Charity is one of the pillars of Islam. One of the Arabic words for charity used in the Quran is sadaqah, and while monetary alms-giving is an example of sadaqah, the word has a general meaning of providing service and strength to another out of a sense of kindness and responsibility. To serve others in the community, with any of one’s talents and resources, is thus a part of faith. Even the poor members of the Muslim community are not exempted from this wider meaning of sadaqah, for all of us have something to serve our brother or sister with. A tradition of the Prophet Muhammad reveals, “Even a smile is a charity.”
The Quran uses another word to refer to charity, Zakat. Zakat is often used conventionally to refer to an institutionalized alms-giving that is due upon Muslims to give to those in need at certain times in the Islamic calendar. The Quranic import of the term, however, often refers to the type of relationship Muslims should have with others. If prayer embodies one’s relationship to the Creator, then zakat is that which characterizes the ideal relationship between human beings with each other, for its root meaning is that which “purifies” and “grows.” Thus, Muslims are meant to give to others in order that others may grow and develop – in return, this causes the purification of their own wealth and their own souls.
“The parable of those who spend their wealth in the way of God is that of a grain which grows seven ears, and in every ear a hundred grains – God enhances several fold whomever He wishes. And God is all-bounteous, all-knowing. – Quran 2:261
The below photo essay is a glimpse of some of the ways Muslims perform community service. Don’t forget to check out the Collection for more imagery relating to giving, poverty, poor, and community, and more. Also be sure to sign up for our Monthly Newsletter so you don’t miss our latest photo essays!
American Soul Food – Muslims from Houston, Texas prepare meals those who may be in need in the city. This scene is part of a larger event known as the “Day of Dignity,” a community service event that raises awareness of social needs and seeks to reach out to the financially impoverished areas of Houston.
Saving to Give Away – Islamic conceptions of giving and charity are not of one type. Sometimes it is encouraged to give altruistically, when one feels the spirit of giving and is ready to do so. Other times it is demanded of a Muslim to give out of a sense of responsibility and duty to God, regardless of one’s own mental or spiritual readiness. It is generally understood that giving “in secret”, away from the eyes of others, is ideal when giving charity. However, sometimes it is encouraged to give in a way that the public would see ones effort and sacrifice, in order that others become inspired to do the same.
Zakat ul-Ilm – One form of Zakat is known as the “Charity of Knowledge.” It is when one teaches another what they have learned. Regardless of ones age or stature, it is a blessed activity in Islam to teach others when one has Ilm (knowledge) to share. One young girl teaches two other friends the ABC’s of the English language.
Sacred Knowledge – Teaching any beneficial knowledge to others is a blessed service and deserves reward. However, teaching others how to read and understand the sacred text of Islam, the Holy Quran, is a special service with immense reward according to Islamic traditions. It is a type of knowledge that illuminates and guides the other aspects of life.
Come one, Come all – A charity initiative is even more valuable when it involves everyone. Here a young child is given the responsibility of taking care of a literature table at a community event reaching out to the local neighborhood. The books on the table are for children to enjoy and learn from. This community event, the “Day of Dignity” (2012), was sponsored by Islamic Relief USA, a large non-profit organization dedicated to humanitarian efforts. Local organizations in Houston, Texas, such as the Ibrahim Islamic Center, Masjid Warithuddeen Muhammad, Masjid al-Quran, and the Houston Shifa Clinic, were the local organizers for the event.
Donation Box – One will notice that many Muslim communities have one thing in common: they rely on donations to run their activities. This encourages local participants of mosques and masjids to give as generously as they can. Some communities attempt to become “self-sustaining” by investing in local businesses that help with funding, which makes them less dependent on donations.
Reading is Cool – The “Day of Dignity” event in Houston, Texas emphasized wholesome activities for young children such as reading thoughtful, fun books. Whether one is rich or poor, reading is a far more valuable activity for young children than some of the more modern ways of having fun, such as watching television. Local Muslim communities often have libraries whose books are donated by participants and patrons.
Fresh, Healthy – At the “Day of Dignity” event (2012) in Houston, Texas, fresh produce was made available to communities that often cannot afford the high cost of organic, healthy foods. The high costs of urban life in America often make wholesome nutrition difficult to obtain for those in a lower income bracket. Local Muslim producers donate their time and resources to give locals a small taste of a healthier lifestyle.
