Extravagance is an unpleasant characteristic which one should avoid. The question is whether or not excessiveness in doing charity work is permitted. It’s necessary to clear the meaning of extravagance before answering the question.
1) The reason
There are different explanations for the nature of extravagance:
• Extravagance is trespassing the limit at which things are naturally designed
• Extravagance is negligence and a tendency toward the wrong action.
• Extravagance is doing the wrong action as well as oblivion of the correct deed.
• Extravagance is trespassing the path of moderation
• Extravagance is the tendency toward the extremes.
Therefore, in the exact sense of the word extravagance is trespassing the moderation line and going toward the extremes. God does not like the extravagant people and will torture them in this world and in the hereafter.
وَ کَذَالِکَ نَجْزِى مَنْ أَسْرَفَ وَ لَمْ یُؤْمِن بِایَاتِ رَبِّهِ وَ لَعَذَابُ الَآخِرَةِ أَشَدُّ وَ أَبْقَى
“And thus do We recompense him who transgresses beyond bounds and believes
not in the Signs of his Lord: and the Penalty of the Hereafter is far more grievous and more enduring.” (Quran: 20.127)
2) Excessiveness in doing charity work
By taking a look at religious texts we can understand that there are two approaches toward charity: permitted and unpermitted one.
a) Unpermitted approach
Quran has listed characteristics of those who are “servants of the Merciful God”. One of these characteristics is that these people do not indulge in extravagance:
وَ الَّذِینَ إِذَا أَنفَقُواْ لَمْ یُسْرِفُواْ وَ لَمْ یَقْتُرُواْ وَ کَانَ بَیْنَ ذَالِکَ قَوَامًا؛
Those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but hold
a just [balance] between those [extremes]. (Quran: 25.67)
Extravagance in charity has been interpreted as follows:
• He who has done charity work in the wrong path is regarded as extravagant whether it be little or much.
• He who has no regard for divine rules in his charity work is extravagant.
• Charity in the wrong path is considered extravagant.
• In the above-mentioned verse, charity work is the expense in the daily living.
• Useless charity is regarded as extravagance.
• Excessively feeding the poor is considered extravagance.
• Doing charity work with hypocrisy is deemed as extravagance.
• Extravagance in charity work is to trespass the moderation line.
None of the above definitions except for the last one actually reveals the intended meaning of extravagance. The exact meaning of extravagance is to go beyond moderation, i.e. one had better have an eye on moderation in doing charity work. He shall not give so much that he becomes poor himself and he shall not give so little that it will have no effect on the poor person. Therefore, one must be just and moderate in doing charity work and he should avoid splashing out his money:
وَ ءَاتِ ذَا الْقُرْبىَ حَقَّهُ وَ الْمِسْکِینَ وَ ابْنَ السَّبِیلِ وَ لَا تُبَذِّرْ تَبْذِیرًا
And render to the kindred their due rights, as [also] to those in want, and to the wayfarer: But squander not [your wealth] in the manner of a spendthrift. (Quran: 17:26)
Imam Reza (A.S.) mentioned the condition for doing charity work as follows: The thing that you give the poor person should not harm you more than the benefit he receives:
لَا تَبْذُلْ لِإِخْوَانِکَ مِنْ نَفْسِکَ مَا ضَرَرُهُ عَلَیْکَ أَکْثَرُ مِنْ نَفْعِهِ لَهُمْ
Do not bestow your brothers a thing that might cost you more than the benefit they receive.
b) Permitted approach
For the benefit of extravagance, one can argue in two ways: first, most of the definitions of extravagance have no relationship with moderation. For this reason, we could say that if someone does not do charity work in the wrong way, he has not been extravagant even if he gives too much or one could say that if a person does charity work according to the divine rules but in an excessive way has not been extravagant. If charity is not in the wrong way then it is not extravagance even if it becomes excessive. If a charity is beneficial then it is in no case extravagant.
If a person does not act rudely or maliciously, then he is not extravagant when he gives too much.
Then we can be extravagant in doing charity work and this is not regarded as going beyond moderation.
The second argument revolves around Hadiths. According to Hadiths by the Infallible Imams, there is no extravagance in good deeds including charity work. Imam Ali (A.S.) said:
الْإِسْرَافُ مَذْمُومٌ فِی کل شَیءٍ إِلَّا فِی أَفْعَالِ الْبِرِّ
Extravagance is considered bad but not in good deeds and benefactor ones.
It’s been narrated that once Imam Reza (A.S.) shared all his belongings among the needy people on the Arafa Day. Fazl Ibn Sahl said, “This is a loss” Imam said:
“No! This is beneficial. Never consider a rewarding deed as a loss.”
Imam Sadeq (A.S.) said:
“If a person spends thousand dirhams to buy food to do charity and only a single person uses it, it is not regarded as extravagance.”
It’s been narrated that the second Imam of the Shias gave all his properties even his slippers to the needy people for the contentment of God and he did it three times in his life.
You had better go toward them
When the mendicants are in dire need, this will lead them to stretch their hands to others for help. If the poor go to get help from the rich, it will embarrass and humiliate them. Quran orders the generous people to go toward the poor so as not to let them ask for help in a humiliating way. On the other hand, this Quranic order has some educational implications for the rich because in this way their conceit will decrease and their humility will increase:
إِن تُبْدُواْ الصَّدَقَاتِ فَنِعِمَّا هِىَ وَ إِن تُخْفُوهَا وَ تُؤْتُوهَا الْفُقَرَاءَ فَهُوَ خَیْرٌ لَّکُمْ وَ یُکَفِّرُ عَنکُم مِّن سَیِّاتِکُمْ وَ اللهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِیرٌ؛
“If ye disclose [acts of] charity, even so it is well, but if ye conceal them, and make them reach those [really] in need, that is best for you: It will remove from you some of your [stains of] evil. And Allah is well acquainted with what ye do.” (Quran: 1:271)
In this verse, «تُؤتُوهَا الفُقَراء» means that you should go after the poor people and it did not say «یأتکم الفقرا» meaning that the poor should come toward the rich. Therefore, the rich should overcome their conceit, prejudice and ambitions so as to take a step forward to piety, sacrifice and dedication and get closer to God.
It is mentioned in an interesting Hadith that when Imam Reza (A.S.) sat to eat meals, he would put a large tray beside him. He chose the best food and would tell his servants to take the food to the needy people. Then he would murmur this verse, “They have not climbed the rescuing turn and what do you know about the rescuing turn? Emancipating the slaves or feeding the orphans or mendicants who are in dire need” Then he would say:
“God the Almighty knew that not everyone is able to emancipate a slave so that he will be able to pass the rescuing turn toward the Paradise [therefore, he equaled feeding the orphans and mendicants to emancipating the slaves].”