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September 9, 2013

The Conscientious Quagmire of Charity

by Abu Faydan Faridi

Many people are in a fix about how to deal with the very complex issue of giving to beggars of all ages and genders that are literally flooding the streets of Karachi – or any other present-day rural mendicant scene anywhere.

The gist of the confusion lies in the awareness that there are so many fakes and professional beggars among the people, who by their demeanor are giving the impression that they are needy, and thus the fear of mistaking a fraud for a genuinely destitute person and thus ‘wasting’ one’s noble intentions on an undeserving scoundrel prevents one from digging into one’s pocket. On the other hand, by not giving, one’s noble intentions are altogether frustrated, so there is the big question: what is worse, a ‘wasted’ or a ‘frustrated’ noble intention?

Something ironic has happened that, were it not so pathetic, would almost seem comical: pursuing the quest of giving relief to the poor victim of social injustice, one all of a sudden finds oneself to be the victim of one’s own conscience. Something is obviously wrong here, and this rat is not roaming somewhere out there, but nesting in our own house, because poverty has existed ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, and charity has been coexisting along with poverty as its complementary opposite for just as long.

What is wrong is our perception of it and our approach to it. 

Our wrong perception of it is that by being charitable, we are helping others to overcome a misery in which their destiny has cast them, and our wrong approach to it is that since it is coming out of our pocket, we are entitled to judge whether any cause or person deserves to be supported or not.

The strong emphasis that Islam places particularly on sadaqah (non-mandatory charity) but also on zakah (in its literary sense of being a purification) focuses almost entirely on the benefit to the giver, and not to the receiver, and there is a good reason for that.  Allah – subhanahu wa ta’ala – states that He puts increase into sadaqah, just like He divests usury of all benefit and …” [2:276 – Al Baqara].

Giving is about detachment, letting go, and any attention to the consequence of the charitable act, or to the destiny of the given charity stands in blatant contravention to this, because if the giver worries about what will happen to his gift, it means, he or she still holds on to it, does not surrender the control over his/her possession.

One very important aspect of charity is spontaneity, which also gets violated by giving ones rational mind room to question or weigh the ‘effectiveness’ of one’s act. The Prophet is reported to have said, ‘Give to a beggar even if he comes riding on a horse’. What is the meaning of admonishing to give, even if the one asking comes on horseback, if not to discard the internal strife of the reason, arguing that if the man owns a horse, he is clearly not needy, and my charity could be spent on a more deserving cause?
We are not here to put right things that lie beyond our sphere of influence, and the given conditions of genuine poverty as well as its ruthless and fraudulent exploitation are surely not within this sphere, unless we hold some civic office or our Rabb has put it otherwise into our lap as a jihad project.
On the individual scale the correct approach is to follow ones heart (without taking permission from the head first) even at the danger of financing another fix for a heroin addict, because we can never know whether the momentary relief he would be getting from it is exactly the divine intent, when striking our heart with a reflection of His Compassion; His Mercy and Generosity in sustaining His Creation do not discriminate between who deserves and who doesn’t, they are totally unconditional and we should strive to adapt to this sunnah of His too.

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