Price for Feeding the Hungry
Abu-Hurairah quotes the Prophet (Pbuh) as saying: " There will be in the distant future famine. He who lives through it should equal nothing with feeding the hungry" (Related by Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)"
Commentry by Adil Salahi To a compassionate person who is leading a comfortable life, perhaps nothing is more painful than to learn that people are dying of hunger. In our time, television is able to bring us in our homes pictures of what people may be suffering from or enduring in far away countries. A few years ago, the whole world witnessed the effects of famine on the people of Ethiopia and other African countries. When the magnitude of the disaster was fully apparent, people all over the world rushed with urgent relief supplies. Such an attitude of immediate help in times of need is praiseworthy. However, proper management could have perhaps ensured that things did not get that far.
The Zakat system which is operated by Islam ensures that everyone has a share in the common wealth of society. A certain percentage is collected on everything that a person may have or earns above a specified minimum. Only a handful of cash or property is exempt from Zakat. Those who are liable to pay it are keen to do so since its payment is an act of worship for which they stand to earn reward from Allah and enhance their position in the life to come. The beneficiaries who receive their shares from funds thus collected are the vulnerable groups who are bound to suffer most in times of hardship. But the Zakat system operates at all times, so that the bitter effects of need and poverty are immediately relieved. In our world of today, we see that deep and large pockets of poverty still linger on, even in the wealthiest and most prosperous of countries. The history of Islam, on the other hand, gives us examples of the complete eradication of poverty from the Muslim world. While this took place in certain periods in history where the Muslim state was rich and powerful, the highly positive effect of the Zakat system has been felt in all Muslim society. In times of hardship or famine, the whole society moves together to overcome the emergency with suitable measures.
Perhaps the first emergency which took place in the history of Islam was when the Prophet (Pbuh) and his oppressed companions in Makkah emigrated to Madinah where they were warmly received by their Muslim brothers there. The immigrants, who came to be known as the Muhajireen, numbered about 300, arriving in Madinah with nothing other than the clothes they were wearing. They stole out of Makkah in the depth of the night, trying to move as fast as possible in order to escape detection and to give the Makkans no chance of chasing them.
Some people may think that a large city like Madinah could easily absorb 300 refugees and provide them with home and jobs. That was not the case. The Ansar, i.e. the Muslims who were residents in Madinah, were still a minority of its population. It is true that Islam spread fast in the city, but there remained a large section of the Arab population there who did not accept the new faith and felt that Islam represented a danger to their interests and to the whole city as it was set on a path of confrontation with the powerful tribe of Quraish in Makkah. Besides, there were the Jewish tribes who were not happy at all with the new development. Nevertheless, the Ansar were determined to extend a warm welcome to their brethren who left their land in support of their faith and wanted to do everything possible to make their stay in Madinah comfortable.
It is well known that when the Prophet (Pbuh) arrived in Madinah, he wanted to cement relations between the two groups of his followers, the Muhajireen and the Ansar. Therefore he established a bond of brotherhood which joined everyone of the Muhajireen to one of the Ansar as brothers. This bond of brotherhood was so real that it created a right of inheritance for both brothers, in the same way as brothers and sisters inherit each other. This particular right was later abrogated but the bond of brotherhood continued to be highly valued and well preserved. It was not a gesture meant to last during the time of hardship and then disappear when things improved. It continued as long as its parties lived.
There were great examples of how individual Muslims looked at this bond of brotherhood. Saad ibn Ar'Rabie' was a very rich man from the Ansar. The Prophet (Pbuh) joined him with Abdurrahman ibn Awf in a bond of brotherhood. When the two new brothers walked together, Saad said to Abdurrahman: I am one of the richest people among the Ansar. I will divide my property into two equal shares and give you one share of it. Moreover, I have two wives. You choose the one you like better and I will divorce her, so that after she has finished her waiting period you may marry her." Abdurrahman said: "May Allah bless you and your family and your wealth. You only need to show me your market place." Abdurrahman went to the market and started to buy and sell a few items. A few days later, he went to see the Prophet (Pbuh) who noticed that he was well dressed. The Prophet (Pbuh) asked him the reason for that and he said that he got married. The Prophet (Pbuh) asked what dower he paid and Abdurrahman said: "A date stone of gold."
This story shows us that to the Ansar, the brotherhood meant that his brother was entitled to have a share of his property and a share of his family. To the one of the Muhajireen, who was penniless, it meant that he would feel at home in his new place of residence. It was through his own efforts that he meant to live. An enterprising fellow like Abdurrahman needed only to be active in the market and he was soon able to arrange his own marriage and pay a reasonable dower.
This, however, was not an isolated case. A group of the Ansar came to the Prophet (Pbuh) and said: "Divide our date trees between ourselves and our brethren." The Prophet (Pbuh) said: "No." They said, "Then, will you be responsible for the work involved and we will share the fruits with you?" They answered: "We willingly accept." (Related by Al Bukari, Muslim and An-Nassale). In this Hadith we find the whole community of the Ansar coming with an offer of sharing their main assets with their brothers. The Prophet, however, did not like that the Ansar should part with half of their property in this way. He wanted to deepen the concept of mutual responsibility and cooperation. Hence, he accepted the offer of sharing in the work and in the fruit. The Muhajireen would be responsible for the necessary work in the date farms and, as such, they would be entitled to half the fruits yielded. The report, however, remains as a good example of how Muslims should feel towards each other when they go through a time of hardship.
Indeed, at such times, nothing equals a generous helping hand. Abu-Hurairah quotes the Prophet (Pbuh) as saying: "There will be in the distant future famine. He who lives through it should equal nothing with feeding the hungry" (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad). When people are starving and are in need of the smallest amount of food to survive and when there is nothing available to relieve their hunger, coming forward with supplies to feed such victims of famine is the greatest act of charity. It is the way to ensure the best reward from Allah.