Man is able to behave in a way that much of his behavior represents generosity and benefaction. It is important that people put helping and serving others on their agenda. Then much of his behavior can considered as a type of generosity and benefaction.
1) Benefiting and serving people
One of the necessities of social life that plays a great role in social relations is trying to fulfill the needs of others, caring for others, meeting their needs and, in short, benefiting others. Islam seeks to create a spirit of solidarity among its followers and create a healthy society. God has hidden treasures one of which is serving people. Benefiting others has a great reward. It leads people to heaven, increases human sustenance, brings long life for him, makes man known on the earth and in Heaven, and fights the evils and calamities. Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) expressed the criteria of man’s value to have faith in God and benefitting people:
خَصْلَتَانِ لَیْسَ فَوْقَهُمَا مِنَ الْبِرِّ شَیْءٌ الْإِیمَانُ بِاللهِ وَ النَّفْعُ لِعِبَادِ اللهِ؛
“There are two good attributes to which nothing is superior faith in God and benefiting his creatures.”
One of the greatest human desires is feelings and emotions that boil from his inner layers and is represented in kindness and service towards his fellowmen. Perhaps based on this natural structure put in human nature by God, fulfilling the rights of people is one of the duties of humans. Imam Reza (A.S.) counts some duties for affluent people. One of them is having empathy with and benefiting religious brothers:
صَاحِبُ النِّعْمَةِ یَجِبُ عَلَیْهِ حُقُوقٌ مِنْهَا الزَّکَاةُ فِی مَالِهِ وَ مِنْهَا الْمُوَاسَاةُ لِإِخْوَانِهِ وَ مِنْهَا الصِّلَةُ لِرَحِمِهِ وَ التَّوْسِعَةُ لِعِیَالِهِ وَ غَیْرُ ذَلِکَ مِنَ الْحُقُوقِ؛
Some duties are must for those with affluence: paying Zakat for their properties, sympathy to his brothers, establishing relations with relatives, broadening the rights of women and children, and fulfilling other’s rights.
In a thoughtful narration, Imam Sadiq (A.S.) considered usefulness to others as a sign of faith and said:
“Believers are servants of each other, I asked how? He said they benefit one another.”
Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) was asked who the most popular people of God are, and he said
أَنْفَعُ النَّاسِ لِلنَّاسِ؛
“The ones who is the most useful to people”
Worship in Islam has a broad meaning and, in addition to prayer and fasting, includes serving the public and goodness towards them. The last messenger of Allah said:
“Every Muslim who removes an obstacle which hurts others receives a reward written for him and anyone whose one good deed is accepted goes to Heaven.”
Religion is nothing but serving
Not the rosary, praying
Nor the cassock wearing
No problem for your staying on the throne
Given you can keep clean the crown
To truth and others’ faults covering should be your devotion
Keep your tongue clean from strong words and vilification
According to a luminous expression from Imam Reza (A.S.) helping people, especially the poor, is among the best alms:
عَوْنُکَ لِلضَّعِیفِ مِنْ أَفْضَلِ الصَّدَقَةِ؛
“Helping the poor is the greatest charity”
In the tradition of Imam Reza (A.S.), a lot of cases of helping and serving people are mentioned:
• Help in the bathroom: Imam, regardless of his great moral and social status, with great humility, helped people even in the most trivial affairs such as in taking a bath. Once he entered the bathroom, a man asked him to accompany him, and assist him to wash his body. Later on, the man recognized him and began to apologize. His attitude at this moment is very beautiful. Imam with his words made his heart calm and helped him wash his body.
• Helping to bury the dead: attending the funeral and performing tasks related to the ceremonial ablution, and burial of the deceased have been emphasized by religious leaders, and are the best examples of serving people. Musa ibn Yasar says that he entered the streets of Tus with Imam Reza (A.S.) and heard crying and wailing. When we got closer, we saw a corpse. When Imam saw the corpse, he got off the horse. Then went to the dead and raised it and said:
“Anyone who attends the funeral of a friend of ours, his sins shed like the day he was born and there is no sin for him”
• Medication: Imam Reza (A.S.) made great efforts for the prevention of diseases and treatment of physical pain of the people. Zahabiyyah thesis which contains very important and useful points on anatomy, health advice and treatment is a small part of his efforts to benefit people with prescription of medication.
