Answered by Ustadh Shuaib Ally
Question: Asalamu alaikum,
How should we react when people ask for money or food, but you don’t know if they are actually poor and there’s a possibility they will use it to buy cigarettes or alcohol? Are we not also encouraging them to beg more if we give money? Also since there is so much need, should we favor giving certain causes over others, concentrate on our locality or balance it out?
Answer: General Ruling of Giving
Giving to others is a highly recommended act, and encouraged in the Qur’an as well as in Prophetic tradition. The Qur’an says, in praising people of righteousness:
They give food to the poor, the orphan, and the captive, though they love it themselves, saying, ‘We feed you for the sake of God alone: We seek neither recompense nor thanks from you.We fear the Day of our Lord––a woefully grim Day.’ So God will save them from the woes of that Day, give them radiance and gladness (76:8-11).
Determining if one is Deserving
One should be generous in giving money or food, and does not need to know that the person asking is actually deserving. Having to ask is usually a sign of need, and people generally do not do so without some underlying need. It is important for people of faith to not judge others, because the condition or need of the person asking is not known.
Using your Donation for something Impermissible
If you are certain that your charity will be used for something impermissible, your charity in that case is also impermissible. However, one usually does not have this level of certainty. Conversely, one does not need to be certain that the person you’ve donated to will not use it for something impermissible. A person who is in a position to help others should do so within reasonable limits and consign the rest to Allah.
Worrying about the Result of your Charity
At an organizational level, one should exercise due diligence and take reasonable steps to ensure that they are supporting credible charities or organizations. At the personal level, the inability to do this prevents people from helping others. However, a person is not responsible for ensuring that the money they’ve donated is used in a pleasing manner; one is rather responsible for responding in ways that are kind, generous and dignified to the situation before them.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: a man said: I will give something in charity. So he went out with his charity and placed it in the hand of a thief. People started to say: A thief has been given charity! So he said: God, to you belongs all praise for the thief! I will still give in charity. So he went out with his charity and placed it in the hand of an adulteress. They started to say: Last night an adulteress was given charity! So he said: God, to you belongs all praise for the adulteress! I will still give in charity. So he went out with his charity and placed it in the hand of a rich person. They started to say: A rich person has been given charity?! He said: God, to you belongs all praise for the thief, the adulteress and the rich person. He later heard it being said to him: Perhaps your charity to the thief will cause him to refrain from theft, and the adulteress from her adultery; and cause the rich person to reflect, in that he gives from what Allah has given him (Agreed Upon).
Does Giving Encourage Bad Behaviour?
Giving does not generally encourage people to ask for more. Most people only do this because they are in actual need. What you are actually doing is helping yourself by responding in ways that are beautiful to the needs of others. The Qur’an reminds us that “What you give in charity is for yourselves”(2:272). The Prophet (peace be upon him) relates in a Hadith Qudsi that Allah says: Give, and you will be given (Agreed Upon).
Where to Give:
At a personal level, one should ensure that they take care of and provide for their families first before attempting to donate to other causes. Following that, one should seek out and support charities or organizations (either local or abroad) that provide wide and lasting benefit. Determining where specifically to give is a personal matter that depends on need, preference, common sense and one’s specific circumstance. The important issue isn’t what specific cause you donate to or what charity you patronize, but that you are doing something sustainable and measurable to make a difference.