Thursday, December 15, 2011
Food for Thought
It sounds like a paradox, but I learned the true meaning of giving from someone I donated to last week.
Our local Occupy movement coincidentally began their day-and-night encampment protesting corruption on the same day as Ashura, which marks the brutal slaying of Prophet Muhammad's (S) family in their fight against injustice. To honor both, I decided to bring the protestors some breakfast.
The weather was nasty that morning: cold and drizzly. As I approached the protest site, I could see police cars positioned around the encampment. Yellow caution tape stretched across the stairs leading up to the plaza where sat two nylon tents zipped up tight and plastered with messages. "You and I are the 99%," read one.
In front of those tents stood just one person, a lanky fellow named Ben sporting glasses, a beard and a big grin. (His comrades were in class or at work.) He helped me get a case of bottled water from my car, we exchanged a few words and then I left.
As I drove away in the rain, I spotted Ben again, left alone to carry the protest on. That's when I had a watershed moment: Ben was sacrificing his safety, sleep and comfort so things can get better for everybody, I thought, weeping bitterly. That's what real giving is about--not my sacks of snacks!
"Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do," says poet Khalil Gibran. "But it is giving me that which you need more than I do."
I had just seen a glimpse of a majestic and sublime characteristic--called ethaar in Arabic--that all of us must inculcate in ourselves. It involves cheerfully sacrificing our own acute necessities to prioritize the needs of others for the sake of God. Ethaar is found in the most sincere followers of Prophet Muhammad (S) and is the very grounds for their elevated status in the next life, according to scholar Muhammad Baig.
A person who manifests ethaar makes "sacrifices for the needy because with his sensitive heart, which feels the pain of others, he can relish the world's bounties only when there exists not a single man oppressed by need," says cleric Murtaza Mutahhari.
It is this selfless giving that Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times) and her family demonstrated for three consecutive days when they gave away their only food to beggars knocking on their door at the time of fast breaking. God was so pleased with their altruism that He revealed the following verses:
"And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We only feed you for God's sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks." (Quran 76: 8-9)
Indeed, it was Fatima's son Hussain who grew up to sacrifice his wealth, family and even life to fight the system oppressing his society. He showed us that when the going gets tough, it's only the selfless souls who get going and bring value to the struggle. On his way to Kerbala, for example, Hussain met a man who offered him his horse but not himself. Hussain told him he needed neither.
For women like myself, charity begins at home, as our first (but not only) responsibility is to bring peace, comfort and happiness to our families, even if it requires making personal sacrifices. God knows how difficult this can be so He sweetened the deal by offering paradise (with no accountability) to women who are able to do so.
This includes putting up with our husbands' grumpiness and bad moods, according to the Prophet (S).
Hmmm, relatively speaking, camping out in the rain is looking more and more like a walk in the park....