بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَانِ الرَّحِيمِ
Ever since I discovered the hadith below, I have prayed to Allah to always bless me with the ‘upper hand’ – الْيَدَ الْعُلْيَا – in the life of this world:
لأَنْ يَغْدُوَ أَحَدُكُمْ فَيَحْتَطِبَ عَلَى ظَهْرِهِ فَيَتَصَدَّقَ مِنْهُ فَيَسْتَغْنِيَ بِهِ عَنِ النَّاسِ خَيْرٌ لَهُ مِنْ أَنْ يَسْأَلَ رَجُلاً أَعْطَاهُ أَوْ مَنَعَهُ ذَلِكَ فَإِنَّ الْيَدَ الْعُلْيَا أَفْضَلُ مِنَ الْيَدِ السُّفْلَى وَابْدَأْ بِمَنْ تَعُولُ
Abu Hurairah narrated that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ saying:
“For one of you to go out early to gather firewood and carry it on his back, so that he can give charity from it and be free of need from the people, is better for him than to ask from a man, who may give to him, or refuse.
Indeed, the upper hand (giving) is more virtuous than the lower hand (receiving), and begin with (those who are) your dependents.” [Jami Tirmidhi, also reported by Sahih Al Bukhari]
Without doubt, because the Prophet ﷺ himself said it, the giving hand is better than the receiving one.
And although we believe in the truth of this as Muslims, because of the above hadith, my personal life experiences have also corroborated this fact for me practically, to the point that I now ask Allah for this blessing — that of always having the upper hand in the life of this world — even more.
However, it is often presumed that the people who have the upper/giving hand in life, have it easier in almost every other way, than those who receive. I used to think so too.
There is almost nothing negative that one can ever say about giving, is there?
Even those people who do not believe in God, and who give to others without any intention and hope of receiving rewards for their giving in the Afterlife (perhaps, because they do not believe in an afterlife at all), usually like and enjoy contributing to society through willful charity and voluntary welfare work, — such as, e.g. by promoting/supporting humanitarian causes by contributing to them through their services, skills, fame, or money — simply because of the spiritual and emotional ‘high’ that it gives them.
Everyone feels good after helping someone else. Everyone.
This is because the human soul has been naturally “wired” to give to back, to help the underprivileged, to do good to those who are less fortunate, especially once the soul starts to get overpowered by the feeling that it have been blessed with a lot.
“Shukr” or gratitude for blessings comes naturally to all human beings, and it results in their giving generously to others.
In a nutshell, there are mostly 3 causes that spur someone on to give, regardless of their faith:
(i) When they feel guilty about consistently disobeying, displeasing or undermining God in the way they are living their lives (even if they claim to not believe in Him), or when they have done something vile, or wronged someone else, and feel really bad about it.
(ii) When they feel overwhelmed with the recognition of just how greatly and to what enormous extent they have been blessed, as compared to others (this feeling overpowers them especially strongly whenever they hear of a calamity striking others, and the resulting suffering of the latter), and
(iii) a combination of the above two feelings.
Everyone who is blessed, therefore, loves “giving back” at some point or the other in their lives.
It results in the feeling of immense spiritual fulfillment, tranquility, and satisfaction, almost like a high. It also chases away – for a while – the two nagging feelings (or their combination) that I have listed in points 1 and 2 above.
But, is living the life of a “giver” always as great as it sounds?
Is “having it all” really the idyllic way of life?
The greatest challenge of giving generously in the way of Allah, is to not let it get to your head.
The solution for the disease of the heart called ri’aa or riya (the Arabic word used to describe the love of having your righteous deeds seen by others, and to have yourself admired for your piety) is, simply put, to give charity so secretly that no one else, — not a single other soul, — gets to know about it, sees it, or finds out.
This is, to say the very least, not at all easy.
Nevertheless, if people with giving hands attempt to conceal their giving for the right reasons, sometimes, they face far greater problems than just the issue of how to successfully avoid going public with their charity.
You see, in order to find the people who are truly deserving of their charity, a giving person has to seek them out — undercover.
And, in order to seek them out without being duped by the innumerable charlatans who pretend to be deserving of their charity around them, they have to conceal the fact that they are givers.
And how does one go about doing that?
