THE UNCOVERING OF THE SIXTH VEIL: CONCERNING ALMS (al-zakat)
Alms is one of the obligatory ordinances of the faith. It becomes due on the completion of a benefit; e.g., two hundred dirhems constitute a complete benefit (ni'mati tamam), and anyone who is in possession of that sum ought to pay five dirhems; or if he possesses twenty dinars he ought to pay half a dinar; or if he possesses five camels he ought to pay one sheep, and so forth. Alms is also due on account of dignity (jah), because that too is a complete benefit. The Apostle said: "Verily, God has made it incumbent upon you to pay the alms of your dignity, even as He has made it incumbent upon you to pay the alms of your property"; and he said also: "Everything has its alms, and the alms of a house is the guest-room."
Alms is really thanks giving for a benefit received, the thanks being similar in kind to the benefit. Thus health is a great blessing, for which every limb owes alms. Therefore healthy persons ought to occupy all their limbs with devotion and not yield them to pleasure and pastime, in order that the alms due for the blessing of health maybe fully paid. Moreover, there is an alms for every spiritual blessing, namely, outward and inward acknowledgment of that blessing in proportion to its worth. Thus, when a man knows that the blessings bestowed upon him by God are infinite, he should render infinite thanks by way of alms. The Sufis do not consider it praiseworthy to give alms on account of worldly blessings, because they disapprove of avarice, and a man must needs be extremely avaricious to keep two hundred dirhems in his possession for a whole year and then give away five dirhems in alms. Since it is the custom of the generous to lavish their wealth, and since they are disposed to be liberal, how should alms giving be incumbent upon them?
I have read in the Anecdotes that a certain formal theologian, wishing to make trial of Shibli, asked him what sum ought to be given in alms. Shibli replied: "Where avarice is present and property exists, five dirhems out of every two hundred dirhems, and half a dinar out of every twenty dinars. That is according to thy doctrine; but according to mine, a man ought not to possess anything, in which case he will be saved from the trouble of giving alms." The divine asked: "Whose authority do you follow in this matter?" Shibli said: "The authority of Abu Bakr the Veracious, who gave away all that he possessed, and on being asked by the Apostle what he had left behind for his family, answered, God and His Apostle. And it is related that 'Ali said in an ode :—
"Almsgivng is not incumbent on me,
For how can a generous man be required to give alms?"
But it is absurd for anyone to cultivate ignorance and to say that because he has no property he need not be acquainted with the theory of almsgiving. To learn and obtain knowledge is an essential obligation, and to profess one's self independent of knowledge is mere infidelity. It is one of the evils of the present age that many who pretend to be pious dervishes reject knowledge in favour of ignorance. The author says: "Once I was giving devotional instruction to some novices in Sufi'ism and was discussing the chapter on the poor rate of camels (sadaqat aFibil) and explaining the rules in regard to she-camels that have entered on their third or second or fourth year (bint-i labun u bint-i makhad u hiqqa). An ignorant fellow, tired of listening to my discourse, rose and said: 'I have no camels: what use in this knowledge to me?' 1 answered: 'Knowledge is necessary in taking alms no less than in giving alms: if anyone should give you a shc-camel in her third year and you should accept her, you ought to be informed on this point; and even though one has no propety and does not want to have any property, he is not thereby relieved from the obligation of knowledge.1"
Some of the Sufi Shaykhs have accepted alms, while others have declined to do so. Those whose poverty is voluntary (ba-ikhtiyar) belong to the latter class. "We do not amass property," they say, "therefore we need not give alms; nor will we accept alms from worldlings, lest they should have the upper hand (yad-i 'ulya) and we the lower (yad-i sufla)." But those who in their poverty are under Divine compulsion (mudtarr) accept alms, not for their own wants but with the purpose of relieving a brother Muslim of his obligation. In this case the receiver of alms, not the giver, has the upper hand; otherwise, the words of God, "And He accepteth the alms" (Qur.ix, 105), are meaningless, and the giver of alms must be superior to the receiver, a belief which is utterly false. No: the upper hand belongs to him who takes something from a brother Muslim in order that the latter may escape from a heavy responsibility. Dervishes are not of this world (dunya'i), but of the next world ('uqba'i), and if a dervish fails to relieve a worldling of his responsibility, the worldling will be held accountable and punished at the Resurrection for having neglected to fulfil his obligation. Therefore God afflicts the dervish with a slight want in order that worldlings maybe able to perform what is incumbent upon them. The upper hand is necessarily the hand of the dervish who receives alms in accordance with the requirement of the law, because it behoves him to take that which is due to God. If the hand of the recipient were the lower hand, as some anthropomorphists (ahl-i hashw) declare, then the hands of the Apostles, who often received alms due to God and delivered it to the proper authority, must have been lower (than the hands of those who gave the alms to them). This view is erroneous; its adherents do not see that the Apostles received alms in consequence of the Divine command. The religious Imams have acted in the same manner as the Apostles, for they have always received payments due to the public treasury. Those are in the wrong who assert that the hand of the receiver is the lower and that of the giver is the higher.
