Give Him the Fish: Generosity in Islam (Video)

Ramadan: A Month of Generosity
She buys the fish and she goes back home. She gets it ready again for her husband and she puts it in front of him...

I’m shooting this video from the hills of Granada, near a city called Lanjaron, which in Arabic is called Ain Haroun because of the well that is built there.

What I would like to talk about today is the concept of generosity in Islam, and I would like to start by saying that generosity in Islam is actually the highest form of selfishness, I will explain what I mean by that, don’t worry.

Let me first start off by narrating to you a story of Abdallah ibn Umar, the son of the second Caliph. His wife loves him tremendously and she wants to get him something that she knows he loves. Abdallah loves grilled or barbequed fish more than any other meal, more than anything else.

Watch brother Abdel Rahman Musa’s Talk

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Story of a Special Fish

So she saves up for months upon months, pennies a day, in order to be able to pay for someone that is going to a city near the sea or a river, as they were living in the desert, to go get that fish and bring it back and for her to grill it or barbeque it. So it’s quite a feat. It takes planning and she has to save up to get that done.

So she does so. And eventually after many months, she sets this beautifully-made cooked barbequed or grilled fish in front of her husband and they are about to eat. All of a sudden there is a knock on the door. Abdallah ibn Umar says who is this?

The wife gets up, she checks, she says it’s a man. He’s needy, he’s asking for some donations.

Abdallah ibn Umar says “Give him the fish.”

His wife says “But you love this fish. It took me months upon months to plan this and make it just right for you.”

He said “Yes, this is the most beloved thing to me, and Allah (SWT) says ‘You will never achieve birr until you spend from that what you love’” – and I will explain what the word birr means in a little while.

So she says OK, it’s obvious that he appreciates this gesture, it’s obvious that he appreciates the fish, he says he loves it the most out of all of his possessions, so she gives it to the man. The man takes it, then Abdallah's wife runs after the man and she says “Let me buy the fish from you again.”

The man says of course, the man would prefer that. So she buys the fish and she goes back home. She gets it ready again for her husband and she puts it in front of him.

Abdallah is just about to eat, and then there is another knock on the door.

“Who is this?”

She gets up, it’s the same man.

“What does he want?”

“He says he needs more money.”

He says “Give him the fish.”

She says “But we already gave him the fish.”

He said “Yes, and now it is still my most beloved possession, so give him the fish.”

She says “OK.” She gives him the fish. The man walks away. She runs after him, she says “Can I buy the fish again from you?”

He says “Yes, of course Why not.” He’s thinking it’s good business.

She comes back to her husband. She sets the fish for him. He is just about to eat, and the door knocks again.

“Who is it?” She gets up, she checks, the same man asking for money.

He says “Give him the fish.”

You see, this has happened three times, and all of these times, the second time he did not say to himself why is he back, let me give him something else. No, still he gave him his most prized possession, the thing that he loves the most. So she gives him the fish for the third time, then she runs after him and says: “I swear to you by Allah, please do not return after I give you this money.”

The man agrees, he takes the money and she takes the fish and she sets it in front of her husband, and he begins to eat without any interruptions.

Many Lessons

There are many lessons in this story.

The first lesson and the one that comes to my mind the quickest is Abdallah ate the fish. You know he gave the fish away the first time, Allah brought it back to him through his wife. He gave the fish the second time, Allah brings back the fish for him again through his wife. He gives the fish the third time, Allah brings the fish back to him again through his wife, and this time he gets to eat it.

Allah (SWT) says that you will never spend anything in the way of Allah, the ayah actually says “Who is it that will give Allah a good loan.” What does “loan” mean?

“Loan” means that you give it and you get it back. Then Allah (SWT) will not just give it back on a one-one-one ratio, but will multiply it exponentiated, multiplied many times, and Allah (SWT) will give him abundant magnificent reward. Some people think that Allah (SWT) gives it back to him as a reward multiplied in the Hereafter, but no because of the fact that Allah (SWT) said that He will reward you and abundantly means this is a different thing, or else Allah (SWT) would not have used the word “and” to imply that there is a different thing. So in this life, you will get that what you gave for Allah back, and this is exactly what we see happening with Abdallh ibn Umar, he got the fish back after the first time, then he gave it again, he got it back, then he gave it again he got it back, and this time he was able to eat it.

wealth is not just money, wealth is everything.

Allah (SWT) says “He will multiply it”, so how come Abdallah ibn Umar got one fish back when he gave one fish?

For this we have to go into the definition of what wealth is. Wealth isn’t just money, wealth isn’t just the fish. Wealth is what you feel, the satisfaction that you have inside of you, that wealth that you have, the joys of life, the friends that you have. You know, your mother or your father, or your sibling, or your son or daughter, or any beloved one might be ill, wealth is that you are healthy, wealth is that the ones you love are healthy. And so when you give something for the sake of Allah (SWT) you will get back more than what you gave.

In this example, we see that Allah (SWT) gave him the fish, but we don’t know what else Allah (SWT) gave him, but guaranteed He gave him something, or more than one thing. And you can even try this for yourself. Give something for the sake of Allah (SWT) and keep your senses open, keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, be aware, stay awake, and notice what Allah (SWT) gives you back. Maybe it is that job opportunity that you thought wouldn’t not come, maybe a friend gives you a loan on such easy terms, and then forgives you later and says I don’t want you to pay me back. Maybe it’s that someone who is ill that you love, or the illness that you had, and all of a sudden you give charity for the sake of Allah – that’s the one caveat, and Allah (SWT) gives you back that money and brings back your health after illness.

