Part 10 : Benevolence of the Holy Imams (a.s)

Benevolence or charity is also one of the moral excellences. The two extremes related to this middle path are, wastefulness and miserliness. In the early period of Islam, when the condition of the Muslims was very bad financially, there was greater need to practice this virtue of benevolence. Ahl ul-Bayt (a.s) realized this perfectly and they did not at all fall short in fulfilling needs of poor Muslims. They bore every type of difficulty but solved the difficulties of other people. They remained hungry themselves but fed others. Patched their own clothes but clothed the naked. If the door of Ahl ul-Bayt had not been open for the destitutes, a lot of people would have perished of hunger or had begged to other communities causing insult to Islam. This is the favor of Ahl ul-Bayt that the world of Islam can never forget.

Benevolence Of Imam Ali (a.s)

Wahidi in his Tafsir has related from Ibne Abbas that Ali (a.s) had four dirhams and nothing beyond that. He gave in charity a dirham at night and a dirham during the day. Another one he gave secretly and one, openly. Then the Almighty Allah revealed the following verse:

(As for) those who spend their property by night and by day, secretly and openly (Surah Baqarah 2:274)

Thalabi has written in his Tafsir that Abu Zar Ghiffari narrated that one day he was praying with the Messenger of Allah (S) when a beggar came to the mosque soliciting alms, but none gave him anything.

Amir'ul-Mu'minin (a.s) was also praying, but he indicated the small finger of his right hand on which he was wearing a ring and gave the ring to the beggar. Thus the Almighty Allah revealed the following verse:
Only Allah is your Guardian and His Apostle and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow. (Surah Maidah 5:55)

The enemies of Ali (a.s) also confessed to his generosity. It is mentioned in Matalibus So'ool that when Mahqan Ibne Abi Mahtan told Muawiyah that he had come to him from the greatest miser. Muawiyah said, “Woe be to you. Do you call Ali a miser? If he is given a house of gold and a house of straw, before the house of straw, the house of gold would be finished.”

Shoba has written that Ali (a.s) was so generous and he liked giving charity so much that he never uttered 'No' to anyone who asked him for something. He used to irrigate the farms of a Jew, himself, till he got boils on his palms and whatever he earned therefrom, he gave it all in charity and in order to control his hunger he tied a stone on his stomach.

Allamah Kafawi has written in Tabaqat that once Ali (a.s) was in a duel with an infidel. The infidel said, “I like this sword of yours, let me see it.” At once Ali (a.s) handed him the sword. The man said, “Now that I am having your sword, how would you escape me now?” Ali (a.s) said, “You had begged me for it and my generosity did not permit that I should have refused you, even though you are a disbeliever. As for the question of my survival, the shield of Allah's help is sufficient for me.” Hearing this reply the opponent converted to Islam.

The Imam used to say, “I am surprised at those who purchase slaves with their wealth and make freemen slaves by doing monetary favors to them.”

The account of the generosity and charity of Imam Ali (a.s) is so vast that if mentioned in detail would alone make up a thick volume. Therefore we are content to write this much.

Generosity Of Imam Hasan (a.s)

Once a person requested the Imam (a.s) for an amount of 50,000 dirhams. The Imam told him to bring a porter to carry away the money. When the porter was brought Imam (a.s) gave him his cloak and said, “The labor should also be paid by us.”

This anecdote was reported by someone to Muawiyah who wrote to Imam Hasan (a.s), “I have heard that you are giving away 50,000 to each applicant. Is it not wastefulness?” The Imam replied, “There is no wastefulness in charity (or good deeds). I am ashamed that I should reject the plea of a petitioner. The Almighty has given me a kingdom and released His bounties on me. Thus I only convey His bounties to His creatures. If I stop this I am afraid He would also restrain His bounties from me.”

Generosity Of Imam Husain (a.s)

The generosity of Imam Husain (a.s) is well known. Once Usamah bin Zaid was seriously ill. He went to visit him and when he reached near him, he heard him say, “O! What a great sorrow!” The Imam asked what his problem was. He said that he was in a debt of 60,000 dirhams and now that death was near, the pain of inability of repayment of debt was not less than the pain of death. The Imam said, “Do not worry your debt is my responsibility.”

Usamah said, “What if I die before the debt is repaid?” Imam said, “Rest assured, I will repay your loans before you pass away.” So the Imam returned to his house, called Usamah's creditors and repaid his loans.

