THE POWER OF ALTRUISM
In the Name of God, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful.
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْرِي نَفْسَهُ ابْتِغَاءَ مَرْضَاتِ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ رَءُوفٌ بِالْعِبَادِ
And of the people (is the one) who sells his own self seeking pleasure (of) God. And God (is) full of Kindness to His servants.
Imam Ali (as) said :
اَلإيثارُ فَضيلَةٌ، اَلإحْتِكارُ رَذيلَةٌ
Self-sacrifice is a virtue, hoarding [wealth] is a vice.
الإيثارُ أشرَفُ الإحْسانِ
Self-sacrifice is the noblest benevolence.
الإيثارُ شيمَةُ الأبْرارِ
Self-sacrifice is a trait of the virtuous.
الإيثارُ غايَةُ الإحْسانِ
Self-sacrifice is the highest degree of benevolence.
الإيثارُ أشرَفُ الكَرَمِ
Self-sacrifice is the noblest munificence.
Source : [Ghurar Al-Hikam Wa Durar Al-Kalim, Exalted aphorisms and pearls of speech, The Chapter of Self-Sacrifice, Hadith 1-5]
The highest degree of generosity and munificence is altruism. An altruistic person, despite having his own acute needs and necessities, makes a sacrifice by giving others preference over himself.
Even the act of giving alms occupies a lower rank than altruism. Attaining the pleasure of God plays a pivotal role in it. If a person, in an effort to save the life of a drowning person, gets drowned himself, the commendation from the Lord for this self-sacrifice, is a thousand times more than that for the alms which he pays out.
The Embodiment of Altruism
Hadhrat Abbas Ibn Ali (as) is a man who will undoubtedly be the centre of discussion when discussing about Self-Sacrifice and altruism. This man has taught us how you should sacrifice yourself for your fellow human being and your fellow brothers in a way where you are ready to be thirsty and without arms to reach the highest level of spirituality and humanity.
As we study the life of our Imams (as), we will realize how much they were willing to sacrifice themselves for the Prophet (saw) and his holy path. Imam Ali (as) slept in the Prophet’s (saw) bed so that the Prophet (saw) could walk to Medina in tranquillity while the life of Imam Ali (as) was in full danger when he was surrounded by the Meccans who were ready to kill the Prophet (saw) but stopped when they realized that it was Imam Ali (as) who was lying in bed.
Imam Ali (as) in the place of the Holy Prophet (saw)
When the leaders of Quraish realised that the inhabitants of Madinah had pledged their loyalty to the Prophet, their hatred towards him intensified. Consequently, their leaders decided that on the eve of the first of Rabi’ al-Awwal, one brave person from every tribe would gather together, besiege the Prophet’s house and kill him as he lay asleep in his bed.
God divulged their sinister plan to the Prophet, who said to Imam Amirul Mu’mineen (a.s.):
“As the polytheists intend to murder me tonight, God has ordered me to migrate. Will you sleep in my place so that they do not find out that I have gone?”
“O’ Prophet of God! Will you remain alive and well if I do this?” Ali (a.s.) asked.
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) confirmed that he would. Hearing this, Amirul Mu’mineen’s (a.s.) face lit up with delight and he fell down in prostration of thanksgiving (to the Almighty Lord). He then said, “May my life be sacrificed for you! Go wherever God has ordered you to go; if you need me to do any work for you, just command me, and I shall unconditionally perform it, and from God I seek grace and success.”
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) took Ali (a.s.) in his arms, wept profusely and entrusted him to the protection of God. Then, Gabriel (as) took the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) by the hand and led him out of the house and towards the cave of Thaur.
That night, Amirul Mu’mineen slept in the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.) bed and covered himself with his cloak.
The infidels had initially intended to attack the house in the darkness of the night, but Abu Lahab, who was also with them, advised against it saying that it was night and the women and children were asleep. He told them to wait till morning. When morning dawned, they rushed into the house only to find Ali (a.s.) in the Prophet’s bed. They asked him where Muhammad was.
“Did you leave him with me (that you now ask me about him)? You wanted to get rid of him (and so) he has gone away himself,” he retorted.
They left Ali (a.s.) and set off in pursuit of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w). [The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his holy progeny) remained in the Cave of Thaur for three days and on the fourth day proceeded towards Medinah, entering it on the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal in the 13th year after the proclamation of Prophethood, and from this migration commenced the Islamic calendar.]
However, it was as a result of this act of self-sacrifice on the part of Ali (a.s.), that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) remained alive and unharmed. God revealed the following verse on this occasion. It pertains to Ali (a.s.)
