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In Theory:

Extending one’s handouts

December 01, 2007

Lastly, and along the same lines, institutional financial support alone is not enough. The personal touch of giving face to face is a humanitarian approach that our nation’s poor deserve.

In Islam, giving to the poor is one of the five pillars of worship along with belief in God, five daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making the pilgrimage, Hajj, once in a lifetime to Mecca. This central tenet of Islam is referred to as “Zakat,” which translates into “Almsgiving.” Zakat is a minimum of 2.5% of one’s extra wealth after paying for one’s own basic living expenses. Beyond this absolute minimum, Muslims are encouraged to be charitable within their means at every opportunity.

Muslims are not only urged to give to the poor, but to practice a whole host of mannerisms and attitudes that must be aligned with respect for the less fortunate and with one’s inner spiritual relationship with God. There are numerous passages of Koran and stories of the Prophet Muhammad that provide inspiration to Muslims, urging them to be generous in the right manner.


Charity as a means of social justice for the poor is a requirement of righteousness in Islam.

“O believers, never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you love; and God has full knowledge of what you spend.” (Koran, chapter 3 verse 93)

Burger’s wise, practical advice needs to be enhanced with a holistic, humanitarian and God-centered approach to comprehensively attain social justice for the poverty-stricken in our neighborhoods.


Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge


Steve Burger is probably right: Giving to a shelter instead of to an individual is probably safer, as far as one’s contribution is concerned. And it may be possible that giving handouts promotes destructive behavior.

However, even if Burger is right on both counts, we don’t get off the hook of showing compassion to those who are less fortunate than we are. It would be all too easy to ignore the homeless and others with a contemptuous look or sneer, and with a wave of the hand wonder why they don’t go to a shelter. I learned one time that even if we decide to give nothing to a person who is begging, we still need to acknowledge that person’s humanity.

We need to look at him or her and speak to the person. Maybe all the person wants is money and maybe you’ll receive an insult — but would you rather be in that person’s shoes and rags? Probably not.

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