Marwan the Governor of Medina was once very angry at the poet Farazdaq and ordered that he may be exiled therefrom. Being highly disconcerted he came to the Imam Husain (a.s) and said that since he was exiled, he needed 4000 dirhams to settle down wherever he is sent. The Imam gave him the money. Someone said, “Farazdaq is a careless fellow and a poet by profession. Why did you give me such a big amount?” The Imam said, “The best wealth is that by which you protect your honor. My grandfather had shown the same generosity with Ka'ab bin Zubair.”

An Arab came to Medina and asked, “Who is the most generous person in the town?” People directed him to Imam Husain (a.s).

He came to the Imam and recited three couplets in his praise. The Imam asked his servant how much of the money of Hijaz remained with him. The servant informed him that 4000 dinars were left. The Imam tied up all that money in a piece of cloth and told the servant to call the poet. When the poet arrived, the Imam handed the money to him from behind the door and in reply to his three couplets, the Imam himself recited three couplets that conveyed the following:

Take this and forgive me for this little amount but be assured that I am concerned about your condition.

If the rulership had been in my hands you would have seen how the rain of our generosity rains.

But times keep on changing. At present I do not have much.

Hearing all this, the Arab began to weep. The Imam asked him why he was crying, “Maybe you are unhappy at the paucity of what I gave you?” He said, “It is not so, but I am weeping because such a magnanimous personality has to lie beneath the dust one day.”

Abdur Rahman Aslami was a teacher of one of the sons of Imam Husain (a.s). He had taught the child Surah al-Hamd (the first chapter of Quran) by heart. When he brought the child to his father and made him recite the Surah the Imam was very pleased and gave the teacher a thousand dinars, a lot of clothes and had his mouth filled with pearls. Someone asked the Imam the reason of such generosity. My generosity cannot be equal to what he has given to me.”

Generosity Of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s)

In spite of straitened circumstances, Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) used to regularly help the poor and destitute of Medina. He used to carry sacks full of dates and bread on his shoulders and distribute it to their houses.

Ibne Ishaq says many poor people of Medina used to receive food daily and they did not know its source. When the Imam passed away and the people did not receive their meals it was revealed that their provider was Ali Ibnul Husain (a.s).

It is written that when the Imam was being given the funeral bath a dark scar was seen on the back. When someone asked what it was, it was replied, “This is due to the sacks of flour the Imam carried to the poor of Medina during the darkness of the night. Our charity has passed away with Ali Ibnul Husain (a.s).”

Generosity Of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s)

Like his forefathers Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) was also very generous. He never sent away a petitioner empty-handed. Once he was himself in a precarious financial condition and did not even have anything to eat. Just then he received 2000 dinars as Khums money, but he distributed it all among the poor and the needy. Someone told him, “You did not consider your family.” The Imam replied, “We Ahl ul-Bayt are used to poverty and hunger and we are not much troubled by it; like other people who become restless and start complaining to Allah. We do not like that any poor or deprived person should complain about the Lord. We are always thankful to the bounties of God.”

Generosity Of Imam Ja'far As-Sadiq (a.s)

The Imam's special servant Moalla (r.a.) says that one day he saw the Imam going towards the Bani Saada neighborhood. “I also followed him. On the way something dropped from the hands of the Imam. I tried to pick it up, and saw that many loaves of bread were strewn on the ground. I picked them one by one and handed them over to Imam who began to insert them in the bag flung over his arm. I asked him to hand over the bag to me, but he refused. Upon reaching the Bani Saada area we saw that some people were lying asleep. The Imam kept one loaf of bread near the head of each person. I asked the Imam if they were his Shias. Imam replied, 'If they had been our Shias I would have brought for them curry to eat the bread with. O Moalla! Remember the charity of the night cools down Divine anger and makes the accounting easy and the charity of the day prolongs ones life and increases wealth. O Moalla! Charity must not be limited to human beings. Animals too are deserving of it. Thus when Isa (a.s) once reached the riverside he took out a loaf of bread from the loaves he was carrying for himself and threw it in the river. Someone remarked that he was wasting the sustenance of Allah in this way. He said: The marine creatures would consume it. And I would get its reward.'”

Abu Ja'far Khashyami says that once the Imam handed him a bag of money and told him to deliver it to such and such Hashemite man and tell him that so and so has sent it. And the Imam told him a fictitious name. So he took the money and delivered it as directed by the Imam. The recipient was very happy on getting the money and he said, “May Allah give him good rewards, he always sends us this amount, which lasts us for a whole year. But Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s), in spite of having so much money does not help us.”

It is narrated from Fuzail Ibne Abi Marwah that one day he saw that the Imam had spread his cloak and many bags containing loaves of bread were kept on it. The Imam was picking up one bag after the other and handing them over to his servant instructing him: Give this to so and so, this to so and so and say this has come to you from Iraq. When the servants returned after distributing the bread they reported that the recipients were complaining about the Imam. Hearing this, Imam (a.s) went into prostration and said, “Humble my head for the descendants of my father, that when I hear my criticism from their tongue I don't feel bad about it.”

It is reported in Biharul Anwar that once Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) was in Mina and he has partaking some grapes when a beggar came asking for alms. The Imam picked up a bunch of grapes and offered him, but he refused saying he didn't need them. So the Imam took them back. Just then another beggar arrived and the Imam gave him only three grapes. The man thanked the Almighty and the Imam gave him as many grapes his hands could hold. The beggar thanked the Almighty again and the Imam this time gave him 30 dirhams also. Once more the beggar thanked Allah and Imam took off his cloak and handed it over to him. Now the fellow said, “May Allah reward you!” The narrator says that if that beggar had again thanked Allah and not prayed for the Imam, he (the Imam) would have bestowed him something more.

One day a person came to him soliciting charity and the Imam ordered his servant to give him 400 dirhams. The servant obliged and the petitioner thanked and moved ahead. The Imam told the servant to recall the man who thought that may be the Imam intended to take back the money. But when he came to the Imam he said, “The best charity is that one makes the eligible petitioner self-sufficient. Whatever I have given you is less in my view. So I also give you this ring worth 10,000 dirhams that you may sell when need arises.”

Generosity Of Imam Musa Kazim (a.s)

Imam Musa Kazim (a.s) got very few opportunities to express his generosity because he spent a good part of his life in prison. That is almost fifteen years. As a poet says:

The Imam's imprisonment was so prolonged,That his youth and old age passed in prison.

In spite of this he was always helping the needy believers. One day an applicant came to him and pleaded that he was indebted for 400 dirhams. The Imam furnished him the amount. Then he said that his clothes were completely worn out. The Imam gave him his own dress. Now he said that he had no mount to ride on. The Imam gave him a horse. After that the man said that he did not know the way. The Imam sent his slave along with him. Finally the man said, “Master! I have no need for all these things. I had only come to test the generosity of Ahl ul-Bayt. I am actually a very wealthy man, and I have brought these 5000 dirhams for you. It is by way of Khums payment.” The Imam smiled, took the money and at that very moment summoned the needy Sadat (Syeds) and distributed it all among them.

Generosity Of Imam Reza (a.s)

One day Mamun sent him 10,000 dinars and conveyed that the Imam may use it for his personal needs. The Imam distributed all the money on the poor and destitutes. When Mamun learnt of this, he was very unhappy and he said, “I had sent you the money for personal use and not for squandering it.” The Imam said, “I was not deserving of it. What personal expenses do I have to need such money? My sack is intact by the Grace of Allah. The dress I had brought from Medina is still with me. I get barley bread for food. When I have no need for anything, in what could I have utilized your gift?”

A petitioner once told him that he was in need. “Help as much as you have the generosity to do so.” The Imam said that it was not possible. So he said, “Then give according to my worth.” “Yes, this is possible,” said the Imam and instructed his slave to give him 200 gold coins.

Ahmed bin Abdullah Ghaffari says that he was indebted to someone. “When the creditor insisted for immediate repayment of the loan I decided to approach Imam Reza (a.s) after the Morning Prayer. When I reached him he was about to take some gold coins somewhere. I related to him the circumstances and begged him to request the creditor not to insist so much for the liquidation of the debt. But there was no mention at all, of the amount I owned. The Imam told me to wait till he returned. So I sat down and waited. When the Imam returned he told me to raise the cover of the floor spread and take whatever was underneath. I saw dinars lying there. I picked them silently and returned home. When I counted the money I found it to be 48 dinars and on one Dinar, it was written: Your debt is 28 dinars. Repay it and utilize the remaining 20 dinars for yourself. I was astounded how the Imam knew how much I owed.”

A person came to him and said that he had come for Hajj and all the money he had brought was exhausted. And if the Imam could provide him enough money to reach home he would, upon reaching, give that amount in charity on behalf of the Imam. He also mentioned to the Imam that since he was well to do he did not deserve charity. The Imam went inside, stretched out his hand and said, “O Khorasani gentleman! Take these 200 Dinars and arrange for your journey home. There is no need for you to give this amount in charity on our behalf. We have given it to you. But now you leave this place so that neither I see you nor you see me.” When the man had left someone remarked, “Your highness did not fall short in generosity, then what was the need to hide you countenance?” The Imam replied, “It was due to the thought that I may not see embarrassment on his face for asking me and for having his need fulfilled. Have you not heard this tradition of the Holy Prophet (S) that one who conceals a good deed becomes eligible for the reward of seventy Hajj pilgrimages? And one who exposes an evil deed is a degraded one and one who conceals it is forgiven?”