And among men is he, who sells himself to seek the pleasure of God; and God is Affectionate to the servants. [2:207]
Altruism is an important doctrine in Islam
Altruism is an important doctrine that many Muslims today do not know about and have no idea that it is a crucial doctrine part of the Islamic doctrine. We must teach our future generation to sacrifice everything they have for God, because when they sacrifice everything for God, they will automatically sacrifice everything for humanity. God commands us not only to pray and fast, but also to help others with our souls and wealth, which is why Zakat is one of the five pillars. One should be able to sacrifice his soul in both hardship and ease, but one should never put a heavier burden on himself that one cannot bear in a way where you intentionally destroy yourself unnecessarily.
Self-Sacrifice and Altruism in itself is the sweetness of the greater struggle (Jihad Al-Akbar) :
وَالَّذِينَ تَبَوَّءُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيمَانَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِّمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ ۚ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
And [also for] those who were settled in al-Madinah and [adopted] the faith before them. They love those who emigrated to them and find not any want in their breasts of what the emigrants were given but give [them] preference over themselves, even though they are in privation. And whoever is protected from the stinginess of his soul – it is those who will be the successful.
[Surah Al-Hashr : 9]
Imam Ali (as) said :
الإيثارُ أفضَلُ عِبادَة، وأجَلُّ(أحْسَنُ) سيادَة.
Self-sacrifice is the greatest worship and the most sublime eminence.
[Ghurar Al-Hikam Wa Durar Al-Kalim, Exalted aphorisms and pearls of speech, The Chapter of Self-Sacrifice, Hadith 8]
The world of selfishness
This world and society we live in today teaches us to be selfish and to be as individualistic as possible. This atheistic, secular and materialistic thinking has influenced millions of people in the world today, moving from the spiritual to the materialistic. As a human being, one must ask oneself: Why do the higher powers in the world, and especially from the West, want us to be as selfish, egoistic and materialistic as possible?
The higher powers who preach capitalism and materialism will gain from it. The capitalists and the materialists win because You and are obsessed by their gadgets like the iPhone and their brands of clothes. They try to control us both physically and mentally. Just reflect on the fast food chains such as Burger King, McDonald’s, KFC etc and all brands from the West that the average person, whether he is Muslim or not, strives for. They win it in every aspect, be it social, economic or cultural, if we are ready to serve their system of materialism. Just wearing a branded garment in a school yard will give you respect, because these clothes are glorified in the materialistic world.
Let’s learn from Hadhrat Abbas (as)
Let’s learn from Hadhrat Abbas (as) who taught us how to hold on to the burning charcoal when he was thirsty but choose not to drink because of his brother who was also thirsty. Imagine having your arms cut off while riding back to the tents to give your brother water. The sad thing is that you can’t get back to the tent. You are brutally murdered before you even get to the thirsty members of Ahlulbayt (as). The question is, how many of us had done what Hadhrat Abbas Ibn Ali (as) did?
Altruism is indeed the noblest concept of generosity. Not everyone can adorn himself with this trait, because it is dedicated to the few ideal persons whom are characterized by open-handedness and who attained the climax of generosity as they gave liberally while they are in urgent need. They therefore preferred charity to the settlement of their needs.
The Climax of Generosity was a noble trait of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw)
The Prophet (S) was the highest example of altruism: Jabir Ibn Abdullah said: The Prophet (S) had never refused anyone’s request.
Imam as-Sadiq (a) narrated: In al-Jirana, the Prophet (S) distributed the treasury among people. He gave every single individual who asked from him. As people crowded around him, they pushed him until he had to lean on a tree that scratched his back. People kept on pushing him until they took him away from that tree and his garment was hanged to one of its branches. He was shouting: “People, let me have my garment! By God I swear, even if I have treasures as many as the trees of Tuhama, I will distribute among you. You shall never find me coward or stingy. [Quoted from Safinat ul-Bihar; 1/607 (as quoted from Ilal ush-Sharayi). Jirana is a place between Mecca and Ta’if.]
The Prophet (S) used to prefer the poor to himself.
The Prophet (S) used to prefer the poor to himself. He used to give them his food while he suffered hunger to the degree that he, once, tied the stone of hunger on his stomach so as to share the pains of hunger with the poor.
Imam Al-Baqir (as) said: “The Prophet (S) had never eaten his fill for three consecutive days since Allah gave him the Divine Mission. ” (Quoted from Safinat ul-Bihar; part 1 page 194 (as quoted from al-Kafi).
The Ahlul-Bayt (a) were copies of the Prophet in the fields of generosity and altruism.
Imam As-Sadiq (a) narrated: Ali was the most similar to the Prophet. He used to eat bread with oil and serve people with bread and meat. (Quoted from Bihar ul-Anwar; vol. 9 page 538 (as quoted from al-Kafi).
