Allah, the Wise, has said:
إِنْ تُبْدُوا الصَّدَقاَتِ فَنِعِمَّا هِيَ
“If you give alms openly, it is well.”1
The Noble Prophet (s.a.w) said:
تَصَدَّقُوا وَ لَو بِتَمرَةٍ.
“Give charity, even if it happens to be a (piece of) date.”2
Charity is of two kinds: The first being the “concealed charity” - one that had been the conduct of the Imams and which wards away poverty, lengthens the life, does away with seventy kinds of evil deaths and smothers the Divine wrath. The second being the “manifest charity” - one, that increases the sustenance and breaks Satan's back.
An important point in connection with charity is that quantity (with respect to money, clothes or food) is not the criterion for perfection; rather, it is the purity and sincerity of intention, which is the requisite for perfection.
At times when the Noble Prophet (s.a.w) did not possess any money, he would give his clothes in charity and would recommend: “Commence your day with charity, for it serves to insure you.”
Once, Imam Sadiq (a.s) related: “There was a piece of land that I owned in partnership with an astrologer and it was mutually decided that it should be divided between us. He made preparations so that his arrival should be in an auspicious hour while I should arrive in an inauspicious hour so that the better portion of the land fell in his hands. The land was divided but it so happened that the better portion came as my share of the land! The man slapped his right hand over his left in regret and said ruefully: “Oh! Had I never lived to see such a day!”
I said to him: “Why are you so upset today?” He said: “I am an astrologer and I brought you out of your house in an inauspicious hour while I myself came out in an auspicious hour. However, now that the land has been divided, you have come to acquire the better portion of it.”
I (the Imam) said: “I shall inform you of a tradition of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w) wherein he said: 'If one desires that Allah wards away from him the inauspiciousness of a day, he should start his day by giving charity, and if one desires to ward away the inauspiciousness of the night, he should commence his night by giving charity.'”
The Imam (a.s) then said (to the astrologer): “I gave charity while coming out (of my house) today; charity is better for you than astrology.”3
'Atbah Beente 'Afif, the mother of Hatim Tai, was an open-hearted and generous lady, who used to distribute all her wealth amongst the needy ones.
When her brothers saw her giving her wealth in charity, they prevented her from accessing it and said: “You are indulging in extravagance and ruining your property.”
For a period of one year they did not provide her with any money. When the year had passed they spoke amongst themselves and said: “She has suffered much in this year as a result of scarcity and perhaps now, after this prohibition, she would spend her wealth moderately and not exhibit extravagance.” And so, they gave her a herd of camels so that she could make use of them.
At that juncture a woman from the tribe of Hawazan approached her and, as in the past, sought food and assistance from her.
Hatim's mother gifted the entire herd of camels to her saying: “In this period (of one year), I have tasted the sufferings of poverty and have promised to myself that whatever I come to possess, I shall give in charity to the needy and the deprived ones!”4
Mu'alla Ibn Khunais narrates: “One rainy night Imam Sadiq (a.s) started out from his house with the intention of proceeding towards the tent of the tribe of Bani Sai'dah (under which they used to gather in the heat of the day, while it would be utilized as a sleeping place by the travelers and the indigent ones, during the night).
I followed the Imam (a.s) when I noticed that something had suddenly fallen out of his hands. He (a.s) supplicated: “O' Allah! Return to me that which has fallen.” I advanced nearer and saluted him at which he questioned: “Mu'alla?” I said: “Yes. May I be made your ransom!” The Imam (a.s) said to me: “Move your hand over the ground and hand over to me whatever you happen to find.”
As I moved my hand over the ground I found some pieces of bread scattered around; gathering them all, which eventually became a sack-full, I handed them to him (a.s) and said: “May I be made your ransom. Allow me to carry the sack upon my back.” He (a.s) said: “No. I am more deserving of carrying the sack, but yes, I do permit you to accompany me.”
Thus, together with the Imam (a.s), I reached the tent of Bani Sai'dah, where a group of poor people lay asleep. The Imam (a.s) began placing one or two pieces of bread below their garments till all the pieces of bread were used up.
