Today's People of the Bench

Bismi Allah

I was thinking about a recent post that I read on another blog (you can read it here). The blog entry entailed thoughts surrounding the visible poverty on Vancouver's streets. The comments following afterward expressed gratitude for the luxuries many of us wade in each day, including simply our belief in Islam. That is truly something to be grateful for, but then I began wondering about what we're really doing about this problem of poverty.

Sure, we all pay our zakah, donate to charities on occasion, and remember the less fortunate people of the world in our prayers, but is that enough? Have we done our fair share? How do we know when we've done enough? Are we minimizing our responsibility by wishing for the collective action of all the comfortable people in the world to give generously to those in need? I wonder... more so about myself than anybody else. When my life ends, it's only about what I've done. So really, if no one gives in charity, it's not my problem, it's their own. Charity benefits the one who gives more than it benefits the one who receives.

What would our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, do were he to witness the poverty of humanity today? What did he do when he witnessed the poverty of his day? Glory be to Allah as these questions have answers in his seerah, life stories.

At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, there were a group of people who were very poor. They were homeless and lived in the mosque just outside the door of the Prophet's, peace be upon him, house. They were known as the "people of the bench." The Prophet, peace be upon him, would give them whatever he could, whenever he could. Others of the community would also do the same.

SubhanAllah. I'm sure you know the story of when Fatima and 'Ali, the daughter and son-in-law/cousin of the Prophet, may God's peace and blessings be upon them, approached the Prophet, peace be upon him, after much hesitation to ask him for one of the recent slaves that he had because they were overworked and struggling in their daily lives. The Prophet, peace be upon him, loved Fatima and 'Ali dearly, but he had to deny them this request due to there being people who were struggling more and really worse off than them. SubhanAllah.

There are so many lessons in this, but the one that we can take into our hearts now is the continuous, ongoing concern and dedication that the Prophet, peace be upon him, had towards those in need. It goes without saying that the Prophet, peace be upon him, also paid zakah due on him as well as prayed for those in need. But he also gave freely. He also denied his beloved daughter for the sake of helping others in the community.

That evening, after telling Fatima and 'Ali that he could not give them anything, the Prophet (peace be upon him) came to their home and gave them something worth more than what they had asked him for earlier in the day. He taught them, and thus he has taught us... "He said to them, 'shall I not direct you to that which is better than a slave, if you get into your bed say Subhanallah 33 times, and Alhamdullilah 33 times and Allahu Akbar 34 times, Allah will suffice you from needing a slave.' Ali said, 'by Allah after saying it Allah increased us in strength so we did not need a slave.'"

Our duties are clear. It is not sufficient that I despair over people's dire situations when I myself have not made any sincere efforts toward helping them. It would be so easy to start a food drive, or a weekly soup kitchen, or to donate packages of food for their sake, or to distribute gently used clothes, or to spend time just talking to some of them. This would be relatively easy compared to what might await me at my death when I realize that my reflections without actions are fruitless, without benefit to my soul and that which truly matters to my soul after the death of my body.

One final thought before putting this to a close. Have you ever wondered how people manage to pay off their weddings? Have you ever wondered why people buy so many clothes and so much jewelry to celebrate weddings? When I say "people," I'm referring to Muslims. I have no expectations of other communities. Wouldn't it be nice to help today's "people of the bench" on the occasion of your wedding too? To give them food and know that the day you're united with your eternal partner you have eased someone else's burden and God willing also earned the pleasure of your Lord? Wouldn't that be beautiful?

So for those of you getting married soon, enjoy the day with you family and loved ones. Invite them to the mosque to witness your marriage and to pray for you. Give them something to eat, give them a tasbih, and remind them of the story of Fatima and 'Ali and the source of the prescribed adkhar. And then... invite the poor, Muslims or not, to eat a meal.

Let the world see the beauty that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, conveyed to us and left us with so that we could share it with the rest of humanity. Let us be among those who try to follow in his, peace be upon him, beautiful footsteps. Insha'Allah.

Allahuma sali 'ala sayyidina Muhammad wa 'ala aalihi wa sahbihi wa salim.

4 comments:

Shireen said...

True ..weddings are a HUGE waste of money, put that cost of the wedding and the divorce rate ...and we got a scary situation! It's a fantasy debt people get into...fairy tale over, marriage over..and still in debt (that's gotta sux)!

Anywho..i saw this thing on TVO, very inspirational and so I stuck the URL on the monitor to remember "www.peanutsheller.org". This man went to Africa and saw that people needed money and they could grow peanuts easily. The only thing is it took a long time to shell. To cut a long story short he told them to keep growing (it's good source of protein for them too) and he'll bring a device. So he came up with this peanut sheller (cuz a smaller verison never existed). He worked really hard for it to work properly and TA-DA..a steady income for the village. Oh just see the video on the site!...

May the Almighty give us this drive and sincere intentions to help those in need and be of benefit to others..AMEEN.

Farzeen said...

Assalaamu'alaykum Shireen

Thanks for sharing that about the guy who came up with the peanut sheller. That's inspirational. There are some people out there with some serious talents and skills that can (and some do) so much. Masha'Allah.

Remember once Brother Jeewan gave a talk and he was saying how Muslims need to get involved in other causes like the Diabetes Association or raising money for cancer research or donating blood, etc. He was saying that these are "Muslim causes" because the Muslim cause is anything that serves humanity.

Oh, which reminds me of a recent video was made about Islam/Muslims. They interviewed this one brother who accepted Islam. He's a firefighter in New York, and he said that what stood out for him in Islam is that if a person saves another person's life, it is like saving all of humanity. Subhan'Allah. :)

Faraz said...

Assalamu'alaykum,

JazakAllah-khair. I actually read this right after I came back from a fundraiser for the masjid I grew up with, and this piece really struck a chord.

Shaikh Muhammad al-Shareef (of alMaghrib Institute fame) mentioned something very interesting at a lecture he gave during the MSA East-Zone Conference held in Ottawa in March. He said, it's not enough just to give donations, but to really contribute creatively. That is, to leverage our skills to establish the channels of contribution. For example, if someone's skill is speaking, then he/she uses that skill to encourage others towards good. If someone is a good programmer, he/she should use that skill to create that great Islamic website to raise awareness about the issues of the day. If someone is a good writer, they use that skill for the benefit of others, etc.. Shaikh Muhammad was basically saying that we're wasting our talents if we're limiting our contribution to charity donations and what not.

I see encouraging signs. Some people in my community started food baskets for the poor, and there are always different sorts of food drives. Some of my co-workers (non-Muslims) want to repeat our Fast-a-thon we had during last Ramadhan, even though we're now all in different cities. Things aren't all bad, but there's still so much we can do.

I received several e-mails and personal comments about that particular post, outside of the comments on the site. Insha-Allah, I'll direct all those people here, which I see as the logical "conclusion" to whatever I wrote.

Farzeen said...

Wa 'alaykum assalaam Brother Faraz

Wa iyak. That's good advice that Shaykh Muhammad Al Shareef gave. Thanks for sharing it. This advice would serve as good foundational inspiration for a new organization where we, our communities, could do this collectively.

Yes, masha'Allah.. there are encouraging activities going on. There's a Friday soup kitchen at one of the masjids in the GTA. In my community, we have an organization trying to collect gently used clothing for the needy as well as distribute boxes of food (a food hamper) to those in need during Ramadhan. It's good to see things happening, masha'Allah. Sometimes it's all muddled with too much internal politics, but this is no utopia I guess.

Ultimately, even if all of us did everything we possibly could, we couldn't solve all the problems, and the success of each activity is at the mercy of Allah. Bil tawfeeq, insha'Allah.

"Do you think that you will enter the Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity and were so shaken in spirit that even the Apostle and those of faith who were with him cried: 'When (will come) the help of God?' Ah! Verily the help of God is (always) near!" [2:214]

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"Be mindful of God, and God will protect you. Be mindful of God, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of God. If you seek help, seek help of God. Know that if the whole world were to gather together to benefit you with anything, it would benefit you only with something that God had already prescribed for you. And if the whole world were to gather together to harm you, it would harm you only with something that God has already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and the ink has dried."
--Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him]