The Duty of Helping Others

In Al-Qur’an we find the story of Prophet Musa’s upright character that made him concerned for the rights of the weak. Those who are weak and vulnerable should be cared for and given priority. They should not be sidelined and neglected. His immediate response was to help them. His courageous, noble, and generous nature would allow for nothing else. Allah SWT states in the Al-Quran, Surah Al-Qasas (The Story) verses 23-24 (partial):

And when he arrived at the watering (place) in Madyan, he found there a group of men watering (their flocks), and besides them he found two women who were keeping back (their flocks). He said: ‘What is the matter with you?’ They said: ‘We cannot water (our flocks) until the shepherds take back (their flocks): And our father is a very old man.’ So he watered (their flocks) for them.

We are right to be impressed when we consider Prophet Musa’s circumstances. He was a man on the run, far away from his home where he had the status of a wanted criminal. He was among strange people, none of whom he knew, and he had no provisions even for himself. He had enough problems of his own to worry about. Nevertheless, it went against his nature to stand by and see such helpless people being neglected.

Allah SWT has chosen people with big hearts with whom to entrust His Message, people who were naturally inclined to help others. It takes such people to shoulder the burden of guiding others from the darkness into the light. Only those with compassion, mercy, and a gentle disposition can carry out such a task.

This truth is evident from the lives of the Prophets. Those who wish to be the inheritors of the Prophets should keep this in mind. The more we recognize the character of the Prophets in our own conduct, the more successful we will be in carrying out their mission. Scholars and Islamic workers need to have a strong social consciousness. They need to be people others can turn to in need. They need to be able to address the problems of society with understanding and compassion.

If our social consciousness is not fully awakened, our success in calling others to the path of Islam will be limited. Our efforts might even yield negative results. Negative results can occur even with good attitude. Therefore, we need to develop “people caring” skills. We need to understand the many obstacles placed in front of our good intentions to help others.

In the example of Prophet Musa (a.s.) above, he had a certain skill that we might not always have in such a situation. He recognized, first, what the RIGHT thing was to do. Second, he responded to a clear invitation from the young women to help them. Third, he must have sensed that other people, including the women’s father, would not misinterpret his actions. He was able to feel that they would correctly assess the nobility of his intention. What happens when any one of these three factors are missing?

The first factor, knowing what is the RIGHT thing to do, is not in itself so easy. Take the many beggars in our countries. Some of them are in fact organized by wicked people. Some of them are accompanied by children or babies that have been DELIBERATELY deformed in order to serve as “bait” for the innocent passersby. If our intentions are sufficient, our Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) advises us that Allah will reward us. Nevertheless, do we really want to see our hard-earned wealth end up mostly in the hands of wicked people?

There are other obstacles of a less sinister nature. Certain cultures practice “gotong-royong”, or mutually helping each other, to the extent that if you give a hundred dollars to someone of these cultures, that money will immediately be handed out to family and friends in small amounts, until the result is that NOTHING CHANGES.

There was a certain Westerner who wanted to help some poor farmers in Indonesia. His friend, a well-meaning Muslim convert, suggested that this Westerner buys some cows for the Muslim’s village farmer friend, who had hitherto always harvested his rice by hand, along with most of the other villagers in his poor area. A small NGO was formed, named Usaha Budi Karya in Javanese.

A few years later, the Muslim visited this farmer in his village and noticed only one cow out of quite a few that had been donated. The farmer begged for forgiveness and told the sad story that the other villagers were so jealous of his new wealth in cows, which they themselves did not have, that this farmer lost all his friends. He was ostracized, not treated kindly by his own neighbors. He had to sell most of his cows in order to regain the good will of his village friends and neighbors.

Let us look for a moment at post-tsunami Acheh. Reports are that virtually MOST of the outside wealth that has flowed to Aceh in order to help the flood victims has been stolen by other parties. A recent communication from a Gaza resident has said the same thing has happened there – the aid money is NOT reaching the people who need it. And nobody can do anything about it.

Our only safe conclusion is to organize our own, people-to-people aid programs, based on firm acquaintance of the poor recipients. Some aid NGOs have tried to do this, such as programs that sponsor orphans, people with special needs, adopted children and provide feedback from such children to the donors in their rich countries. Yet even here, without firsthand knowledge, one cannot be sure that such feedback is in itself not manufactured.

An NGO was formed in Indonesia a few years ago, that pledged not to take anything at all for administration costs. In fact, nobody believed in this policy because the norm for Indonesian NGO’s is to take around fifty percent of donations for the pockets of the managers. Eventually, this new Indonesian NGO lost all its overly idealistic volunteer administrators, leaving only those who took their fifty percent like everyone else.

In our inner understanding, we really have to admit that this world is a virtual playground for the evil, and that it will make off with most of our good intentions, and our good money as well.

Let us think for a moment about the ratio of “halal” money to “haram” money in the world, and even in most of our lives. We are advised by our religion that every time we use an interest-bearing credit card or bank loan, we risk the fires of hell. And yet who among us can resist using these facilities to provide for our own families? Fortunately, Malaysia and some other Muslim-majority countries have been at the forefront in developing an Islamic banking sector for those of us who are willing to support such new services.

And yet, those banks who offer Islamic banking alternatives already strain our credulity. Are we really expected to believe that in their back offices, such banks use entirely separate accounting and investment systems for their accumulated capital? Where is our “firewall” between “halal” and “haram” money?

Going back to the Qur’anic verses about Prophet Musa (a.s.) and the two young women at a well surrounded by men, we can conclude only one or two things with any certainty, and yet that certainty may be all we will ever find in this life. The certainty was that it was RIGHT to help the women. It was RIGHT to bring them to that well while sheltering them from the young men.

Then, trusting entirely in Allah SWT to protect his destiny, Prophet Musa (a.s.) was in fact rewarded for his service by being offered one of these women in marriage and employment with her father for eight years, which Prophet Musa (a.s.) voluntarily extended to ten years. However, we should notice that immediately after escorting the women safely and privately to the well, Prophet Musa (a.s.) withdrew and offered a truly heartfelt prayer to Allah SWT, that he was really in need of whatever good thing that Allah SWT might send to him.

Here is the technique we CAN use, if we do not have access to the professional social scientist’s knowledge about something good we may wish to do for someone. We may pray to Allah SWT, much as we pray in our Istikharah, that Allah SWT accepts whatever good may come from our charity, or that if our charity be flawed, Allah SWT turn us away from it and guide us to a charity that will better find His Pleasure.

Surely, turning to Allah alone is the right thing to do, after we have exhausted all possibility of professional help in our charity. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) had shown us the correct attitude in this respect. One day Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah” (Tirmidhi).

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