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What is the best charity in Islam?

Published on
April 11, 2023

As Muslims, we’ve all heard the word ‘charity.’ It is a cornerstone of our faith. We hear this word all our lives and even more so in the month of Ramadan.

Our TV’s, Phones and Masjids talk about the importance of charity, often raising for essential causes that target the most vulnerable in our Ummah.

The emphasis on giving to charity, is no doubt, seen as a huge importance in Islam. In fact, Muslims are said to give more money to charity than people of other religions, demonstrating the eagerness and commitment in fulfilling this action.

Statistics back this up.

It is estimated Muslim charities in the UK alone will raise £4 billion by 2051.

With the amazing efforts of our Ummah in donating, collecting and distributing Sadaqah and Zakat, it is important that we never forget the bigger reason behind why we are doing this and what really constitutes the best types of charity in our religion.

In this article, I explore what charity means to us as Muslims, what makes us so eager to give charity and what are the best ways to give charity as prescribed by our religion.

Allah SWT commands Muslims to give charity

Primarily, Muslims are encouraged (and sometimes obligated through Zakat) to give charity, through the commandments of Allah SWT and His Messenger ﷺ. This intention is an integral part in one giving to charity and the act of charity creates an avenue for multiple rewards.

Those who spend their wealth in Allah’s cause are like grains of corn which produce seven ears, each bearing a hundred grains (Qur'an 2:261)
Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan, so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned. (Qur'an, 2: 245)

Often, we can get so used to giving to charity, that it can become a passive act without its primary connection being to the One who initially commands for us to give to charity. Of course, this could still mean that one has a generous intention to uplift and accommodate destitute people around the world. But from a spiritual aspect, what is the value of connecting the act of charity to Allah SWT first and foremost?

Allah SWT associates charity as a ‘loan’ given to Him, reinforcing its heaviness on the scale of good deeds.  When a person performs the act solely for Allah SWT, the by-product from this intention, is that it contributes towards the giver’s spiritual growth and well-being in both worlds. Alongside this, the act is rewarded in magnitude, as Allah SWT states that He will multiply this 'loan' in return.

It is clear then that charity is a fundamental aspect of our religion, but how can we maximize our giving and seek the types of charity that are the most pleasing and beneficial? Lets explore.

What are the Best Types of Charity?

1. Giving to a hungry person

In one Hadith, we find that the Prophet ﷺ stressed the importance of feeding the hungry:

“The best charity is to satisfy a hungry person.” He also said, “No wealth (of a servant of Allah) is decreased because of charity.” (Muslim 2588)

This Hadith specifically describes a particular recipient of charity and his condition which makes him qualify for a Muslim’s charity. The value of giving is weighed heavily through the assurance that the giver’s wealth will not be reduced in return.

We all know that eating adequate meals is a basic human need. When we miss a meal, we’ve under-eaten, or even when we are fasting, we learn to appreciate this even more. Although we don’t fast for this reason, the hunger pangs, the lack of energy and restlessness, are all enough for us to understand the bare minimum of what a hungry, poorer person may endure.

This makes it a moral imperative to give to the hungry, as advised by the Prophet ﷺ. In turn, the giver will not only build awareness of the situation of people who are deprived of food and drink, but they will develop a sense of empathy for them, and grow in gratitude for their own provision in comparison to the state of the many that are suffering from hunger.

2. Giving a drink of water

In another Hadith, we are informed about the consumption of water by the recipient, as the ‘best’ type of charity.

Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, my mother has died. Shall I give charity on her behalf?” The Prophet ﷺ, said, “Yes.” I said, “Which charity is best?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “A drink of water.” (Sunan al-Nasā’ī 3664)

The significance of giving water being the best type of charity is further emphasised on the situation the Prophet ﷺ advised this in - when giving charity on behalf of the deceased. Though this act is not limited to giving on behalf of the one who has passed, it’s interesting to find that a necessity that gives life, could simultaneously benefit the one who no longer lives, through the spiritual impact of giving.

Moreover, there are profound benefits through giving water, and its purpose reflects on being the ‘best’ type of charity. Water is a necessity to live. It’s a crucial necessity for both health and sanitation.

Yet, millions of people suffer from a shortage of water, or even unsafe water, in impoverished areas. Contaminated water is at high risk of diseases such as cholera, typhoid, polio and many others. The impact water has on a global level hence, sheds importance on giving this drink as charity.