Future Philanthropists – A young Malaysian woman is excited to graduate. Educated individuals with decent income wages are encouraged to help establish institutions and organizations that will provide services to the community, helping bring balance to societies whose governments and economies do not always meet everyone’s needs.
Serving Justice – These young activists attend a humanitarian rally for the cause of Justice in Palestine in America. People from diverse backgrounds attend with the flag of their ethnic origins to show support for the Palestinian people. Activists in America form a very important segment of the Muslim community, whose efforts draw attention to important issues relating to socio-economic justice in their local communities and worldwide.
Honorable Poverty – While Islam’s prescriptions encourage and demand believers to spend concerted efforts to help those in need, Islamic sources do not necessarily idealize a classless society. The rich and the poor can have constructive roles in society, as is exemplified by historical figures like Prophets who were sometimes very wealthy (like Prophet Solomon) and used their wealth for social justice. Many scholars believe the Islamic conception of economic balance is to create avenues for an “Honorable Poverty”, where those with limited wealth and resources can still eat, have a home, create families, educate themselves, and have some fun. In today’s modern world, however, such a situation is hard to find, as is exemplified in this community in Pakistan whose neighborhood is riddled with garbage.
Stimulate the Mind – serving others is not only about providing food and shelter. It is also about providing opportunities to learn and develop. The “Day of Dignity” event in Houston, Texas, makes available thought provoking activities such as chess for local youth.
Big Sister Mentors – Two Muslim girls enjoy their mentoring time with a a youth at a kite festival. In American Muslim communities, older role models are essential for the development of youth values, morals, and skills. Experienced youth who spend time with younger Muslim youth often have a very positive impact on their lives.
Paving roads to Marriage – Marriage is a very recommended aspect of Islam and a large part of Muslim community life. However, Muslims currently struggle to find suitable partners. Match making services, marriage support funds, and helpful friends often pave the way for young people to get married in the Muslim community.
Local Leadership – This young professional attends a congressional hearing training session where she learns skills and abilities to help her become active in her local city councils to help better their social, political, and economic condition (America).
Lots to give, Lots to share – Bags filled with food, medicine, and other helpful items are spread out across the room, ready to be received by locals who can benefit. The bags have the “Islamic Relief USA” logo on them, the sponsor for this activity.
Self-Defense Demonstration – a brother from the local Muslim community in Houston, Texas, explains how to deal with violent attackers. “Preacher Moss” (left), a Muslim comedian from the Allah Made Me Funny Tour appreciates the self-defense tips.
Humble Home – This young Muslim girl in Kampot, Cambodia enjoys a bright day. Though her home is a humble place of living, contentment is found through family, community relations, and spiritual life. Perhaps one day the community can afford to increase their standard of living.
Serving as a Teacher – an experienced teacher in Palestine lends her ability to teach the next generation of youth. Despite their importance to society, and despite the value given to those who teach, teachers are often under-paid and under appreciated.
Rushing out of the Masjid – Men quickly leaving the Mosquee de Paris (Paris, France) after Friday prayers. Local communities and mosques sometimes struggle to find patrons and volunteers to help them provide their services, often because people are busy with their lives or trying to make a living.
Serving Themselves – Service to others is important, that needs to be balanced with serving ones own self by developing one’s own inner talents and becoming educated. This cycle of self-development and community development is important for the continuation of both.
Charity Starts at Home – while one should do all one can to help others, it is essential to spend time, money, and effort on one’s own families. This Muslim father in Pakistan enjoys playing in the yard with his son after a hard day’s work.
Apprenticeship – In traditional societies, the apprentice and teacher relationship is important in bringing out the talents of flourishing young children. This child is enjoying her lesson with her art teacher.
The Fruit of their Work – organizers of the “Day of Dignity” event in Houston, Texas enjoy a group photo after a successful event. The Quran beautifully articulates the most ideal way to understand community service: “They give food, for the love of God, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, [saying,] ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks.” (The Quran 76:8-9)
The Youth of the Nation – The modern world offers many challenges for Muslim communities: economic, social, political, and spiritual. But with the ideals fostered in them by their Quranic teachings and strong communities, Muslims are ready to serve for the sake of a better future.