Viz. how does one not let people catch on to the fact that they are generous givers?
Chucking the labels
Majority of us dream of acquiring all those blessings in life that will garner us comfort, ease, happiness, prestige, and honor.
We all also know that each of these blessings usually comes — at least nowadays — attached with equally (if not more) desirable brand tags and labels. Consequently, we spend the better part of our lives in pursuit of these labels.
As an aside, my eyes have really been opened to how effective the modern-day marketing strategies are, in lampooning potential customers since they are in the cradle, i.e. from infancy.
Babies & toddlers begin to recognize logos and symbols pretty quickly after birth, and also the experiences, textures, tastes, feelings, and sounds associated with them, long before they learn how to read letters and words.
Companies and businesses sure know how to cash in on this symbol/logo recognition and retention of young human minds. So if they want a die-hard customer who will recognize their products anywhere, instantly, 15 years (or even less) down the road, and drop everything to rush off with their pocket money or salary in hand at the mere hint of the words, “sale” or “launch”, then they will have to ensure that the babies and toddlers today get to not just hang out often inside their shops and stores without reproach, but that they are also able to recognize their logos immediately as soon as their eyes fall upon them on ads anywhere.
Anyhow, that is how a customer gets hitched to products nowadays: by associating happiness, pleasurable experiences, and social prestige with the acquisition of brands, tags, and labels.
What is sad is, how subtly and subconsciously this happens. And not just how we end up desiring to be seen in certain labels from top to bottom for our own selves, but also how we “measure up” a person, when we meet them, on the basis of what tags and labels appear on their persona.
So why am I going on about brands, labels, and price tags when talking about giving? Well, because in the world of the givers i.e. those who have been blessed with plenty and surplus provision in this worldly life, the pursuit of labels and the “measuring up” of others on the basis of the “tags” they have upon their persona, is the norm.
From what they wear and carry, to which vehicle they drive around in, to where they live (zip code) and how big the dwelling is, to what they eat (or not); what rank/designation they are at in their workplace, to which institution they or their family members attend(ed), — the social circles and ethos of the “giving communities” in this world (a.k.a the rich) thrive upon and burst to the seams with labels, tags, and brand-names.
It is a world where all members are running in a rat race to one-up and get ahead of the rest; where they are constantly measured up for what they own, possess, and show off. It is so sad and unavoidable, that it gets tiring and sometimes disconcerting to the hilt.
Anyhow, like I said above, givers should try to just chuck the labels sometimes, even though it is unavoidable because of the social circles that they belong to, in order to go “undercover” among the common masses, and seek out the truly deserving needy people to give their charity to, without being seen, heard, or recognized; in order to give in a way that no one else finds out about it.
In the process of chucking the labels and downplaying their wealth in order to remain incognito, they have to also make sure that they try to strike a critical balance — that of staying humble, down-to-earth, and approachable for the common masses, whilst acquiring, using, appreciating, and cherishing (i.e. not denying, wasting, or undermining) the favors and blessings of Allah that they have been granted in this world.
This is because, sometimes Allah gives more to the “givers”, so that His blessings can reach the needy people on earth through them, allowing them to earn rewards for giving.
Personally, I find the rat race and lust for labels among the well-off circles of society exhaustingly off-putting and tiresome. The scenario never changes. Here is how it roughly goes:
(i) You meet someone. You are scanned top-to-toe (for the presence of new blessings).
(ii) The mental/visual ‘detector’ pings as soon as a new acquisition is spotted, and the eyes fix on it for some seconds.
(iii) Then the inquiry starts:
“Where did you get that?”
“Is that a _____ handbag?! Did you get it on sale?”
“A new phablet? Were you promoted at work?”
(iv) Then comes the personal “saving face” story: the person who detected the acquisition launches into a talk about how and when they last got the same (or similar) blessing.
(v) A resolve to compete and one-up is set in motion inside their heart viz. “Time for me to get that too”.
Why can we all not buy something without being eyed for it, and being questioned about its price tag? Why can we not partake from a luxury that we can afford without being envied and judged by the “have’s” & “have-not’s”, alike?