Chapter on Liberality and Generosity
In the opinion of theologians liberality (jud) and generosity (sakha), when regarded as human attributes, are synonymous; but God, although He is called liberal (jawad), is not called generous (sakhi), because He has not called Himself by the latter name, nor is He so called in any Apostolic Tradition. All orthodox Muslims are agreed that it is not allowable to apply to God any name that is not proclaimed in the Quran and the Sunnahh: thus He maybe called knowing ('alim), but not intelligent ('aqil)or wise (faqih), although the three terms bear the same signification. Hence God is called liberal, since that name is accompanied by His blessing; and He is not called generous, since that name lacks His blessing. Men have made a distinction between liberality (jud) and generosity (sakha), and have said that the generous man discriminates in his liberality, and that his actions arc connected with a selfish motive (gharad) and a cause (sabab). This is a rudimentary stage in liberality, for the liberal man does not discriminate, and his actions arc devoid of self-interest and without any secondary cause. These two qualities were exhibited by two Apostles, viz., Abraham, the Friend of God (Khalil), and Muhammad, the Beloved of God (Habib). It is related in the genuine Traditions that Abraham was accustomed not to eat anything until a guest came to him. Once, after three days had passed without the arrival of a guest, a fire worshipper appeared at the door, but Abraham, on hearing who he was, refused to give him entertainment. God reproached him on this account, saying: "Wilt not thou give a piece of bread to one whom I have nourished for seventy years?" But Muhammad, when the son of Hatim visited him, spread his own mantle on the ground for him and said: "Honour the noble chieftain of a people when he comes to you." Abraham's position was generosity, but our Apostle's was liberality.
The best rule in this matter is set forth in the maxim that liberality consists in following one's first thought, and that it is a sign of avarice when the second thought prevails over the first; for the first thought is unquestionably from God. I have read that at Nishapur there was a merchant who used regularly to attend the meetings held by Shaykh Abu Said. One day a dervish who was present begged the Shaykh to give him something. The merchant had a dinar and a small piece of clipped money (qurada). His first thought was: "I will give the dinar," but on sccond thoughts he gave the clipped piece. When the Shaykh finished his discourse the merchant asked: "Is it right for anyone to contend with God?" The Shaykh answered: "You contended with Him: He bade you give the dinar, but you gave the clipping." I have also read that Shaykh Abu Abdullah Rudbari came to the house of a disciple in his absence, and ordered that all the effects in the house should be taken to the bazaar. When the disciple returned he was delighted that the Shaykh had behaved with such freedom, but he said nothing. His wife, however, tore off her dress and flung it down, saying: "This belongs to the effects of the house." The husband exclaimed: "You are doing more than is necessary and showing self-will." "O husband," said she, "what the Shaykh did was the result of his liberality: we too must exert ourselves (takalluf kunim) to display liberality." "Yes", replied the husband, "but if we allow the Shaykh to be liberal, that is real liberality in us, whereas liberality, regarded as a human quality, is forced and unreal." A disciple ought always to sacrifice his property and himself in obedience to the command of God. Hence Sahl b. 'Abdullah (al-Tustari) said: "The Sufis blood maybe shed with impunity, and his property maybe seized." I have heard the following story of Shaykh Abu Muslim Farisi: "Oncc (he said) I set out with a number of people for the Hijaz. Tn the neighbourhood of Hulwan we were attacked by Kurds, who stripped us of our patched frocks. Wc offered no resistance. One man, however, became greatly excited, whereupon a Kurd drew his scimitar and killed him, notwithstanding our entreaties that his life might be spared. On our asking why he had killed him he answered: 'Because he is no Sufi and acts disloyally in the company of saints: such a one is better dead.' We said: 'How so?' He replied: 'The first step in Sufi'ism is liberality. This fellow, who was so desperately attached to these rags that he quarrelled with his own friends, how should he be a Sufi? His own friends, I say, for it is a long time since we have been doing as you do, and plundering you and stripping you of worldly encumbrances.'"1 A man came to the house of Hasan b. Ali and said that he owed four hundred dirhems. Hasan gave him four hundred dinars and went into the house, weeping. They asked him why he wept. He answered: "I have been remiss in making inquiry into the circumstances of this man, and have rcduced him to the humiliation of begging." Abu Sahl Su'luki never put alms into the hand of a dervish, and always used to lay on the ground anything that he gave. "Worldly goods," he said, "are too worthless to be placed in the hand of a Muslim, so that my hand should be the upper and his the lower."' I once met a dervish to whom a Sultan had sent three hundred drachms of pure gold. He went to a bath house, and gave the whole sum to the superintendent and immediately departed. 1 have already discussed the subject of liberality in the chapter on preference (ithar), where I have dealt with the doctrine of the Nuris.
1 Here follows a story of 'Abdullah b. Ja'far and an Abyssinian slave, who
let a dog eat the whole of his daily portion of food.
2 Here the author relates three short anecdotes illustrating the liberality of Muhammad.