There are different words in the Arabic Quran that are used around the concept of giving to charity. The word that most people are probably familiar with is the word Zakat (الزَّكَاة) which is the obligatory charity 2.5% submitters give from the money they earn to those they know directly in need. The word Zakat comes from the root ز ك و which means to purify. This is because when we give Zakat we are purifying our income.
The next word that is typically associated with giving charity in the Quran is the word Sadagat (صَدَقَة). This Arabic word is probably the closest word in the Quran to the word charity. It is charity that is given freely without obligation. This word comes from the root ص د ق which has the derivative meaning of being truthful in the Quran. The connection I understand between the linkage between charity and truthfulness is that when someone who is providing truthful information they should not have a personal stake on your perception of that information.
How trustworthy would you consider a telemarketer, sales person, or an advertiser who has a personal incentive that you view the information they are presenting you in a favorable light, compared to a neutral party who neither gains or loses based on the information they provide you. While the former has a personal stake in how you view the information they provide you the latter does not. Similarly when someone provides charity with no strings attached it is more likely that they do so out of a place of love and compassion rather than a quid pro quo or the expectation of something in return.
The last word that is associated with charity in the Quran is the word Anfag (أنفق) which has the literal meaning of: to spend. This word is the most widely used in the Quran when discussing charity and is in reference to spending in the cause of God and not just frivolous spending.
[2:262] Those who spend their money in the cause of GOD, then do not follow their charity (what they spend) with insult or harm, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
[2:272] You are not responsible for guiding anyone. GOD is the only one who guides whoever chooses (to be guided). Any charity you give is for your own good. Any charity you give shall be for the sake of GOD. Any charity you give will be repaid to you, without the least injustice.
لَيْسَ عَلَيْكَ هُدَاهُمْ وَلَٰكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِي مَنْ يَشَاءُ وَمَا تُنْفِقُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ فَلِأَنْفُسِكُمْ وَمَا تُنْفِقُونَ إِلَّا ابْتِغَاءَ وَجْهِ اللَّهِ وَمَا تُنْفِقُوا مِنْ خَيْرٍ يُوَفَّ إِلَيْكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لَا تُظْلَمُونَ
But how is this different than Zakat and Sadagat? And why does this word have the same root as the word for hypocrite which is Manafiq (منافق)?
Spending vs. Giving
Spending is different than giving. When a person gives they typically do not expect anything in return, but when someone spends they may expect something in return. So while Sadagat is given without expecting anything in return, spending is typically associated with a purchase of some sort. Also, while Zakat is obligatory to purify the money one earns, spending is done upon the money one has already earned and purified.
At the onset of the Quran, God informs us that one of the traits of the believers is that they spend.
[2:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful [2:1] A.L.M. [2:2] This scripture is infallible; a beacon for the righteous; [2:3] who believe in the unseen, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), and from our provisions to them, they give to charity.
الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ
A verse that helps shed light on what it means to spend can be found in the following verse.
[2:219] They ask you about intoxicants and gambling: say, “In them there is a gross sin, and some benefits for the people. But their sinfulness far outweighs their benefit.” They also ask you what to give to charity: say, “The excess.” GOD thus clarifies the revelations for you, that you may reflect,
يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِنْ نَفْعِهِمَا وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنْفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمُ الْآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَفَكَّرُونَ
Notice that the Arabic in 2:219 uses the word yunfiquna, which simply means the spend, when it translates as “they give to charity.” This word choice also corresponds with the answer which is translated as the “the excess” which is الْعَفْوَ (l-‘afwa). This word comes from the same meaning as to pardon. I interpret the act of pardoning to as offering something that you have a right to, but choose not to enforce in order to please God. To put it another way it is the act of giving someone a pass even though you would be in the right if you chose not to. This corresponds with another derivative meaning of this root which is to give someone more than what they are due.
So giving to charity, or spending in the cause of God, is not just from the excess that we have, but also when possible to give someone excess than what they are due.
Think about being at a restaurant and having a waiter serve you. At the end of your meal when you are presented with your bill you have a choice of how much you would like to tip. You could choose to tip nothing at which point you would be stealing from the wages of the server, or you could tip the industry standard of 15% at which point things would be about equitable. But from my understanding of 2:219 a submitter if they can afford would consider to give more than what is due, perhaps 18%, 20%, 25%, or more. In this transaction the waiter worked for their tip, but as the receiver of this good one can choose to provide a disproportionate return to the waiter for their effort and thus over compensating them for their work.
Personally when I am negotiating a price on a product of service, because I like to negotiate, I will negotiate the price down with the other party. Then after the product is delivered or service is complete I prefer to overpay for their works. This way I get the joy of getting a lower price and also being charitable. And from the providers stand point they fell as if they are getting more than they earned after the transaction is all complete.
But while a righteous individual will be generous always giving more than they are comfortable they are never extravagant.
[25:67] When they give, they are neither extravagant, nor stingy; they give in moderation.
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَنْفَقُوا لَمْ يُسْرِفُوا وَلَمْ يَقْتُرُوا وَكَانَ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ قَوَامًا
[2:195] You shall spend in the cause of GOD; do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction. You shall be charitable; GOD loves the charitable.
وَأَنْفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلَا تُلْقُوا بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ وَأَحْسِنُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
[17:26] You shall give the due alms to the relatives, the needy, the poor, and the traveling alien, but do not be excessive, extravagant. [17:27] The extravagant are brethren of the devils, and the devil is unappreciative of his Lord.
Voting with Our Dollars
But spending in the cause of God has one other compounding effect that is best depicted in the following verse.
[2:261] The example of those who spend their monies in the cause of GOD is that of a grain that produces seven spikes, with a hundred grains in each spike. GOD multiplies this manifold for whomever He wills. GOD is Bounteous, Knower. [2:262] Those who spend their money in the cause of GOD, then do not follow their charity (what they spend) with insult or harm, will receive their recompense from their Lord; they have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
When we spend our money in the economy we are voting with our dollars for the products and services that we like and want to see more of. The reason that certain companies are so large is because they have millions of consumers who purchase the products and services they offer. When we become patrons to these establishments we are providing these entities our money and allowing them to have a further reach in the market.
This creates a positive feedback loop where the money we provide for the products and service we want will only incentivize these products and services to have a stronger presence in society and the ability to provide more to us.
For many purchases this is simply a race for who can provide the best product or service at the most affordable price, so no point in over paying for a commodity when everything between the two offerings are equal when given the option for a less expensive better quality alternative. But for other purchases in life there is more at stake than the money.
In 2020, the food producer, Goya, was inundated with a flood of bad press because in a Hispanic Leadership roundtable discussion at the White House, Goya’s CEO, Bob Unanue, thanked President Trump for his efforts to help Hispanic community. One of the prominent voices to boycott Goya, was congress women AOC. The following month Goya announced AOC as their employee of the month because since her speaking out against the company they saw a 1000% increase in sales for their products. This showed that when the consumer voted they stood with Goya and showed their support through their purchase decisions.
But this goes beyond boycotts. Every day we are making decisions and voting with our hard earned money which products and services we want to see more of. The products and services that obtain the support of their customers through purchasing the goods they provide is also a signal to the market to what the people of any community value.
Take for instance two content providers, if one content provider is producing content with strong moral values that resonate with our beliefs as a believer and another provider is providing content that is morally objectionable and we choose to purchase the morally objectionable content over the one that is morally consistent with our beliefs then we are empowering the producer of the morally objectionable content at the expense of the one that aligns with our values. The downside of this is that in a free market what we would be doing is paying to have more reach for morally objectionable content and then complaining when society is inundated with content that does not reflect our values.
Spending & Hypocrisy
God tells us that one of the most abominable things a person can do is to say what they do not do.
[61:2] O you who believe, why do you say what you do not do? [61:3] Most abominable in the sight of GOD is that you say what you do not do.
So what do you call someone who says that they stand for morality, but in their spending patterns support things that are against their claim? I believe this is the reason the word for spending and hypocrite share the same root in the Arabic Quran. But there is one other connection between these two meanings. The Arabic root for these two words as stated above is ن ف ق. This root has three meanings in the Quran. The first two as discussed is to spend, and hypocrite, but the third meaning is a tunnel or subterranean excavation (6:35). So what is the connection between these three meanings?
On May 29th, 1453 the capital of Byzantine Empire’s, Constantinople, was taken over by the Ottoman Empire. This was considered as a near impossible task, as Constantinople was surrounded by ~20 km of the most fortified walls in the world at the time. The way the Ottoman’s attacked the wall was two fold. The primary method was with large cannons, but the second more subversive method was through the employment of Serbian miners who excavated tunnels underneath the walls to weaken the foundation of the walls in conjunction with explosives.
A tunnel can be made underneath a building and from the surface level everything looks fine, but underneath the surface we see that the entire foundation is compromised. A hypocrite through their actions does the same thing to the foundation of their faith. From the surface level they appear like believers, but their actions and beliefs underneath the surface causes major risk to the foundation of their belief that will eventually crumble, and one sign of this is through their spending. When someone spends on causes that will only hurt what they claim they are for then they are only setting themselves up for eventual destruction. Their efforts only undermine their own souls yet they do not perceive.
[16:26] Others like them have schemed in the past, and consequently, GOD destroyed their building at the foundation, causing the roof to fall on them. The retribution struck them when they least expected.
قَدْ مَكَرَ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ فَأَتَى اللَّهُ بُنْيَانَهُمْ مِنَ الْقَوَاعِدِ فَخَرَّ عَلَيْهِمُ السَّقْفُ مِنْ فَوْقِهِمْ وَأَتَاهُمُ الْعَذَابُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَشْعُرُونَ
[9:67] The hypocrite men and the hypocrite women belong with each other—they advocate evil and prohibit righteousness, and they are stingy. They forgot GOD, so He forgot them. The hypocrites are truly wicked.
الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ مِنْ بَعْضٍ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمُنْكَرِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَقْبِضُونَ أَيْدِيَهُمْ نَسُوا اللَّهَ فَنَسِيَهُمْ إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
[57:18] Surely, the charitable men and women have loaned GOD a loan of goodness. They will receive their reward multiplied manifold; they have deserved a generous recompense.
إِنَّ الْمُصَّدِّقِينَ وَالْمُصَّدِّقَاتِ وَأَقْرَضُوا اللَّهَ قَرْضًا حَسَنًا يُضَاعَفُ لَهُمْ وَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ كَرِيمٌ