26 Mar, 2023 | Sunday 4-Ramadan-1444
I scratch your back you scratch mine

Hanan was sitting on the stairs around the corner from the dining room hearing the servants making a fuss over which plates to use to serve lunch. Before the summer vacation, her husband forewarned her about this protocol in his family's house every time food is served. Hence, it was no surprise to her. The servants scurried back and forth from the kitchen, scantily making certain each fork, spoon, and knife were proportionate to the plates and main dishes.

Hanan could smell the food and entrees of Italian dishes. Yet, the trace smell of tomatoes, perhaps five different kinds of cheese, and the muffled smell of pasta did not make Hanan hungry. It made her stomach turn. Because above all these senses and sounds, she could hear a woman crying. Whimpering. A loud and angry voice overshadowed the weeping. It was her mother-in-law’s voice, “Didn’t it occur to you that I bought all your father’s medications before he died?!?” Shouting at the servant, she shamelessly added, “How dare you neglect my request?! Don’t you remember that it was me who put your sister through school?! All you had to do was ask your headmistress to sign those papers for me! And you could not even do it! Leave my house! You ungrateful leech!”

Hanan sighed deeply upon hearing this, as it happened all so quickly. Hanan made dua to Allah to end their vacation soon, so she would again be in the silence of her own home. She walked cautiously to the dining room in the hopes that this carnage of decency would end. As the weeping servant left for the kitchen in shame, Hanan’s mother-in-law continued to burble all the favors she had done for that servant’s family.

All vacation long this was the recipe in that house. If her mother-in-law’s painful words of “charity” were not directed at the servants, it was so-and-so and such-and-such family who did not return her mother-in-law a favor. Hanan could not help but think that someday she would be next in line in the slaughterhouse of “I did this for you!”

Thus, Hanan could not wait for the day this dreaded vacation would end. She felt spiritually and morally ill. But out of her daughter-in-law duty, she managed to plaster a smile on her face and cake on compliance in her attitude for a few more days until she and her husband would be back home again.

What's the Difference?

This story may be something you watch from the vulgarity of television. But how different is it from our subtle daily habits? How different is it from asking favors back from people? How different is it from the feelings we have when we do good for others but expect something in return? How many of us actually do others a favor just so we can get a favor in return? And, how many of us are hurt because they did not return it?

I came across a woman who, forever and a day, looked forward to doing others a favor so she could ask the same people to babysit her children in return. And, if they failed to do so, she would in fact call and tell them exactly what she did for them, barefacedly verbalizing the word, “Remember?”

Again let us ask, how different is this from what Hanan witnessed? The only thing different perhaps is the tone of voice, but the bottom line remains the same-- the motto and epitome of materialism: “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” In today's world of calculating gains and losses and time is money, no one does anything without expecting something in return.

On the list of No-No's

This prompts us to take a look at what Allah, the Most Glorious, says about this way of thinking.

Allah, the Highest, says: “Those who spend their wealth in the Cause of Allah and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury, their reward is with their Lord. On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”
[2: 262]

Allah’s statements tell us that those worthy of His praise are those who do not cause harm to those to whom they gave charity to, for this harm will only terminate the charity.

In the same verse, Allah, the Exalted, praises those who spend in His cause while abstaining from reminding those who received the charity, whether they be hints from actions or words. Allah promises, at the same time, the best rewards for them, one of which is they will have no fear from the horrors of the day of judgment.
[tafsir Ibn Kathir]

Allah, the All Mighty, says: “Kind words and forgiving of faults are better than Sadaqah followed by injury. And Allah is Rich (Free of all wants) and He is Most-Forbearing.
[2: 263]

Here we learn that kindhearted, benevolent words and dua’as for Muslims, and forgiveness towards Muslims are better than Sadaqah that is followed by injury. The 'injury' mentioned here refers to both actions or words such as “I did this for you, now you do this for me.”

There are many hadiths that prohibit reminding people of acts of charity. In one of them, Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam said “Three people whom Allah will neither speak to on the day of judgment nor to look at nor purify, and they shall receive a painful torment: he who reminds (the people) of what he gives away, he who lengthens his clothes below the ankles, and he who swears an oath while lying, to sell his merchandise.”

Allah, the Highest, then says in the following verse: “O you who believe! Do not render in vain your Sadaqah by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like him who spends his wealth to be seen of men, and he does not believe in Allah, nor in the Last Day. His likeness is the likeness of a smooth rock on which is a little dust; on it falls heavy rain which leaves it bare. They are not able to do anything with what they have earned. And Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.”
[2: 264]

Again, to stress its importance, Allah reiterates that charity is meaningless if it is followed by harm or reminders. Charity given in this manner is like deeds done by those who only seek to show off to people, and not to please Allah. Allah, the Highest, mentions that they are the ones who do not believe in Allah or in the Last day.

It is clear to understand that if there is fear of Allah and a clear understanding of Allah’s words, then we will know that all these things, from our senses, to our ability to act, to our belongings and stature, are all from Allah. They were not ours in the first place for us to tell people what we have done for them. Unmistakably, if we truly believed in the Last day then we would hesitate to speak unacceptable words be it in times of charity or times of need.

People who remind others of what they have given away are also compared to Safwan (smooth rocks), whose composite eventually wears away because of heavy rainfall. Their deeds are bound to disappear. May Allah protect us from this condition.

What Do We Learn from Allah's name, Al-Wahhab?

One of Allah’s names is Al Wahhab, the Bestower. Allah is the One who gives to everyone what they need, neither for recompense nor out of interest. From Allah’s name- Al Wahhab- we learn a lesson of generosity and unconditional giving.

We also learn its opposite. , whoever gives out, whether they be in the form of actions, words, or material things, with an eye of gain, advantage, or benefit to bring to fruition sooner or later, be this gain in the form of appreciation, affection, release from blame, or attaining worth or attraction- then know that he is neither generous nor a giver. Rather, he is engaged in a material transaction or a form of repayment. It is not sadaqah and is no different from a business deal.

The generous person is one who pours forth goodness in all forms on those who benefit from him, while no repayment or compensation is returning to him, other than the hope of Allah’s reward.

Hence, A Must-Reminder

Allah, the Most Glorious, says: "And the likeness of those who spend their wealth seeking Allah's Pleasure while they in their own selves are sure and certain that Allah will reward them (for their spending in His Cause), is the likeness of a garden on a height; heavy rain falls on it and it doubles its yield of harvest. And if it does not receive heavy rain, light rain suffices it. And Allah is All-Seer of (knows well) what you do."
[2: 265]