As we turned back, I said to him: “May I be made your ransom! Are they Shiites?” The Imam (a.s) replied:
لَو عَرَفُوه لَوَاسَينَاهُم بِالدُّقًّةِ
“Had they been Shiites, I would have provided them with all that they needed - even their salt.”5
Sayyid Ne'matullah Jazairi narrates in his book: “One year, a famine struck. During that period a preacher, from atop the pulpit in the mosque, preached: “When one desires to give charity, seventy Satans cling onto his hands to prevent him from giving it.”
Hearing this, a person said to his friends in amazement: “Giving charity has no such thing associated with it. I have some wheat present in my house which I shall immediately bring to the mosque and distribute amongst the poor.”
With this in mind, he set off for his house. When he reached home and informed his wife of his intention, she began to reprimand him saying: “In this period of drought do you not have consideration for your wife and child? Maybe the drought will extend for a long time, in which case we shall die of hunger and …”
In short, she rebuked him to such an extent that eventually the man returned to the mosque empty-handed.
His friends asked him: “What happened? Did you see how seventy Satans clung to your hand and prevented you?”6
The man said: “Honestly speaking, I did not see the Satans, but I certainly saw their mother, who prevented me from performing this good deed.””7
Perhaps, the only Shiite minister to have been widely popular amongst the people of all classes was Sahib Ibn Ubbad (326 ah to 385 ah). Initially he had been the minister of Muayyad al-Daulah Dailami (d. 373 ah), after whose death, he became the minister of Muayyad's brother, Fakhr al-Daulah.
Sheikh Saduq compiled the book 'Uyoon Akhbar al-Ridha for him while Husain Ibn Muhammad Qummi authored the book Tarikh Qum upon his orders.
During the period when he was the minister, it was not possible for one who came to him in the afternoon of the month of Ramadhan, to leave except after consuming iftar - at times the people breaking their fast at his place totaled one thousand in number. His charity in this holy month would equal that of all the other months combined as it was from his infancy that his mother had trained him to act in such a manner.
During his childhood, when he would start out for his classes, his mother would give him a dinar and a dirham everyday and advise him: “Give (these in) charity to the first needy you come across!” This act transformed itself into a habit for him.
From his childhood to youth and then on until he became a minister, he never disregarded the recommendation and training of his mother. Fearful of forgetting this recommendation, he instructed the slave, who was in-charge of his quarters, to place one dinar and one dirham under his mattress every night. Upon waking up in the morning, he would give them in charity to the first needy he encountered.
It so happened that one night the servant forgot to place the money. The next morning Sahib Ibn Ubbad, upon waking, thrust his hand under the mattress to collect the money only to realize that the servant had forgotten to place the money there. He took this to augur ill for himself and thought: “Surely, my end has drawn nigh that the servant forgot to place the charity.”
He ordered the blanket, mattress and pillows that lay in his bedroom to be given in charity to the first destitute that came his way as an expiation for the forgetfulness. Having collected all the items - all of which were costly and expensive - he set out of his house, only to encounter an old blind Sayyid (descendant of the Noble Prophet (s.a.w)), who was shedding tears as his wife led him by the hand.
Sahib's servant went forward and asked him: “Will you accept these items?” The man asked: “What are the items?” The servant replied: “A blanket, mattress and some brocaded pillows.” As soon as he heard this the destitute fell down unconscious.
When Sahib Ibn 'Ubbad was informed of this scenario he approached the man and ordered water to be sprinkled over his face. When the man had regained his consciousness, Sahib asked him: “What caused you to lose consciousness?”
He answered: “I am a respectable person. It is of late that I have fallen into bad times. I have a daughter from this wife who had reached the age of marriage; a person sought her hand in marriage and they were married. It has been two years now that we have been collecting items for her Dowry. Last night my wife said to me: “We must make arrangements for a blanket and brocaded pillows for my daughter.” Try as much as I could, I could not get her to change her mind till there ensued a dispute between us over this issue. Finally I said to her: “Tomorrow morning, hold my hand and take me out of the house”, so that I could pass in front of you. Then, when your servant spoke those words to me, it was but natural that I should fall down unconscious.”
Sahib was greatly affected by this speech. Summoning the daughter's husband, he gave him sufficient wealth so that he could engage himself in a respectable profession, after which, he gave the entire dowry of the daughter in a measure befitting a minister's daughter.8