Question: What would you say about financial forms of worship? Are there any conditions and guidelines for well-off believers regarding donations and charity?
Worship is essentially categorized into two sections: worship through financial/material means and physical/bodily worship. This categorization does not mean they are totally unrelated; in many ways, they are interconnected. For example, the daily prayers that we perform with our bodies certainly have material aspects, like time and place. As a matter of fact, the inner and outer conditions that are required for a proper prayer (like cleanliness, washing, dressing, etc.) are also related to the material world, too.
Alms is a kind of fiscal worship, but it also requires one to labor in a job or be physically present in the marketplace, so as to achieve a certain degree of wealth from which to give charity. The Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy lands of Mecca and Medina, is a financial worship, in one aspect, and a physical form of worship, in another: a Muslim has to be financially able to afford the travel to the holy lands, where he or she has to endure physical difficulties, like the long trip and certain rituals, like circumambulation around the Ka'ba, standing vigil all day, etc. Fasting, too, may be considered within this frame. Four of the five essential principles of Islam have a considerable association with the material world as well as the spiritual one.
In today's world, it is important to contribute to good religious services by alms, charity, and donations. But such financial contributions do not absolve one from other forms of worship and good work that need to be performed physically. For example, Abu Bakr had been among the well-to-do of Mecca when he met the Prophet. Bu he spent all his wealth for the sake of Islam and he had nothing to leave behind when he died. He also physically participated in the emigration to Medina and he also fought in many battles.
Financial worship may be more important at certain times. But, this is not an absolute truth. It varies depending on time, place, and the respective conditions of people.
We can assess the issue from two perspectives: 1) Giving less or more charity depending on wealth; 2) giving within certain parameters. There exists a distorted and incorrect understanding among some believers. They say: "My financial situation is not high enough, I do not own a fortune; so, I am not obliged to observe any financial worship." No; this thought is absolutely wrong. Every single person is obliged to observe his or her responsibilities within the capacity bestowed upon him or her by God Almighty. However much or little one earns, believers should always seek God's good pleasure by giving in charity as much as they can, for God considers sincerity, rather than the amount given. In the words of Bediuzzaman, "An ounce of sincere worship may sometimes be superior to the one that weighs pounds but is not practiced in sincerity." As a consequence, every single person is obliged to mobilize on the divine path to God's contentment.
It is very difficult for a person to both give away in charity and maintain his or her sincerity. Those who can manage this will surely be rewarded beyond measure. If one can overcome the welfare and comfort that come with wealth, can avoid ostentation, and can keep their sincerity and connection with God strong, their rewards will surely be abundant in proportion to the difficulties they face.
The second aspect of the matter relates to the parameters and guidelines for such donations. There are certain minimum degrees for financial obligations in charity. In the case of Islam, for instance, it is compulsory for wealthy Muslims to give a minimum of 2.5 per cent of their annual wealth in charity. There are other rules for wealth in gold, silver, commercial goods, crops, etc.
But we have to remember that these are minimum figures and many lofty goals and good services cannot be attained through merely giving these minimums. Therefore, every single individual should work hard to donate beyond the minimum amount of obligatory alms. We wholeheartedly believe that whatever is given today in the name of God will be multiplied by the thousands in the next life. Yes, everybody is obliged to serve on the way to God with his or her self and goods. But there are no limiting criteria; everything is relative.
Even if we gave away all we own on the path to God, we should still see it as a very minor sacrifice when compared to the ideal we have been wishing to construct.