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If it is easy for you to give without being annoyed, you are a generous person. If you are one of those who donate profusely and retain only little for themselves, you are openhanded. However, if you give while in need yourself, you have reached the highest degree of generosity: altruism; this stems from staunch faith, genuine love, perseverance and steadfastness, and hope of reward from Allah The Almighty.




The following are some of the most important factors that urge one to favor others over his or her self:


1-      Love of good manners and abhorrence of incivility: one’s level of self-sacrifice is proportionate to one’s desire to possess good morals, because favoring others is the epitome of courtesy.


2-      Dislike of stinginess: anyone who hates miserliness knows that there is no means of countering it other than with generosity and kind acts.


3-      Respect of the rights of others: when a person gives people their due and respect, he or she meticulously fulfills their rights, fully aware that if he or she does not reach the level of altruism, he or she will not give others their due.


4-      Belittling the worldly life and aspiring for the Hereafter: if people are primarily concerned with the next life, the worldly one becomes inconsequential in their sight; they know that they will be recompensed for whatever they give here, on the Day of Resurrection when they will be in dire need.


5-      Adapting oneself to tolerating hardship and distress: this helps one reach a degree of self-sacrifice that may result in poverty and harsh conditions; so, if a person is not accustomed to endurance, he or she will not be capable of giving while in need.




Degrees of altruism




Among the scholars who have divided altruism into varying degrees, is Ibn ul-Qayyim  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him who said:


“The first level is to favor others over yourself in that which does not diminish your commitment to the religion, hinder your path [to Allah] or waste your time; this means that you favor their interests over your own, such as when you feed them while you are hungry, dress them while you are still unclothed and offer them water while you are thirsty. However, this should not lead you to commit anything Islamically prohibited. Thus, any act that results in reforming your heart, time and standing with Allah The Almighty, should not be an object of sacrifice. If you favor others at the expense of such acts, you are actually ignorantly favoring Satan over Him.




The second degree is to give preference to the pleasure of Allah The Almighty over the satisfaction of people, even if its repercussions are so severe that one’s body and faculties cannot afford them. This act entails that one wants and does whatever pleases Him, although it may result in the anger of His creatures. This is the degree of the Prophets of Allah, whereas the Messengers were at a higher level, and the resolute Messengers, may Allah exalt their mention, even more esteemed.




However, the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) occupies the highest level of all, as he resisted the whole world, devoted himself to calling others to Allah The Almighty, bore the animosity of both relatives and strangers for His sake and favored His pleasure over anyone else’s, in all aspects, fearing the criticism of no one. His intention, concern and endeavors were all dedicated to satisfying Allah The Almighty, conveying His message, rendering His Words the uppermost and fighting His enemies until His religion became superior over all others, its argument established against the worlds and His favor perfectly bestowed on the believers. The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) conveyed the message, delivered the trust, advised the Ummah, strove ardently in the way of Allah The Almighty and worshipped Him until he passed away. Therefore, no one attained as exalted a degree of altruism as the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ).




As for a person who favors people’s approval over that of Allah The Almighty, it is His unchangeable tradition that He makes their satisfaction impossible to achieve and he or she is forsaken by them, with only him/herself to blame. Indeed, someone whose praise is sought will eventually vilify and the one whose satisfaction is desired, will become displeased. Accordingly, the person who seeks the approval or delight of others will neither achieve his or her goal, nor attain the reward of the pleasure of the Lord; and this is the weakest and most foolish person.”




Ash-Shaafi‘i  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him said, “Satisfying people is an unattainable goal. Therefore, adhere to what makes you righteous; and that is possible only if we favor the satisfaction of the Lord over that of others.” Some Arabic verses of poetry speak about this, such as those that read:


I wish that my bond with You [O Allah] remains sweet


Even if life becomes bitter;


I wish that You are pleased [with me],


Even if all people are disgruntled;


I wish that what is between me and You is good,


Even if my relations with people are not.


If You love me, every problem will seem easy


And everything on earth will amount to nothing.




The third degree of altruism is to attribute this quality to Allah The Almighty and not one’s own self, and to admit that these self-sacrificing acts are by His Command, thereby submitting them to Him. Consequently, if we do favor others over our own self, it means that it is Allah The Almighty Who did so in reality, for He is the actual Giver.