2) Attention to neighbors
Islam contains a comprehensive program for happiness in this world and the Hereafter. This divine religion has considered all individual, social, physical, and emotional needs. People within social groups can have the full experience of peace. One of the orders of Islam is attention to neighbors and honoring them.
The result of the Current lifestyle is lack of the attention of neighbors to each other, while a Muslims should think about others, including his neighbors; if they are informed of a difficulty or needs in their neighbors’ lives, they should try to alleviate their suffering. Imam Ali (A.S.) considers attention to neighbors as a representation of benefaction, and says:
“A generous man honors and helps his neighbors”
Imam Reza (A.S.) beautifully narrated from the Messenger of Allah (P.B.U.H.) that the last prophet of God orders Imam Ali (A.S.) about the neighbors thus:
“O Ali! When you cook food, add more water to the gravy since juice of meat is also part of the meat, and it is better for the neighbors to get the gravy if they cannot get the meat”
3) Practical thanksgiving
One of the examples of sacrifice and charity is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving toward the Lord or His creatures is a kind of forgiveness. If a generous man gets a favor or services, even though its amount is a little, he will immediately try to compensate or thank for the favor. Imam Ali (A.S.) describes a generous man in this way:
“A generous person is the man who thanks for any blessing even though its amount is little, and a stingy person is a man who ignores great blessings”
Thanksgiving has various kinds: Verbal thanks, heartfelt thanks and practical thanksgiving. Verbal thanksgiving is when a person thanks verbally by saying words like "Praise be to Lord" and "Thanks to the Lord".
Imam Reza (A.S.) explains the obligation of reciting Surah Al-Hamd in prayer in this way:
“No Surah like Al-Hamd includes all the goodness and wisdom in its concept, God’s servants by saying ‘Praise be to Lord’ can express their gratitude for having the opportunity to do good deeds”
One of the examples of verbal thanksgiving is expressing the inability to thank the Lord for His Divine blessing.
Whose hand and tongue is capable
to fulfill the obligation of thanks to him?
Heartfelt thanksgiving occurs when a man is deeply grateful for the divine infinite blessing by his soul and heart. By referring to this kind of thanksgiving, Imam Reza (A.S) says:
“Blessed is the man who is always grateful for the blessing by his heart”
Another kind of thanksgiving is the practical one which includes a wide range. Making use of every blessing in the right situation is one of the features of practical thanksgiving. So the eyes, ears, tongue and other divine blessings should be directed in their right path. Another example of practical thanksgiving is applying forces, and material and spiritual abilities for serving other people.
One of the recommendations of Imam Reza (A.S.) is to apply divine piety for the blessings. His Holiness explains piety with regards to blessing as follows:
“Don't put away the blessing from yourselves by committing sins but perpetuate them through obedience and gratitude”
The Imam (A.S.) stated that thanksgiving has a hierarchy: Faith to the Lord, confessing the rights of divine Saints and the Prophet’s descendants, and helping and assisting religious brothers:
After faith to the Lord and confessing the rights of divine Saints of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H.), the most loved act towards the Lord is to help religious brothers in their affairs and if you don't do so, it means that you have not performed thanksgiving to the Lord. That's why the assistance eases the path of reaching to the Lord's heaven and who acts so, he will be the true special servant of the Lord.
According to this narration, accompanying and helping others is one of the most distinctive examples of thanksgiving. Therefore, an equal relationship can be established between the act of thanksgiving and helping other people which is an obvious example of charity and beneficence; it means that assisting others is a manifestation of thanksgiving and it is assumed as a clear example of beneficence.
Imam Reza (A.S.) narrates a beautiful story which implies that thanksgiving is considered as an evidence of beneficence. One night, an Israelite had a dream of a man who told him: "You'll spend half of your life in welfare and prosperity and the other half in difficulties. Then, choose what you want". He replied: "I have a partner and I should consult with her." In the morning, he told about his dream to his wife: "I had this dream. Which half would you prefer to select? She said: "Choose the first half." The man did so and soon they were prosperous. Whenever he received a blessing, his wife said to him: "Our neighbor is in need and give him something or help your relatives who are in need." They continued helping their relatives and neighbors. After a while, he had another dream in which the same man told him: "Half of your life is over. Now what do you say?" The man repeated his previous answer and said: "I should consult with my partner." In the morning, he narrated the dream for his wife. She replied whenever we got any blessing, we performed our thanksgiving. The Lord is the provider of our daily bread. So he told the same thing to the man in his dream, and the man replied:" You will be in welfare all your life."