When we see a new blessing on someone, why can’t we just be happy for them, congratulate them for it, and most importantly, make dua for them to be blessed in it? Here is what we should say as soon as we spot a new blessing on someone, and/or henceforth think about their having it:
بَارَكَ اللهُ فِيهِ
Why, instead, do we allow ourselves to feel bad about not having that blessing? About not being able to afford it?
The only way to avoid the above-described scanning and inquiry sessions by others, is for someone who possesses many blessings, but desires to keep them protected from harm by Allah, and wants for themselves to remain secret, incognito “givers” who are approachable by the masses, — is for them to walk around looking like any average layperson, downplaying their success, and hiding their blessings from people as much as possible.
This is also an effective measure that is required to ward off the ill effects of destructive envy and the admiring/adoring eye.
“Seek the help for the success or victory of your needs by being quiet.
For verily, everything that has a blessing in it is envied.”
[Al-Tabarani, Sahih Al-Jami’]
And although thus going incognito and keeping a low profile (like I described above) has its benefits, it should not be allowed to lead to denying Allah’s favors and blessings upon one’s self, because:
“When Allah bestows a blessing upon a person, He loves the effect of His blessing to be seen on His slave.”
[Madarij Al Salikeen]
Choices, choices, — yet, so hard to choose.
It takes immense wisdom and discretion to strike the optimum, delicate balance between the two polarized scenarios: opulent showing off, and down-to-earth humility.
Identifying the “Gold Diggers”
Finally, like I said, those who have “the upper hand” in giving charity and helping others, understandably attract innumerable charlatans i.e. people pretending to like them and befriending them just to gain some kind of benefit.
Who does not love someone who has it all? Everyone loves them, don’t they?
However, just the way Prophet Muhammad ﷺ started experiencing problems once Islam started to gain momentum in Madinah, from an emerging group of people who were pretending to be Muslims just in order to gain the socioeconomic benefits that Islam had begun to offer, so do givers today attract hypocrites and insincere friends the minute their success and possessions begin to become apparent to the world.
And it is not easy to identify the insincere people in one’s circle viz. those being chummy and nice towards you only because they want some benefit from you.
It is even more difficult to do this, because the sincerity of others whom you know in life, and the cordiality of their attidue towards you, tends to change with time and circumstance.
E.g. a person in your extended family with whom your relationship was extremely toxic and difficult during the first 20 years of your life, could change and become a true well-wisher once you become older, based on the changes in their personality, life circumstances (afflictions and calamities can really make people humble), or their level of religiosity, that happen over time.
In this regard, it is prudent to remain cautious without becoming paranoid.
One should always remember the wise words of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ when making anyone, whether they are from within their family or outside, their close friend (خَلِيل):
الرَّجُلُ عَلَى دِينِ خَلِيلِهِ فَلْيَنْظُرْ أَحَدُكُمْ مَنْ يُخَالِلُ
“A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.” [Abu Dawud]
My ‘giving back’: two new books
As an afterthought to my analysis of the dynamics of becoming a giver with the “upper hand” in life, when it comes to da’wah (calling others towards Islam), one needs to give back to the world publicly instead of secretly.
In lieu of such “giving back”, I have been really busy the past few months.
New projects have been taking up much of my time, but I am not saying this as a complain, only as a fact. I am actually very grateful to Allah that He has kept me busy in other beneficial work besides my main “life project”, which still remains to be the character-building of my 3 children.
All praises to Allah, like I mentioned in a previous post, He guided me to compile my online articles in book form, so that they can be available worldwide in the form of paper and digital books.
This is actually very important, because having all your content scattered around on the Internet is one thing (albeit a good one), but for it to be available in readable form in the physical world, is another.
I would like to update my readers about two new books that are also now available on Amazon.com.
The first one is my book about Hajj and Umrah: Going for Hajj & Umrah
This is a guidebook about the sacred journeys of Hajj and Umrah. It is not an Islamic jurisprudential (fiqh) guide, per se, but it outlines the method of performing Hajj and Umrah in simple layman’s terms.
This book explains to readers the many practical aspects that reflect the innate wisdom behind the physical rituals, and the lessons imparted when someone undertakes these sacred pilgrimage journeys.
It helps readers connect the dots by relating pilgrimage rites and rituals to the monotheistic message of Islam, by recalling how the bases of these lie in the events that happened in the life of Prophet Ibrahim and his family members.
