A Beautiful Religion

BY IMAM ZAID SHAKIR

June 16, 2007 at 6:57 am

A Beautiful Religion: Part One

Unfortunately, many people today perceive Islam as a repugnant, morally bankrupt religion. However, their perceptions cannot alter the reality every conscious believer knows. We know that our religion is beautiful. Perhaps what they view Islam to be is a reflection of their own state. If one is himself ugly, filled with darkness and gloom, then that state will surely affect what one sees in others. The contrary is also true. As Muslims, we have to do everything in our power to make sure that we are beautiful people. An Arab poet once said:

You are complaining yet you experience no pain;
Be yourself beautiful and you will find the entire creation beautiful.

When we are beautiful, we will see that the beauty of our religion manifests itself in ways great and small. Recently, a very beautiful implication of one of the verses of the Qur’an struck me. That verse is the following: Bestow unto the relative the right of assistance, along with the poor, and the traveler; and do not engage in egregious waste. (17:26) Like most of you, I had read this verse many times. However, I was struck by what one of the exegetes mentioned concerning it.

He pointed out that spending for the relative and the poor is a feature of most religions. However, in Islam spending for the traveler has also been enjoined. The command to so appears in many Qur’anic verses and numerous prophetic traditions. Indeed, one of the categories designated as recipients of the wealth gathered through the collection of the Zakat, the Islamic poor due, is the traveler (9:60).

The greater point is that through spending on the traveler, we are able to reinforce the spirit of altruism and selflessness that should dominate our actions. This is so based on the fact that we do not know the traveler, he is a stranger. Hence, we do not know how he will react to our charity.  Therefore, by giving to him we cannot expect a particular response. Similarly, the traveler is moving on, we will likely not see him again. Hence, we cannot follow up our charity with reminders of the good we have done. This helps us to give because we have been commanded to do so by out Lord, because it is the right thing to do, and not because we are anticipate some reward or compensation for our act.

This spirit, doing things for the sake of God, and because they are right, should dominate our actions. We read elsewhere in the Qur’an: And they feed people, in spite of their love [and need] for the food they are sacrificing; the poor, the orphan, and those captives they command. [They say] rather we feed you for the sake of God, we desire from you neither compensation nor thanks. (76:8-9) The common factor uniting those mentioned in this verse is their powerlessness: the poor person has lost the means to adequately provide for himself, the orphan has lost the father who is the normal source of his sustenance and provision, and the prisoner has lost his freedom. In these situations, it is even more important for the strong to disregard their self-interest and sacrifice for the interest of others.

As we move deeper into an increasingly impersonal, cold and alienating global economic reality, systemic inequalities make it incumbent that we work to keep the spirit of altruism alive. We give because it is appropriate and pleasing to our Lord, and we give because through giving we help to alleviate the suffering of those who through no fault of their own have been marginalized by an economic arrangement that exploits the weak masses for the benefit of the strong few.

Be yourself beautiful and you will find the entire creation beautiful.

(To be continued)