Altruism (i'thar), preferring others to oneself when doing a good deed, is, according to the moralists, giving precedence to the common interests of the community over one's own interests; according to Sufis, it is devoting oneself to the lives of others in complete forgetfulness of all concerns of one's own, it is self-annihilation in the interests of others.
The opposite of altruism is the stinginess and selfishness that arise from avarice and attachment to this world. Both stinginess and selfishness are regarded as reasons for becoming distanced from the Creator, the created, and Paradise. While stinginess arises from avarice and attachment to the world, generosity, benevolence, and perfect goodness arise from altruism.
Generosity means that believers give some of their belongings to others without feeling any unease in the heart. Benevolence means considering one's own happiness as dependent on the happiness of others and, more than that, putting the welfare of others ahead of one's own happiness. As for perfect goodness or excellence (ihsan), it means preferring others, even when one is in need oneself. The Qur'an points to such excellence or the highest degree of altruism in this verse (59:9): They feel in their hearts no displeasure because of whatever the others are given, but rather give them preference over themselves, even though poverty be their own lot.
Altruism is valuable when one attains and follows it freely; it has no value if one is forced or if one performs such an act not out of one's own free will.
The generosity and benevolence that arise from and are dimensions of altruism have degrees, as follows:
The first of these degrees of generosity and benevolence is a profound and fundamental dimension of altruism that not everyone can achieve. Mawlana Jami', the author of Baharistan (The Land of Spring), expresses it most memorably:
It is easy to show generosity with gold and silver
Worthy of respect is he who shows generosity with his soul.
Among the characteristics and degrees of those who practice altruism are:
This last one is the attitude and practice of those nearest to God, including primarily the noblest of humankind and the greatest of all times and places, upon him be peace and God's blessings. His Ascension is a demonstration of his being accorded the highest honor and being sought after (by all the angels and many among human beings and jinn) as a reward for his incessant efforts for perfect knowledge of God. His return from the realms beyond the heavens to be among people in this world is such a great degree of altruism that nobody else has ever been able to achieve it. His emerging from Paradise and letting his profuse tears fall into the pits of Hell for the salvation of humankind expresses the greatest possible altruism.
O God! For the sake of your chosen Prophet, Muhammad, make us of those who do not begrudge what has been given to their brothers-in-religion, but prefer them to themselves, even though poverty be their lot, and may Your blessings and peace be on our master Muhammad and on His family and Companions.
 Sunan al-Tirmidhi, "Birr," 40.
 Mawlana Nur al-Din 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad al-Jami' (1414-1492), commonly called the last great classical poet of Persia, and saint, composed numerous lyrics and idylls, as well as many works in prose. His Salaman and Absal is an allegory of profane and sacred love. Some of his other works include Haft Awrang, Tuhfat al-Ahrar, Layla wu Majnun, Fatihat al-Shabab, Lawa'ih, al-Durrah. (Trans.)