As we embark on the holy month of Ramadan, many will be following the fourth of the five pillars of Islam, that is, fasting. However there is another pillar of faith that is just as important at this time: that of charitable giving.
The basic premise of fasting at Ramadan is that one should aim to conquer the senses and selfish desires, and instead give a thought to the tribulations of those who may be less fortunate. It is intended to be a time for quiet contemplation, to empathise with the less fortunate, and to remember that many in this world are suffering hardship, poverty and starvation.
In Islam there is the principle of giving a fixed portion of one’s wealth (zakat) in charity and beyond that there is voluntary giving (sadaqa). Every Muslim is encouraged to think of the welfare of others. At Ramadan, if fasting cannot be adhered to for some reason, then it is possible to give designated sums of money to the poor as a substitution.
The idea of charity and charitable giving is embedded in every faith. There is a deep significance in sharing one’s wealth and assets with others. It reminds us that we are all connected, and that caring for each other is a fundamental human requirement for us all to not only survive, but thrive.
In fact real giving is an attitude rather than an action. The giving of money and food is a real and necessary part of life, especially in a world where the rich getting richer means that the poor are inevitably getting poorer. However in some ways, just as important as the amount we give, is the sentiment behind the giving. To give from the heart rather than from compulsion will certainly imbue the donation with a different kind of energy. And the one who gives from the heart is more likely to give unselfishly, and to give when and where they see a real need.
This is when we begin to understand that giving is also receiving, for it is well known that people who are ‘givers’, that is, who act from a place of real generosity, are healthier, happier, live longer, and enjoy better relationships.
Charity need not only be monetary. There are so many ways in which we can give: uplifting someone with a smile, showing kindness, volunteering and sharing time, knowledge or skills with others, or just being a listening ear when it’s most needed. These things cost us nothing, but bring an unlimited reward of satisfaction. And, though a businessman may give thousands, it’s possible that a small, unseen, thoughtful good action done from the heart may reap an even greater return in the karmic bank account of life!
In a similar way to that great time of celebration in the Christian calendar, that of Christmas, the Ramadan message can easily be lost in the practice. Iftar feasts can become a time of gross overindulgence in the same way that Christmas can become a time of senseless spending and unnecessary excess, all of which are totally contradictory to the essence of the celebrations. When greed and selfishness enter the equation, then the spiritual principle behind the event is inevitably lost.
Charity, or real giving, is something that dissolves the selfishness in our nature and reminds us that we belong to a larger family – the human family. Pleasure in our relationships is derived from sharing and receiving in return. In a world where we sometimes think that that love is about sometimes giving and sometimes taking (conditional) to a mindset of sharing and receiving without measure (unconditional) then everyone wins. This is a credo that we can live by every day – not just on special occasions.
In terms of limited resources such as wealth and food, as Mahatma Ghandi wisely stated “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”. But in terms of the inner resources of love, compassion, caring and generosity, these are provisions that can never run out because the more we share them, the more they grow. Both giver and receiver will benefit.
It’s time… to remember that fulfilment is to be had in the giving rather than taking. Satisfying the self is ultimately less rewarding than sharing with others. Become a true ‘giver’ and watch your internal treasure store of happiness (and good karma) increase!
Written by Carol Lipthorpe
© ‘It’s Time…’ by Aruna Ladva, BK Publications London, UK