Compassion and Empathy

“Once the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was travelling for a battle with a companion. He had two ‘siwaks’ with him. One was straight and the other was bent. The Prophet (PBUH) gave the straight ‘siwak’ to his companion while keeping the bent one for himself. Upon witnessing this, the companion said, ‘O messenger of Allah! Why don’t you use the straight one? It is better for you.’ To which the Prophet replied, ‘On the day of judgement a person will be asked as to how he treated his companions. He will be asked if he took care of those who were in his company or refrained from it.’”

The act of charity is always encouraged in Islam. Be it less or more, one needs to follow this act to detach from worldly desires. However, to practice charity when a person himself is in need is not something that is easy to do. A person can easily give away what he doesn’t need or have more of. However, to give away what a person likes is not easy and the difficulty if the one practicing charity is himself in need. For example, if a person is facing financial instability, he / she will not find it easy to donate for voluntary causes. However, this level of high character is encouraged in the Quran as well as in the life lessons taught by the Prophet (PBUH).

“Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) reported that a person came to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and said: I am hard pressed by hunger. But Allah’s messenger had nothing with him. He (the Prophet) said: Allah would show mercy to him who will entertain this guest tonight. A person from the Ansar called Abu Talha (may Allah be pleased with him) stood up and said: O Messenger of Allah! I will entertain him. He took him to his house and asked his wife: Is there anything with us to serve the guest? She said: No, but only a subsistence for our children. He said: put the children to sleep, and when the guest enters extinguish the lamp and give him the impression that we are eating. So, they sat down, and the guest had his meal. When it was morning, he went to Allah’s messenger (PBUH) who said: Allah was well pleased with what you both did for your guest at night.”

There is no compulsion to perform this level of act as it is not obligatory like giving zakat, but it has been stressed upon several times in the Quran and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The idea is to build a high character like that of the Prophet and his companions. There are several reports about how they practiced charity under circumstances when they themselves were in need.

However, a person should also remember that it takes time and high level of faith to reach this level of high character. One shouldn’t delude himself and practice charity without thinking how it will affect him or his family. It is not recommended that one makes his family suffer while go about distributing his wealth to other people. This is prohibited even if the wealth is distributed to those in need. However, if one deprives only himself and gives what he owns, then this is possible. A person with high tolerance and patience alone can practice this kind of charity. This act is not for those who won’t be able to cope with the hardships of circumstances that may befall him if he gives away what he needs.

Islam always encourages brotherhood and humanity in a society. This is so that people feel the need of the other before thinking about themselves. Poverty and inequality are predominant. It is upon those who have the means, to support those in need. It is therefore upon us, as our duty, to help our fellow brothers and sisters in need and to share compassion for those who are suffering.

Nothing feels better than the act of giving that serves as a reminder that everything a person has in this world is immaterial and temporary.

“The ones who spend (for Allahs sake) in prosperity and adversity…. And Allah loves the good-doers.” (Surah Al Imran, Verse 134)