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Living The Quran

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From Issue: 960 [Read full issue]

Compassion Fatigue
Al-Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 263

"Kind words and forgiveness are better than charity followed by hurt. God is All-sufficient, All-forbearing."

While giving in charity is necessary to achieve the objective of the Quran—the betterment of the poor, of society and humanity as a whole—it has some major pitfalls. Charity must not become a vanity project. It must not merely serve to illustrate how much more some people have than others. A harsh word can undermine all the good that charity may bring, the kind of hurtful words that humiliate those in need by making them feel inadequate because they are poor. Likewise, charity distributed to emphasise one's benevolence defeats its purpose, which is improving the understanding and fellow-feeling between those who give and those who receive.

Charity is not given to gain favours of others, to acquire status in society, or to draw attention to oneself, 'to be seen by men': all of which are rather common in contemporary society. I cannot argue with the objective of Band Aid, Comic Relief and Pudsey Bear in his annual events, but shouldn't we question whether they have become a convention that depends on drawing attention to our giving, on suggesting that only if we get fun and entertainment and a pat on the back for our efforts are we prepared to give to those in need? Are we really doing the right thing in encouraging children to go from door to door rustling up sponsorship so that they can give money to charity? Is that how we should teach the real etiquette of charity to the next generation? Such strategies to raise charitable donations are part of a world that fears compassion fatigue. While there is nothing wrong in giving 'charity openly', provided it is done in the right way, the most important lesson is that there never should or can be a case for compassion fatigue. Charity is solely to earn God's pleasure, whose Compassion is Infinite; our duty is to try and mirror this unending compassion, on which we depend, in all activities including charity. It is an act of worship that connects us directly to God. It remains a duty, a constant obligation until such time as we eradicate poverty and the causes of poverty, and need and the causes of need. It is a double imperative: on the one hand, to appreciate its true meaning; and on the other hand, to operate it in an appropriate manner to serve the real interests of its recipients, not our assessment of what is good enough for them.

Compiled From:
"Reading the Qur'an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of Islam" - Ziauddin Sardar, pp. 189-192

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