Giving with dignity

What do I do when I give away something? Do I donate? Receive something? Or is it rather sharing what I do?

For a long time, I have been pondering on what ‘giving’ in its essence means. Givers and pundits often contend that givers change the world and that we should be putting them on a pedestal and shine the limelight on them since they are the ones sacrificing what they have without getting anything in return. Since I have been digging into this topic in the last years, I have concluded that Islam teaches us that the concept of giving is a concept of sharing. It’s a way of sharing hope, happiness, blessings, and other aspects of life between the payer and the beneficiary. It creates equality between the payer and the beneficiary, and it recognizes that both groups need each other to fulfil their needs. In that way, the expression “Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it” finally makes sense.

Knowing this, the question may arise: “How should I give?” I will not dissect all the Islamic manners of giving but I will leave you with two great stories of our predecessors.

“They gave preference over themselves, even though they were in privation.” (Chapter 59:9, Quran)

This verse relates to the beautiful story in which a man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and stated that he is in trouble. The Prophet (pbuh) asked his companions: “Is there anyone who would like to receive this man as a guest this coming night?” A man from the Ansar (inhabitants of the city of Madinah) proposed to take care of the man. The host found out at home that he did not have enough food but was determined to provide the guest with whatever he has. They decided to present all the food they had for themselves and the children to the guest and make the guest feel comfortable. This is a wonderful example of servant leadership as a giver. The inhabitants of Madinah had committed themselves to share all their wealth with the new immigrants who came to their city. This literally meant that if someone had a house, he or she shared 50% with the immigrant. And if someone had a herd of sheep or cows, half of this was shared with the immigrant.

Another story of a giant that teaches us a valuable lesson is the story of ‘Amir bin Abdullah bin Zubayr. He was used to give away gold and silver coins to people. And he would put these coins next to their sandals when they were prostrating in prayers (salat). He was once asked: “Why don’t you face those beneficiaries and give them the money directly hand-to-hand?” And ‘Amir would say that he doesn’t want the people to feel humiliated when they are looking at him or his worker. What intrigues me in this story is that we should level up our way of giving. We should start giving with dignity. And I am hopeful that dignity also multiplies when we share it to eventually establish dignified societies.

By Imad el-Fadili, Executive Director, Nationaal Zakat Fonds