3. Giving to an estranged relative

The Prophet ﷺ also stresses the importance of giving charity to one’s family members. He ﷺ stated this in response to being asked about the ‘best’ type of charity:

Hakim ibn Hizam reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, “What act of charity is best?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “One given to an estranged relative.” (Musnad Aḥmad 15320)

By connecting with  family, through the act of charity, the Prophet ﷺ expresses this also as a way in upholding ties with family:

It was narrated from Salman bin 'Amir that the Prophet ﷺ said: "Giving charity to a poor person is charity, and (giving) to a relative is two things, charity and upholding the ties of kinship." (Sunan al Nasa’i 2345)

The Prophet ﷺ included our families as benefactors in charity. The emotional and physical responsibility here brings one closer to their family members, hence an act that benefits the family in the long term. Through the act of charity within one’s family, family ties are strengthened, family bridges are maintained, and the recipients are aware of the care and awareness given to them.

4. To assist a traveller, and to aid someone in the way of Allah SWT

The best type of charity isn’t limited to the one who is destitute, or one’s family. In a Hadith narrated by Thawban, the Prophet ﷺ said:

“The best coin for a man to spend is the coin spent on his dependents, and the coin spent by a man on his mount in the way of Allah, and the coin spent by a man on his companions in the way of Allah.” (Muslim 994)

This shows that the best type of charity could also be in support of a traveller or one’s companions, who intend to perform actions purely for Allah’s pleasure. To assist a person in the way of Allah SWT is highly regarded, and encourages a Muslim to support through charity in this noble venture.

This also makes the giver of charity feel a part of the cause that the traveller is travelling for, or the actions their companions are taking to become closer to Allah SWT. As a result, a sense of brotherhood is established through the giving in the sake of Allah SWT for each other, and unity is maintained through such companionships.

5. Giving early

Abu Huraira RA reported: A man came to the Prophet ﷺ and he said, “O Messenger of Allah, which charity has the greatest reward?” The Prophet said, “That you give charity while you are healthy, greedy, fearing poverty, and hoping to be rich. Do not delay giving until you are on your deathbed, then say it is for such a person. It already belongs to that person.” (Bukhari 1419)

Often, we go through life thinking that we will all pass away at old age and just before we do, we will donate all, if not a majority of our assets to philanthropic causes as a way to gain great reward. Whilst there is certainly reward in this, Islam flips this ideal on its head by underlining that it is an even greater reward to give when younger and healthier, when hoping to be rich. This is perhaps seen as a bigger form of sacrifice than in old age and something that is more pleasing to Allah.

Is it always preferable to give wealth to charity?

Though these acts of charity are extremely virtuous in of themselves, there is one circumstance in which it is preferable to do something else with your wealth that is more pleasing to Allah. And that is one’s inheritance.

In Islam, only 1/3 of our wealth can be given onto charitable endeavours when we pass away and this links back to our belief that as Muslims, we are merely custodians of wealth and that simply put; Allah is the true owner of wealth and has already allocated a significant portion of our wealth to whom he wills.

Overall, it’s very interesting to see that the Prophet ﷺ noted many different actions of charity that were considered to be the best. To understand the wisdom of these Ahadith, we must look at them and consider them as a collective and what they stand for. Feeding the poor, providing drinking water, aiding someone in the way of Allah, fundamentally what are they doing?

You could argue that they are helping to preserve Islam. They are ensuring that people don’t turn away from Islam in times of desperation when food/drink is short, or that they are feeling hopeless with no one to turn towards. The charity that is ‘best’ are all acts of sustaining the deen, and in an era where social and sustainable investing has started to shift the landscape of how we think about investing, Islam provided this bedrock over 1400 years ago.

Giving Ongoing Charity

One of the blessings of being able to give charity in Islam is that a Muslim is able to give a charity in which its benefits are continuous, even after one has passed away. In Arabic, the term is described as ‘Sadaqah Jariyah,’ and there are many different ways of giving to charity in this way.

The Prophet ﷺ said: "When a man dies, all his good deeds come to an end except three: Ongoing charity (Sadaqah Jariyah), beneficial knowledge and a righteous son who prays for him." (Sunan an-Nasa’i 3651)

There are many practical examples of Sadaqah Jariyah that we can apply in our everyday lives. Funding a water well that continuously supplies water, sponsoring a child with the gift of education, helping towards the construction of a Masjid are all acts of continuous charity that we can carry out through utilising our money.

