On the authority of Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him):
"Some people from amongst the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), 'O Messenger of Allah, the affluent have made off with the rewards; they pray as we pray, they fast as we fast, and they give [much] in charity by virtue of their wealth.' He (peace be upon him) said, 'Has not Allah made things for you to give in charity? Truly every tasbeehah [saying subhan-Allah] is a charity, and every takbeerah [saying Allahu akbar] is a charity, and every tahmeedah [saying alhamdulillah] is a charity, and every tahleelah [saying la ilaha illAllah] is a charity. And commanding the good is a charity, and forbidding an evil is a charity, and in the sexual act of each one of you there is a charity.' They said, 'O Messenger of Allah, when one of us fulfills his sexual desire, will he have some reward for that?' He (peace be upon him) said: 'Do you not see that if he were to act upon it [his desire] in an unlawful manner, then he would be deserving of punishment? Likewise, if he were to act upon it in a lawful manner, then he will be deserving of a reward.'"
This hadith draws our attention to how the Companions sought to compete with one another for the hereafter and in seeking the reward of Allah (swt). The level of concern the Companions of the Prophet (sas) had to constantly seek opportunities to carry out good deeds is evident in this hadith. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting to be wealthy with the intention that we may give in charity and gain reward from Allah (swt), the Prophet (sas) directs our attention to how Allah (swt) has provided many ways a believer can give in charity regardless of one’s situation in life. Remembering Allah (swt), benefitting others and performing acts in a permissible way are all considered charity. Our concern should be seeking the Pleasure of Allah (swt) in as many ways as possible.
Charity in a Comprehensive Sense
This hadith contains a number of points. The first is that the Companions of the Prophet (sas) were always constant in their quest to figure out the best way to worship Allah (swt), how they can improve their relationship with Allah (swt), and how they can carry out more righteous actions. In this hadith, these Companions are looking at the situation where they felt limited in their ability to give in charity (these Companions are from amongst the poor of the companions). They pray and fast as the wealthy Companions do, but when it comes to charity they don’t have the means to give as the rich do and come to the conclusion that the rich are beating them to attain good deeds in this regard.
Note the things the Companions are focusing on. We often say Islam is not only about the acts of praying, fasting or giving charity. We say this so that people do not have a simplistic understanding of what Islam is. However, at the same time, we need to recognize that these acts are the foundations of spiritual development in Islam and are the foundations to increase in our closeness to Allah (swt). Because the Companions knew the importance of fasting, prayer and charity, they are telling the Prophet (sas) that these are the things that they focus on, but are concerned that that the rich have an edge on them when it comes to charity. The Prophet (sas) tells these Companions that Allah (swt) has given them many avenues to do charity. The Prophet (sas) reminds them that actions such as making dhikr (saying Alhamdulilah, subhana Allah, Allahu Akbar, etc), enjoining in the good, forbidding the evil, giving good speech, and (in a different narration) spending on one's family are all considered as acts of charity.
The important concept taught by the Prophet (sas) is the expanded definition of what it means to be a charitable person. We often look at ourselves and think “how can I be a charitable person? How can I be a person who has a spirit of giving and a spirit of compassion to those around me?” This hadith teaches us that it is not only through the giving of our wealth that we can achieve this. We see in another hadith that the Prophet (sas) expands our understanding of the definition of charity by saying that smiling is an act of charity and removing something from the road is charity and so on. Acting in a way that affects someone else in a positive way is considered as an act charity. All of these forms of charity are ways to get closer to Allah.
Expressing Things in a Permissible and Praiseworthy Way
The last point in this hadith is one that many people are shy to talk about but it deals with a concept rather than the particular act itself. There is something natural inside human beings towards the opposite gender and a natural tendency to desire affection and want to be loved. The Prophet (sas) tells his companions that there are two possibilities in how you can express that internal desire. Either you can express it in a way that is permissible or a way that is not. He (sas) is clarifying that as long as you express it in a way that is permissible, then that is also an act of charity and something you will be rewarded for. This is important because it changes the psychology of how we look at things. Many times when someone is told something is forbidden, the psychology of the person becomes “everything in Islam is negative”. Just as there are some things that are not allowed, there are many more things that are allowed. As long as we put our efforts in that which is permissible and praiseworthy then we get rewarded for it as long as we are purposely staying away from what is forbidden.
True Appreciation from Allah
Within human beings there is a natural desire to be appreciated. However, we are taught that there are many different ways in which we can go about achieving this:
- You can be appreciated for doing bad things
- You can be appreciated through seeking the appreciation of people
- You can be appreciated by doing what you are supposed to do and know that Allah will recognize that good
It is more important to be appreciated by Allah than by the people. One of the consequences of doing what Allah wants from us is that we will be appreciated by people as well-but the beauty of it is that is merely a secondary consideration. The primary consideration is that obeying Allah (swt) to gain His love. When Allah loves us, as narrated in another hadith, He (swt) will tell Jebril (as) to love us and when Jebril (as) loves us then he will tell the other angels to love us and when they love us they will go and spread our love amongst the people on the earth. Within this example we see how to seek true popularity and true appreciation in a way that is praiseworthy and permissible according to the teaching of Islam.
The main message of this hadith is that many Companions were coming to the Prophet (sas) and saying they do not have the same opportunities as others when it comes to giving in charity. The Prophet (sas) corrects that understanding and expands on the definition of what it means to be a charitable person. There are many ways to worship Allah and gain His Pleasure and we should take advantage of all of these possibilities. If we do, then we will have the same potential to earn the reward of Allah (saw) as anyone else.