Charitable Missions

Metafilter has an interesting thread today about plans by the Southern Baptists to send missionaries to Iraq after the war:

“Two leading evangelical Christian missionary organizations said Tuesday that they have teams of workers poised to enter Iraq to address the physical and spiritual needs of a large Muslim population.”

I think the interesting question here is whether it is morally upright to give money in charity when one expects a benefit in return. I don’t think you can deny, though some in the thread do, that conversion to Christianity is among the desired outcomes of the charity. Even if it were not, the mode of giving would still be flawed, for reasons that the great Imam al-Ghazali addressed in the Ihya’ ‘Ulum ad-Din:

“The third duty [of zakat, charity] is secrecy, for this is farthest removed from hypocritical display and reputation-seeking.

The Prophet, on him be peace, also said: ‘Let the servant do a good deed in secret and God will surely record it to his credit as a secret; if he reveals it, it will be transferred from the secret list and recorded among good works done openly; if he talks about it, it will be taken off both lists and recorded as hypocrisy.’ According to the well-attested Tradition: ‘Secret Alms extinguish the anger of the Lord.’ God, exalted is he, said:

‘But if you hide it and give it to the poor, it is better for you.’ [2:271]

As the Prophet, on him be peace, said: ‘God does not accept from a braggart, a hypocrite, or one who always looks for gratitude.’ He who talks about Almsgiving is seeking prestige, while he who gives for all the world to see is after public recognition; these pitfalls are avoided by secrecy and silence. Some [of the scholars of religion] have taken such an extreme view of the merit of secrecy as to maintain that the recipient should not know the indentity of the giver. Some used to slip their alms into the hand of a blind man, while others would drop them in a poor man’s path or in the place where he sat, so that he could see the gift without seeing the giver. Some would tuck their alms in the poor man’s clothes while he was sleeping; still others would convey them by way of a third party so as to hide the donor’s identity, the intermediary being asked to keep the secret and charged not to disclose it.

Whenever fame is the donor’s objective, his work will be in vain, since the purpose of almsgiving is to eliminate miserliness and to weaken the love of wealth. But the love of status has a stronger hold over the the soul than the love of wealth… So what is the use of going against miserly impulses only to yield to hypocritical motives, weakening the lesser only to reinforce the more powerful?”

Excerpted from Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship, Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), translated by Muhtar Holland. Muhtar Holland has translated many volumes of the Ihya. He is a terrific translator, in my opinion. Amazon has it.

In my village here in Malaysia, this practice is strictly observed. When a person desires to give sadaqa, the head of the village takes the money or food from the donor and delivers it to the poor person’s home. This way the recipient’s dignity is preserved, as is the purity of the donor’s intention. This is the way of moral excellence, ihsan. If the Baptists were sincere about providing for the needy, they would follow these guidelines too.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

Join the Conversation


  1. what? americans looken fer peaple to see that thay mean good? jeez go look at bush he wants to do good and free peaple righrt ? hehe all of use here might do well and rember to be a little more humble. after all in bushes campaighn he said he wanted humble forign policy.

    your crazy white boy frined for life

  2. That’s interesting: Islam parallels Christianity in admonishing people against doing their Godly works in public for acclaim.

    (Matthew, Ch. 6)
    “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
    “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
    so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

    Obviously, the Christians who trumpet their Christianity and charity most loudly are not in compliance with Jesus’s directive.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply