“Importance of the Ethic of Service“
Rajab, the seventh month of Islamic calendar, brings the celebration of two seminal events: Yawm-e-Ali, the birth of Hazrat Ali (a.s) on the 13th of Rajab, and Shab-e-Miraj, the night that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ascended to the heavens to be in God’s presence on the 27th of Rajab. Both the Prophet (pbuh) and Hazrat Ali (a.s) exemplified the ideals of community service; the principles they established remain pertinent irrespective of time and place, and their examples continue to guide us. Taking inspiration from them, today we will reflect on the ‘importance of the ethic of service: coming forward and accepting opportunities to serve the community in which we live, and thus to serve Allah (all praises are for Him alone) and His entire creation.‘
Let us begin by defining service. A person who serves the community is one who offers physical or material help to those who are less fortunate, and willingly undertakes the responsibility without any expectation of compensation or material gain. Service also means donating time and sharing knowledge and, in Islam, doing so is considered a blessing. Islam is a faith of action and we need to articulate our faith by working to make the world a better place.
* They spend their wealth for the welfare of humankind (Qur’an 3:134).
* They are generous (Qur’an 2:236).
* They are humble (Qur’an 7:55).
Volunteerism is woven into the fabric of Islam and is vital for any community’s growth and development. It is an undeniable fact that Islam would not be where it is today without the tireless efforts of volunteers. Muslims in the early days of Islam worked together and contributed in tangible/intangible ways to the spiritual and physical development of the community. Many of them sacrificed their lives to safeguard Muslim communities and spent of their wealth for the well-being of fellow humans.
There are people whose motivation to serve others is for worldly benefits and then there are those who volunteer only to please God. Sincere volunteerism means doing something exclusively for the pleasure of God alone. An essential component of the ethic of service is to not brag about giving time, effort, energy and knowledge when doing it in the way of God (fee sabeelillah). Volunteers should not expect any reward/recognition in exchange for their services, because then it becomes hypocrisy. Thus, when volunteering one should not look for appreciation from one’s fellow man, but instead serve only with the intention of seeking rewards from God. The Holy Quran strongly encourages almsgiving/service but prohibits almsgivers from embarrassing or demeaning those who they help (Quran 2: 264; 4:38; 4:114; 30: 38; and 92:18-21).
The Imam-of-the-Time, Hazar Imam, also expects us to help the needy and take responsibility for the progress of the communities in which we live. It must be noted that ‘giving’ and ‘sharing’ of our time, knowledge, intellect and feelings for others is a central ethic of the Islamic faith and, therefore, whenever we have the opportunity to offer voluntary service it is considered a blessing in Islam. We are very fortunate that in our Ismaili tradition Hazar Imam provides us with guidance and opportunities to serve and to receive Blessings.
“I am fortunate to lead an international community with a strong social conscience. Bridging North and South, East and West, the Ismailis have a long tradition of philanthropy, self-reliance and voluntary service. “Wherever they live, they faithfully abide by the Quranic ethic of a common humanity and the dignity of man. They willingly pool knowledge and resources with all those who share our social ethic to help improve the quality of life of less fortunate men, women, and children.” His Highness the Aga Khan- Berlin, Germany on 3 October 2005
Mawlana Hazar Imam wishes to see all competent volunteers, including educated and talented professionals, to serve our communities and assist in the development of Imamat institutions (www.akdn.org) which work towards improving the quality of lives of people. In Islam it is important to ask what have I achieved for myself in life, but it is more important is to ask the question: what have I done to help others to achieve much in their lives?
This concept is very eloquently captured in the following statement of the late British actress Audrey Hepburn: “Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your own arm. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others”
Islam cares for the welfare of all humans and calls upon all Muslims to participate in volunteer activities with the primary motive of pleasing Allah.
Recommended reading: “Muslim Ethics: Emerging Vistas” (2004) by Dr. Amyn Sajoo (ISBN Paperback # 1 84511716 6; ISBN Hardback # 1 85043550 2)