Chapter Two: The Cow (Al Baqara)

Verse 219..........Part 2

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Session 234

Chapter 2

Verse 219

a continuation

They ask you about intoxicants and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both, and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’ They ask you what they should give: say, ‘Give what you can spare.’ In this way, God makes His messages clear to you, so that you may re?ect (Chapter 2: Verse 219)

One of the main goals of religion is to safeguard the five indispensable necessities of life: personal safety, security of family ties, wealth preservation, the integrity of the mind, and the integrity of faith.  All religious legislations revolve around the preservation of these five matters.  If you look even closer at these necessities, you find that each begins with the integrity of the mind.  Your mind is what makes you think about faith, family, wealth and safety.  Sound reasoning gives you the ability to manage all matters of your life.  It is perfectly logical then, that Allah does not want you to intoxicate your mind with drinks or substances because you may waste all of your life’s essentials. 

Take note that Allah mentioned intoxicants and gambling together.  Why, you may ask? Because God wants to protect you from negligence.  Consider the life of a compulsive gambler.  He or she will spend and waste his or her own money, and will not benefit from the money won by gambling.  In the case of the winner, the money is acquired easily and spent without care.  As for the loser, he or she suffers pain and agony for the loss.  A gambler will go into poverty, risk the wellbeing of his or her children, and may even sell all of his or her valuables and belongings; all under the false hopes of future riches that never come. 

Even when gambling is done in small games among friends, it causes great harm.  The aim of the game is for one friend -the winner- to take money from all his or her friends.  Each player is keen to send the other home with empty pockets; what kind of friendship is this? This type of game is adorned to all players by Satan.  Moreover, when a person becomes accustomed to easy earnings from gambling, he or she will shun hard work.  If no games are to be found, he or she may turn to borrowing from family members or even theft.  Gambling -gradually but surely- turns a person towards immorality.  A gambler often ends up with no friends, no money, and is often cursed by his or her own family.  God says:

O you who believe! Intoxicants, games of chance, sacrifices to idols, and divination by arrows are a loathsome evil of Satan’s doing; so turn wholly away from it so that you may prosper. With intoxicants and gambling, Satan seeks only to incite enmity and hatred among you, and to stop you remembering God and prayer. Will you not give them up? (05:90-91)

 The verse moves on to the following question: “They ask you what they should give: say, ‘Give what you can spare.’”  The prophet was previously asked this question by Amr ibn al-Jumouh; Allah answered in an earlier verse:  

They ask you as to what they should spend. Say, ‘Whatever good you spend, let it be for parents, relatives, orphans, the needy, and the traveller.’ And whatever good that you may do, Allah indeed knows it. (2:215)

In the verse under study, the answer is given in another form: God says: ‘Give what you can spare’ meaning to give to the poor whatever is in excess of your basic needs.  It is translated from the Arabic origin “Al Afu.”  Interestingly, this word carries two meanings; both are valid for the verse under study.  ‘Al Afu’ could mean excess; it also means to leave behind or pardon.  God says:

You who believe, fair retribution is prescribed for you in cases of murder: the free man for the free man, the slave for the slave, the female for the female. But if the culprit is pardoned by his aggrieved brother, this shall be adhered to fairly (from 02:178)

Whoever pardons and leaves the feelings of hatred and revenge behind –in essence practices Al Afu- earns a great reward from God.  So when Allah says: “They ask you what they should give: say, ‘Give what you can spare,’ the word ‘spare’ or ‘Al Afu’ implies both meanings: what exceeds your need, and what you can leave behind and forget about.  In fact, spending from what you do not need promotes love and well-being in society.  Take the example of a man who owns land and grows his own food.  After keeping the amount required for him and his family and selling what he can, would he let the excess rot and go to waste? Or would it be wiser to give it to relatives and neighbours in need? Of course the latter is more logical.  This was the religious recommendation before the Zakat almsgiving was introduced.

Here you may ask: what is the reason for changing ‘Al Afu’ to ‘Zakat’? We answer that Allah –the All-Wise- does not want to overburden you with Almsgiving Zakat.  He made the Zakat amount proportional to the effort required and to the natural recourses available.  Let’s clarify this point further.  The Zakat on mineral and other resources excavated from earth is set at 20% of what is extracted.  Each year, if you extract from the ground above a minimum amount –also known as Nisab- you give 20% of the excess to charity.  As for the Zakat of agricultural products, it is 10% of whatever is irrigated naturally by rain, and 5% of whatever is irrigated by human effort and groundwater.  Lastly, in the day to day trades and jobs, the Zakat almsgiving is 2.5% of earnings and savings above a certain minimum Nisab amount.  Take note that the amount of prescribed Zakat is proportional to the amount of work you put in, and the natural resources God put at your disposal.  When the work is harder, and there are fewer natural resources available, God asks you to pay less in Zakat. 

Zakat almsgiving allows the stronger members of society to contribute more to the poor and disadvantaged.  A person who spends his money on his family guarantees them security.  And by spending on extended family, the circle of saftey widens.  Thus, by ordering the Zakat almsgiving, God protects people’s wealth from the ravages of inequality and ill feelings in society.  Another point to consider is that by specifying that Zakat is due on excess idle money, God encourages trade and investment.  Here is how it works: If you have money saved in the bank, and you have to give 2.5% each year to charity, you will lose more than half your savings in 30 years.  Wouldn’t it be better to put that money to good use by starting a business or investment?  Allah wants you to benefit yourself and to benefit the entire society around you.  Take for example a man who has money saved, and decides to construct a small apartment building to rent out.  He would dream and calculate how much he will receive each month in rental income.  Although he may only be thinking of earning a profit, by starting the project and investing his money he will benefit many members of the society.  Before this man makes a single penny, he will have to hire and pay an architect, an engineer, a project manager, many laborers, carpenters, blacksmiths, plumbers and others.  Impoverished members of the society will all have benefited from the money of this man before he does.  God gave him an idea, so he took out all of his savings and gave it to the workers as his idea turned into reality.  This man may have had to force himself to pay the Zakat almsgiving on the saved money each year, but he will gladly spend it all on constructing a small apartment building.  The more business this man does with his money, the less Zakat he has to pay.  Either way, Allah benefits the poor.  In this way, Allah encourages hard work and investment and discourages laziness and dependency.  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "There is no better way to eat than from what your have personally earned through hard work.  I want you to know that Prophet David –peace be upon him- used to gather and prepare his own food."