WHAT IS SADAQA (THE VOLUNTARY ALMS)?

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The term sadaqa carries the literal meanings of truth, acceptance and concurance.12 Yet in the Qur’an and hadith, the word harbors meanings of greater depth as a source of extreme kindness and benevolence, along with the occasional intimation of charity toward others, or simply refraining from harmful conduct. When Yusuf’s brothers implore him by saying, “Be charitable to us,”13 the word they use in place of “charity” is an etymological derivative of sadaqa. Conversely, while designating the eight groups of zakat recipients14, the word used is also an etymological derivative of sadaqa and alludes to zakat.

The profound depth of sadaqa’s meaning can also be verified through the fact that the word has often been used instead of zakat in many hadiths that elaborate the amount of nisab (e.i. the minimum for zakat becoming payable); moreover the term has been utilized to cover other meanings such as performing virtuous acts, lending a helping hand, enjoining good and prohibiting evil. The following hadith may afford us a clearer understanding of the copious meanings sheltered under one word:

When the Messenger of God (upon him be peace and blessings) told the Companions there is sadaqa on every Muslim, the Companions hastily asked “O the Messenger of God! What if the Muslim couldn’t afford it?” The Noble Messenger gave a counter reply “Then with his own efforts he will work, hence he will benefit himself and be charitable (sadaqa) to others.” “What if he still couldn’t afford it?” again inquired the Companions. “Then he will help those in need,” explained the Messenger. “What if he still could not possess this opportunity?” insisted the Companions. “Then he will perform good acts, protect himself from committing evil; this will also be sadaqa for him.”15

The advice given by the Messenger of God to one of his Companions, Abu Dharr, is along the same lines. To receive the recommendation, Abu Dharr once asked, “O Messenger of God! What should I do, if one day, frailty and powerlessness would befall me?” The Prophet replied, “Then hold back from harming others, as indubitably, that will be a sadaqa for yourself.”16

It is amply evident, the word sadaqa, as utilized in the Qur’an and hadith, accommodates an extensive cluster of meanings that virtually encompass a large aspect of life itself. As an Islamic concept, however, sadaqa is the name given to any offer, deed or presentation where the spiritual payment is expected only from God.17 In the present day, this is the implicit understanding derived from sadaqa. Ultimately, if an analogous comparison were to be undertaken, the outcome would be that “Every zakat is sadaqa, although not every sadaqa is zakat.”

 

Senturk, Omer Faruk. “Charity in Islam” Tughra Books Press. January 2007.