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We are surrounded by a society that ensures we focus on ourselves, from making reels of our financial and material wealth, stories of travel getaways, and a constant focus on our physical bodies and what they can physically and materially attain. When the idea of helping others is brought about, it generally only extends as far as it can be beneficial for ourselves, in either a monetary or ego-boosting way. This culture of selfishness disguised at times as charity, philanthropy, or support is oftentimes more harmful for our souls and self development than doing nothing at all. 

Instead, as a Muslim Ummah, how can we change the culture in our families and by extension our communities, to have a genuine focus on other people, acts of service and kindness to others, and fostering a sense of selflessness rooted in love of Allah (swt).

Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) has said, “Brotherhood (& Sisterhood) for the sake of Allah is based on advising each other for the sake of Allah, contributing for His sake, helping each other to obey His commands, forbidding each other from disobeying Him, assisting each other for His sake and sincere affection.” (Mīzān al-Ḥikmah, Ḥadīth #697)

With the above ḥadīth in mind, we break down practical ways to create a culture of selflessness into three categories: within the family unit, in the local community, and on a global level. 

  1. Selflessness in the Family Unit

What does selflessness look like within the family unit? Does it mean we cannot care for ourselves and ensure our needs are being met?

Ensuring our needs are being met must be balanced by our support and love for our family members, whether children towards their parents or parents towards their children. 

We should primarily always keep in mind that our acts of caring and kindness towards others must be rooted in our complete reliance on Allah (swt) and our efforts must be guided by Him and not our own egos. 

Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) has said, “The [true] friend is he who forbids [one from] injustice and wrongdoing while helping [one] to perform good deeds and be righteous.”  (Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #350)

Here are 3 practical tips to keep in mind when raising selfless children:

  1. If you care for your children in a loving, caring, kind, and respectful manner, then they will learn to treat others with the same kindness and respect.
  2. Give your children plenty of opportunities to help you (as parents) and to help their siblings/cousins/grandparents/aunts/uncles and recognize their efforts, reminding them of having sincere intentions (of helping others as a means of worshiping Allah (swt)).
  3. Create a practice in your home, that before you or your children serve yourselves (whether food, drinks, start playing a game, attending to your own need), first look to see if any of your family members are around to see if you can help them in some way, either getting them something, even just asking how they are doing, and if they need help with anything.
  1. Selflessness in the Local Community

The local community is one that becomes a primary focus when we look outside of our family units. This community can include the Muslim community that attends the same masjid as you, the broader Muslim community in the area where you live, and the non-Muslim community in your area. These 3 demographics will each have their own needs that we should be aware of and help in any way we can.

Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) said, “When you are incapable of helping the weak [and needy] then let your compassion encompass them.”  (Ghurar al-Ḥikam, Ḥadīth #3877)

3 Practical Tips to Practice Selflessness in the Local Community:

  1. In the Masjid: be a volunteer and give your time towards the community and see the efforts that are required to keep the masjid functioning and programming continue. If you cannot give your time, give your money, and if you cannot give your money, then be a source of good akhlāq and show empathy towards all community members whether they treat you in the same manner or not.
  2. For the broader Muslim community: Assess the needs of the community by attending different masjids from your own and meeting new families. Are there food banks you can help at, Muslim businesses you can support, families that you can help with food drop-offs?
  3. Local Community (non-Muslim): There are oppressed minorities in communities around us, starting with the indigenous community around us. Understand what injustices might be taking place in your own local community. What practices are companies around you enacting? What policies are the government officials in your community endorsing? Be aware of what is happening where you live because awareness and knowledge is the first step towards being able to enact any change. 
  1. Selflessness on a Global Level

When we think of the global Muslim Ummah, there is so much oppression that we see happening. From Sudan to Congo, from Palestine to Bahrain, from Pakistan to India. For ourselves and our families we should keep in mind the ḥadīth of Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) wherein he said, “Be a helper for the oppressed and an enemy of the oppressor.”  (Ghurar al-Ḥikam Ḥadīth #5846)

What does it mean to be a helper for the oppressed and an enemy to the oppressor?

  1. Support the Oppressed through any means possible: gain knowledge of what the oppression is, speak about what is happening and share this knowledge with the local community, support the oppressed through financial means. 
  2. Enemy of the Oppressor: Understand and learn who the oppressor is, in today’s world, the oppressor is not just a single person as it may have been in centuries past. Understand how societies and individuals themselves can be oppressors unknowingly and ensure that you are not a player in this oppression or in furthering the oppression to another group of people. 
  3. Learn how to most effectively stand up against the oppressors, starting with a hatred towards it in your homes and hearts. The last Friday of the month of Ramaḍān is the Day of Al-Quds and these demonstrations in support of the oppressed of Palestine take place all over the world. Find out where your demonstration is in your city and attend with your entire family, encouraging the community members to participate as well. 

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Oftentimes, seeing the injustices and oppression around the world can feel overwhelming and a daunting task. Seeing the needs of our family and our communities can feel as if our efforts will not be enough. However, Allah (swt) reminds us that our efforts are all that is needed and all that must be strived for, and the results of our actions and our efforts are only in the hands of Allah (swt) alone. As Allah (swt) tells us, “As for those who strive in Us, We shall surely guide them in Our ways, and Allah is indeed with the virtuous.” [Holy Qur’an 29:69]

We pray for the return of our Imām (ajtfs) and may all our actions and efforts be directed towards the worship of Allah (swt) alone.


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