denies his child, he does not only rob this child of a father figure, but he also robs him of an uncle, paternal grandparents, an aunt and much more.   The purity of marriage is essential to the health of future generations and the society as a whole.  Each child must be under the care of his or her immediate or extended family and must be acknowledged by linage.  Allah put your relatives in need as the first and most deserving recipients of your charity.  If each one of us does this one act, then there would be almost no poor people in the Muslim society.  And those who do not have a wealthy relative would be easily taken care of through the Zakat –almsgiving- money.   

Some scholars also said that by relatives in this verse, the family of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is intended.  God says:

it is of this that God gives good news to His servants who believe and do good deeds. Say, ‘I ask no reward from you for this, only the affection due to my kin.’ If anyone does good, We shall increase it for him; God is most forgiving and most appreciative. (42:23)

Why are the relatives of Prophet specified, you may ask? Because Zakat is not allowed to be distributed to the prophet’s relatives.  Allah and the prophet did not want to give any impression that the legislation of Zakat was for the benefit of the prophet or his family, nor to give the appearance that the prophet was self-serving.  So God prohibited the family of the prophet from receiving any Zakat money.  Moreover, in a Muslim society, it would be a shame for the relatives of our beloved prophet to be in any need for the necessities of life.   

Both meanings of the word ‘relatives’ are valid in this verse: If your own family and relatives are intended, then the relatives of the Prophet are even more worthy to be taken care of.  God says:

The Prophet is dearer to the believers than their own selves; his wives are their mothers. Those who are bound by blood are nearer to one another in the Book of God than the believers and the immigrants; nevertheless you should act towards your friends honourably; that stands inscribed in the Book. (33:06)

Immediately after the care of relatives, comes the care of orphans.  An orphan is a child who has lost his father; unlike in the animal world where an orphan is a baby animal who lost its mother.  It is our duty to give money to orphans or to the guardian of the orphans so that all their needs are met.   

The verse continues: ‘and to give wealth, however cherished, to relatives, orphans, the needy.’  There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to the definition of the poor on one hand, and the needy on the other.  Some said that a poor person does not possess anything, while a needy person possesses that which is not sufficient to meet the basic needs of life.  Others believe it is the opposite.  Whatever the case may be, God has appointed a share of righteousness for both the poor and the needy.  Both of them deserve a share from your excess wealth.

Next, Allah advises us to give money to the traveller.  The word ‘traveller’ is translated from the Arabic origin ‘ibnul Sabeel’ which literally means ‘the child of the path’.  Normally, a person is attributed to the place where he or she belongs.  You say: this person is a New Yorker, or that person is a Parisian.  The traveller has no place to seek refuge in except the road on which he travels.  The traveller maybe wealthy back home, but circumstances may have left him or her with no access to these possessions. Sadly, we see this everyday in the refugees who were forced to leave everything behind to seek safety.  Why did God appoint a share of righteousness to the traveller? It is to help you understand that your responsibility as a Muslim extends to the environment surrounding you.  It is also to give you peace of mind that when you travel or move from one place to another, there will always be a community to look after you in case you run into an emergency.   God says:

The believers are brothers, so make peace between your two brothers and be mindful of God, so that you may be given mercy. (49:10)

Allah also asks us to give to ‘those who ask’.  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Give to the beggar, even if he is riding a horse."  This is because you are not aware of the beggar’s circumstances.  If a person has shed his or her pride to ask for something, then you are better off being wrong in giving than being wrong in withholding.  We are all well aware that there are some people who make begging their profession, but unless you are totally aware of a person’s circumstances, it is always better to follow the prophet’s lead.  It is better to give to the wrong person than to deny the right one. 

The last cause you are asked to give charity to is the cause of ‘freeing slaves.’ Islam came into a pagan society that was built around slaves and slave labour.  Prior to Islam, the only way for a slave to earn his or her freedom was through the approval and will of the master.  Allah wanted to end the practice of slavery so He legislated freeing slaves as salvation from so many sins.  Freeing a slave is expiation for sin, a way to make up for a missed day of Ramadan-fasting, expiation for accidental death and so many more.  In a matter of a decade after these legislations, slavery was virtually eliminated from the Muslim society.