GIVING AND RECEIVING AND THE COMMUNITY PANTRY

IJTIHAD

by Mehol K. Sadain

Giving and Receiving are united by a common feeling: the feeling of Gratitude. One who receives is grateful to the giver and God, the Sustainer. One who gives is likewise grateful to God, for giving him the means to give. This is the sum and essence of giving and receiving. Nothing more, nothing less.

One who expects more when he gives is not really giving. He is showing off. Worse, he has a motive and an agenda, other than pleasing God. That is not giving; that is advertising. That is not charity; that is propaganda. For self or for something else.

This is like many media outfits that solicit contributions in money and in kind, then proceed to distribute these to beneficiaries under the full glare of their cameras and nationwide broadcasts, with their company names boldly emblazoned on the donations. This is no different from politicians who distribute goods bought with public money, with their names printed on the packages. And yet the same media outfits have the temerity to castigate politicians for doing what they themselves do to advertise their companies. It is a case of the pan calling the kettle black, both of them blackened by the same wayward fire. Both of them shameless.

The Noble Qur’an declares: “O you who believe, cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury — like those who spend their wealth to be seen of men, but believe neither in God nor in the Last Day. They are in parable, like a hard, barren rock on which is little soil. On it falls heavy rain, which leaves it just a bare stone.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 264]

True charity is not about satisfying one’s ego. It is about altruism — a selfless concern for the good and well-being of others. And if I may add, it is solely about being grateful to God for His blessings, and in the process sharing these blessings with the less fortunate. Again, the Noble Qur’an has this to say: “Whatever of good you give benefits your own souls, and you shall only do so seeking the Face of Allah.” [Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 272] The “Face of Allah” has been interpreted as referring to the All-Encompassing and Omnipresent Supreme Being who has no comparison to anything in existence or non-existence. When one gives, seeking only His Face, one does not expect to see His Countenance anthropomorphically; one wants to feel His Existence as Ar-Rahman wa r-Raheem (The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful), the Source of all sustenance and providence. As Allah says in Surah Al-A’raaf, Verse 156: “My Mercy encompasses all things!” One gives, therefore, for the sake of God, and not for the sake of the self.

Hence, the goodness in a charitable act is cancelled by two things: “reminders of generosity” and “injury”. The first is aggrandisement of the self; while the second is ill motivation against another. Both severe charity from its bond with God, and cancel His “Face” in the act of giving. When one gives seeking himself, or obliterating another, the giving becomes less of the Merciful God and more of the selfish man.

The same thing is true with the altruism of the “community pantry” phenomenon. It is selfless as long as it remains untainted by selfish motives and operates purely as an instrument to ease the sufferings of the poor masses. Some say, it is rooted in the Filipinos’ bayanihan spirit which is actually about getting together and helping each other in the bayan to make work easy, depicted by people getting together to move a house from one place to another. It is about easing difficulty, and in the case of the community pantry, it is about easing the hunger of one’s kababayan.

But there is something more in real charity, something different from bayanihan. While the people who come together to carry a house are afterwards fed by the owner of the house as a show of gratitude for the help, the people who engage in real charity do not expect anything from those they help. Real charity is, after all, selfless and unexpecting of anything from any other human being, except to “seek the Face of God”.   

If the community pantries that are now sprouting like mushrooms are to remain true to the reality of charity, they must be selfless instead of being advertisements for their movers; and they must focus on the advocacy of mercy instead of the propaganda of agitation. Charity is not the exclusive domain of anybody. Neither is it a phenomenon unique only to a particular act of giving. It has been with us in every difficulty, as it has been with us from the beginning of this pandemic. People, individually and in groups, have been giving selflessly whenever there is a crisis, but mostly unannounced, which is the essence of true giving.

Let the community pantries then be the latest symbol of charity, instead of another ploy to cast aspersion on the good work of others. Let them supplement and complement all acts of giving and receiving in this global crisis that have devastated the health and economy of nations. MKS

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