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By Dr. `Umar S. Al-Ashqar
Professor of Shari`ah—Jordan University
The first generations of the Muslims, the Salaf (pious predecessors), were undoubtedly the best of generations. Their character and way of life stand as witness to this fact.
This is further confirmed by the statement of Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him):
"The best of generations are my generation, then those which follow them, then those which follow them." (Muslim)
They were indeed, the best amongst those who implemented the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Therefore, we must follow their example in all matters and Ramadan is no exception. The Salaf were frugal with their own iftar meals but generous hosts towards others.
`Abdullah ibn `Umar, for example, would prefer to eat his iftar meal with the poor. Whenever he broke his fast at home, he never ate his fill, so that if a needy person visited, he could give him his iftar meal. Thus, he would end up virtually fasting that whole night as well! He used to give away sweets in charity saying, "I am aware of Allah's saying: (... you shall not attain piety until you spend out of that which is beloved to you) (Aal `Imran 3: 92) and Almighty Allah knows that I love sweets."
Once when Al-Imam Ahmad had prepared some bread for his iftar, a needy person called on him. Without hesitating he gave away all his bread, and went hungry. Ibn Al-Mubarak used to prepare sweets for his brothers, despite the fact that he was fasting.
Imam Ash-Shafi`i, once said, "It is beloved to me to see one increasing his acts of generosity during the month of Ramadan, following the example of Allah's Messenger, and for one's own good. There are many who become over-occupied with fasting and Prayers, forgetting the other benefits of the month of Ramadan [i.e. forgetting about the benefits and rewards of being generous to others]."
The acts of our pious predecessors came from their sincere hearts and firm belief in the sayings of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):
"The best of deeds is that of keeping your believing brother happy, or that of paying off a debt of his, or that of feeding him." (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
The most beloved of people to Almighty Allah are those who are of most benefit [to others]. The most beloved actions to Allah the Almighty is when you make another Muslim happy, remove a hardship that has befallen him, pay off a debt or rid him of hunger. It was more beloved to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that he walks with a Muslim brother to see to his need than performing i`tikaf (spiritual retreat) in a masjid for a month.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
"The best of people is the one who is of most benefit to them." (Authenticated by Al-Albani).
He (peace and blessings be upon him) also said:
"The likeness [i.e. in terms of rewards] of the one who comes to [the aid of] a widow and [the aid of] a destitute is like that of a Mujahid (striver) in the cause of Allah or that of someone who spends the night in prayers and the day in fasting." (Al-Mishkat, 4951)
These two hadiths tells us that piety is not only about performing acts of worship, but also by helping others and being supportive. How we deal with our family members, friends, and everyone we meet is something that we can obtain rewards for; moreover, we can reach high ranks in Paradise if we excel in doing these things.
`Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn Al-`Aas, narrated that a man once asked Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), "Which is the best [of actions] in Islam?" He (peace and blessings be upon him) replied,
"Feeding [others] and extending the Salam to those who you know and those you do not." (Al-Bukhari)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
"Once there was a dog wondering around, dying of thirst. When a prostitute saw it, she then took off her shoe and used it to give the dog water [out of a well]. She was granted forgiveness [i.e. for her sins of being a prostitute, when she repented]." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
If this huge reward was granted to a woman because of her kindness to a dog, even though she was involved in major sin, can we imagine the rewards of kindness for an obedient, fasting Muslim? Our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), told us that Allah the Almighty has singled out certain people with abundance for the benefit of His other servants and He shall let it continue [i.e. their wealth] as long as they are persistent in benefiting others with it. If they cease to do so then He shall take it away from them and redirect it to others.
We should be most active in spending our wealth to help those who are less fortunate. This Ramadan, let us also remembers, the saying of `Ubaid Ibn `Umair (may Allah be pleased with him),"On the Day of Judgment people will be gathered as hungry as they have ever been and as thirsty as they have ever been and as naked as they have ever been. Then, he who has fed [others] for the sake of Allah the Almighty, Allah will feed him till he is full. He who has given water to others, for the sake of Allah the Almighty, Allah will give him water and he who has clothed others for the sake of Allah the Almighty, Allah will clothe him."
Ash-Sha`bi, once said, "He who does not consider himself in greater need of the reward for giving sadaqah, as compared to the need of the destitute for that sadaqah, will have corrupted his act of charity and have it flung in his face [on the Day of Judgment]."
Brothers and sisters! We should not shy away from performing even the smallest of good deeds, for the reward of Almighty Allah can be greater than Mount Uhud in size! Let us not forget that, the Messenger of Allah was the most generous of people and that he used to be most generous in Ramadan.
The next time we hear a call to help our needy fellow Muslims, let us respond with vigor and joy! Maybe this act is the one through which Almighty Allah bestows His pardon and everlasting bliss!
* Taken from the author's book "Paradise and Hell in the Light of the Qur'an and Sunnah", published by International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH), 2003.
Dr. `Umar S. Al-Ashqar is a professor of Shari`ah at the University of Jordan and the author of the Islamic Creed series.