Once on the day of Arafat the Holy Imam distributed all his household belongings in charity on the way of Allah.

Generosity Of Imam Muhammad Taqi (a.s)

The door of the Holy Imam was always open to deliver benevolence. Like his Holy ancestors, Imam had a very generous heart. Many eligible poor people of Medina used to get a stipend from the Imam. No applicant went dejected from his door. For the people in need in other places, the Imam used to dispatch funds to his representatives. The deprived ones of Medina in addition to monetary help also received free meals but all this charity was performed in such a secret way that no one knew who was behind it. On most of the nights the Imam himself roamed the streets and by-lanes of Medina carrying victuals for the poor. Whenever he found a needy one he gave him from behind a door or a wall or covered his own face.

Generosity Of Imam Ali Naqi (a.s)

There was a perpetual crowd of orphans and destitutes outside the residence of the Holy Imam. People used to sit on the way Imam was about to pass by. This was in spite of the fact that he was leading a very hand to mouth existence in the Iraqi town of Samarrah. Yet he never rejected a petitioner who pleaded to him for assistance. He used to make the young orphans sit before him. Then he caressed their heads with affection and fulfilled all their wishes. In the dead of the night the Imam personally carried food to the houses of orphans, widows and deprived people.

Generosity Of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s)

It is narrated from Ali Ibne Ibrahim Ibne Ja'far (a.s) that once he was facing much poverty. “My father said: Let us go to Imam Hasan Askari (a.s). He is very generous and he would definitely help us. Thus we set out to meet the Imam. On the way my father said that he expected 500 dirhams from the Imam. And that if we got that much amount we would spend 200 dirhams for making clothes and the rest would be utilized for rations etc. Upon reaching the Imam's house we conveyed through the sentry, news of our arrival. After some time a slave appeared and informed us that the Imam was waiting for us. Both of us stepped inside. The Imam said, 'Why did you not inform me about you condition before this?' My father said it was due to embarrassment mostly and secondly he felt ashamed to meet the Imam in such shabby clothes. Hearing this, the Imam fell silent and after sometime bid us farewell with the same servant. When we reached the door the servant gave my father a bag containing 500 dirhams and said: Spend 200 dirhams on clothes and 300 on other requirements. The he took out another bag and said: It contains 300 dirhams, 100 for clothes, 100 for household needs and 100 for purchasing a mount. He then said that the Imam has also advised them against traveling to the mountains and instead suggested a particular area where very soon Allah would remove our poverty.”[11]

Ismail bin Muhammad says: One day I squatted on the way so that when Imam Hasan Askari (a.s) passes by I may mention my needs. Thus when the Imam happened to pass by I uttered the legal oath and said that I was very severely in need at that time. I don't have a penny. The Imam said, “Why do you utter a false oath? Have you not buried 200 gold coins in the ground?” When I heard this I hung down my head in shame. The Imam said, “I mention it not because I didn't want to give you anything.” Then he told his slave to give me all he had. The slave gave one hundred gold coins. When I walked away with the money, the Imam said, “Remember! The money you have buried and not spent on lawful needs would be of no use to you.” Ismail says, “The prophecy of the Imam proved true. When I dug the ground I found the money gone.”

A point needs to be clarified regarding the generosity of the Holy Imams (a.s). A question arises that from where the Imams (a.s) got so much wealth that they distributed hundreds of dirhams and dinars without any qualms? They had no connection with rulership. The rulers were always antagonistic to them to have helped them. The Imams (a.s) themselves did not practice any profession that could have generated so much wealth. When they were themselves leading such a life of financial hardship, from where did they get all the money for charity?

The explanation is first of all the Holy Imams (a.s) were the trustees of all the endowments of the Sadat (Syeds). Secondly the followers of Ahl ul-Bayt paid their Zakat and Khums money to the Imam of the time. This was sometimes sent secretly and sometimes openly. This was the reason that the temporal rulers were always suspicious that the Imams (a.s) were gathering forces to revolt against them. Although after investigations their suspicion always proved wrong. All the monies that Imams (a.s) received in this way were swiftly distributed among the deserving people. They hardly used anything from it themselves. For their own upkeep they either spent from the money they received from orchards etc. or by the labor of their own hands. Or when the above was not possible they only took as much from the Khums money as was necessary to avoid death.


[11] Rawdatus Safa