Concept of Social Service in Islam

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Teachings of Islam

One of the noble feelings that a believer should possess is the urge or desire to come to the assistance of others. He should fulfill their needs without expecting any return.

Coming to the assistance of others is, in essence, an acknowledgement of the blessings, which God has showered upon him. It is that person, who helps others who has something more than others. For example, one who has eyes comes to the assistance of one who has not been blessed with the precious gift of sight; an able bodied person will give physical help to the disabled; a wealthy person will give donations to the poor; the man with resources will come to the aid of one who lacks them, and so on.

On all such occasions when one man helps out another by virtue of those blessings, which God has given him, he is in fact showing his gratitude to God for these favours. He is saying within himself, O God, whatever I have is all given by You. Now I am spending it in Your path, I pray You for more blessings and mercy for both of us (the helper and the receiver).

By engaging oneself in social work, one is not only helping another but is actually raising his own moral status. Making use of one’s possessions only for oneself is to live on the plane of animals, for the beasts share nothing with others.

Man, superior to all other creatures, lives on a far higher plane. The proper attitude in accordance with his status is not to keep himself to himself but to embrace the whole of humanity. He should lead his life as a well-wisher to all, ready to help everyone, accepting others’ rights over his own possessions.

Social work is in other words, service to humanity. And after the worship of God, no task is nobler.

All the teachings of Islam are based on two basic principles—worship of God and service of men. Without putting both of these principles into practice, there can be no true fulfillment of one’s religious duties.

In its followers, Islam inculcates the spirit of love and respect for all human beings. By serving human beings on the one hand they please their God, and on the other they achieve spiritual progress for themselves.

According to a Hadith, you should be merciful to people on earth and God on high will be merciful to you. (At-Tirmidhi, Hadith No. 1924) In this way Islam links personal salvation to serving others. One can receive God’s reward in the Hereafter only if one has done something to alleviate the sufferings of mankind.

According to a Hadith, on Doomsday, God will say to a person, “I was ill, but you did not come to nurse Me.” The man will reply, “God, You being the Lord of the universe how can You be ill?” God will answer, “Such and such servant of Mine was ill. Had you gone there, you would have found Me there with him.” Then God will say to another person, “I was hungry, but you did not feed Me.” The person will reply, “God, You are the Lord of the worlds, how could You go hungry?” God will say, “Such and such of my servants came to you, but you did not feed him. Had you done so, you would have found Me with him.” Then God will say to yet another man, “I was thirsty, and you did not give Me water to drink.” That person will also say, “God, You are the Lord of the worlds, how could You be thirsty?” God will say, “Such and such servant of Mine came to you, but you did not give him water to drink. Had you offered him water, you would have found Me there with him.” (Ibn-e-Majah, Hadith No. 4032)

From this, we learn the Islamic principle that if someone wants to find God, he shall first have to make himself deserving of this by helping the poor and the needy. This act becomes a means of spiritual progress for him. And there is no doubt about it that it is only those people who have elevated themselves spiritually, who will find God.

This culture of mercy and compassion approved of by God is not limited to human beings, but extends also to the animal world. We must be equally sympathetic to animals. The Hadith gives us many guidelines on how to look after animals and treat them with fairness. There are duties laid down by God. One who is cruel to animals risks depriving himself of God’s mercy.

Two significant examples have been mentioned in a Hadith. One of them concerns a devoutly religious woman, who spent most of her time in worship. But one day she became enraged at a cat and trussed it up with a rope, depriving it of food and water. The cat remained tied up in this state until it died of thirst and hunger. God so strongly disapproved of this that, despite the woman’s great devotions, He decreed that she be cast into hell. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith No. 3318)

The other incident concerns a woman who, a prostitute by profession, was generally despised by people. One day she was going along a path when she found a dog lying on the ground dying of thirst. This woman felt sympathy for it. She looked here and there, but there was no water to be seen anywhere. Then she noticed a well nearby with water deep within it. But there was nothing with which to draw water from it. Then she thought of her shawl to which she tied her shoe and by lowering this into the well she was able to bring up water, which she poured into the mouth of the dying dog. She did this several times until the dog’s thirst was quenched. Then it revived and walked happily away. According to the Hadith God was so pleased with this human gesture that He decreed that she should enter paradise. (Sahih Bukhari, Hadith No. 3467)

This comparative example shows that over and above we must be merciful even to animals. Those men and women who have no feelings of mercy and compassion for living things are valueless in the eyes of God. On the other hand, those men and women who do have mercy and compassion for living things will be adjudged God’s favoured servants.

Islamic belief softens the hearts of its believers. That is why when Islamic belief penetrates into people’s hearts they will of necessity become kind and compassionate to others. They will see everyone with eyes of ‘love and compassion,’ they will have this urge within them to serve others, and fulfill others’ needs.

If even after adopting the beliefs of Islam, feelings of love and compassion do not well up in the heart of its adherent, he should rethink whether or not Islamic beliefs have truly found a place in his heart and mind, whether or not he is able to fully practice what he believes and whether or not he has succeeded in moulding himself entirely into the path of Islam.

When Umar Faruq, the second Caliph of Islam, traveled from Madinah to Palestine, he had taken only one camel along with him. He said that if he continued to ride the camel during the entire journey it would be cruelty to the animal, so it must be given rest. Therefore he rode and walked by turns so that the camel should have periods of rest, until he reached his destination. (Al-Fath al-Uamari Li al-Quds by Shafiq Jasir, p. 191)

This shows that if a true spirit of Islam is inculcated in a person, he becomes so compassionate to all living beings that even at the cost of his own comforts he extends a helping hand to others.

As it is put in a Hadith, “By God, he is not a Muslim who eats his fill, while his neighbour goes hungry.” (Musnad of Al-Bazzar: Hadith No. 7429) This shows that a Muslim is one who is as concerned with others’ hunger and thirst as he is with his own; who is concerned not only with his own person but with the whole of humanity.

According to another Hadith, you should “extend greetings to people, feed them and earn your place in heaven.” (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith No. 6587) This shows that according to Islam that person is worthy of heaven whose heart is impatient for others’ peace and good will, who is eager to share with everyone, whether it be food, clothes or medical help, etc. In short, one should share in people’s pain and suffering.

Islam is a religion of humanity. Islam considers serving others as a great act of worship. According to the teachings of Islam, it is only in serving people that we shall have a share in God’s mercy.