The Altruism and Self-Sacrifice of Ahlulbayt (as) in the Holy Qur’an
The following holy Verse was revealed for Ali and his family:
“They feed the destitute, orphans, and captives for the love of God, saying: We only feed you for the sake of God and we do not want any reward or thanks from you (76:8-9).”
The disciples of The Ahlul-Bayt (as) have unanimously agreed that the previous Holy Verse was revealed for Ali, Fatima, al-Hasan, and al-Hussein (a). Moreover, a good deal of ulema of other sects have also asserted so.
Interpreting Sura of al-Insan, az-Zamakhshari records the following narration in his book titled Tafsir ul- Kashaf:
Ibn Abbas narrated: ” The Prophet (S), with some of his companions, visited al-Hasan (as) and al-Hussein (as) who were sick. They suggested that Imam Ali (as) should vow a three-day fasting if they would recover their health. The Imam (as), as well as their mother Fatima and Fudda their bondwoman implemented that suggestion. When Al-Hasan (as) and al-Hussein (as) were healed, the group fasted. The Imam (as) had no food at that time; therefore, he had to borrow three measures of barley from Shimon the Jew. In the first day, Fatima (a) milled and baked one of these measures. In the very time of breaking fast, a poor man knocked their door and said: “Peace be upon you; the family of Muhammad. I am a poor Muslim. Serve me with food and God may serve you from the food of Paradise.” The Imam gave him his share. The others pursued him and gave their shares. They passed that night without eating anything.
On the second day of their fasting, an orphan complaining hunger knocked on their door in the time of breaking fast. They offered their shares and passed the second night without having anything except water.
On the third day and at the very time of breaking fast, a prisoner complaining hunger knocked on their door asking for some food. They all offered him their shares before having anything of it.
On the fourth day, Imam Ali (as) took al-Hasan (as) and al- Hussein (as) to the Prophet (saw) while they were trembling because of hunger. “I am very touched by what I see,” said the Prophet (saw) who walked with them to their house. There, he saw Fatima (as) standing in her place of prayer while her belly was stuck to her back and her eyes were deep-set. He was affected by such a view. In the meantime, the Archangel Gabriel (as) descended and said: “Muhammad, enjoy it. God may please you in connection to your household.” He then recited the Surah. [Quoted from Sayyid A. Sharafuddin’s al-Kalimat ul-Gharraa; page 29, Tafsir Al-Kashaaf by Zamakshari.]
The Altruistic Slave
A’bdullah Ibn Ja’far, the husband of Hadhrat Zainab (a.s.) was a person whose generosity was unparalleled. Once, as he happened to pass by a palm-plantation, he noticed a slave working there. At that very moment, the slave’s food was brought and handed over to him. As he was about to start his meal, a hungry dog came before him, wagging its tail.
The slave placed a portion of his food before the dog and the animal immediately ate it up. The slave put some more food in front of the dog and before long it was eaten too. This continued till he had given his entire food to the dog.
A’bdullah, who had been witnessing the incident, asked the slave, “What is your daily ration of food?”
“The amount which you have just witnessed,” the slave answered.
“If that is the case, why then did you give the dog preference over yourself?” enquired A’bdullah.
“This dog had come from afar and was hungry and I did not deem it appropriate to drive him away in that state of hunger.”
“With what will you satiate yourself today?”
“I shall overcome my hunger by patience and steadfastness,” the slave explained.
A’bdullah, observing the slave’s selflessness and altruism, thought to himself that the slave was more generous than himself. By way of commendation and compensation for his altruism, A’bdullah purchased the slave and the plantation from the owner, freed the slave and finally gifted the entire plantation to him. [Hikaayat-ha-e-Shanidani, vol. 5, pg. 114; Al-Mahajjah al-Baidhaa, vol. 6, pg. 80.]
The Altruism in the Battle of Yarmuk
In the battle of Yarmuk, a group of Muslim soldiers would go out for battle every day. After a few hours of confrontation, the unhurt and those who had minor injuries would return, while the wounded or dead would be left on the battlefield.
Hudhaifah U’dwi, recounts: One day, my cousin, together with some other soldiers, set out for the battlefield. Unfortunately, after the conclusion of the day’s battle, he failed to return. Picking up a container of water, I set out for the battlefield, hoping to provide him with a drink in case he happened to be alive.
After searching for sometime, I found my cousin who was barely alive. I stooped down beside him and asked him if he needed some water. He nodded. At that very moment, another soldier, who lay near him, heard me and then sighed loudly to indicate that he was very thirsty.
