Select the Best for Charity
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Believers, spend on others out of the good things which you may have earned, and out of that which We bring forth for you from the earth. Do not select for your spending the bad things which you yourselves would not accept without turning your eyes away in disdain. Know that Allah is free of all want, full of praise. Satan promises you poverty and bids you to commit indecency, whereas Allah promises you His forgiveness and bounty. Allah is munificent, all-knowing. He grants wisdom to whom He wills; and he who is granted wisdom has indeed been granted abundant good. But none takes heed except those who have minds.
Whatever alms you spend and whatever vows you make are indeed known to Allah. The evildoers shall have none to help them.If you give alms openly, that is well; but if you give them to the needy in private, it is even better for you, and will atone for some of your bad deeds. Allah is aware of all you do. (The Cow, “Al-Baqarah” :2;267-271)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb,
Translation: A. A. Salahi & S. A. Shamsi.
THIS passage outlines the type of proper charity and how to give it. What the Quranic text makes clear is that charity means to give away of the best one has.
It cannot be proper when the worst type of one’s possession is selected for it, especially if the owner does not like it to the extent that if something similar is given to him in a business deal he would not accept it unless he lowers the price. Allah is in no need to accept our bad offerings.
It is a general address to the believers in all generations, which includes whatever they can lay their hands on. It includes what they may legitimately earn through their work and what Allah brings forth for them out of the earth, be it plants, minerals or oil. Hence, the instruction here, which is of the broadest type, includes all types of wealth, whether known at the time of the Prophet (Pbuh) or not.
No kind of money or wealth which may come into existence at any particular time can be exempt from its provisions. Zakah accrues on all such monies. As for the exact amount of Zakah for each type, the Sunnah has explained all that with regard to monies known at the time of the Prophet (Pbuh). Other percentages and amounts may be determined for new types of money and wealth by comparison.
We have reports about the circumstances which called for this verse to be revealed. It is useful to quote one of these here in order to appreciate the sort of life which existed at the time of the revelation of the Quran, and the sort of effort which was needed for the education of Muslims and their elevation to the proper standard the Quran wanted them to achieve.
Al-Tabari reports on the authority of Al-Baraa’ ibn Azib that this verse “was revealed in respect of Al-Ansar. When the harvest season of palm trees came, the Ansar would bring bunches of dates (which had acquired its colour but had not fully ripened) from their orchards and hang them on a rope stretched between two posts in the Prophet‘s (Pbuh) Mosque.
The poor among the Muhajireen would then eat of that as they pleased. Some people from the Ansar may bring bunches of the worst kind of dates and put them along side the other good quality dates which were ripening, thinking that there was nothing wrong with their action. Allah revealed in this connection the Quranic verse which included the statement: “Do not select for your spending the bad things.....”
Such reports show us an image which was in total contrast to the sort of sacrifices, generosity and unsurpassed benevolence for which the Ansar were known. It serves to explain to us that the same community may have people who achieve remarkable standards in their dedication to their cause as well as others who need to be educated and require clear instruction in order to set themselves on the proper course which elevates people.
Some of the Ansar needed to be told not to choose the worst type of their wealth for their spending, which means that they were offering it to Allah, when they themselves would not have accepted a gift of similar quality if it were not for their desire not to embarrass the giver, or in a business transaction without lowering its price.
Hence, the comment: “Know that Allah is free of all want, full of praise.” He is in no need whatsoever of what people may give. When they give away something in charity, they serve their own interest. Hence, let them choose what is good and give it away willingly. He is also full of praise: He accepts good actions, praises them and rewards them generously. Each of these two attributes leaves here its touching impressions as they did with those Ansari people. “Believers, spend on others out of the good things which you may have earned .”
Otherwise, Allah is in no need for the bad type which you deliberately select for your charity. On the other hand, He praises you when you select the things of good quality for your charity and rewards you generously for them. Yet He is the One who gives you your provisions in the first place.
He rewards you for spending it on charity when you are spending for His sake only what He has given you. What an effective and tempting way of tackling this point. It is indeed a remarkable way of educating people’s hearts.
Since niggardliness and the selection of what is bad or of poor quality to give away for charity can only be motivated by unhealthy motives such as an unfirm belief in what Allah has in store for the benevolent, and fear of poverty which cannot be felt by any person who is close to Allah and relies on Him and believes that he will eventually return to Him, Allah states these motives to the believers so that they may see them in their nakedness and know their origins and what gives rise to them. They all come from Satan: “Satan promises you poverty and bids you to commit indecency, whereas Allah promises you His forgiveness and bounty.”
