Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Islam - A religion of works - Giving alms

This is a continuation of a multi-post article. You can read the first post here and the previous post here. This is also part of a larger series called "The Koran from a Christian perspective." You can find other posts in this series here.
We live in a fallen world and poverty is just one of the aspects of its fallenness. From almost the beginning of time, the poor have been with us and Jesus promises us they will always remain with us until the end of this age. When Judas was incensed at the woman who poured a full bottle of perfume on Jesus' feet rather than selling it and giving the money from its sale to the poor, Jesus said, "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me." (Mark 14:7) Poverty is a reality of the world we live in and it is the responsibility of pious and religious people to help those whose stuck in poverty; those who cannot clime out of it on their own. This is true for Christians as it is for Muslims.
"If you publish [give openly] your freewill offerings, it is excellent; but if you conceal them, and give them to the poor, that is better for you, and will acquit you of your evil deeds; God is aware of the things you do." (Koran 2:273)
Muhammad promises that if we give to the poor, God will acquit us of our evil deeds. In many religions, including Islam, the offering of alms is a form of penance; a way of paying for our sins. Consider the case in the Koran where one of the acts of penance for breaking an oath is the feeding of the poor.
"God will not take you to task for a slip [a mistaken word] in your oaths; but He will take you to task [punish you] for such bonds as you have made by oaths [taken seriously], whereof the expiation is to feed ten poor persons with the average of the food you serve to your families, or to clothe them, or to set free a slave; or if any finds not the means, let him fast for three days. That is the expiation of your oaths when you have sworn; but keep your oaths. So God makes clear to you His signs; haply you will be thankful." (Koran 5:91)
Alms are not only prescribed for the sake of love and compassion, but for the sake of cleansing our soul from sin and wrong doing. 

Jesus never prescribed penance for anyone seeking forgiveness and neither did any of His apostles in their teachings or their letter to the churches, even when dealing with issues of sin in those letters, The giving of alms, nor any other work, was ever given as the means to acquit us of our sins and to cleanse us of our wrong. When a sinner came to Jesus, He simply forgave them and sent them on their way. "Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:2) In telling a parable of the differences between a proud man and humble man, He says, "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'" (Luke 18:13) Jesus tells us, "this man went to his house justified rather than the other." (Luke 18:14) Repentance brought forgiveness without the need for penance. Furthermore, John teaches us that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) It is confession that cleanses us from unrighteousness not penance or the giving of alms.

One other point of interest, the Koran makes no distinction between alms given publicly and those given in private. One may be better than the other, but both accrue to us as benefits.
"Those who expend their wealth [give away their substance] night and day, secretly [in private] and in public, their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow [be put to grief]." (Koran 2:275)
However, Jesus clearly taught us, "So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:2-4) Those who give their alms publicly, to be seen by men, have their rewards already from the approbation and praise of men, There remains for them no other reward in heaven or from God; they have it in full already.

Jesus taught us, not to give our alms out of obligation, as through religious duty, or out of greed, as looking forward to the increase that might accrue to us, or out of pride, looking for the praise of men, rather to give our alms out of love. Paul reminds us, "if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:3) Let love be our sole motivation for giving alms and for caring for the poor.

More to come...
David Robison

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