Tuesday 22 March 2022

Who are the rightful beneficiaries of Charity

No two men are born equal - some are privileged while some are less privileged, some are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and some are born in tatters and rag tags. The equation between haves and haves not can never be equal or the gulf between the two cannot be bridged.  This leaves the poor and the downtrodden living their life in a state of misery all their lives. No system can ensure equal sustenance opportunities to all its people. Even in the best of the economies of the world, there are homeless people living on footpaths or in shabby localities. The wars result in refugees that are forced to live in foreign lands on aids that is never enough.

Islam is the only religion that addresses this issue with the concept of Zakat (obligatory deduction from one's money to be reserved for the poor) and charity (the voluntary donations to people in need) by the rich to the poor. We have already written a detailed post on "Who are the rightful recipients of Zakat," and now we talk of who are the rightful beneficiaries of Charity in Islam in the light of 273rd verse of Surah 2. Al Baqarah (The Cow). 

Before quoting the the selected verse, let me point out one thing that charity to beggars is not allowed as these are professionals whom no amount of charity is enough. Then who are the rightful beneficiaries? See what Qur'an says:

لِلۡفُقَرَآءِ الَّذِيۡنَ اُحۡصِرُوۡا فِىۡ سَبِيۡلِ اللّٰهِ لَا يَسۡتَطِيۡعُوۡنَ ضَرۡبًا فِى الۡاَرۡضِ يَحۡسَبُهُمُ الۡجَاهِلُ اَغۡنِيَآءَ مِنَ التَّعَفُّفِ​ۚ تَعۡرِفُهُمۡ بِسِيۡمٰهُمۡ​ۚ لَا يَسۡـئَلُوۡنَ النَّاسَ اِلۡحَـافًا ​ؕ وَمَا تُنۡفِقُوۡا مِنۡ خَيۡرٍ فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ بِهٖ عَلِيۡمٌ
(2:273) Those needy ones who are wholly wrapped up in the cause of Allah, and who are hindered from moving about the earth in search of their livelihood, especially deserve help. He who is unaware of their circumstances supposes them to be wealthy because of their dignified bearing, but you will know them by their countenance, although they do not go about begging of people with importunity. Whatever wealth you spend on helping them, Allah will know of it.
This refers to the people who devote themselves wholly to the service of Islam and are, therefore, unable to earn their livelihood. There was a regular band of such volunteers of Islam known as Ashab as-suffah. They numbered about 400 and were always at the beck and call of the Holy Prophet, who had imparted to them the knowledge of Islam and trained them for its service. They imparted their acquired knowledge to others and went on different missions and expeditions under the instruction of the Holy Prophet. Obviously, such people specially deserve help because they are whole-time workers of Islam and have no spare time to earn their livelihood.

In addition to those mentioned above, the scholars also mention others to be the rightful beneficiaries of charity:

Muhammad Asad Explanation:
I.e., those who have devoted themselves entirely to working in the cause of the Faith - be it by spreading, elucidating or defending it physically or intellectually - or to any of the selfless pursuits extolled in God's message, such as search for knowledge, work for the betterment of man's lot, and so forth; and, finally, those who, having suffered personal or material hurt in such pursuits, are henceforth unable to fend for themselves.

Yusuf Ali  Explanation
Indiscriminate acts of so-called charity are condemned as they may do more harm than good (see ii 262). The real beneficiaries of charity are here indicated. They must be in want. And the want must be due to some honorable cause. For example, they may be doing some unpaid service, such as teaching, or acquiring knowledge or skill, or be in exile for their faith, or in other ways be prevented from seeking employment or doing strenuous work. "God's cause" must not be narrowly interpreted. All sincere and real service to humanity comes within the definition. Such men do not beg from door to door. It is the duty of those who are well-to-do, or of the Public Purse, to find them out.

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi Explanation:
The actual words are: لِلْفُقَرَآءِ الَّذِيْنَ اُحْصِرُوْا فِيْ سَبِيْلِ اللّٰهِ. The inchoative (mubtadāTT) has been suppressed before لِلۡفُقَرَآءِ since it is understood to be present – a common feature of Qur’ānic Arabic.

This is a reference to the muhājirūn who had been stranded in Madīnah for many years and it was not possible for them to even go out of it for trade purposes, and the treaty of brotherhood which had been established between them and the anṣār also could not have been of benefit for them beyond a certain limit. It was also not easy for them to find other means of livelihood within a small village like Madīnah. For this very reason, Muḥammad (sws) had given them residence in the mosque. In history, they are known as the aṣḥāb al-ṣuffah.

And those do not ask for their needs. The attribute اِلْحَافًا which qualifies their manner of asking is used to express their general situation. To express the severity of an action, such a style is often adopted in the Qur’ān. The attribute does not mean that they do ask for their needs but do not ask by being annoyingly persistent.

Qur'an Wiki:
The sūrah then refers to a specific form of giving, the beneficiary of which is an honest and honourable section of society who are not ashamed of being poor and who are prevented by their dignity and self-esteem from degrading themselves by begging.

The description fitted a group of Makkan Muslims (Muhājirūn) who had migrated with the Prophet to Madinah, leaving behind all their belongings and members of their families. They settled in Madinah; some of them, known as Ahl al-Şuffah, lived in and around the Prophet’s Mosque, and devoted their lives completely to the service of the community, volunteering for military missions and expeditions or guarding the Prophet and his household and mosque. These people were not able to work and earn a living, but behaved with dignity and propriety, refusing to beg or ask for charity, so much so that only a few people were aware of their plight.
Nevertheless, the directive has a universal application. In every generation there will be people not able, for various reasons, to earn their livelihood, but who insist on preserving their modesty and personal dignity by not becoming a burden on anyone else. They do their utmost to hide their poverty and distress, and only a few people are able to detect and appreciate their predicament.
Thus, in its unique and inimitable style, the Qur’ān depicts in a few words a full and deeply poignant picture of human dignity and self-respect. The highly expressive syntax brings the features of those people gradually to life, and puts the reader face to face with their human characters.

Those honourable people who hide their want, as eagerly as they would their nakedness, could only be offered assistance privately and in such a way as would not offend their dignity. The verse closes with the appropriate comment that: “Whatever good you give is certainly known to God.” He will certainly not let it go unrewarded.

Please listen to explanation of the ayat by eminent Muslim scholar Nouman Ali Khan:
May Allah help us understand Qur'ān and help us to act upon the commandments of Allah contained therein. Aameen.

For more Selected Verses, please refer to our reference page: Understanding Islam - Frequently asked Q&AYou may also refer to our Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
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Reading the Qur'ān should be a daily obligation of a Muslim - Reading it with translation will make it meaningful. But reading its Exegesis / Tafsir will make you understand it fully.

An effort has been made to gather explanation / exegesis of the surahs of the Qur'ān from authentic sources and then present a least possible condensed explanation of the surah. In that the exegesis of the chapters of the Quran is mainly based on the "Tafhim al-Qur'an - The Meaning of the Qur'an" by one of the most enlightened scholars of the Muslim World Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.  
In order to augment and add more explanation as already provided, additional input has been interjected from following sources: 
  • Towards Understanding the Quran
  • Tafsir Ibn Khatir
  • Muhammad Asad Translation
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi / Al Mawrid
  • Al-Quran, Yusuf Ali Translation
  • Verse by Verse Qur'an Study Circle
In addition the references of other sources which have been explored have also been given above. Those desirous of detailed explanations and tafsir (exegesis), may refer to these sites.

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