My cousin signalled to me to provide water to the soldier first. As I went to attend to the injured soldier, I realized that he was Hishaam Ibn A’as. I asked him whether he needed water. He signalled in the affirmative. Instantaneously, another injured soldier demanded water and Hishaam too refused to drink the water before the other soldier had drunk it. I moved towards the third soldier, but just as I reached him, he breathed his last. Returning to Hishaam, I observed that in this ensuing period, he too had died. I hastened towards my cousin, only to find him dead too! [Daastaan-ha Wa Pand-ha, vol. 1, pg. 173; Mustatraf, vol. 1, pg. 156.]
The Self-Sacrifice of Haatim Taai
Once, there was a severe famine in the place where Haatim Taai was staying. The provisions had dwindled until there was nothing left, and the people were suffering intense hunger and hardship.
Haatim’s wife narrates:
One night, there was not a morsel to be found in our house. Haatim, my two children, A’di and Safaanah and myself, found that we could not sleep due to our hunger.
With great difficulty, Haatim put A’di to sleep while I did likewise with Safaanah. Haatim then began to narrate a story with the intention of putting me to sleep, but the intensity of hunger kept me awake. All the same, I pretended to be so fast asleep that even when he called out to me several times, I did not reply back.
Haatim had been gazing into the desert from a hole in the tent, when he noticed a silhouette, advancing towards us. As it came nearer, Haatim realised that it was a lady and called out:
“Who is it?”
The lady bemoaned, “Haatim, my children are howling like wolves owing to their hunger.”
Haatim told the woman not to worry, as he would remove their hunger. Hearing this, I got up from my place and asked him how he would do it.
He said, “I shall feed everyone.”
He then proceeded towards the only horse which we possessed and which we utilized to transport our belongings. He sacrificed it and gave a portion of it to the lady saying:
“Cook it and feed it to your children.” Turning to me, he said, “Awaken the children so they can eat too.”
After a short while, he added, “It is a great shame to eat while others sleep beside you with an empty stomach.”
He proceeded to wake them up himself. Everyone ate the meat, except Haatim, who sat and derived pleasure out of watching them eat. [Raahnama-e-Sa’adat, vol. 2, pg. 350; Safinah al-Bihaar, vol. 1. pg. 208]
Ayatollah Ja’far As-Subhani’s commentary on Self-Sacrifice
From His book “Secrets of Success”, the chapter of Self-Sacrifice:
” The importance of high and holy aims is much more than physical comfort and material possessions in the eyes of the wise and intelligent people. Only he can get success in such aims that does not care for his life and other material things.
If one aims to attain holy goals for the benefit of his body or life or for material progress it would be a kind of madness, because holy aims demand sacrifice and sacrifice means being unmindful of life, and it is lunacy to sacrifice one’s life for material things.
However if one has so much affection and love for a religious aim that it is dearer to him than his life and body and material gains then, in that case, sacrifice, that is the losing of life and money and family and material status will be considered a sign of success.
Those who view life from material angle and desire everything only for material benefit are unable to show the correct reason of the sacrifices offered by the prophets, pious leaders, Imams, great people, selfless diplomats and person having religious and spiritual aims.
It is possible that the materialists may look at those sacrifices as a legend, myth or fiction, and even brand those great persons as lunatics. But one who gives preference to his aim over his life throws himself in dangers with a smiling face and a heart full of lofty sentiments.
Prophet Isa (a.s.) suffered so many difficulties and tolerated the taunts of the Jews only for a Holy aim, which was dearer to him than his life.
Hazrat Ali (a.s.) slept on the bed of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) on the night of migration (Hijrat). It was the same kind of sacrifice.
If the leader of the martyrs, Imam Husain (a.s) coloured the soil of Karbala with his blood and that of his near and dear companions, it too was the result of the said love for a holy aim. In his eyes a respectful and honourable death was better than a life of dishonour.
His philosophy was: A red death is better than a black life.
In the battle of Naharawan, a youth, on his own, took a copy of the Holy Quran from the Commander of the Faithful (a.s) and went to the battlefield only to be cut into pieces by the enemy, it was also because of his love for his aim. He wanted that truth should overcome falsehood… “
The Self-sacrifice of a Shia Houthi fighter in Yemen who went in to a Saudi territory in order to rescue his friend. While being shot by snipers from all directions, he managed to save his brother!
” One, who covets something, (but) suppressing his desire gives others preference over himself, shall have his sins forgiven. “
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) said:
اَيُّما اِمرِئٍ اِشتَهىَ شَهوَةً فَرَد شَهوَتَهُ وَ آثَرَ عَلىَ نَفسِهِ غُفِرَ لهُ
” One, who covets something, (but) suppressing his desire gives others preference over himself, shall have his sins forgiven. ” [Jaame’ al-Sa’adaat, vol. 2, pg. 118]
| Amir Zabidi
| THE POWER OF ALTRUISM