Memorable acts of self-sacrifice




History has brightly recorded many immortal examples of Muslims attaining the exalted degree and the paramount quality of altruism.




Once, a woman came to the best of creation, the last Prophet and the leader of Messengers,  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ), and presented a garment to him, saying: “O Messenger of Allah, this is [a gift] for you.” The Prophet,  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ), accepted it and wore it as he was in need of it; then, one of the Companions saw him wearing it, and said to him, “What a beautiful garment! Give it to me!” The Prophet,  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ), indicated his willingness to do that; then, when he had left, the other Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, reproached the man, saying, “You did not do a good thing when you asked the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) to hand it to you while you see that he is short of [clothes]; and you know that he never declines to give anything if asked.” He explained, “I sought the blessing of the garment as the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) had worn it; and I wished I could be shrouded in it.”




We see similar acts of favoring others even in the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, and those that succeeded them  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  them. Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrates: “A man came to the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) who sent [for some food for him] to his wives, but they replied: ‘We have nothing except water.’ So, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) asked, ‘Who will receive this man as a guest?’ A man from the Ansaar [supporters in Madeenah] said, ‘I will.’ He then took the man [home] to his wife and said to her, ‘Host the guest of the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) hospitably.’ She replied, ‘We have nothing except the food of my children.’ He instructed, ‘Prepare your food, light your lamp and put your kids to sleep, if they ask for supper.’ Therefore, she prepared her food, lit her lantern and made her children lie down; she then stood up, pretending to fix her lamp, when, in reality, she turned it off. Then, both husband and wife, pretended to eat before their guest [so as not to let him know of their dilemma], but actually went to bed hungry. In the morning, when the Ansaar man went to the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ) he said, ‘Tonight, Allah laughed [or wondered] at your action.’ Then Allah The Almighty revealed the verse (what means): {But [they] favor [others] over themselves, even though they are in privation. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul - it is those who will be the successful.} [Quran 59: 9]




Likewise, another of the Ansaar offered to relinquish half of his property to an emigrant who was paired up with him through the bonds of brotherhood; he even gave him, may Allah be pleased with them both, the option to marry one of his wives, who he would divorce for him. However, the Muhaajir (emigrant from Makkah) refused, praying, “May Allah bless for you your wives and possessions.” In yet another paradigm of altruism, Abu Talhah Al-Ansaari, may Allah be pleased with him, who was the richest of the Ansaar, had a favorite land, a garden called Bayruhaa’. When he heard a verse in which Allah The Almighty Says (what means): {Never will you attain the good [reward] until you spend [in the way of Allah] from that which you love} [Quran 3:92], he went to the Prophet,  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allah exalt his mention ), and donated it as charity for His sake.




Another Companion, Qays ibn Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubaadah, may Allah be pleased with him, once fell ill; when he did not receive any visitors, he asked after them and was informed, “They are ashamed to visit you because of the debt they owe you.” He remarked, “May Allah debase money that prevents brothers from paying visits.” Then, he ordered someone to announce: “Whoever is indebted to Qays, is relieved of repayment.” That night, his threshold broke, due to the large number of people who came to see him.




But, perhaps the exemplars of self-sacrifice among our predecessors, are the three who favored the other’s lives over their own. Huthayfah Al-‘Adawi  may  Allah  have  mercy  upon  him relates, “I went looking for my cousin on the battlefield during the war of Al-Yarmook. I had some water and mentally noted, ‘If he still has any breath, I will give him some water to drink and will wipe his face with it.’ I found him and asked, ‘Should I give you water to drink?’ He made an affirmative gesture; but then we heard someone gasp, so he signaled to me to take the water to that man, who was Hishaam ibn Al-‘Aas. When I asked him if I should give him water to drink, he replied positively, but we heard another man cry out, “Ah!” Therefore, Hishaam made a sign to me, telling me to go to that man. When I went to him, I found that he had already expired. When I returned to Hishaam, I discovered he, too, had passed away; and when I returned to my cousin, I saw that he had died as well, may Allah have mercy on all of them!”




Benefits of altruism




If there is no advantage of altruism other than the fact that it demonstrates the perfection and strength of one’s faith, and noble manners, that would be a good enough reason to practice it. In fact, favoring others over oneself is also a way to the love of Allah The Almighty, intimacy among people, incurring blessings and protection against stinginess.

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