The following can be concluded from this story:
• Thanksgiving causes an increase and proliferation of blessings.
• One can thank his Lord's blessing through charity, beneficence and attention to his relatives and neighbors.
• By doing beneficence, one can spend all his life in welfare and prosperity.
4. Communication with Relatives
One example of benefaction and devotion is manifested in spending some time visiting one’s relatives and communicating with them since it is the most virtuous of good deeds.
In various verses of Quran, God Almighty establishes a close relationship among visiting relatives, benefaction (Ihsan), and charity (Infaq). In one of the Quranic verses, the concept of covenant has been mentioned. Most items contained in these covenants must be considered as the fixed principles of divine religions since these covenants exist in all heavenly religions in different forms:
وَ إِذْ أَخَذْنَا مِیثَاقَ بَنىِ إِسْرَ ءِیلَ لَا تَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا اللهَ وَ بِالْوَالِدَیْنِ إِحْسَانًا وَ ذِى الْقُرْبىَ وَ الْیَتَامَى وَ الْمَسَاکِینِ وَ قُولُواْ لِلنَّاسِ حُسْنًا وَ أَقِیمُواْ الصَّلَوةَ وَ ءَاتُواْ الزَّکَوةَ ثُمَّ تَوَلَّیْتُمْ إِلَّا قَلِیلًا مِّنکُمْ وَ أَنتُم مُّعْرِضُون
And remember We took a covenant from the Children of Israel (to this effect): Worship none but God; treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; and practice regular charity. Then did ye turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now). (Holy Quran 2:83)
In this verse, the Holy Quran blamed the Jews for breaking the covenants, and threatens them with disgrace in this world and severe punishment in the Hereafter. This covenant, which the Israelites witnessed and acknowledged, contains the following:
• Monotheism and worshipping Allah
• Kindness towards parents
• Treating relatives, orphans, and the poor with kindness
• Speaking nicely with people
• Performing prayers
• Paying charity and fulfilling the rights of the poor
In another verse, God Almighty raises a question that people ask the Prophet (P.B.U.H.) as to what they should donate.
یَسْئَلُونَکَ مَا ذَا یُنفِقُون
They ask thee what they should spend [in charity] (Holy Quran 2:215)
God responds: Say whatever that is good and whatever material and spiritual capital that is advantageous.
قُلْ مَا أَنفَقْتُم مِّنْ خَیْرٍ
Say: Whatever ye spend that is good (Holy Quran 2:215)
Then, several groups are introduced as the target of these material and spiritual charities including relatives:
فَلِلْوَالِدَیْنِ وَ الْأَقْرَبِینَ وَ الْیَتَامَى وَ الْمَسَاکِینِ وَ ابْنِ السَّبِیلِ وَ مَا تَفْعَلُواْ مِنْ خَیْرٍ فَإِنَّ اللهَ بِهِ عَلِیم
…is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, Allah knoweth it well. (Holy Quran 2:215)
In another verse, goodness is being discussed. And that goodness is not limited to turn your face towards east or west while performing prayers. Instances of goodness have then been very beautifully stated in this holy verse. One of these instances is to donate one’s wealth, despite all the love one has for it, to the relatives, orphans, the poor, wayfarers, those who ask, and the slaves:
لَّیْسَ الْبِرَّ أَن تُوَلُّواْ وُجُوهَکُمْ قِبَلَ الْمَشْرِقِ وَ الْمَغْرِبِ وَ لَکِنَّ الْبِرَّ مَنْ ءَامَنَ بِاللهِ وَ الْیَوْمِ الْأَخِرِ وَ الْمَلَئکَةِ وَ الْکِتَابِ وَ النَّبِیینَ وَ ءَاتىَ الْمَالَ عَلىَ حُبِّهِ ذَوِى الْقُرْبىَ وَ الْیَتَامَى وَ الْمَسَاکِینَ وَ ابْنَ السَّبِیلِ وَ السَّائلِینَ وَ فىِ الرِّقَاب
It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, and for the ransom of slaves; (Holy Quran 2:177)
Based on the verses, the Holy Quran has established a direct relationship among caring for kindred, benefaction, and generosity. Accordingly, in Quranic worldview, visiting relatives, communicating with kindred and kindness towards them are manifestations of benefaction. Ibn Shu’ba al-Harrani quoted Imam Reza (A.S.):
“Communicate with your kindred even if it is through a drink of water, and the best relationship with your kindred is not to bother them.”