So wealth is not just money, wealth is everything: the quality of life, the quality of emotions of the people that you interact with, everything is considered wealth. The Prophet, peace be upon him, says:

“Never has wealth depleted from the giving of charity.”

This keeps on happening and repeats itself so many times. I would be out with friends, and after the meal we’ll argue - because we are Muslims – over who will pay for this meal. “O well you paid last time so let me pay this time" … "No, no. I don’t care if I paid last time, I would like to pay this time as well.” And if that happens, and the person behind the counter is a non-Muslim, I always stop and ask “How does this make you feel?”

Then they always say to me “Spectacular, but the only thing that makes me feel sort of awkward is that I don’t know what to do. Whose money should I accept?” And of course it is always the person who puts his hand into the counter and puts the money, or the one who is the most forceful. And why is this? Because generosity is something you do for Allah.

What Is the Meaning of Birr?

Abdullah ibn Umar said give him the fish because Allah (SWT) says you will not attain birr until you give from that which you love. Birr is that highest form of piety, taqwa. And what is taqwa?

Taqwa is actually more than piety. Taqwa is that Allah (SWT) has ordered you to be somewhere, and He finds you there doing that thing. And He has prohibited you from being somewhere, and He finds that you abstain from being there, you are not there, and you are not doing that thing. So you can measure taqwa everyday; have I done what Allah (SWT) has asked me to do more than yesterday? If so then I have more taqwa. Have I stayed away and abstained from that which Allah (SWT) has prohibited me from doing? Have I abstained more than yesterday? If so then I have more taqwa than yesterday.

So birr is the highest form of taqwa, and this is the secret, the answer to why Ibn Umar gave the fish more than once. You may say yes, he gave the fish once, it was his most beloved possession, he attained birr, but stop right there. Why stop there? Birr is the highest certificate you can attain in terms of taqwa. Why have it once? You know people that graduate, they do their undergraduate studies and walk away with their bachelor or something else with honors, they don’t want to stop there they want to do the masters, and they don’t want to stop there, they do the PhD. And they don’t stop there they want to be a professor.

In terms of wealth, you buy your first car, it’s a go car, afterwards you want to upgrade, you want a car that would be more robust, more reliable, safer, then you upgrade, … etc. Why stop when you can have more?

And so Ibn Umar it’s not enough for him to have attained birr once, he wants to make sure, and he wants to attain that again, and again, and again. And notice the fish keeps coming back, he lost nothing, and yet he attained the highest certificate.

The reason why some people don’t give charity, or when they come to give charity they stop, is that we are afraid.

We do things to attain “certificates” from others, and I’m not just talking about certificates from academic institutes, certificates of people who think I’m cool, certificates that people think that my status in society has risen, women who wear heels so big that it is miraculous that they can even walk in them, and they don’t enjoy the process. Why?

Because it gives them a certificate, a social kudos, it gives them “I’m pretty and you’re not” … etc. When people start to smoke they cough, and it hurts, there is a huge pain barrier, a huge discomfort they have to break through, and yet they will do it. Why? So that my friends can think that I’m cool, so that this, so that that!

So we do these things, and yet if you were to know – truly know and believe in your heart – that anything you gave for the sake of Allah not only will you attain these certificates from Allah (SWT), and the greatest most majestic being is giving you something. Not only that, but you are not losing anything while you are giving. You are losing your health to smoke to gain credibility with your friends, but when you give charity for the sake of Allah, He gives you back, so what is it you are losing? And not only is He giving you back, but He gives you back more than before.

What Stops You From Giving Charity?

The reason why some people don’t give charity, or when they come to give charity they stop, is that we are afraid.

We think that we are our money, so when we give our money we’re giving part of ourselves. And then obviously Allah (SWT) says in the Quran as well that Satan promises you poverty. “O, if you give that two dollars or two pounds you are going to go broke.”

Broke? Really?

But that’s how he makes you feel.

We’ll go for a meal, and we spend twenty, thirty dollars or pounds every so often, but when someone asks us to give that for charity, we think twice. Why? Because we feel like we are losing. And I’m going to end with a story.

When Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, peace be upon him, he came back, and someone had come before he had come and had asked for charity, and she gave him meat and left the shoulder of the lamb. So when the Prophet, peace be upon him, came and said is there anything to eat, she said O Prophet of Allah, I gave … etc. etc. and all we have now is the shoulder of this lamb. What did the Prophet, peace be upon him, reply?

He said Aisha, the only thing we have is that what you gave, and the thing that is to be lost is this shoulder, because we will eat the shoulder ultimately. You will spend your money, you will spend your time, you will spend your health, but if you want it back, and not just back but multiplied, then give it for the sake of Allah (SWT), that’s the one caveat, it has to be for the sake of Allah (SWT), meaning that if I take someone out for a business meeting and I feed him, I’m doing that so that I can get his good graces and potentially have him as a client, it is not for the sake of Allah.

But if I’m giving for the sake of Allah, Allah will give me back more than that which I gave.

To watch this video, click here.

Related Links:
Generosity in Islam: The Power of Giving
Ramadan: A Month of Generosity
Abdur-Rahman ibn Awf (A Symbol of Generosity)
From “Fifteen Minutes for God” to a Lifetime
Wisdom: A Fresh Look at Islam
Abdel Rahman Mussa is the founder of iPersonalEnrichment.com, WhimsiKill.com and iKnowAllah.com. He is a UK-based therapist and a graduate of Shariah. He is also a NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer, Prince 2 practitioner... and happily married with 2 children, amongst other things.

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