The social, economic, and cultural structures which surround us systematically encourage us to live a life that is very individualistic. Popular culture frames life’s purpose as being engaged with wealth and property with minimal concern for others. While it is very important to care for one’s self to an extent, the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Holy Household (pbut) construct a mode of living that instructs us to always look outside of ourselves and to be giving to others. God states, “We shall facilitate the path to bliss for those who spend for the cause of God, observe piety, and believe in receiving rewards from God.”1 At the heart of Islam is a spirit of generosity that encourages us to give from our time, mercy, and wealth.

Purpose of Generosity in the Islamic Tradition

Generosity serves a societal and personal purpose. On a societal level, generosity creates a healthy community wherein members are always concerned with the welfare of each other. When people give freely out of their wealth, time, and love to one another, society will naturally become more harmonious. The wayfarer, orphan, and the traveler will have what they need, people will not be lonely, and people will incline toward that which is good. God states, “They ask you what to spend for the cause of God. (Muhammad) tell them that whatever you spend, give it to your parents, the orphans, the destitute, and those who may be in urgent need of money whilst on a journey. Whatever good you do, God certainly is Aware of it.”2

On another level, generosity ultimately protects and purifies our own souls, ridding us of our egos. God states, “You can never have extended virtue and righteousness unless you spend part of what you dearly love for the cause of God. God knows very well whatever you spend for His cause.”3 The ultimate reward will not be attained until we give out of that which we love: wealth, time, love, mercy, and all the various blessings God has bestowed on us. True generosity is not only to give, but to give out of that which we love; only then will we be pure.

Generosity is a Mindset

When considering the term “generosity,” perhaps the first thing we think about is giving out of our wealth. Giving from our wealth is in fact a crucial part of our tradition. Islam instructs us to give regularly and generously. Prayers and charity go hand in hand—the first being a service to God and the second a service to His creation. Whatever we spend in the way of God, no matter how big or small, we will find later in our lives. God states, “Be steadfast in your prayer and pay the religious tax [zakat]. You will receive a good reward from God for all your good works. God is Well-aware of what you do.”4

The Holy Household (pbut) gave from their wealth freely, and we know according to traditions that they had very little because they did not hoard their wealth. They manifested generosity on multiple levels, wealth being one aspect. They were generous in their time, in their forgiveness, and in their prayers for others. For example, Imam Ali (p) offered his ring to a beggar in the mosque while he was kneeling in prayers. At that time, that was all he had, and he gave it in the way of God. This generous gesture led to the revelation of the verse, “Only God, His Messenger, and the true believers who are steadfast in prayer and pay alms, while they kneel during prayer, are your guardians.”5

Furthermore, Lady Fatimah (p) epitomized generosity. One night, Imam Hussain (p) heard her spending the night in prayer. She prayed for everyone she knew, mentioning them by name, but did not pray for herself or her family. He asked her why this was the case, to which she replied:  “O son, our neighbors first then ourselves.”6 Her generosity extended to her time, effort, and best wishes. She put forth hours and hours of sincere worship and prayers asking God for the best outcome for others.

Bits of Advice

1. Put ourselves in others’ shoes: By reflecting on the difficult experiences of others, we can better train ourselves to respond with a generous spirit to them—whether it be a beggar on the street or a friend who believes we have wronged them. If we do our best to consistently stop and take the time to think about this when we notice an issue, we can train ourselves to be giving generous responses regularly.

2. Practice gratitude: God is the Most Generous and has given us bounties and blessings that we can never enumerate or comprehend. By reflecting on and being grateful for His generosity in our lives, we can begin to understand that anything we offer in the way of God is but a small and meager offering. Something as simple as praising God for sleeping in our own beds before and after we sleep can regularly start to make us more conscious of being grateful.

3. Remind ourselves what God promises us about the benefits of giving: Imam Jafar Sadiq (p) says that “an act of charity given openly prevents seventy types of mishaps, and a secretly given charity cools the anger of our Lord.”7 We can set a financial charity goal for ourselves every month and do our best to ensure that we actively meet it to build that giving trait in our character.

1. The Holy Quran 92:5-7.
2. The Holy Quran 2:215.
3. The Holy Quran 3:92.
4. The Holy Quran 2:110.
5. The Holy Quran 5:55.
6. Al-Hurr al-Amili, Wasail al-Shia, vol. 7, p. 113.
7. Al-Saduq, Thawab al-amal, p. 143.

١. قال الله تعالى: ((فَأَمَّا مَنْ أَعْطَىٰ وَاتَّقَىٰ ﴿٥﴾ وَصَدَّقَ بِالْحُسْنَىٰ ﴿٦﴾ فَسَنُيَسِّرُهُ لِلْيُسْرَىٰ))
٢. قال الله تعالى: ((سْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلْ مَا أَنفَقْتُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍفَلِلْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ وَالْيَتَامَىٰ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ وَمَا تَفْعَلُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ ))
٣. قال الله تعالى: ((لَن تَنَالُوا الْبِرَّ حَتَّىٰ تُنفِقُوا مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ ۚ وَمَا تُنفِقُوا مِن شَيْءٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ))
٤.  قال الله تعالى: ((وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ ۚ وَمَا تُقَدِّمُوا لِأَنفُسِكُم مِّنْ خَيْرٍ تَجِدُوهُ عِندَ اللَّـهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ))
٥. قال الله تعالى: ((إِنَّمَا وَلِيُّكُمُ اللَّـهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا الَّذِينَ يُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَهُمْ رَاكِعُونَ))
٦. روي عن الإمام الحسن المجتبى (ع): “رأيت أمي فاطمة (عليها السلام) قامت في محرابها ليلة جمعتها فلم تزل راكعة ساجدة حتى اتضح عمود الصبح، وسمعتها تدعو للمؤمنين والمؤمنات وتسميهم، وتكثر الدعاء لهم، ولا تدعو لنفسها بشيء، فقلت لها: يا أماه، لم لا تدعون لنفسك كما تدعون لغيرك؟ فقالت يا بني، الجار ثم الدار”
٧. روي عن الإمام الصادق (ع): “قال صدقة العلانية تدفع سبعين نوعا من البلاء وصدقة السر تطفي غضب الرب”

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