When we reflect on this fact, we recognize that Allah's grace has been bestowed on us in abundance. It is He who sent us messages to point to us the way which will lead us to happiness in this life as well as in the life to come. It is He who has brought this process of sending messages to its final stage when he sent Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, with the complete and final form of the divine message. It is He who has guaranteed to preserve this message intact for the rest of time so that all generations will have access to it whenever they want. It is He who has made us responsive to His call and facilitated for us acceptance of it by making that acceptance the door which leads us to a life of happiness in this world and one of greater happiness in the hereafter.
Had Allah left things at that and imposed on us the duty to believe in Him and live up to our faith, His grace would have been most abounding and we should have no excuse for not responding to His message and following His messenger, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who conveyed to us Allah's last message. But Allah has bestowed on us much more of His grace. In the life of every single one of us, there are moments when we find ourselves literally at the cross-roads between faith and unbelief. These moments represent chances offered to every single one of us to follow the right direction. We either take the chance so offered or we allow it to pass as though meant for someone else. What is special about these moments or these chances is that at these particular points in time, we see the issues involved most clearly. We are actually beckoned in a most appealing way to follow the path of Islam. Yet, many of us deride that chance and choose to go in the opposite direction.
I know someone whose determination to diligently follow the path of Islam is exemplary. Yet nothing in his upbringing could have helped him make such a choice. Neither of his parents cared about giving their child any sort of religious education. They sent him to a school which regarded religious education a luxury that could not be afforded. He told me about one moment in his life when he could feel that the choice was put to him in front of his eyes. The issues were so clear that what he saw could have very well been in the material world.
How do these moments or chances come about is something that Allah alone knows. What we know is that they do not come to all of us in the same way, nor does the chance repeat itself in the same manner twice. These are moments when our spiritual vision, as it were, of the facts of existence is at its clearest. These moments are part of the guidance with which Allah has provided us. None of us is forgotten. Each one of us is responsible and is given his chance.
Perhaps what has happened to you was that you have experienced such a moment. It may be something at which you could not point finger, but it is nevertheless real. Allah has enabled you to see things as they truly are and to make the right choice. For that you must thank Allah for the rest of your life, since you undoubtedly are enjoying the blessings of being at peace with yourself and with the universe around you. It is that peace which brings to the faithful a happiness that is inexhaustible.
• Charity: It is not a favor done by the giver
In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Beneficent
The case of those who spend their wealth for the cause of Allah is like that of a grain which brings forth seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He wills. Allah is munificent, All-Knowing. They who spend their wealth for the cause of Allah and do not follow their spending by stressing their own benevolence and with injury (to others) shall have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve. A kind word with forgiveness is better than charity, followed by injury. Allah is free of all wants, clement. Believers, do not render your charitable deeds worthless by boasting about your benevolence and causing injury to others, as does he who spends his wealth only to show off and to be praised, while he believes neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. Such a person is like a smooth rock covered with earth. Then heavy rain falls on it and leaves it hard and bare. Such as these shall gain nothing from their works. Allah does not guide the non-believers. But those who give away their wealth out of a genuine desire to please Allah, and out of their own inner certainty are like a garden on a hillside. Heavy rain falls on it, and it yields up twice its normal produce. If no heavy rain falls on it, a slight drizzle (is sufficient). Allah sees all you do. Would any one of you wish to have a garden of palms and vines, through which rivers flow, then to be well advanced in age, while his children are weak; and then a fiery whirlwind smites it and leaves it all burned down? In this way Allah makes plain to you His revelations, so that you may reflect. [The Cow — “Al-Baqarah”: 2;261-266] Commentary by Sayyid Qutb — Translated by Adil Salahi & Ashur Shamis.
This Qur'anic constitution does not start with imposing duties, but by encouragement and persuasion. It attempts to awaken inner feelings and reaction within man's whole being. It portrays an image of life which is vivid, ever-increasing, yielding its endless gifts: that of plants, the gift of the land, or indeed the gift of Allah. Plants give much more than they take. Their yield and fruit are a great many times more than their seeds. This highly impressive image is given as something very similar to those who spend their wealth for the cause of Allah: The case of those who spend their wealth for the sake of Allah is like that of a grain which brings forth seven ears, in every ear a hundred grains.
The simple, immediate meaning of the expression here requires a simple arithmetic process which makes one grain yield seven hundreds. The vivid image provided here is, however, much more impressive and beautiful. Its effect on man's conscience is much more profound. It is an image of active life, nature at full sway, a plant making its gift. Moreover, it is a scene of something miraculous in the realm of plants: a single grain bringing forth seven ears, with each ear containing one hundred grains.
As the procession of ever-growing life continues its march, the Qur'an directs man's conscience to give more and more. By doing so, it indeed gains.
It does not decrease: it increases. The process of giving and growing continues and it awakens more and more of man's feelings to appreciate the scene of plants and their yield. Allah increases His bounty many times over to whomever He wills, without any need for keeping accounts. He gives and gives of His limitless bounty and His infinite mercy: Allah is Munificent, All-Knowing. He is munificent: He does not stint His gifts which are ever forthcoming. He also knows all, including people's intentions which He rewards. Nothing can escape Allah's knowledge.
But what sort of spending is made to grow and grow? And what sort of gift is rewarded with a manifold increase in this life and in the life to come? It is the kind of spending which elevates human feelings and keeps them pure. It is the one which does not hurt the feelings of others, and which is motivated by pure kindness and benevolence, and which seeks only Allah's pleasure: Those who spend their wealth for the cause of Allah and do not follow their spending by stressing their own benevolence and with injury (to others) shall have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve.
To boast about what one gives away is certainly abominable. No one talks boastfully about one's benevolence unless one is motivated by conceit, or a desire to humiliate the recipient of his bounty, or to draw people's attention to himself. Hence, his generosity is not for the sake of Allah, but to win favors with people. Such motives and desires are alien to a pure heart of a true believer. Boasting makes charity an injury to both the giver and the recipient. It injures the giver as it awakens within him feelings of pride and conceit, as well as a desire to see his brother, the recipient, showing humbleness in his presence. It further injures him because it fills his heart with hypocrisy and drives him away from Allah. It is, on the other hand, an injury to the recipient as it makes him feel his humbleness. He then reacts with harboring a grudge and a desire for revenge.
Islam does not view spending for the cause of Allah as merely a means to provide food for the poor to eat. In the Islamic view, spending is a means to purify the soul of the giver and to elevate it. It is also a means to arouse within him his humanitarian feelings so that he feels the bond which unites him with his poor brother and reminds him of Allah's grace and His bounty, as well as the term upon which he was given Allah's bounty, namely, to enjoy it without extravagance or showiness, and to spend of it "for Allah's cause" without reluctance or boasting. Islam also views such spending as a consolation for the recipient and a cementation of his ties with his brother, the giver. It is also a means to overcome the weakness of the community as a whole, so that it is built on a solid foundation of mutual cooperation and security which brings to the fore its awareness that it is a single entity which has the same direction and the same duties. If those who are charitable will stress their benevolence and boast of it they ruin all this and make their spending a poisonous act and a fire which consumes the unity of the society. Boastfulness, therefore, is an injury even when it is not accompanied by any other form of injury, whether verbal or physical. It is an injury because it ruins a good act, enhances grudges and tears the society apart.
A number of modern psychologists are of the view that the natural reaction to charity is future hostility. They claim that the one who takes charity is bound to feel inferior to the giver. His feeling of inferiority will continue to work on him, and he will then try to overcome it by harboring hostility toward the giver, especially if he believes that the giver wants him always to remember his kindness. This, in turn, enhances his distress at his inferiority which then makes him hostile to the giver.
All this may be true of ignorant societies where Islam does not rule. This religion of ours has a different method of tackling this problem. It establishes first that whatever is in the hands of people belongs to Allah. Only those who do not know the direct and indirect reasons of wealth and earnings dispute this. Everything which we have is given us by the grace of Allah. We cannot possess any of it by our own means. For a single grain to exist, it is necessary for natural forces, such as the sun, the earth, water and air to play their respective roles. None of these forces is controlled by man. The same applies to the drop of water, the string from which cloth is made and indeed to everything. Hence, if a rich person gives something of this wealth in charity, he only gives away something which belongs to Allah. If he does something good, he is only giving Allah a loan which is repaid manifold. The needy person who stands at the other end is only a means through which the giver gets a reward which is many times greater than what he gives. To stress this meaning in people's hearts and to discourage people from boasting and to encourage the needy to take their dues, Islam has laid down these moral values which we are discussing. Both the giver and the recipient eat of what has been provided by Allah. Those who give will receive their reward from Allah if they spend of Allah's money for Allah's cause, observing the moral code He has laid down for them, and bound by the terms of their covenant with Him. They have nothing to fear, for they will not be deprived of what has been given to them. Nor would they have to content with other people's grudges or with injustice. Nor shall they grieve for having to spend in this life, or over what happens to them in the Hereafter.
