True face of charity

We give away old clothes making sure they are torn and unfit to be used by us.

It was the day of Idul-Fitr, year before last. As usual on every Id day I called at my old friend Habeeb’s house to accompany him to the Idgah. It was only half an hour to the Id prayer, but neither my friend nor his twelve-year-old son was yet ready for the 'nazmaz'.

What was worse, this mother-less boy was in tears on the day of Id, a day of peace and happiness. ‘Why is he crying?’ I asked my friend. ‘Do you know what he has done with his new Id clothes?’ he fumed. ‘He has given them away to a beggar boy! I thrashed him properly for that!’ ‘Is this true, son?’ I asked the boy.

‘Yes, uncle,’ he admitted. ‘That beggar boy is a cripple, and he was wearing torn, dirty clothes. He was hungry, too. So I gave him part of my Id breakfast and also my new clothes. He was so happy to put them on!’ ‘You could have given him one of your old shirts,’ said his father angrily, ‘instead of those expensive clothes.’ ‘But that's not what the Prophet has said,’ argued the boy, wiping his eyes. ‘How do you know what the Prophet has said?’ I asked him.

‘Didn't you listen when the 'khatib’ (preacher) spoke about it in his sermon last Friday?,’ he asked. And my mind went back to that sermon. It was a powerful piece of preaching where the ‘khatib’ was holding forth on the indifference of the well-to-do to the plight of the underdogs of society.

In a moving narration of the Prophet’s compassion for the indigent he was referring to instances where the Prophet would part with an only loaf of bread to the hungry and himself go hungry, and whenever he had something more than what he required he would ask the hungry man at the door to come in, wash the man's hand himself and make him sit by his side to share his food.

‘When you give, give the best,’ says the Prophet, the Khatib had said. On that Friday both my friend and I had listened to that sermon, but our minds, like those of most of the congregation, were far away, far from the needs of the poor and the hungry. Sermons hardly ever make an impression on our lives. We give away old clothes to the needy, making sure that they are properly torn and unfit to be used by us. It took a small boy to show us the error of our ways.

‘Yes, my friend, let’s face it,’ I said, ‘you and I go to the mosque just to keep up appearances, to be thought of as good Muslims, whereas this boy of yours means to follow what the Prophet has preached. He is the stuff saints are made of. You ought to be proud of him.’

Suddenly the realisation smot him like a blow that we were all frauds, hypocrites with dormant consciences, much too wrapt up in ourselves. He reached out and pulled his son to himself and hugged him tenderly, his eyes moist from the tears that were starting.

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