Selfless Giving: The Most Effective Form of Islamic Dawah
Dr. Ali Qaradaghi, former president of the Fiqh and Osool (Islamic law) branch of Qatar University, and the founder of Rabitay Islamiy Kurd, a successful Islamic charity in northern Iraq says in an interview:
“I’ve learned that dawah doesn’t truly reach the masses except when it is through acts of charity, and this is my understanding of the saying of Allah, “Be a nation that calls for what is good, encourages what is right, and discourages what is wrong, and those who do this are the successful ones” . You call people to do charity toward others, and then in addition to it you encourage people to do what’s right or discourage them from doing wrong. So in Kurdistan we adopted orphans, built mosques, and supported widows. There were over 50,000 thousand orphans in the country. 4,000 villages had been completely destroyed. When we started our charity organization in 1991 we found out that the fruit of charitable acts is much greater than the fruit of the dawah that tries to only offer wisdom and guidance.”
Hearing this clarified an important concept in my mind: that there are two kinds of religious charities; those that, like Dr. Qaradaghi’s charity, serve people without expecting anything in return, and those that try to administer religion with the help they give.
The lesson I’ve learned from the success of Dr. Qaradaghi’s charity, and the failure of various Christian charities that are active in the same region, is that religious charities should be manifestations of their religion’s teachings, not propaganda centers. Religious charities shouldn’t have a conversion agenda; their only goal should be following God’s words when He says:
And they love to feed the poor, orphans, and those imprisoned, [saying:] “We are feeding you due to our desire to meet God, we do not want from you any reward or gratitude.”
This attitude is extremely powerful. And we rarely see it from anyone, even from those who think they are very religious. But every now and then a man or woman appears who changes the world through the constant practice of this oft ignored commandment.
Selfless kindness that doesn’t expect gratitude, that only gives and doesn’t wait expectantly for anything in return, touches the depth of our hearts. We quickly fall in love with those who show this behavior toward us, and they quickly amass thousands and sometimes millions of followers. This is not a form of trickery to cause them to convert to our religion. Any religion that practices selfless-giving in service of God and teaches it is a true religion and deserves to be followed. The Quran, though the book of Islam, describes Christians who practice their religion in this selfless way as follows:
And you will find the closest of people to the believers to be those who said “We are the supporters” [of God, the Quran’s way of referring to Christians] because from them there are people devoted to learning and ascetics, and they do not act with arrogance. And when they hear what was sent to the Messenger [Prophet Muhammad] you will see their eyes overflow with tears as they recognize the truth they already know, saying “our Lord, we have believed, so count us among the witnesses.” “And how can we not believe in God and what has come to us of the truth, and we long for our Lord to include us in the company of the righteous?” So God rewarded them for saying this with gardens graced with flowing streams, to live in there forever, and this is the reward of those who do good.
Though it’s not clear from this verse, the Quran doesn’t expect them to convert to Islam, as clarified by other verses from the Quran:
The [Muslim] believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians–all those who believe in God and the Last Day and do good–will have their rewards with their Lord, there is no fear for them, nor will they grieve.
And every group has a direction to which it turns [when it prays], so compete with each other in doing good deeds. Wherever you are God will bring you together [on the day of Judgment], God is very much able at doing anything [He wants].
Not all those who benefit from a selflessly-giving charity will appreciate the service, but this is the whole point: Not expecting anything in return. The charity should embody its religion and represent it, and beyond this, whether people appreciate it or not, is not the charity’s business, it is God’s, because as God says:
It’s not your duty to guide them, rather God guides whoever He wishes. Whatever you spend of good things [i.e. not broken or spoiled things] you do it for yourselves [God doesn’t benefit from your good deeds, ultimately you benefit from it in the afterlife]. Everything you spend should be in seeking of God’s pleasure. Whatever good things you spend will be faithfully returned to you [by God, in this life or the afterlife], and you will not be wronged [i.e. your reward will be just].
Thus we should not expect any form of reward or gratitude for our acts of charity, it is this selfless, non-expectant, unassuming form of giving that softens the hearts of people toward God’s beautiful religions.
Giving selflessly, without expecting gratitude, is a difficult ideal, and one that few people and charities actually reach. It is very difficult to do charity without expecting gratitude from those who benefit from it, it is against human nature. We like to be thanked when we are nice to others. It is a state that could be rightly described by the following Quranic verse, though from a different context:
And [this state] is not reached except by those who have made it a life-long habit to practice patience, and it is not reached except by those who have a great share [of God’s mercy, bounty, and guidance].
For those who like to do good deeds, the difficulty of selfless giving makes it even more worthwhile to pursue. God rewards good deeds based on the amount of effort we put into them, and selfless giving requires a great amount, maybe super-human, effort to achieve, and for this reason the rewards are clearly going to be great.
I should note that I’m not saying all other non-profits, such as those that produce religious lectures, are useless. Producing and offering lectures is of course a good deed, but those who do so should take into account God’s command:
There is no compulsion in faith.
Thus making a group of homeless people sit through an hour-long lecture with the promise of free lunch is wrong and ‘un-religious, because it is a form of compulsion (though slight)—the person who does this has used a reward to compel a group of hungry people to listen to religious indoctrination. And it completely goes against the ideals of selfless and non-expectant generosity that I mentioned above.
Religious charities should not force people to consume dawah material with their food, the charities themselves, their selfless giving and caring, should be the very dawah itself.
 Arabic for ‘calling’ or ‘inviting’, in Islamic literature it refers to evangelism.
 Quran, 3:104.
 By Saddam Hussein’s regime, through his Anfal campaign.
 Quran, 76:8, 9. Literal translation: And they feed food with love to a poor person, an orphan, and a prisoner. Indeed we are feeding you for God’s face, we do not want from you a reward or thanks.
 Quran, 5:82-85.
 Quran, 2:62.
 Quran, 2:148.
 Quran. 2:272. Literal translation: It’s not upon you their guidance, but God guides who He wants, and whatever you spend of good things then it’s for yourselves and you shouldn’t spend anything except to seek God’s face and whatever you spend will be faithfully given back to you and you will not be wronged.
 Quran, 41:35. Literal translation: And it is not reached except by those who were patient, and it is not reached except by those who have a great share.
 Quran, 2:256. Literal translation: There is no forcing in faith.
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