Charity is worthless if it is followed by injury inflicted by the giver on the recipient. It is far better to replace it by a kind word and a friendly feeling. A kind word helps fill people's hearts with pleasure and content. Forgiveness washes away grudges and replaces them with a feeling of friendship and brotherhood. Together they achieve the primary purpose of charity, namely, the purification of hearts and the strengthening of friendly feelings.
Charity is not a favor done by the giver to the recipient; it is a loan given to Allah. Hence, the statement is included with this comment: Allah is free of all wants, clement. He is in no need of charity followed by injury. A manifest of His clemency is given by the fact that He provides everything for His servants, but does not punish them for their ingratitude. Yet they are indebted to Him for their very existence, even before He gives them anything. People, then, should learn and try to treat each other with clemency. They must not be furious with, or inflict injury on, those to whom they have been charitable should they be ungrateful to them or should they do something wrong.
The Qur'an continues to remind people of the attributes of Allah which provide the perfect ideal for a Muslim with regard to his manners and moral values. He should work hard toward that ideal in order to achieve of it whatever his nature is capable of achievement.
The last three verses have given us an example of those who spend their wealth for the cause of Allah, without stressing their own benevolence or causing injury to others portrayed allegorically in a scene of vitreous life yielding its fruits with abundance, followed by a statement that Allah is in no need of charity followed by injury. When the impressions left by these verses are at their most vivid and their impact at its highest, the believers are instructed not to render their charitable acts invalid by boastfulness and injury. We are given here two remarkable scenes which fit perfectly with the earlier one drawn from the world of agriculture. They describe the nature of spending purely for Allah's sake and the other type of charity followed by injury and boastfulness. This is in keeping with the Qur'anic method of putting the intended meaning in a scene, and showing the effect in a movement, and the whole idea in a vivid portrait which is full of life.
The first scene is made up of two contrasting images, with each containing details which fit perfectly with one another as far as the art of drawing is concerned. They are also perfectly fitting to the message the whole scene has been drawn to give the feelings and impressions it is intended to impart.
In the first image, we see the very hard heart: As does he who spends his wealth only to show off and be praised by others, while he believes neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. The gentle, pleasant and happy feelings faith imparts to man are unknown to that person who tries to cover his hard nature with a thin cover of hypocrisy. His masked heart is like a smooth rock covered with earth. It is a piece of stone which can never be fertile, covered with a thin layer of dust so that its hard nature is not immediately recognizable in the same way as hypocrisy covers the hard nature of a heart devoid of faith. Then heavy rain falls on it and leaves it hard and bare. When the dust is washed away by the rain, everyone recognizes the reality of the stone: bare, unfruitful, hard, barren. The same qualities apply to the person who spends his wealth only to show off and to gain praise. Nothing good results from his action and he can expect no reward.
The contrasting image of this scene is that of a heart full of faith, gentle and happy. It is the heart of a man who spends his wealth out of a genuine desire to please Allah. He is also motivated by his certainty, imparted to him by his faith, that good actions yield the best fruit. The heart of the believer is represented here by a fertile garden with deep soil, in contrast with the thin layer of dust on the smooth rock which was the image given earlier for the hard heart of the non-believer. Two similes provide perfect harmony. When heavy rain falls it does not wash away the fertile soil as it did with the dust on that stone, it enhances its fertility and doubles its produce: Heavy rain falls on it, and it yields up twice its normal produce.
The heavy rain gives life to the soil in the same way as charity gives life to the heart of the believer to enable him to grow and strengthen his relationship with Allah. His wealth also increases and Allah gives him in abundance. Moreover, the life of the Muslim community is purified with such kind spending and it grows: If no rain falls on it, a slight drizzle (is sufficient). Indeed, fertile soil needs only little water to give in abundance.
It is a complete scene with perfect contrast, and great harmony of details. It is shown with inimitable skill. It portrays every feeling and every thought with tangible indicators, and imparts its message to man effortlessly.
Since a scene is something which we see with our eyes, and since the whole matter in discussion depends on how Allah sees the real motives behind actions, it is concluded with this comment: Allah sees all you do.
The second scene shows the end brought about by boastfulness and injury. They totally destroy the good effects of charity at the time when the person concerned is powerless and helpless, unable to avert that destruction. This depressing result is depicted in a vivid image which leaves strong impressions. Everything here is stormy, after a period of security and fertility. In essence and effect, an act of charity is likened in the physical world to a garden of palms and vines, through which rivers flow, bringing forth all kinds of fruits. It is a beautiful garden with fine trees and abundant fruits. So should a charity be in the life of the giver, the recipient and the community; it should be pleasant, beautiful, and blessed. It should help truth and it should promote life.