In another narrative, Imam Reza (A.S.) counts lengthy life as one of the effects and advantages of visiting one’s relatives:
“Sometimes, one has three years to live, and as he visits his relatives, the three years left will increase to 30 years. God does what he wants.”
Making peace, compromise and reconciling people are among the alms loved by God. When there is a conflict between two persons, two tribes, two governments or several governments, the distances will increase, and the presence of God will fade away. This is the perfect time for the beautiful act of benefaction, which is mediating in order to ease and resolve the problems. Imam Sadegh (A.S.) said:
“The benefaction loved by God is mediating between people. When there is a conflict between them and they are far apart, bring them together.”
In another narrative, His Holiness considers this act superior to a two-dinar charity. The value of spending time to reconcile people is more clarified when Imam Reza (A.S.) considers this pleasant practice the best good deed next to performing the obligations. The eighth Imam of the Shiites quotes a beautiful hadith from the last messenger of Allah which emphasizes the significance of mediation between people:
“Making peace between two persons is better than a year of prayers and fasting.”
Therefore, attempting at making peace between people is an instance of the best of good deeds and is considered as sustainable alms for man.
One type of benefaction is to honor guests. The guests will have some rights on the host. The guest’s right is to be respected and received as much as the host can afford. The Prophet (P.B.U.H.) beautifully said:
“When one honors a guest, it’s as if he had honored 70 messengers. When one spends one dirham for a guest, it’s as if he had spent thousand dinars on charity for the sake of Allah.”
The last messenger of Allah has also determined the limits of being a guest: For a guest, the first day is his right, but from the second day onwards, he will receive alms from the host. Also, guests should not be a burden for the hosts and cause them run out of food.
Imam Reza (A.S.) also counts some conditions to treat guests: First not to engage guests in working, and second, to accompany the guests to the door when they are leaving:
“It is the guests’ right to be accompanied to the door.”
7) Feeding the poor
One of the aspects of generosity is to feed the needy people. Feeding can be done in different ways, one of which is to feed people publicly. Imam Sadeq (A.S.):
“He who feeds others will in return receive a great reward. Nobody knows the amount of his reward, neither the close Angel to God nor the Prophet knows about it, only God the Almighty knows the reward of this person.”
Another way of hospitality is by holding a wedding ceremony and feeding others. One who has generously held a ceremony for the marriage bond, God will in return bestow upon him a great reward. Feeding the slaves is another way of hospitality. Imam Sadeq (A.S.) said:
“A slave has rights one of which is to be fed.”
The most important type of hospitality is to feed the orphans:
One who gathers the orphans and feeds them with the best kinds of beverages and food has done the most precious deeds. Imam Reza (A.S.) said:
“One who is not able to emancipate a slave, instead, he had better feed the orphans and mendicants.”
Someone came to visit Imam Reza (A.S.) and said, “I have a child who has been inflicted with a lot of diseases.” Imam advised him to constantly feed the needy as a charity because God has mentioned so when said, “Why doesn’t he start doing the hard work?”
In prophetic medicine, water is considered as one of the best charities. In this way, he who slakes one’s thirst has done a great charity work. Imam Sadeq (A.S.) said by reminding the heartbreaking story of Ashura:
“He who slakes one’s thirst has done the greatest charity work and God will allocate a shade for him in a day when there is no shadow.”
Generosity means visiting others and helping them. He who has the intention of doing generous work loves feeding the poor and feels exhilarated when he sees others in his company as if he himself were eating the most delicious types of food. In fact, a generous man enjoys feeding more than eating.