Taken from the book American Muslim Agenda by Dr. Mike Ghouse
Chapter 16: Islamic Value No. 7
Service to Mankind
Caring for fellow beings is the mother of all values, it is an all-encompassing value. It is one of the twelve critical Islamic values that contribute to creating secure societies for everyone. At the end of the chapter you’ll find verses where God in the Quran says, if you take care of my creation, I will take care of you.
None of us walked out of our mother’s womb on our own and proclaimed, I made it! I am here by myself and have come out myself. Neither can I say, I walked myself to the cemetery or crematorium and finished myself. From birth to death, and all the time in between we need others, and as others care for us, we have to care for others.
If you don’t care about others, why should anyone care about you? You are not invincible all the times, you are bound to be vulnerable one time or the other. You may get sick, lose your limbs, cancer may down you, an accident may cripple you, divorce may drown you, or if you lose your home and job, you need help, each one of us do.
Thus, caring for each other ensures everyone is cared for at the end, of course, you will be the ultimate beneficiary. There is always a feeling of serenity within us when we do kind things for others without expecting a wage for it, it is built into us.
Prophet Muhammad was once asked if we cannot help others financially, how can we help? I am sure they went through a series of questions and answers and the end they ask, what if we don’t have anything to give to others? The prophet smiles, and say, a smile is the least you can provide, it gives hopes, it acknowledges the other.
Every human has two requirements to live a normal life. Gratitude to the giver of the good, and a duty to preserve the harmony around us. Our safety hinges on the safety of others, our prosperity multiplies when others are prosperous, and our peace of mind depends on order around us. It behooves us to work for creating a conducive environment for the benefit of all.
There are over 200 verses in Quran that call on humans to do good to others, and each time God says, “I reward those who are engaged in doing good deeds.”
What is a good deed? Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explained it in the following manner. When you plant a sapling or a seed knowing well that you will not be the beneficiary when that sapling grows to be a mature tree and gives shade or fruit to the wayfarer. What we have bequeathed from earlier generations, we have to pass it on to the next generation with higher good.
What is the reward? The reward is freedom from conflict, headaches, apprehensions, and fears. God has created everything in balance and harmony, everything is interconnected and interdependent. Indeed, everything in the universe except human-will runs on a well-designed precise system. A good deed is keeping that system in balance.
Living in peace within ourselves and peace with others is the ultimate driver of our lives. Quran offers guidance to enable humans to dwell in an abode of peace, a conflict-free, hassle-free experience.
The reward can be viewed as a payment for the good we do to others or the joy we receive when we care for others. Bottom line is same whether we work to earn points to enter paradise or just do our duty to secure tranquility and serene happiness.
Our obligations to our neighbors
There are several explanations given – some say it is up to the 7th neighbor all around you. I would say, if God is God of the universe, then everyone on the seven continents and the seven seas. Everyone is my fellow human, my neighbor.
Please remember the Quran is not for Muslims and so is Islam, it is a system whoever wants to access, can have it. The prophet said none of you is a believer in the goodness of humanity if your stomach is full while your neighbor is hungry.
A clear distinction was made.
There was a woman who prayed during the night and fasted a lot and gave alms generously, but neighbors complained of her abusive language. The prophet said, she has robbed herself of her blissful happiness (please note, the word used in many places does not suit the persona of the prophet, he would never say, she is the cursed one).
The other lady did not do any acts of worship, but her neighbors were happy with her, he said she has earned God’s graces, she is a blessed peacemaker.
Such is the emphasis placed on caring for others.
The Golden Rule is treating others as you wanted to be addressed. Indeed, every faith has asserted that value.
Mr. Zaffer Mirza, a trustee at the Muslim Community Center, brought up a supplication that Muslims include in the last part of every (Salat/ Namaz) ritual prayer. God’s blessings are sought for all of Abraham’s children.
Prayers and wishes by nature are universal, and one of them is a prayer recited by all Muslims, which seeks forgiveness for all the living and the dead, parents, teachers and all others. Indeed, the Navakar Mantra in Jainism is all-encompassing as well, and you will find them in all religions.
On each Memorial Day for the ten years, I make a point to stop at the cemeteries in sight, all in general, but veterans, in particular, to pay my tribute to the dead for the service they provided to the nation. And I pray the universal, all-inclusive prayer in Islam. In the year 2010, I drove from Louisville, Kentucky to Dallas, Texas and on the way stopped at every cemetery.
Ultimately, we have to build one nation, and no one should be left behind including the ones who are not alive. We have to include them all in our prayers.
Islam focuses on the duties of an individual to fellow humans including family members, needy and orphans, teachers, patients, neighbors, and all others.
However, a few “right-wing” Muslims talk about just helping Muslims, it pains me that they have reduced the message of Islam to pettiness. Of course, petty people in all religions are cut out of the same cloth. In September 2018, during the Kerala Floods, one Indian-American bigot Rajiv Malhotra called on Hindus not to help the Muslims and Christian Victims, that is not Hinduism, and Hinduism does not need fake saviors like him.
The world needs to learn a big lesson, not only preached but practiced by the Catholic Charities in particular and American Charities in general who serve fellow humans regardless of their race, color, gender or ethnicity. I am glad to see Islamic Relief fund is following a similar pattern, help the needy, period. The Swaminarayan Charity work is to be lauded as well. There are more, but the idea is creating a system to care for others.
The best service to fellow humans is serving those whom we don’t’ know and not related in any fashion. Prophet Muhammad said, when you give charity, let the left hand not know what the right side gives. One is guided not to embarrass the receiver who is indebted to us.
Islam has instituted a system of charity in two formats, mandatory and voluntary. Zakat is compulsory while Sadaqa is voluntary. Per the Zakat, you pay 2.5% of your wealth, and no limit is set to donate under Sadaqa. The purpose is to give dignity to those who are down in the ditches. The system recognizes that we cannot be invincible all the times, there comes a time when each one of us needs help.
Prophet Muhammad said, no one should go to bed with hunger in his or her stomach and went on to say that one who does not care, does not belong among my followers. His emphasis was to serve fellow humans. Indeed, Hazrat Umar, the 2nd Caliph did not punish a man for stealing food. Instead, he ruled that the society was responsible for the action of a thief. Had the nation not created an environment, the man did not need to steal.
Quran is flooded with verses about caring for others, here are a few:
Quran 2:215, “THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: “Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof.”
Quran 2:277, “Verily, those who have attained to faith and do good works, and are constant in prayer, and dispense charity – they shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve.”