Q&A with Shaikh Ahmad Kutty
I would like to know the significance of Sadaqah Jariyah in Islam? How is it different from other types of charities? What specific services or institutions can qualify as valid recipients of Sadaqah Jariyah?
Answer by Shaikh Ahmad Kutty
Sadaqa jariyah means ongoing or perpetual charity.
It is a form of charity which, unlike other charities, survives the donor and continues to be a source of blessings for the donor long after they have passed. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “When a person dies, all his works cease except three things: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge, or righteous offspring that pray for him.” (Reported by Muslim and others on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)
In order to explain this further, let us explain the concept of charity in Islam.
Islam is a holistic way of life that stresses good works. It envisions an inseparable link between faith and virtuous living. Thus, the Qur’an conjoins faith with good works in many verses. Good works in Islam however, are not limited to the realm of religious ritual, but instead include all actions that are beneficial to human welfare, and enhance the quality of life for all of God’s creation.
Amongst all good works, however, charity occupies the highest place. Charity brings multiple rewards such as: protection from hellfire; removal of sins; enhancement in blessings; prolonged life; healing and cure from disease, and aversion of tragedies and calamities.
Furthermore, those who give charity will also enjoy the shade of the Divine Throne. The social benefits of charity are manifold: it fosters ties of brotherhood and feelings of mutual compassion between different sections of society; narrows the gap between the rich and the poor; helps curb crime; and raises levels of social cooperation in society.
The Quran and the Sunnah are replete with exhortations for charity in all forms – here are just a few verses:
“Whatever you give, or vow to give, God knows it well, and those who do wrong will have none to help them.” (Qur’an: 2: 270)
“Those who give, out of their own possessions, by night and by day, in private and in public, will have their reward with their Lord: no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Qur’an: 2: 274).
“So recite that which is easy of it (i.e. the Qur’an), perform the prayer, give alms, and lend unto God a goodly loan—whatever good you send forth for your souls, you will find it with God better and greater in reward. And seek God’s Forgiveness. Truly God is Forgiving, Merciful.” (Qur’an: 73: 20)
“Give out of what We have provided for you, before death comes to one of you and he says, ‘My Lord, if You would only grant me reprieve for a little while, I would give in charity and become one of the righteous.’ “(Qur’an: 63: 10)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever gives charity for the love of Allah and his life is sealed on that state, will enter paradise.” (Reported by Ahmad on the authority of Hudhayfah b. al-Yaman)
While speaking of the seven persons who will enjoy the shade of protection by Allah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned, ‘a person who gives charity secretly so that his or her left-hand does not know what their right hand has given.’ (Reported by Bukhari and Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)
Sadaqah or charity is of varying types, and according to its legal status, varies.
At the top of the list is Zakah, which is an obligatory charity for the rich, to be given to the poor at fixed rates.
There is another type of Zakah known as Zaktul fitr, which is due on every adult person upon the expiry of the month of Ramadan, to help the poor celebrate the festival of fast-breaking, hence its name: Zakatul fitr (Zakah of fast-breaking).
Amongst other compulsory charities are charities due for expiation, or as compensation for breaches of oaths or pledges, or omissions of certain rituals of hajj.
In the Quran, the word Sadaqah is used for Zakah, as well as other voluntary types of charities. Charities that are considered voluntary can be ordinary charity and Sadaqah Jariyah, or ongoing charity.
Ordinary charity is a one-time offer or donation which caters to the immediate needs of the poor and the destitute, including but not limited to providing food, aid or supporting them in any way. All of these are highly valued in Islam. The word sadaqah is from the root word of sidq or truthfulness; hence it is not surprising that the Prophet (peace be upon him) refers to sadaqah as ‘evidence or proof of faith’ testifying to one’s sincerity of faith.
Islam considers willingness to help the poor & needy and to render assistance or act kindly to others as integral to faith.
“Have you not seen the one who denies religion? That is the one who drives away the orphan, and does not urge others to feed the needy. So woe to those who pray and are heedless of their prayers, those who strive to be seen, yet refuse small kindnesses.” (Qur’an: 107: 1-7).
Sadaqah jariya is even more specific – it is charity that is supposed to continue working for the donor. It can include one’s legacies, as well as endowments or contributions one has made towards causes that benefit the poor and humanity.
The Prophet said, “amongst the good deeds and virtues that benefit a believer after his or her death are: knowledge they have helped to pass on or spread; righteous offspring they have left behind; mushaf they have passed on; a mosque or house for wayfarers they have built; a stream of water or well they dug (and placed at the service of the people); or other charity they have given out of their wealth while being alive and healthy.” (Reported by al-Mundhiri on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)
The traditions are intended to give examples of Sadaqah Jariyah and are not exclusive; that is why over the years, we find the scope of Sadaqah Jariyah expanding to encompass all types of institutions providing compassionate services: hospitals, schools, universities, homes for the homeless and the poor, hostels providing free boarding and lodging, orphanages, scholarships, rental properties whose income feeds or aids the poor, business ventures or orchards and farms whose yields are set aside for charitable causes, it also includes producing books, distributing free books, setting up libraries, printing and publishing. Endowments in Islamic history extended to take care of animals, such as dogs, cats, birds, etc.
This leads to the question: which of all these charities should one choose in order to receive the choicest blessings and rewards of Allah?
To give a sound answer to this question, one should take into account the holistic nature of Islam, which teaches us to consider the varying circumstances and conditions of life. When faced with dire famine or drought, or where millions are dying of starvation, the priority should be to feed the hungry and save lives.
We face a crisis now where a pandemic threatens the lives of millions all over the world; so one should set aside at least a good portion of one’s charity for helping those who are in dire circumstances by helping to provide food or other necessary services for them.
The Prophet and his companions paid attention to such contingencies and were always ready to satisfy the immediate need. We have examples of the pious Caliph Uthman and the eminent companion Abd al-Rahman b. Awf (may Allah be pleased with both) who donated all the merchandise their trading caravan brought to Madinah solely to provide assistance to the poor when Madinah faced famine and drought.
While keeping this in mind, it is good to remember that Islam encourages us to have a share in as wide a range of charities and good works as we can afford. We should not ‘put all our eggs in one basket’, so to speak, but instead, diversify our giving. That was the precedent set by the Prophet and his companions and predecessors; the later Muslims also followed this. So, we find the Prophet consistently offering charity to the poor and needy and never refusing them; he also set up endowments. When a Jewish Rabbi donated all his orchards to the Prophet’s cause after his death, the Prophet established them as an endowment for the poor. We learn that all his companions followed his lead and set up ongoing charities. Muslims in successive generations continued in this vein and offered charity of all types and endowments, such that charitable works and institutions flourished throughout Islamic lands.
In the modern world, we can widen the scope of Sadaqah Jariyah to include all essential services that the community is in dire need of: relief work, Islamic media and websites (such as aboutislam.net, islamicity.com, etc.), educational institutions that provide authentic Islamic knowledge such as the Islamic institute (IIT), and other institutions, including, but not limited to: agencies serving physically or mentally challenged, old-age homes, human rights or lobby groups that fight for genuine causes. One can also provide Sadaqah Jariyah by buying hospital equipment such as dialysis machines, or ventilators, or other equipment that helps those in need. Soup kitchens providing free meals to the poor and destitute can be also an excellent avenue for Sadaqah Jariyah.
I pray to Allah to inspire us to leave legacies that testify to our true character. The poet’s words celebrating the achievements of Islamic civilization should be a source of inspiration for us: “These are the legacies we have left behind. Examine them to see what kind of people we were.”