Who would wish to have such a garden, or such a good act, and then inflict on it uncalled for boastfulness and injury to destroy a garden. Who would do that at the moment when he is totally helpless to save it, and when his need for its fruits is at its most pressing. Then to be well advanced in age, while children are weak; and then a fiery whirlwind smites it and leaves it all burnt down. Who would wish to have that? Who would not try to avert such an end, having contemplated it? In this way, Allah makes plain to you His revelations, so that you may reflect.
The scene portrays first a case of happiness and enjoyment, beauty and splendor, before the fiery whirlwind utterly destroys it. The awesome impressions left by this remarkable scene leaves no room for any hesitation before the choice is made while it can be made, before the beautiful, fruitful garden is destroyed by the fire of the whirlwind.
The perfect harmony which we inevitably notice in the drawing of every individual scene and the way it is presented, is not limited to individual scenes. It applies to all the scenes drawn in this passage, which are all derived from the field of agriculture: a grain out of which grow seven ears; a smooth rock covered with earth before it is washed away by heavy rain; a garden on a hillside producing double its normal harvest; a garden of palms and vines, etc. It is a complete artistic exhibition which also includes heavy rain, drizzle and a whirlwind.
Beyond all this lies an essential fact of an important relationship between man and the soil of the earth. It is the fact of the common origin, the common nature and the life common to both man and the soil. This life of both man and soil can also be utterly destroyed. All this we learn from the Qur'an, the perfect word of truth, revealed by the One who is Wise and who knows all.
• Charity: Through a will
It is my intention to give my wife, by a will, a plot of land which I have bought so that she would give it away as a donation to pay the expenses of a small school for the children of our village. Is it appropriate?
What I find strange is that you wish to give the land to your wife by will and she will give it as a donation for the commendable purpose you have mentioned. Why should all this be in two steps, first your giving it to your wife, then she giving it away? Why do you not do it straight-away, mentioning in your will that this land goes to that particular purpose? This seems more logical and more acceptable. There are complications with the way you have chosen.
To start with, your wife is one of your heirs. As such, you may not give her by will anything over and above what Allah has apportioned to her. Even though your intention is that what she receives by will shall end up in other people's hands and for a different purpose than making it her property, taking this step is wrong because it places the possession of that land in her hands. This you cannot do. Other heirs may contest this will and the court of law will rule in their favor.
Secondly, from what you have said, it may be that the plot of land constitutes more than one third of your property. If the case is such, then you should not make a will involving whole of the land as it exceeds the maximum limit the Prophet has set for a will, namely, one third of what you own. If it is less than one third, then you can give it away for a charitable purpose such as a school in your village. You should, however, make a direct will to that effect, appointing a trustee to supervise the transfer and/or management of the land for that particular purpose.
• Charms and the black magic
Would you please let me know what view Islam takes of wearing charms? Many people believe in the bad effects of black magic and feel that a charm will enable them to get rid of its effects. How correct is that?
Black magic exists and it is mentioned in the Qur'an. But it is also mentioned that magicians can only make things seem to happen. There is no real substance to their work. In the encounter related in Qur'an between Moses and the magicians whom Pharaoh recruited to try to defeat Moses, those magicians were able to show that their staffs and ropes were turned into snakes. Allah states in the Qur'an, however: They were made to seem to him by the power of magic as if they were moving. The way this statement is phrased is a clear indication of the fact that a magician can only play on the imagination of people. There is no real substance to his work. When Moses threw his staff, Allah turned it into a real snake which swallowed their ropes and staffs. When they realized that the snake was real, they prostrated themselves, declaring that they believed in Allah who had given Moses that power.
People are affected by what they imagine. It is quite possible for a person to think that he is ill and he will soon become ill. Hence, believing in magic can lead to certain real effects.
To practice black magic is categorically forbidden. Indeed, it is tantamount to rejecting Islam altogether. To try to learn black magic is also forbidden.
To wear a charm in order to protect oneself against black magic is not allowed in Islam. The Prophet prays that no one who wears a charm may enjoy the effect for which he has worn it. We know that the Prophet's prayers are always answered. Hence, if we want to protect ourselves against something, we should not wear a charm, because to wear will bring the opposite effect. This applies to all sorts of charms, be they in the form of natural precious stones or specifically made by certain people. Nothing of this is permissible.
If one wants to protect oneself and foil the attempts of anyone who resorts to black magic against him, he should read the Qur'an, particularly the last two Surahs. This is the Prophet's guidance and we should abide by his guidance.