By Um Amir
My friend Asma and I had dinner at her parents' house one night, and she told me a story about her recent discovery.
Asma’s family emigrated to a western country in the 1970’s. She described her mother and father at the time as being highly idealistic and principled. Too high to a fault, according to Asma. Her parents firmly admitted, “Oh, Yes of course! Subhan'Allah, we had to be! In order to maintain our integrity as a Muslim family moving from place to place, meeting new people with different value systems from us.” They said, “We made it a point to always avoid giving hints to other people that we were in need, because only Allah can relieve us of this burden and no one else needed to know. Since we were able and bodied, we made a promise to each other, as husband and wife, never to ask anyone for financial help, other than Allah.” So with this promise, off they went with their two children to a foreign country in search of livelihood.
Asma told me she never understood what her parents used to teach her– of not asking anyone for material things even in dire need. She remembers her mother and father turning down offers from family friends to house them when they first arrived in the country, a decision which consequently led them to live in the red light district of a city for about a week. And, later in her childhood, her mother would scold her, if not ground her, for borrowing money from other Muslims at school. Asma just could not comprehend such harshness when it came to material issues. Asma used to say, “After all, we are all Muslims, and Muslims should help each other.” Despite her lack of understanding, she tried her best to uphold her parents’ teaching throughout her entire life.
Twenty some years later, now with children of her own, her daughter’s 9 year-old friend approached Asma after school to ask “Can you give me a purse just like your daughter’s? And that scarf just like the one she wore on Thursday?” In a split second, Asma felt as if she was frozen back in time, remembering what her parents used to tell her about asking from others. Stunned, Asma could not respond.
For some here in the west, perhaps there is nothing wrong with asking things from other people. Here, a child says what she feels like saying, and a child expresses “wants” whenever she feels like wanting, no matter what.
In the east, however, it is the exact opposite. Because even if a person does not fear Allah in what he says, he would have the fear of shaming himself and some 5,000-member clan by the very words he utters. The faux pas of begging is never accepted, and never excused. The whole town will hear about it! Thus, Asma had a tendency to understand the issue of begging as a cultural one, not an Islamic one.
Yet, Asma felt strange, somewhat disgusted by what the young girl said. Such behavior struck the wrong cord, the cord of bringing disrespect and lowliness to oneself and the girl’s family. She had the desire to tell the young girl that she might be embarrassing her parents by making such requests, but Asma found herself brain twisted to even explain to herself why the young girl was wrong. “Perhaps it was nothing but some east-versus-west clash of cultures.” she muttered to herself.
Another unrelated incident reminded her of the same thing a few weeks later.
One night a sister invited Asma for dinner. The woman complained of a man (without naming him) who had been consistently asking her husband money for the past four months. Even though her family had not suffered from this, they were still extremely agitated because they knew the man was physically able to solve his financial problems. She relates that the man telephones her husband when it’s time to pay the rent, and he hints to other brothers about his wife and children not being able to eat or see a doctor just so he could take out long-term loans from them. Apparently, the man chooses to lounge around at home, reading books on Islam and claims to be doing ‘dawah’, instead of working. The woman complaining to Asma was so angry that she refused to have her children play with this man’s children. The woman described the innocent little ones with utter disdain. “Parasites” she remarked to Asma.
Asma tried to change the subject. She knew the woman had gone much too far with her words. By this time, however, Asma was beginning to realize the effects of begging. “What caused this woman to be so angry? What caused this man to bring such shame to himself and his innocent children?” she thought to herself.
Then, these thoughts crossed Asma’s mind, “Begging? Hmm, well, it’s not really begging. Because begging is when people go down on their hands and knees and say ‘pretty pretty please with cherry on top! Perhaps this was another incident of culture clash? Or a mere indication of the woman’s ill feelings towards another Muslim?”
As Asma began to focus back in on the conversation, she could hear the woman’s last remarks, “Such arrogance! He EXPECTS (not just hope) that Allah will relieve him of his burdens, by using other people. Such foolishness! What kind of dawah is that? If he really knew Islam, he would know not to expect, but instead rush to make use of his shoulder strength to provide for his family, NOT my husband’s shoulder strength to provide for his wife and children! A Muslim should hope in the reward of Allah, RIGHT? Not act as if Allah and the whole of mankind owes him something, as if he was the gift to humanity.”
Asma went home disturbed. “How can people say such things about each other? And, how can a Muslim man ask someone else to take over the responsibility Allah has given him just so he can study more Arabic? How can he even call himself a man?”
After praying Isha’ , Asma looked for the ayah about the miskeen (the poor, the needy). There she read as Allah says in the Qur’an “(Charity is) for the fuqara (the poor), who in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land (for trade or work). The one who knows them not, thinks that they are rich because of their modesty. You may know them by their mark, they do not beg of people at all. And whatever you spend in good, surely Allah knows it well.” (2:273)
The matter was becoming clear to Asma. She dug in further onto the tafseer that mentions several hadith, one of which reads: Hakeem Ibn Hizaam (ra) once related “I asked the Messenger of Allah (SAW) for charity and he gave me. And Again I asked and he gave me. Once again I asked and he gave me, and said ‘OH Hakeem! Verily this wealth is like a sweet fresh fruit, whoever takes it without greediness is blessed in it and whoever takes it with greediness is not blessed in it, just like the person that eats yet is never satisfied; and the upper hand is better than the lower hand.’ Hakeem said, ‘Ya RasulAllah! by the One who sent you with the truth I shall not accept anything from anybody after you until I leave this world.'”
This was such, that when Abu Bakr (ra) used to call Hakeem (ra) to give him his portion of the war booty, he would refuse. Likewise, Umar (ra) would call him to give him his share but he (ra) would also refuse. It was well known that Hakeem Ibn Hizaam (ra) never took from anybody until he died.
With the act of begging, comes humiliation. With the act of begging, one opens the door for the shaitan to break friendships and tarnish brotherhood with ill feelings. With begging, one brings injustice to others and most importantly to the self, for Allah did not create us with one hand, one leg, sealed mouths and blocked ears. Allah created us with faculties to use for the struggle in this life.
Laziness leads one to become a parasite. Being a parasite leads one to become greedy and unsatisfied with life. Greed leads to cowardice, and cowardice leads to lying. And, we know that a liar’s final destination is falsehood.
The prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam led Hakeem Ibn Hizaam (ra) to self-respect and contentment, and he (ra) followed with firmness by refraining from asking anybody anything.
At this juncture, Asma realized what it was her parents attempted to teach her and her sister some twenty years ago, and why they did so.
Only Allah is the One Most honored, and gives honor to His obedient slaves. May Allah azza wajal accept our repentance so that we may have the honor of meeting Him in the Hereafter. Ameen.