Satan raises the threat of poverty before you in order to arouse within you the feelings of selfishness and niggardliness. He also bids you to commit indecency. The term “indecency” refers to any sinful action which is carried beyond reasonable limits. Although it is most frequently used with a certain type of sinful action, it is far more comprehensive in meaning. The fear of poverty prompted some people in pre-Islamic days to bury their daughters alive, which is a gross indecency. The blind desire to get rich led some of them to gorge themselves on usury, which is again an indecency. To fear poverty as a result of spending for Allah’s cause is, however, in itself an indecency.
When Satan threatens you with poverty and orders you to commit what is indecent, Allah promises you forgiveness and abundance: “Whereas Allah promises you His forgiveness and bounty.” We note here that forgiveness has been given precedence over Allah’s bounty, because the latter is given as an extra on top of Allah’s forgiveness. We should note here that Allah’s bounty includes what Allah provides for us of sustenance in this life, in return for our generosity in spending for His sake and His cause.
“Allah is munificent, all-knowing.” He gives in abundance. He also knows the innermost thoughts of people. Moreover, His gifts are not confined to wealth and forgiveness. He also gives “wisdom”. The use of the term “wisdom” here stressed the need for moderation, the understanding of causes and effects, the evaluation of all matters after proper reasoning and deliberation: “He grants wisdom to whom He wills; and he who is granted wisdom has indeed been granted abundant good.”
He would have been granted reason and moderation which prevent him from excesses of all sorts. He would also have been granted an insight into causes and effects so that he can evaluate matters properly. He can distinguish what is good and proper from what is bad and improper. This is indeed good in abundance, and in a wide range of ways and forms.
“But none takes heed except those who have minds.” Only a person with a sound mind takes heed, reflects and remains conscious of the proper line of action so that he does not allow himself to go astray. After all, this is the function of the mind. He should also benefit by everything which reminds him of the need to follow proper guidance and not to indulge in excesses.
The determining factor on who is given wisdom is Allah’s will. This is a basic principle of Islamic philosophy which attributes everything to Allah’s absolute and free will.
We move on with the Quranic passage which explains to us that Allah knows everything spent by any person, be it a charity or a fulfilment of a vow, whether made in public or private. This necessitates that He rewards actions according to intentions behind them. Spending in this sense includes everything that a person pays out of his or her money: be it obligatory or voluntary charity or in support of a Jihad campaign. Vows are one type of spending which a person imposes on himself in a defined measure. A vow can only be for Allah’s sake and in His cause. If it is made for the sake of any other being, it becomes a form of polytheism, as was the case with sacrifices made by the polytheists for the sake of their idols and deities in different societies.
“Whatever alms you spend and whatever vows you make are indeed known to Allah.”
When the believer realizes that Allah watches his actions and knows his intentions, he is bound to have a variety of feelings. He is conscious that he must not entertain any thought of showing off of generosity or betray any notion of miserliness or fear of poverty. He also feels reassured as to his reward which will not fail. He also feels satisfied with himself for having thanked Allah practically for His grace by spending for His cause of what He has given him.
He who does not do his duty in respect of the grace Allah has bestowed on him, and who does not fulfil his obligations towards Allah and towards His servants, monopolizing for himself the good Allah has given him, is certainly an evildoer who violates his covenant with Allah and who does wrong against himself. “The evildoers shall have none to help them.” To honour one’s obligations is to be fair; to dishonour them is to do evil and be unfair. In this respect, people are divided into two groups; those who honour their pledges to Allah, thank Allah for His grace and honour their obligations, and those who violate their covenant, fail their obligations and show no gratitude: “The evildoers shall have no one to help them.”
When a charity is given voluntarily, it is better and preferrable to Allah if given in private. This ensures it to be free from any trace of showiness. When it is given in fulfilment of one’s obligations, publicity enhances the meaning of obedience. For this meaning to be common in society is certainly beneficial.
Hence, the Quranic statement; “If you give alms openly, that is well; but if you give them to the needy in private, it is even better for you.” The statement includes both cases. Each is given its proper value. Each is praised in its proper context. For both, the believers are promised atonement of their sins: “And will atone for some of your bad deeds.” The feelings of God-consciousness on the hand, confidence and reassurance on the other, are all aroused and linked with sincere intention and action: “Allah is aware of all you do.”