Reviving Our Islamic Ethos of Service

The Islamic scholar Al-Nawawi once reported that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said that “Whoever removes a worldly grief from a person in this world, God will remove from him a burden of the Day of Judgement. Whosoever alleviates the burden of a needy person, God will lighten his burdens in this world and the next. God will aid a person as long as a person aids another.”

This central ethos of service to others is a foundational teaching of Islamic ethics. If you look at the history of the prophets- like Jesus and Muhammad (upon them be peace)- you will find that they lived lives of service before (and especially after) prophethood showing the world that true leadership is meant to serve others who are less fortunate.

Long before he was granted prophethood, Prophet Muhammad was widely known as Al-Amin (or “the Trustworthy”). He was recognized by society to be a kind and just human being who served everyone equally and who was known to solve disputes in a fair equitable manner for all parties involved. We should always remember that true leadership is firmly built upon a foundation of trust, from which lasting influence and sincere service rise towards other people.

But sadly, we live in an age of celebrity where a lifetime of selfless service is sometimes lost to the glitz and glamour of the modern age. For instance, last year commemorated the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, which culminated in months of commemorative documentaries and news shows about her legacy.

My father recently remarked that the one thing that stood out the most for him regarding Princess Diana’s death- was that it was literally 6 days before the death of Mother Teresa- who passed away less than a week later on September 5th, 1997. Yet Mother Teresa’s death was barely noticed, vastly eclipsed by the grieving for Diana. Her funeral procession in Calcutta was as quiet and humble as the simple life she had led as an austere nun helping the lepers of India. Mother Teresa, a Catholic nun who devoted her entire adult existence on earth to serving the poorest and most destitute people in the world, has since slipped into relative obscurity.

Did you know that if you make more than $34,000 a year, you’re among the world’s richest 1% of the global population? Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said that, “No money ever decreases because of charityâ€. In the hyper-capitalist era that we live in today, we tend to forget that nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day (which is less than most of us spend on Starbucks coffee every day). Even more staggering is the fact that nearly 20% of the world’s population (more than 1.3 billion) people live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.

“Every single Muslim must give charity every single day,†the prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) once said in a hadith. When asked how human beings could give charity every day, he replied that “your removal of an obstacle in the road is a charitable act; your guiding someone is a charitable act; your visit to the sick is a charitable act; your enjoinment of good to others is a charitable act; your forbidding of others from wrongdoing is a charitable act, and your returning the greeting of peace is a charitable act.â€

So as we begin another calendar year, let us revive our Islamic ethos of service by helping others who are less fortunate than us by donating our time, prayers and money that we would normally spend on a cup of coffee every day.

Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of and brand ambassador for Penny Appeal USA.