Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)
Verse 177..........Part 3
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)
Allah is teaching us the elements and deeds on the road to righteousness. In the previous sessions, we discussed charity and how it should be spent. We continue with the next deeds which are ‘to establish prayer and give Zakat.’ Establishing prayers means to perform the five daily prayers in their appointed time and proper manner. God says:
After performing the ritual prayer, continue to remember God- standing, sitting, and lying on your sides- and once you are safe, keep up regular prayer, for prayer is obligatory for the believers at prescribed times. (4:103)
Next is almsgiving -Zakat-. This should get your attention because all that we had discussed earlier regarding charity and giving wealth ‘however cherished, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, to those who ask, and for freeing slaves’ is not related to Zakat. If these matters were included in almsgiving then there would have been no reason to repeat and mention Zakat again. The needy and the traveller are included in those to whom Zakat can be given, but when it comes to righteousness you are encouraged to give more and more for the sake of Allah. Giving more than the obligation, in essence, going above and beyond is what we refer to in Islam as ‘Ihsan.’
The circle of righteousness is broader and more reaching than the circle of obligation. Allah brought each and every one of us into existence; hence, He is responsible for providing for us and facilitating the necessities of life. One of the best acts that brings you closer to your Lord is helping the weak and needy of his creation. God says:
Who is it that will lend Allah a good loan that He may multiply it for him several fold? It is God who withholds and God who gives abundantly, and it is to Him that you will return. (02:245)
How can God Almighty -the provider of all things- ask us to give Him a loan? We answer that Allah does not take back what He has gifted us of wealth. Your wealth is yours, and Allah appreciates and honours the hard work you put in to earn it. Moreover, Allah brought us into existence and He is responsible to provide for every person. Thus, Allah does not ask you to take over that responsibility from your own money, rather, He asks you for a loan from your money to spend on the poor. Perhaps this is best explained with an example. Say that a wealthy father gave each of his children a large sum of money. If one of the children falls on hard times, the father would not go to the children and say ‘give me back my money to help your brother’, rather he would say ‘lend me some of your money and I will return it back to you with a handsome reward once your brother is out of trouble.’ This way the father would preserve each child’s wealth and foster love and caring between the brothers.
Fatima –the prophet’s daughter- (peace and blessings be upon her) presents a great example for us. Once our beloved Prophet came into her room and found her cleaning and burnishing a coin it into a shine. He asked: ‘Fatima, what are you doing?’ She replied: I am polishing this coin before I give it to charity. He asked: ‘why?’ She said: ‘because I know that charity passes through God’s hand before it falls into the hand of the poor.’
The next element on the road of righteousness is to fulfil one’s promise, and uphold contracts. God says:
Do not go near the orphan’s property, except with the best intentions, until he reaches the age of maturity. Honour your pledges: you will be questioned about your pledges. (17:34)
And in another verse:
Fulfil any pledge you make in God’s name and do not break oaths after you have sworn them, for you have made God your guarantor: God knows everything you do. (16:91)
God continues: ‘and to be patient in poverty and hardship and during battle’ It is worth noting that the word ‘patient’ is expressed in a different tone in the Arabic text than the rest of the verse. More specifically, the Arabic word ‘Sabreen’ was used instead of ‘Sabroon’ which is more in line with the grammar of this verse. Why was the syntax broken? Why was there a sudden grammatical change, you may ask? We answer that the Quran is the word of God the Most Eloquent; the Arabs at the time were masters of language and were used to hearing correct and eloquent speech. Just as a sudden change in the tone of a speaker or a sudden change in the rhyme of music gets the attention of the listener, a sudden change in the syntax of a sentence gets the attention of the listener. The point where the syntax changes is highlighted and stressed over all the other points.
Which subject is Allah emphasising in this verse? The point being stressed is patience because it is the key to all of the other deeds. If you are able to master patience, you would control your desires and urges. If you master patience, you would be able to establish prayer any time day or night; you would be able to give from your wealth beyond obligation despite your love for money. Allah highlighted patience because it is a special and a praiseworthy trait that can overcome the hardships of all other deeds.
God says: ‘and to be patient in poverty and hardship and during battle.’ The attribute of patience revolves around three circumstances: the first is poverty which reflects misery and scarcity. The second is hardship which in this verse refers to ailments that strike the body. In other words, it means to be patient over your own illness, pain, and agony. The last situation that requires patience is during battle. A soldier needs courage and patience when he or she meets the enemy and has to stand strong to fight.
Always keep in mind the reward Allah has in store for you for practicing patience. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: "No hardship, pain or illness befalls a believer but that Allah forgives some of his or her sins because of it; Even if it were a prick from a thorn of a flower."
After showing you the road of righteousness, Allah describes those who travel that road as “the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the mindful.” What does it mean to be true and mindful? When you are true to yourself, your words align with your actions. You declare the faith in your heart through your everyday actions and deeds. Your belief that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger is authentic because it is clearly seen through your righteous actions. If, on the other hand, you claim to accept Islam but harm your neighbor, do a poor job at work, disrespect your parents and so on, then you are not being true to your faith. The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) asked: ‘Do you know who is the bankrupt?’ The companions answered: ‘The bankrupt among us is the one who is penniless with no possessions’ Muhammad said: "The bankrupt of my nation is the one who comes on the Day of Resurrection with his prayers, his almsgiving, and his fasting; but he had cursed this person, stole from that one, and shed the blood of another. So each one of these people take from his good deeds until he has no more good deeds to give, then they take from their sins and give to him to compensate for the injustice he had done them. In the end, he is left with nothing and he is cast into hellfire.’