Zainul Abideen: An examplary charity giver

By Ibrahim A. El-Caleel

Zainul Abideen was the nickname of Imām Aliyyu bnul Husain (Rahimahullah). He was son to Sayyidna Al-Husain (R.A), and a grandson to the 4th Rightly Guided Caliph, Aliyyu bn Abi Talib (Radiyallahu Anhu) and the daughter of the Prophet ﷺ, Sayyidah Fatimah (R.A). Therefore, he was a great-grandson of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Thus, Zainul Abideen is a member of the Ahlul Bayt (Household of the Prophetﷺ). Twelver Shi’ites count him as their 4th Imam, even though he neither believed in nor endorsed their Rafidhi creed and methods, just as indicated by Abu Nu’aim in his ‘Hilyatul Awliya’ (3/136).

The above is a quick biography of this exemplary personality whose history we all deserve to read. He has a rich biography, owing to his religious devotion and Islamic scholarship.

In this brief note, I intend to highlight his mode of giving charity, hoping that we use it as a template or we benchmark it versus how some of us give charity today.

Al-Imamul Dhahabi narrated in his book, ‘Siyaru A’alamin Nubala’ that Zainul Abideen used to take bread during the dark part of the night, and he would drop it at the doors of the poor and needy while people were asleep.

Nobody knew who was doing this generous act. But after his death, the generous act stopped immediately. This was how it was discovered that Zainul Abideen was indeed the person who used to give out charity at night. He hid his face from people because his ultimate goal was to be rewarded by Allah. He was neither interested in the gratitude of the beneficiaries, nor the validation of the public, nor was he expecting anything in return from this material world.

Meanwhile, during his lifetime, he was known with a famous saying that:

إن الصدقة في سواد الليل تطفئ غضب الرب

“Verily, the charity given out in the darkness of the night extinguishes the anger of the Lord (with his servant)”.

For his rich biography, read Al-Imamul Dhahabi in Siyaru A’alamin Nubala, 4/387

What Zainul Abideen was doing was in congruence with what Islam recommends about concealing charity. Allah says in Qur’an 2, Verse 271:

إِن تُبْدُواْ الصَّدَقَاتِ فَنِعِمَّا هِيَ وَإِن تُخْفُوهَا وَتُؤْتُوهَا الْفُقَرَاء فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لُّكُمْ وَيُكَفِّرُ عَنكُم مِّن سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَاللّه
بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِير

“If you give charity openly, it is well. But if you hide it and give it to the poor, that is better for you. (Allah) will forgive you some of your sins. And Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.”

This explains that there is no problem with you making your charity publicly known, especially if you hope to encourage people to imitate you in righteousness. However, the verse is admonishing you that concealing the charity, hiding it from the public glare is better for you. This is because it helps protect you from riya (show-off) which can make you lose your reward in the sight of Allah. Whatever the case, beware that Allah is well-acquainted with what you are doing. He knows both your intentions and your actions.

Today, some people are fond of exposing their charities which takes them closer to riya. After giving the charity in public, they make sure they snap pictures of the charity session and upload on social media. Only Allah knows which charity is submitted for His sake and which isn’t. However, you should be careful because Iblees (Satan) is crafty. He can easily spoil your acts of good deeds by leveraging certain loopholes. Your intention could be pure from the onset, but upon uploading the pictures on social media, Satan would put in whispers to you to corrupt your initial intention and now look forward to trend; to gather ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and ‘shares’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This is where riya might set in and destroy a noble cause.

For Allah and His Messenger (Peace Be Upon Him) to recommend concealment of charity, then there is a deep wisdom in such. Perhaps this is why predecessors like Zainul Abideen, for example, resorted to completely hide their faces from their charity. They sought to protect themselves from the whispers of Satan who has sworn to lead the humankind astray.

If you are coordinating a charity program on-behalf of an organization, or a group of people, and there are trust concerns, then it is better you create a small medium through email or social media messengers to send them proof of execution of the project. They are the people whom you might owe a proof of execution of the project. Secondly, in the course of mobilizing for funds through adverts, you may want to hide the faces of the beneficiaries because it appears improper to use someone’s predicament to publicize your financial aid program.

May Allah protect our good deeds from the corruption of riya, ameen.

May Allah accept our good deeds and forgive our shortcomings, ameen.

El-Caleel writes from Zaria city.

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