Help: Whom to help and how?

Q253 :We are expected to share our prosperity with others. Kindly list the relations and other people, in order of priority, who may be entitled to receive our help. To what extent would this fulfil the need of our first priority before moving on to the next? What is the reasonable percentage of our income we should spend on our relatives and others beside zakah to be considered generous in Allah's measure?

A253 : Thank you for raising this subject which is often neglected. People often think that when they have paid their zakah, they have discharged all their financial obligations. They are largely unaware that Allah is not satisfied with a community which professes to be Islamic if a section of it remains in need while another section is very affluent. Everything in the financial and economic system of Islamic society is geared toward narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. When Islam is properly implemented in a society, this gap steadily decreases until it totally disappears. Even when Islam is half heartedly or partly implemented, the poor are sure to receive help which is not limited to zakah. The basic principle of the Islamic system is mutual financial and social security. There are numerous Qur'anic verses and Hadiths which encourage coming forward with financial donations so that the poor get their share of society's wealth. I will quote only one Hadith which shows the importance of looking after the poor, especially when they are one's neighbours. In this Hadith, the Prophet swears three times that a particular person is not a believer. Amazed and shocked, the companions of the Prophet wondered who was that person. He said: "The one who goes to bed having eaten his full while he knows that his neighbour, nearby is suffering from hunger." Perhaps we should reflect a little here. The Prophet does not describe such a person as a miser or stingy or tight fisted. He describes him as devoid of faith and he swears three times to the fact. The action required here is simply to give a small share of one's money to alleviate the suffering of poverty within one's neighbourhood. That does not merely testify to the great importance of social security from the Islamic point of view. It establishes a direct relationship between financial help within the community and having faith in Allah. There are several verses in the Qur'an which specify the importance of being kind to certain groups of people. Normally when something is expected to be given to others, the order in which they are mentioned provides an order of priority. Therefore, we list the kindness to parents above kindness to travellers who find themselves stranded and cannot continue their journey without financial or other help. That is because parents are mentioned first among the group to whom we are expected to be kind. Allah says: Worship Allah alone and do not associate any partners with Him. Be kind to your parents, your relatives, orphans, the needy, close and distant neighbours, and to your friends, and to travellers in need and to those whom your right hands possess."(4:36) Among the qualities which make a person righteous the Qur'an includes being generous with money to relatives, orphans, the needy, stranded wayfarers, etc. (2:177) As I said, this should be our guide-line in the order of priorities. The question arises whether, faced with having many of these groups in real need, one should give all help one can afford to the first in the group or should one divide that among all of them. This is a very sensitive matter to which we cannot apply a very rigid rule. The sensitivity may be on the part of the giver or the recipient. One may feel it is impossible to give all he can afford, little though it may be, to one needy neighbour and give nothing to the other, or to give to a needy relative without giving to any [other] relatives. Therefore, every one determines for himself how to divide whatever he can give away among those who he wants to help. His judgement should take into consideration certain factors such as the closeness of the recipients, their circumstances, their strength of faith, etc. What we are speaking about here is voluntary help, not that which is obligatory, such as zakah, not what these people, or some of them, may claim as their right. Parents are entitled to be supported by their children if they are in need. This rule applies in all situations, whether the children are barely self-sufficient or indeed poor. A poor person cannot abandon his old parents who have no source of income. He has to share with them whatever he gets.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )