ninth call: expend of the good things
almighty allah says (what can be translated as): “o you who have believed, expend of the good things you have earned and of what we have brought out for you from the earth, and do not have recourse to the wicked of it for your expending, and you would not take it (yourselves) except you closed an eye on it, and know that allah is ever-affluent, (literally: ever-rich) ever-praiseworthy. ash-shaytan (the all-vicious, the devil) promises you poverty and commands you to obscenity; and allah promises you forgiveness from him, and grace; and allah is ever-embracing ever-knowing.” (al-baqarah: 267-268)
allah (swt)1 orders his believing servants to expend of the good and best things they have earned legally and of which allah has produced from the earth to them. he prohibits them from giving charity of the worst things which they would not accept unless they would close their eyes. if you give, you should give of the best of your fortunes because it reflects that you are willing and delighted to help others, you should not give of the worst things you have because it shows you are unhappy or constrained in giving, and if you are giving that bad quality charity, you would not have taken it except out of shyness or by closing your eyes to take it, i.e. overlooking its badness. believers should know that even though allah orders them to give sadaqah2, he is the ever-affluent, the ever-rich. he (awj)3 does not need their charity or donations, he encourages them to give charity and expend of their good fortunes to equalize between the rich and the poor, to make them live in harmony and to treat many social diseases that occur due to gaps between classes, in other words to reform the society. allah is the ever-praiseworthy, he is praised in all his actions, sayings, commands and prohibitions. (it is related that the reason for the revelation of this verse is that some muslims used to give charity from the bad quality dates).
ali ibn abi talhah said that ibn abbas commented on the verse: “you would not take it (yourselves) except you closed an eye on it.” he said it means, "if you had a right on someone who would pay you less than what you gave them, you would not agree until you require more from them to make up the difference. this is why allah says: “and you would not take it (yourselves) except you closed an eye on it” meaning, ‘how do you agree for me what you do not agree for yourselves, while i have a right to the best and most precious of your possessions'' ibn abi hatim and ibn jarir recorded this hadith and ibn jarir added, "and this is the meaning of allah's statement, “you will never attain benignancy until you expend of whatever you love; and whatever thing you expend, then surely allah is ever-knowing of it.” (al-imran: 92)
“ash-shaytan (the all-vicious, the devil) promises you poverty and commands you to obscenity; and allah promises you forgiveness from him, and grace; and allah is ever-embracing ever-knowing.” the devil frightens charity givers and threatens them of poverty to be tight-fisted and hold to your belongings for fear it might diminish or decrease. by promising your poverty if you expend, the devil is leading you to obscenity, while on the other hand, allah (awj) promises you forgiveness by ordering you to expend of your good fortunes. the devil tells you to hang tight to what you have for fear of poverty, he does not want you to expend in the path of allah to seek his forgiveness. he orders you to commit sins and immoralities. while, allah (awj) promises you goodness and sustenance, he tells you so in the qur’an, through the teachings of prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) and through the goodness he instills in hearts as he has created hearts with a natural disposition and inclination to do goodness to fellow humans.
allah is the superb provider, the superb upright sustainer and the ever-forgiving. he knows all your matters and what is good for you because he is the all-embracing and the all-knowing.
the rules asserted by the verses show that the sadaqah should be of the best quality. charity has to be given of the best of what we have, not the bad which will only be taken if we overlook its bad quality. if it was given to someone in a transaction or trade, he would not have taken it. allah is the ever-affluent, he is the ever-rich, he does not accept that the bad quality sadaqah to be given to the poor and needy.
it is a common call to all the believers, at all times and in all generations, it applies to all their wealth and fortunes that they earn through the lawful ways, of what allah has given them from the fortunes of the earth such as corps, metals and oil, any kind of valuable resources that we extract from the soil. so, the text tackles all kinds of money and wealth, it includes the kind of fortunes at the time of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) and what we find out later in time of other kinds of fortunes. so, it is a call to every muslim every time and everywhere.
for every kind of fortune we have, we should pay zakat4. the measures clarified by the sunnah5 were for the kinds of fortunes at that time, based on these measures we estimate the fixed portions we have to pay as zakat on all kinds of fortunes now.
there are narrations about the reason for the revelation of this verse. we may mention it here, to visualize and portray the life that the qur’an was dealing with. it shows how much effort was exerted to refine and reform hearts to raise them to the great praised degree of faith they have reached.
narrated ibn jarir from al-bara’ ibn azeb (ra)7: the verse was revealed about al-ansar6. when the season for harvesting date-trees would start, al-ansar would collect ripe-date branches from their gardens and hang them on a rope erected between two pillars in the masjid (mosque) of the messenger of allah (peace be upon him). the poor emigrant companions would eat from these dates. however, some of them (al-ansar) would also add lesser type of dates in between ripe-date branches, thinking they are allowed to do so. allah revealed this verse about those who did this, “and do not have recourse to the wicked of it for your expending, and you would not take it (yourselves) except you closed an eye on it.” [narrated by al-hakim from al-bara’, he classified the hadith as sahih on the condition of al-bukhari and muslim, but they did not collect it]
it was narrated by ibn abi hatem from al-bara’ ibn aazib who said: “[the verse] ‘and do not have recourse to the wicked of it for your expending’ [al-baqarah: 267] was revealed concerning us al-ansar. we used to own date palm trees. a man would bring (the harvest) from his date palms, whether it was a little or a lot. a man would bring one or two bunches of dates and hang them in the mosque. ahl al-suffah – or according to a report narrated by ibn maajah, the poor among the muhaajireen – had no food, so if one of them got hungry he would come and strike the bunch with his stick, and ripe and unripe dates would fall, and he would eat them. but there were some uncharitable people who would bring a bunch of dates that contained rotten or dried-up dates, or a bunch that was damaged, and hang it up. then allah revealed the words (interpretation of the meaning): “o you who have believed, expend of the good things you have earned and of what we have brought out for you from the earth, and do not have recourse to the wicked of it for your expending, and you would not take it (yourselves) except you closed an eye on it, and know that allah is ever-affluent, (literally: ever-rich) ever-praiseworthy.” (al-baqarah: 267)
he said: if any one of you were to be given something like they gave, he would not accept it unless he did so with his eyes closed or out of shyness. he said, after that one of us would bring the best dates that he had. [narrated by al-tirmidhi, 2987; ibn maajah, 1822. classified as hadith sahih by al-albaani in sahih al-tirmidhi, 2389]
the two narrations are similar, they both visualize a fact that occurred in madinah, and they both reveal another image of generosity, giving and bestowal. the incident shows us that there are some brilliant models of giving and donating, and other models that need education and refinement to attain perfection and faith such as when some of al-ansar were prohibited from giving the bad quality of their fortunes or corps that they will only accept if they were given as a present which they would take it out of shyness by overlooking its bad quality. so, how about if this charity is for the sake of allah, should not it be of the best quality?! this is why a commentary follows this prohibition: “and know that allah is ever-affluent, (literally: ever-rich) ever-praiseworthy.” he (awj) is the ever-affluent, the ever-rich, he does not need any gift from people. whatever they give, they give for themselves. they are the ones that will be rewarded for their good deeds, this is why, they should sacrifice and give from the best of their fortunes, to be granted the best reward from almighty allah, in the present life and ultimately in the hereafter.
allah is ever-praiseworthy, he accepts everything that is good, i.e. the good quality donations and charity given by believers to the poor and needy. he praises such good deeds and rewards the donators and charity givers with goodness in return.
each of the two attributes of allah in the verse is very powerful on the hearts of believers, namely the ever-affluent, the ever-praiseworthy. it touches hearts as it did for al-ansar. “o you who have believed, expend of the good things you have earned…”, if you don’t do so, then know that allah is the ever-affluent, he does not need the bad quality donations or charities that you expend. yet, if you expend of the best fortunes you have, know that he is the ever-praiseworthy, for he praises your good deeds when you donate out of the best of what you have.