Waqf is another important category of continuous charity. Also known as endowments, it is a philanthropic deed whereby a Muslim donates specific assets, such as land or cash to be invested, for which the proceeds serve society in perpetuity. The donor gives up all rights to those assets and future returns so that they may be utilized in charity forever.

Jabir ibn Abdullah said: “Every Companion who had the capacity, established a Waqf.” (al-Mughni by Ibn Qudama)

The use of Waqf in early Islamic civilisation helped to feed communities through cultivated lands, establish schools, hospitals and much of the early infrastructure in the Muslim World. Indeed at its height, Waqf was a part of the fabric of Muslim society. There was a Waqf for every conceivable need and Waqf played a role in financing scientific and entrepreneurial endeavors.

Arguably the most famous Waqf of all; the well of Uthman ibn Affan RA was established at the time of the Prophet ﷺ. The dates which grew around this land are to this day, still sold in the markets and proceeds are divided towards the orphans and the poor and a special bank account in the name of Uthman ibn Affan RA, which is overseen by the Ministry of Endowments. The funds in this account have been used to buy land in the central area of the city next to the Prophet’s ﷺ mosque along with the construction of a hotel. The land is also officially registered in the local municipality under the name of ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan.

When we invest our money for financial gain, we are always seeking the most optimal return, but the way in which we are honored by Allah SWT through this form of charity allows us easy access to the best and most optimal return; everlasting good deeds. It is therefore essential that we carry out these good deeds in the best manner.

The Etiquette of Giving Charity

Whilst we are introduced to various ways to give to charity, it’s important to consider how acts of charity deliver benefit on a greater scale, impacting one’s action, character, and those around him.

The act of giving is one that humbles and educates a Muslim on morals and ethics towards themselves and others. The following ahadith explain this beautiful concept further.

1. Giving in secret

The Prophet ﷺ shares the news of those who will be shaded on the Day of Judgement, "There are seven whom Allah SWT will shade on the Day of Judgement…A man who gives in charity and hides it, such that his left hand does not know what his right hand gives in charity; and a man who remembered Allah in private and so his eyes shed tears.” (Bukhari 1423)

Keeping one’s act of charity a secret humbles them, and saves them from feeling an atom’s weight of pride for this action. Giving charity should always be given primarily for Allah SWT, hence keeping this act hidden, gives reassurance that only a Muslim and his Lord are aware of the action.

This not only increases one in humility, but preserves the dignity of the beneficiaries, allowing them to understand that it’s their right to receive such charity and not something they need to feel shy or inferior about.

2. Giving the best of what we can

Another characteristic that a Muslim can gain from giving charity is to be selfless and caring towards others to the best of their abilities.

Awf ibn Malik RA reported a situation wherein a man did not deliver a suitable item for his charity:

“The Messenger of Allah, ﷺ came to us in the mosque and he had a staff in his hand. A man among us had hung a bundle of brittle dates, so the Prophet ﷺ started striking that bundle with his staff and he said, ‘If he wished he could have given better charity than this. Verily, the one who gave this in charity will eat brittle dates on the Day of Resurrection.’” (Sunan Abī Dāwūd 1608)

Rather than seeing charity as a means of getting rid of items with defects or withered, the Sunnah places importance on giving from the best of what we can to others.

Learning from this Hadith should encourage us to give appropriately and with quality. This places focus on the way in which a Muslim gives, not just what they give. Intention is key, and this builds and develops generosity within the giver, for the betterment of his character.

The manner in which we give charity reflects the value one captivates in his heart, both for the act being for their Lord and for the benefit of the beneficiary.

On one occasion, it is narrated that Aisha RA would perfume her coins in musk before giving them to charity. She elaborated on this unique gesture by saying that the charity reaches Allah SWT before it ever touches the hand of the person in need.

This shows how connected Aisha RA was to Allah SWT, and that the act that she was doing was purely to please Him SWT before all else.

How many times do we give charity passively, or in haste? It’s worthy to reflect on the manner in which we give our charity - do we do this with kindness? Do we pause for a moment and regard this as an act that is loved in the Heavens?

3. Giving with consistency

The beauty of giving charity in Islam is that a Muslim is advised to give consistently.

The Prophet ﷺ said “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few. ' (Ibn Majah 4240).

We’ve explored the many ways charity has a great impact on one’s character and others, positively. This reinforces the benefits on a larger scale, if such acts of charity were given regularly.

The beauty of this hadith emphasizes a special meaning in Islam. The rewards of our charity are not just about how much we are giving. We have already talked about the importance of intention, but this hadith highlights even if we are giving a small amount of charity, this is something pleasing to the eyes of Allah SWT and something we should take great comfort in.

How the people of the past used to give charity

The people of the past mostly had the intention to compete with one another in doing good, in respect to connecting with Allah SWT for the next life.

Ibn Rajab stated that when the companions heard Allah SWT words, "So hasten toward all that is good" (Qur'an 2:148) “And march forth quickly in the way to forgiveness from your Lord, and for Paradise as wide as the heavens and earth" (Qur'an 3:133), they understood from it that it meant that each one of them should strive to be first (in doing good) before others, for a noble place and lofty rank.

Ibn Rajab further explains that even if one of the companions were to see someone else doing something he wasn’t capable of, he feared that his companion who did that act would outstrip him.

They’d often feel aggrieved, just because they were outdone in performing the good act. They’d compete with each other for the ranks of the Hereafter and race to them, and not for worldly gain.

Loans as a force for good

When we think of loans in today’s world, it is difficult to see it as being a force for good. Interest based loans are oppressive to society and are a driving force for social inequality and unrest. In Islam however, the only form of loan that is permitted is a Qard Hasan. A non-interest based loan, it is an act of benevolence to help those needing financial assistance. Though it is not a charity in the way we define it, it is an incredibly rewarding act that our wealth will allow us to partake in.

Establish regular prayer and give regular charity and give Allah Qard Hasan. (Qur'an 73:20)

The fact that it is mentioned in the same ayah as prayer and charity highlights the virtues of Qard Hasan. It is not merely seen as a transaction between two parties but between oneself and Allah SWT directly and is referenced in the above ayah as well as several others where its tremendous reward is shown to us;

  • And give Allah Qard Hasan. (Qur’an 5:12)
  • He who will give Allah Qard hasan, which Allah will double into his credit and multiply many times. (Qur’an 2:245)
  • Who is it that will give Allah a beautiful loan? A loan that Allah will repay after increasing it many times and grant him a generous reward (Qur’an 57:11)

The Prophet ﷺ said on Qard Hasan, that there are two gains in Qard Hasan, half of the money that was extended as a Qard would be considered Sadaqah, and the second being that your money would be returned to you.

Closing Words

It is clear then that charity isn’t a basic, meaningless act to just physically give to charity and the needy.

Charity is an essential cog in our spirituality as Muslims, and it is also an essential mechanism in the Muslim economy, redistributing wealth and creating a more equitable society.

This works well in promoting economic justice between the givers of charity and the recipients. Looking after the basic needs of people, as well as tailoring one’s attitude into providing financial and moral support to their families, makes one mindful of the needs of those close to them too.

The Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ express the seriousness to give with a pure heart and to be wary of how loved this act is to Allah SWT and His Messenger ﷺ.

We as Muslims are privileged to have several different ways to give charity, and even within this, we encounter a separate category of the ‘best types of charity’ that display greater, noble rewards benefiting Muslims in both worlds.

We should also be mindful of the manner in which we give charity. There is great reward not only in the causes we donate to but the conduct we hold ourselves to when giving to charity

In a society of plurality in behavior and individualisation, giving charity contributes to the development of every individual’s character, leaning them to have generosity, humility and awareness of those who are less fortunate. Additionally, this promotes social capital, allowing positive connections to be present between each individual, regardless of social status. Whilst this article has aimed at showing some of the different forms of charity that are the most rewarding, it isn’t an exhaustive list, and is contextual. Helping the oppressed in their time of need or bringing someone to Islam are hugely rewarding acts that we know of, but may not necessarily associate with charity,

Despite everything written above, I would still advise everyone, on top of any specific causes you would like to support, be in the habit of just giving, keep some money aside that you can give to different causes that you come across, or simply because you are asked. Often we think of charity as what it can do for the recipients and forget the impact it can have on us. So giving to causes, even though we may not have intended to, is a good way of keeping sincere and doing acts solely seeking Allah’s pleasure.

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