Prophetic wisdom: “The highest level of the intellect, after eman, is to be of service to the creation.”
On a Sunday morning in March, a group of Muslim volunteers gathered at the Haley House soup kitchen in Boston’s South End neighborhood where they served breakfast and then lunch to the hungry. They helped prepare the food and rather than having the people who came for a meal stand in a line to receive their food, the Muslims waited on them at their own tables as a server would at a restaurant. The volunteers also distributed 150 “blessing bags” which contained personal-sized hygiene products, warm winter socks, and granola bars and crackers. Touched by the gesture, a man named George said, “I’ve never seen a Muslim doing things like this.”
We have believed in Allah and we can optimally use our intellect and our resources to serve others – that is a beautiful loan
to Allah SWT
But Muslims have the best example to follow in doing such things — a man who took the very shirt off his back to give to another who had asked him for it. This man would give food and drink to a guest even though he and his family had so little that they “did not eat their fill for three successive days…” according to his wife. He once expressed that one of his greatest delights would be to have a mountain turned into gold so that he could give away every single gold coin except for what he needed to pay off his debts. This man’s name is Muhammad (peace is upon him).
We claim to know the Prophet very well but rarely take too seriously his behavior as a model in our own lives except what comes naturally and easily for us. We declare our love for him but listen to his teachings with a sincere respect while at the same time harboring half-hearted intentions of applying them in our lives. In similar way, the Qur’an is often placed on the top shelf of the bookcase in our homes out of respect and reverence while we too often forget to place the same topmost priority to apply its wisdom in our daily lives.
Alhamdulillah, we are Muslim and we have submitted to the One and Only God. But what is the natural outcome once eman has entered the heart? It’s serving the Almighty’s creation. That’s something Muhammad (peace be upon him) had been doing even before he became a prophet. Remember his wife Khadijah comforting him after his first encounter with Jibril? Her words are so revealing: “By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist those who are in distress.”
The Prophet’s example inspired great sahabah like Uthman ibn Affan, Jafar ibn AbiTalib, and Abdulrahman ibn Awf to demonstrate again and again generosity of epic proportions. Many others were galvanized to assist their fellow human beings in need. Once a man came to the Prophet asking for food, but he (peace be upon him) had nothing to give him. Abu Huraira narrates what then transpired: “The Prophet then said, ‘Allah would show mercy to him who will entertain this guest tonight.’ A person from the Ansar stood up and said, ‘Messenger of Allah, I am ready to entertain him.’ He took him to his house and said to his wife, ‘Is there anything with you (to serve the guest)?’ She said, ‘No, but only sustenance for our children.’ He said, ‘Distract their attention with something and when the guest enters extinguish the lamp and give him the impression that we are eating.’ So they sat down, and the guest had his meal. When it was morning he went to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) who said, ‘Allah was well pleased with what you both did for your guest last night.’”
Where are people today like this selfless Ansari man? We all need to step up to the plate and strive to follow our righteous predecessors’ footsteps. The volunteers present as Haley House in Boston that Sunday in March were not some uniquely kind-hearted people. They are everyday American Muslims volunteering for an organization called ICNA Relief USA, striving to put their faith into action. ICNA Relief USA is an American Muslim relief organization working in the U.S. to help the most vulnerable in our communities regardless of race, religion, color, national origin, socioeconomic status, or any other demographic factor. ICNA Relief USA has eight major programs providing services in everything from disaster response to women’s shelters and family counseling to burial assistance.
As the only Muslim disaster response organization in the U.S., ICNA Relief USA has responded to 25 disasters since 2001, including hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. It has thirteen food pantries in major cities throughout the country, and through their hunger prevention program fed 36,000 people in 2012 alone. In that same year, ICNA Relief’s financial assistance program helped more than one thousand low-income families pay for their rent and utilities. The organization operates women’s shelters in twelve cities across the U.S., providing a safe haven to homeless and/or abused women, both Muslim and non-Muslim. ICNA Relief distributed 20,000 free school bags with school supplies to low-income students to give them the necessary tools to succeed in school. ICNA Relief USA received a gold star rating from GuideStar, an organization that gathers and disseminates information about nonprofits with regard to their legitimacy, finances, transparency, and other aspects of their organization, governance, and performance.
Alhamdulillah ICNA Relief has been changing perceptions about the deen of Allah one person at a time. A non-Muslim female veteran, who stayed in ICNA Relief’s women’s shelter in NY, stated, “After returning from active duty in Iraq, I found myself on the street, emotionally distressed. ICNA Relief gave me a place to live and put myself together in order to become an IT professional today.” Another woman described the support she received from an ICNA Relief case manager after her town was hit by a natural disaster: “Now this man — I know nothing about and he is a Muslim. You hear things. I was a little skeptical and afraid… He has done nothing but help me. He was here for my good.”
Every day ICNA Relief USA uses its resources to serve fellow Americans in whatever way the organization can. Their staff and volunteers are striving to follow the prophetic example of uplifting the less fortunate and providing for the needy. They are making a difference in this world and we can too. Allah says in the Qur’an, “If you loan to Allah a beautiful loan, He will double it for you and will forgive you. And Allah is most ready to appreciate and reward, forbearing….” (64:17). We have believed in Allah and we can optimally use our intellect and our resources to serve others – that is a beautiful loan to Allah SWT. For that He promises appreciation and reward for our good deeds, and forbearance and forgiveness for our sins and shortcomings. Will you take Him up on His offer?