almighty allah is the superb bestower, the superb provider. he rewards you for what you donate in charity, and he is the one that gave you what you later are giving as charity. so, whatever you give, know that it was initially given to you from allah almighty. how marvelous is this encouragement and suggestion! how superb this kind of amazing way of addressing the senses of believers! it is the method of encouragement to give charity, while at the same time it is a reminder that whatever they have is all a grant from allah (awj). whatever you give, it will not go in vain. it will be rewarded with more than you can imagine or expect, as long as they are for the sake of allah (awj).
miserliness or giving bad and inferior donations both stem from evil motives, they reflect mistrust and doubt concerning the generosity and reward from allah, they show fear of poverty that should never come on the mind of someone who trusts and relies on allah, knowing that whatever he has comes from allah and returns to him. allah reveals such motives to believers to be quite clear to them, to know how these motives come to spirits and what rises them in hearts, it is the devil. almighty allah says (what can be translated as): “ash-shaytan (the all-vicious, the devil) promises you poverty and commands you to obscenity; and allah promises you forgiveness from him, and grace; and allah is ever-embracing ever-knowing. he brings (the) wisdom to whomever he decides; and whoever is brought (the) wisdom, then he has been brought much charity (i.e., benefit); and in no way does anyone constantly remember except the ones endowed with intellects.” (al-baqarah: 268-269)
the devil frightens you of poverty so he incites you to be tight-fisted, miserly and attached to money. he orders you to do obscenity and transgress by doing any kind of dispraised act. it makes you afraid of being poor, so you might do anything to avoid it even if it means to kill your own children, as it was the case in jahiliya8. the devil called people to kill their daughter, which is an obscenity, to avoid poverty. it still happens till now in some asian societies such as india and china, they kill the embryo if it is revealed that it is a female to void having daughters for fear of poverty. the devil also calls you to take ribba9 when you lend someone money, which is also obscenity, to accumulate wealth even if it means to collect it on the pains, ruin and suffering of others. also, lack of expending in the path of allah, to spread the word of righteousness for fear of poverty is also obscenity.
while the devil promises you poverty and orders you to do obscenity, allah (awj) promises you forgiveness, reward and ultimate bestowal: “allah promises you forgiveness from him, and grace; and allah is ever-embracing ever-knowing.”
allah (awj) mentions forgiveness first, then he mentions grace because grace is an increase or addition to forgiveness. it includes sustenance on earth and the expenditure in the path of allah.
“allah is ever-embracing ever-knowing”, he (swt) gives out of his ampleness. he knows all thoughts, whispers and reflections of the heart. he knows whatever concealed in conscience: “he knows the treacherous (look) of the eyes and whatever the breasts conceal.” (ghafer: 19) “surely he knows the secret and whatever is (yet) more concealed.” (taha: 7)
(1) swt: subhanahu wa ta'ala [glorified and exalted be he]
(2) sadaqah: donations and voluntary charity.
(3) awj: aza-wa-jal [glorified and sublime be he].
(4) zakat: (the term means "that which purifies" or "alms"), one of the five pillars of islam, is the giving of a fixed portion of one's wealth to charity, generally to the poor and needy.
(5) sunnah: literally means a clear, well trodden, busy and plain surfaced road. in the discussion of the sources of religion, sunnah denotes the practice of prophet muhammad (pbuh) that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher of the shariah and the best exemplar. the sunnah of prophet muhammad includes his specific words, habits, practices, and silent approvals.
(6) al-ansar: an islamic term that literally means "helpers" and denotes the citizens of madinah that helped prophet muhammad (pbuh) and the muhajirun on the arrival to the city after the migration to madinah. they belonged to two main tribes, the banu khazraj and the banu aws.
(7) ra: radya allah anhu/anha [may allah be pleased with him/her]
(8) jahiliyah: in islam, the period preceding the revelation of the qur'an to the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him).
(9) ribba means 'interest, usury'. interest is when an individual gives more money back to the lender than originally borrowed. it is forbidden to take interest in islam.