Al-Baqarah · Juz 2 · Qur'an Tafseer

What is Al-Birr [Piety/Righteousness]? (Part 2)


Tafseer Surah Al-Baqarah 177 (Part 2)


What other things constitute Al-Birr?

The Rights of Other People

We now learn the rights that other people have on us. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

“…and gives his wealth, in spite of love for it, to the kinsfolk, to the orphans, and to poor, and to the wayfarer, and to those who ask, and to set servants free…”

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands us to give money while we desire and love it. It is recorded in the Saheehayn that Abu Huraira radhiAllahu ‘anhu narrated that the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

أَفْضَلُ الصَّدَقةِ أَنْ تَصَدَّقَ وَأَنْتَ صَحِيحٌ شَحِيحٌ، تَأْمُلُ الْغِنَى وتَخْشَى الْفقْر

“The best charity is when you give it away while still healthy and thrifty, hoping to get rich and fearing poverty.”

The word al-mala [الْمَالَ] is not limited to wealth, but it includes everything that benefits one, such as food, clothing, livestock, etc. This lists the causes in which we should spend our wealth.

Giving Charity to One’s Kinsfolk

The first people who deserve our help and attention are our kinsfolk. We learn that in Islam there is special emphasis on maintaining ties of kinship. A person’s deeds are not accepted if he has severed ties with his relatives. Sila rehmi [maintaining good ties with one’s folk] is a noble act. Shaytan [Satan] tries to whisper bad thoughts in our minds about our relatives. We should shun those thoughts and continue to do good in spite of how people treat us.

Point to Note:

When we read the ayaat of giving for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala we interpret them as spending our wealth only on the destitute. Notice that ‘the poor’ [Al-Masakeen] were distinctively mentioned in the ayah above. Therefore, it tells us we can spend on our relatives (give gifts) even when they are well-to-do. Why? It is because spending on someone without seeking a favor helps in bridging gaps and bringing hearts closer. If every relative is busy in his/her own life with no concern for the other, how will families survive? What are we teaching our children? In many families, enmity continues for generations. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala protect us, aameen. Buy gifts for your relatives and look after their children as you look after your own. Giving gifts should neither be a sign of one’s affluence nor an act of degrading another. Rather, it should be a gesture of remembering your loved ones.

In a hadeeth it appears:

الصَّدَقَةُ عَلَى الْمَسَاكِينِ صَدَقَةٌ، وعَلَى ذِي الرَّحِمِ اثْنتَانِ: صَدَقَةٌ وَصِلَـةٌ، فَهُمْ أَوْلَى النَّاسِ بِكَ وَبِبِرِّكَ وَإِعْطَائِك

Sadaqah [voluntary charity] given to the poor is a charity, while the sadaqah given to the relatives is both sadaqah and silah [nurturing relations], for they are the most deserving of you and your kindness and charity.”

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has commanded kindness to the relatives in many places in the Qur’an.

Giving Charity to the Orphans

The second group that deserves our attention is the orphans. Who is an orphan? An orphan is someone who has lost his father before reaching the age of puberty. Having lost their father, they have no one to look after them. They are young and vulnerable – unable to look after their own needs.

Giving Charity to the Miskeen

The third group is that of the Miskeen [poor and needy]. Miskeen is the person who does not have enough food, clothing, or he has no dwelling. He is in need, but does not unveil his neediness before the people. He is not a street beggar. Such a person deserves to be given provision to sustain himself.

The Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

لَيْسَ الْمِسْكِينُ بِهذَا الطَّوَّافِ الَّذِي تَرُدُّه التَّمْرَةُ والتَّمْرَتَانِ، واللُّقْمَةُ واللُّقْمَتَانِ، وَلكِنِ الْمِسْكِينُ الَّذِي لَا يَجِدُ غِنىً يُغْنِيه وَلَا يُفْطَنُ لَهُ فَيُتصَدَّقَ عَلَيْه

“The Miskeen is not the person who roams around, and whose need is met by one or two dates or one or two bites. Rather, the Miskeen is he who does not have what is sufficient, and to whom the people do not pay attention to and, thus, do not give him from the charity.”

[The Rights of the Relatives, the Orphans and the Needy]

Giving Charity to the Wayfarer

The fourth category is of the wayfarer. He is a traveler who has run out of money and should, thus, be granted whatever amount that helps him to go back to his land. However, people should not intentionally plan this and rob innocent people of their money. Many people go for pilgrimage and then beg others for money. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala commands us to undertake this journey only if we are able to finance it. Hajj is not obligatory on a person of weak financial standing.

Then money should be given to those who ask. There are two categories of these people: those who ask directly and those who do not ask, but it is visible from their appearance that they are in need.

Note: It should be noted that giving out throw-aways in the name of charity is not charity. Islam teaches us: Love for your brother what you love for yourself. We will not accept useless goods. Likewise, we should respect others and not give them our junk. We should learn the adaab [etiquette] of giving gifts and charity. Secondly, we should not spend on others while declaring our favor on them. If Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has given you more it is both a test and blessing for you. Be humble before Him and fulfill your duties and seek only Allah’s pleasure through your charity.

[Open Your Hearts to Charity]

Give Charity in Freeing People

Lastly, money should be given to set people free. The word ar-reeqabi [الرِّقَابِ] is from the root ra-qaf-ba and it means ‘slave or captive of war’. Today, we do not have slaves, but there are many innocent people who have been imprisoned without a crime or against false charges. Money should be spent on helping them seek justice and get freedom. Sometimes, people get kidnapped and the ransom amount is too high. We can help the family by contributing to the ransom amount. May Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala keep everyone’s loved ones in their protection, aameen.

[Giving Charity to Set Free Slaves]

After the rights of people, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala draws our attention to His Rights. It is reminder to not get so lost in charitable deeds that we forget the main purpose of our creation which is worship of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

He commands us to offer our prayers and give obligatory charity [zakat]. The word As-Salata [الصَّلَوةَ] literally means du’a or supplication, therefore, many people interpret the Muslim prayer as du’a. However, we note in the Qur’an wherever Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala mentions As-Salat it follows the word aqama [أَقَامَ] which means qaim or establish. We cannot establish a supplication. Therefore, it indicates the prayer by physical limbs which is namaz. It also means to pray in congregation, fulfilling all the pre-requisites of a prayer such as ablution, intention (in the heart), stated time, clean place, attention and humbleness, etc. (The congregational prayer, however, are not mandatory for the women. They can offer their prayers with ease in their homes. Alhumdulillah!)

[A Woman’s Prayer in Her House is Better]

The word zakata [زَّكَوةَ] has two meanings: to cleanse and to increase. When we give a portion of our wealth to the needy, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala increases our wealth in multitude. (It does not come all of a sudden, but, if your good deed has been accepted, you will notice a barakah in your wealth. Therefore, we should never take obligatory charity as a burden or be stingy about it. Rather we should give in the way of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala with excellence and generosity seeking reward only from Him.) Cleansing of the wealth means no matter how stringent we are about earning lawfully some portion of the impure wealth gets mixed in our wealth. For example, our work demands eight hours daily. We performed our best for seven hours but in the last one hour we lazed around, chatted here and there and waited for the clock to strike departure time. We take salary for eight hours while underperforming. This is negligence and cheating. Hence, our money should be cleansed or else we will have to be answerable for the unlawfully earned money in the Hereafter. Giving in the way of Allah, improves one’s conduct (we are concerned about the less privileged and humble toward them). It also keeps our heart free from the attachment to wealth.  

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” [Al-Baqarah 2: 127]

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