A small child takes some money from his father, then goes over to a poor man and puts the money into his hands. He returns to his father and asks: “How much did I give him?”
It is an innocent question, with no ulterior motive behind it.
It is also a relevant question when we spend in charity, but if we are to ask it, there are five questions that are far more important.
What Did I Give Him?
Our charitable giving is not restricted to material things. There are intangibles that go along with it. Our brothers and sisters need our love, affection, emotional support as much or more than they need our financial assistance.
We may not always have something tangible to give, or we may not possess precisely what they need. However, we always have the ability to pray for them, to reassure them, and make them feel good about themselves. As the old saying goes: “Man does not live on bread alone.”
Why Did I Give it to Him?
If you give to people due to your sense of gratitude to Allah, that is the best. If you give to people because you feel it is right, or because you feel a sense of kinship with those who are in need, or if you want to do what’s right, or because you seek Allah’s reward in this world in the next, all of this makes your giving more substantial and worthwhile. This is because it is sincere and from the heart.
As for giving ostentatiously, to show off your status, or to enjoy a sense of superiority and power, or to have a claim over people, this is of no avail.
This is why Allah says:
And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive, saying: We feed you for the sake of Allah alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks. Indeed, We fear from our Lord a Day that is austere and distressful. (76: 8-10)
It is, therefore, very important what inspires us to give in charity.
How Did I Give it to Him?
How did you present what you give? How do you present yourself as a giver? Do you do so with courtesy and respect? Are you humble in your behavior, and equal? Do you behave as a friend? Or are you abusive? Do you remind the beneficiaries of your charity or the favor you are doing them?
When you give in charity, you should present a pleasant face and a kind manner. Smile. Do not stretch out your hand while leaning back in disdain from them, as if you regard poverty as some sort of contagious disease you might just catch if you get too close.
Allah praises those who:
Spend their wealth for the sake of Allah and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury; their reward is with their Lord, and no fear come upon them, neither shall they grieve. (2: 263)
Allah then continues saying:
Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. And Allah is free of all wants, and He is Most Kind. (2: 264)
He then warns us:
O you who believe! Do not cancel your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their wealth to be seen by people, but believe neither in Allah nor in the Last Day. Their parable is like that of a hard, barren rock, on which there is little soil: on it falls heavy rain, which leaves it (just) a bare stone. They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned. And Allah guides not those who reject faith. (2: 265)
When Did I Give it to Him?
The time we give to others can make it all the more valuable. When we give to someone who is in difficulty or dire need, our help all the more precious. They will never forget what we have done for them.
Also, when you give to others when you are yourself in need, sharing the little bread that you have with another hungry soul, or empty out the last spare change in your pockets to help them out, then you are truly successful.
Allah praises the people of Madinah for the help they gave to the Muslims who emigrated to them from Makkah, saying:
They love those who emigrated to them and do not find in their hearts any covetousness for what the emigrants were given but indeed give [them] preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those who are saved from the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones who have achieved success. (59: 9)
Those who are truly generous give before they are asked. They are distinguished by being able to sense the needs of others without having to be petitioned by them.
As for the question:
How Much Did I Give Him?
It may be that a little bit suffices for a lot. Allah can put blessings in a single coin so that it gives the benefit of mountain of money. The best charity is the generosity of the poor, and what is given with a happy heart.
Allah provides us with a very eloquent description of charity:
The parable of those who spend their wealth for Allah’s sake is that of a grain of corn: it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He pleases: And Allah cares for all and He knows all things. (2: 261)
Whenever you give to others, you are also a recipient. You give a little, but you receive a lot in return. Whatever you give, it is from the grace of Allah who gave it to you in the first place. And it is from His grace that you have been blessed with the honor and opportunity to give it to those in need.
And those who are saved from the covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones who have achieved success. (59: 9)
Do what is good. When you give in charity, never think of that wealth again. Never mention it to anyone, and certainly never remind those to whom you gave it.
There is only one reason to make your charity public, and that is if you do so with the sincere intention to encourage others to follow suit. Broaden your understanding of what it means to give. Do not restrict it to material things, but also to fellowship, compassion, and respect.