Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Good Charity or Bad Charity: Facing the Charity Challenge

I remember one of my professors over 25 years ago saying: "put a little of your heart into what you do". That way, nothing is "just a job". What you do becomes part of you, becomes more enjoyable, and more likely also gets better done. If you cannot put a little of your self into you job, then you are in the wrong business.

Charity work is also like a job. For some people it is 'just a job' they are supposed to do, they have their orders in the Holy book and they followed orders. But for others, their hearts and souls are part and parcel of the charity they do. The latter group is the really charitable one.

As for the others - I am not sure about. I just do not think they are getting the best of the charity they are doing, but how each group is rewarded is - thankfully - up to God and not to any of us.

Talking about some of this has been on my mind for a couple of weeks after I came across two acts of charity that moved me, then I heard about another 'act of charity' that can hardly qualify as one.Let me get the 'bad charity' story out of my system first.It is about someone who volunteers at a food pantry, donating time and effort (and possibly money) to help poor hungry families.

'Nothing can be wrong about that', you say. Unfortunately for that person, charity was just a job. He was just following God's orders. So, he felt the job was done just by being their, donating the time and effort. Still, he could not hide his disrespect for the human beings on the receiving end of his charity, expressing to a friend of mine that 'those people' were not deserving of his charitable deeds.

Example #2 is for a good charity that I was on the receiving end of.During the last snow storm in St. Louis, my fuel-efficient small car proved so light that it could not get a grip on the road. I could not make it all the way uphill to the subdivision where I live. I let my self roll down in reverse, turned back, and tried another route. I made it most of the way up , then my small car started spinning it wheels while stubbornly remaining where it is. It could not climb another inch.

I got out and started signaling to other cars to go past my stalled car. That was pretty easy for the heavier gas-guzzling SUVs that passed me quickly and drove on without looking back. Then came another canary yellow compact car.Naturally it got stuck just behind my car. The driver was more persistent, and kept hitting the accelerator and spinning the wheels while the car was swinging right and left. Lucky for the driver, after about over a minute of spinning, the car managed to move forwards about 10 yards to make it to a less steep stretch of the road And from that point on, it was going to be an easy ride home.

But at the top of the hill the car stopped again - parked safely on the side of the road this time. The driver came out and started walking towards me, slowly to avoid slipping on the icy road. Half a minute later, the driver was close enough that i realized it was a small woman trying to put her gloves on. As soon as she came close to me, she said: 'Get in your car, and I will push you'.

I had to laugh. The woman looked like she was a mere 120 pounds at the most, my car was stuck facing uphill, and the tarmac was slippery enough that the tires could not even get a grip on the road surface. Despite that, the woman, rather, than going home and enjoying a cup of hot cocoa, was putting on her gloves and getting ready to push my car uphill on the icy road.

I kid you not - it took me quiet a while to convince her that this was a physical impossibility, and it took even a bit more to convince her to go back to her car and go home promising her that I will find a way out of my problem.I finally managed to get myself and my car out of trouble, and I drove home the remaining half mile uneventfully. But that encounter with the charitable anonymous woman made me feel really good. Helping a stuck driver is not unusual, but to do that under those circumstances is special enough. And to be persistent trying to offer help that is likely to be a tremendous amount of effort and is practically impossible from a 'physics' point of view is definitely exceptional.

Her knowledge of mechanics and physics is probably limited, but her capability for a random, and selfless act of charity and help to a total stranger is amazing.
My last story goes even further. It is a most inspiring example that a good friend of mine, JS, told me.

JS was planning to travel overseas to visit some family. His good friend asked him if he would be willing to take some money to distribute to needy people back in the old country. Knowing the tight financial situation of his friend, JS was surprised by the amount of money his friend was giving away, and he asked the friend how he could set aside that kind of money. The answer tells you a lot about that friend and his wife.

During last Ramdan, the fasting month for Muslims, most Muslims engage in more religious activities, but most also indulge in socializing as well as in eating traditional foods and sweets, usually in excess. Of course, many are also more charitable in ramdan than during other times of the year.

JS friend and his wife made a decisions this year. The first day of Ramadan was a typical Ramadan day. The family did the usual for that month: cooked and ate a lot of food, and lot of deserts, etc. The good wife kept track of every bit of expense that the typical Fast-breaking meal cost. The second day was a different story. The family ate a good, but modest meal. They were not hungry when they finished their meal, but the luxuries were not their. The cost of that meal was calculated as well.

And for the rest of the month of Ramadan, the family broke their fast on a modest meal, and the difference in cost was set aside. By the end of the month what was saved was passed on to JS to distribute to some needy people.

Now, that is real charity. Can you top that?

Charity in my religion, Islam, and as I imagine in many other religions, is not just about giving things. It is about feeling the gratitude to God, and thanking him by helping his creations, humans or otherwise.

Thanking God would not be sincere if it is done without your heart and soul being into it. Insincere thanks are probably worse than none at all.
Helping with what comes at no cost to you, with what you do not need or value, or with a small some of what you have a tremendous abundance of, does not seem to me like a sincere act of thanksgiving.

I cannot imagine that it will be sincere either if one is giving or helping while harboring ill feelings towards God's creations that he or she is helping as a way of thanking God.
But loving God's creations and helping them just because they are His, and giving from what you tremendously value and from what you cherish the most - that is true giving.


I truly cannot finish this without presenting some of the many Quran verses that teach those who listen, what true charity is.
"O you who have attained to faith! Spend on others out of the good things which you may have acquired, and out of that which We bring forth for you from the earth; and choose not for your spending the bad things which you yourselves would not accept without averting your eyes in disdain. And know that God is self-sufficient, ever to be praised." (Quran, 2:267)

"[But as for you, O believers,] never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you cherish yourselves; and whatever you spend - verily, God has full knowledge thereof." (Quran, 3:92)

"BELIEVE in God and His Apostle, and spend on others out of that of which He has made you trustees for, those of you who have attained to faith and who spend freely [in God's cause] shall have a great reward." (Quran 57:7)

"... and who give food - however great be their own want of it - unto the needy, and the orphan, and the captive, [saying, in their hearts,] 'We feed you for the sake of God alone: we desire no recompense from you, nor thanks." (Quran 76:8-9)

And what could make thee conceive what it is, that steep uphill road? [It is] the freeing of human beings from bondage or the feeding, upon a day of [one's own] hunger, of an orphan near of kin, or of a needy [stranger] lying in the dust. (Quran 90:12-16)
I guess that is the point. If it is easy to give away, it must not be that valuable. Khaled

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