Readers will be able to know what to bring away with them after they return from Hajj and/or Umrah, insha’Allah.
The second new addition to my online book shop, is my book titled: Empowered Muslim Woman
And that’s not just because it has my silhouette upon the cover photograph, pictured standing in front of the glass windows of Ocean Tower, looking out over an aerial view of South Karachi, heh.
This book is close to my heart, simply because I have been immensely liberated and empowered myself, as a Muslim woman, ever since I came towards Islam and started to practice this Deen, all praises to Allah, 16 years ago.Each passing year has empowered me more than the last one.
True empowerment, for a Muslim woman, comes from Islam — but only when she takes it as her core belief system and her way of life, far above and beyond the cultural and ritualistic level at which it is mostly practiced around her, in Muslim society.
Empowerment involves and results from taking a firm stand — even before the elders among one’s family and other authority figures, such as a husband or an employer (for those who are working) — for what is right in the light of Islam, but it is important for this stand to be taken on the basis of sincerity, and according to the rulings of Islam for Allah’s Divine aide to come for the Muslim woman.
This book attempts to deliver an important message to its readers: how Islam liberates and empowers a Muslim woman, through her submission to Allah and her unflinching subservience to Him, which should be at a level that is far over and above her subservience to any other created being (including her husband or parents!).
I hope and pray that those who purchase both these books will benefit from them, insha’Allah.
For my younger female readers, especially, I would like to recommend the second book above, as a definite must-read.
If you purchase any of my books and find them helpful (or not), do try to leave an honest review under them on Amazon.com (which could be either negative, positive, or balanced — I value and appreciate constructive feedback that is respectfully worded).
I would like to end this post by acknowledging to all my social connections that I have been really MIA (missing in action) since some months. Life is all about change, and I have decided to stop being apologetic about my work.
Allah has placed immense fulfillment for me in what I do. He has also given me more to do over the past few years. I also know that as my age increases, aspects of my life will change in ways that are unavoidable, so I should try to capitalize on my current phase in life to the full, before it passes by.
This means that, if you do not see me often, I will probably not apologize to you for it anymore. Let me explain this with the help of an analogy:
Try to recall any businessman, doctor, or other professional person among your relatives or in your social circle, who is in the age range of 35-50, and is married with children. How often do you see them? Are you able to easily get hold of them for a meeting? How much free time do they have? Do they always attend every late-night dinner, wedding, or outing? And lastly, do they apologize to you for not being able to attend your invitation or event, or for not being able to give time to you or to other people because of their work/professional commitments?
Well, I have decided to take my work as, if not more, seriously as these professionals do. And I request you to please do the same in return to me: please respect me for my choice of work, and for my schedule. Even if you think that what I do is not as important or serious as what a doctor or businessman does, please just respect me for my choices.
With each passing week and month, my children are growing up, and their needs are also evolving and growing day by day, masha’Allah. Even though we unschool, we still have a lot to do, and there are many things to get done.
I work full-time from home (as an Islamic writer/counselor) but that is not even my primary occupation. We have a 3-student workplace and mentoring/training/coaching center at our residence which has no official work hours (viz. after which the children are told to leave and go home), but rather, which runs round-the-clock.
So, you see, all praises to Allah, there is a lot to get done during the day (and night). Since the past 3 years, time seems to fly by like lightning for me. I really do not know where my days or weeks go. And yet, I am fully aware that this phase of my life will pass by very quickly too (it sure seems to be doing so, already), and that one day I will not be in my thirties or forties any more, but instead, will be much older and perhaps not as productive (I seek refuge with Allah from the idleness, weakness, and other negative things associated with old age). This is to say, if I live that long, that is.
I know for sure that the children who are occupying me so much today will not be there around me one day, and I know this because I see older couples around me, and I observe how idle/free they are, even though they might be having several children and grandchildren.
It is a fact of life. Time goes on. Things change. People change. Circumstances change. And routines also change.
So let us all strike while the iron is hot.
I think that I should — or rather, we all should — capitalize on the time we have right now, and on our current abilities, skills, strengths and talents, before the optimum window of opportunity that the current phase of our life has to offer to us, to achieve what we can, passes us by and is gone for good.
With that, I will sign off now. Till next time, insha’Allah.