Spending on Family: Charity or Expense?

| by Muslim Matters
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بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

“Diapers cost a lot,” said my friend, when we met on her visit to her home country five months after she had her first baby. She looked into my eyes, searching for acquiescence,”….right?” As our children lay playing around us, I nodded, and stopped myself in time from insensitively blurting out, “But this is just the beginning.” I knew how inappropriate that would sound to a new mother who was assessing the extra expenses related to her baby for the first time in her life. Understandably, she was going through the initial adjustment phase of becoming a new parent, and needed only encouragement from her experienced friends.

We all have our expenses: the bills, the monthly payments, and the extra expenditures that crop up out of nowhere, especially for those of us who have families to support, viz. parents and siblings, or spouses and children.

Shortly after we pass the two-decade milestone in our lives, we wake up to real life, and realize that it is not all eat, drink, and be merry. For some, this wakeup call comes much earlier due to straitened circumstances. For others, it might come a bit late – when they finally start shouldering more responsibility.

Either way, one inevitably realizes sooner or later in life that money is the life-blood we need to be able to keep bringing food to our tables, and that this money is earned through hard work. We should neither waste it on frivolities, nor should we withhold it from ourselves or others out of miserliness.

Additionally, we should never undermine the relationships we have with our families, because these bonds were created by Allah, and He records and rewards even the small, seemingly insignificant bits of good we do to them – even what we see as trivial, of the things we give them, that are included in their rights upon us.

Recently, I came across a hadith that really opened my eyes to how we should all look at our family-related expenses and liabilities. It also reminded me of the importance of one’s intention whilst doing mundane, everyday tasks that we really don’t view as acts of worship, such as buying one’s child a small toy, or going out for the weekly grocery run.

عَنْ ‏أَبِي مَسْعُودٍ الْبَدْرِيِّ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَآلِهِ وَسَلَّمَ ‏قَالَ:
‘إِنَّ الْمُسْلِمَ إِذَا أَنْفَقَ عَلَى أَهْلِهِ نَفَقَةً وَهُوَ يَحْتَسِبُهَا كَانَتْ لَهُ صَدَقَةً’

[أخرجه أحمد، والبخاري ، ومسلم]

It is narrated from Abu Mas’ud al-Badri [رضى الله عنه] that the Messenger of Allah [صلى الله عليه و سلم] said,

“Without a doubt, when a Muslim spends money on his family while considering (the action as worship), it is an act of charity”.

[Reported by Imams Ahmad, Bukhari and Muslim]

This short but profound narration gives us tremendous consolation: if we renew and rectify our intentions regarding spending on our family, to do so for the sake of Allah as an act of sadaqah (charity), Allah will count these expenditures as such, insha’ Allah.

The key words in the hadith are وَهُوَ يَحْتَسِبُهَا - meaning that the spender, whilst spending on his or her family should, in his heart, intend or consider that spending as a sadaqah. The words احتَسَبَ يَحْتَسِبُ اِحْتِسَابٌ imply to reckon something, to seek reward from Allah for something, to count something as eligible for  reward. In a verse of Surah at-Talaq, Allah mentions:

وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ

“And He (Allah) will provide for him (the believer) from where he does not expect/reckon; (from whence does not occur to his mind).” [65:3]

In the above verse, the same word is used to imply that the believer doesn’t “reckon” from where Allah will provide for him.

Therefore, we can conclude from the above hadith that we should “count” or “reckon” our spending (نفقة) on our families (اهل) as charity (صدقة) when we spend on them in any way, whether big or small.

We find ourselves inundated by extra expenses during some months of the year. This is especially so around vacation season, with the costly Islamic summer camp, the plane tickets required for importing parent(s) for the summer, or the shiny new workbooks to keep the children constructively occupied. We dread receiving the doctor’s bill and having to fill costly medicine prescription, upon taking a sick dependent to the doctor’s clinic. And we anticipate with some foreboding, magnanimous four-figure bills, as our children grow older and prepare for college.

Graduation parties, Eid dinners, transatlantic flights to reinstate biological ties and bring smiles across elderly faces. School fees, fuel and rent charges, furniture and electronics costs. Clothes and accessories, a mini van, a bigger home for growing broods. The list is endless. Sometimes, when we see no end to the costs in sight, yet almost always come face-to-face with the rock-bottom of our monthly/weekly budget, we do tend to get a bit down in the dumps.  That is the time when we need positive reminders that our spending, depending on our intention, will be counted as a charity, even through we’ve seen it as an “expense.”

There is absolutely no way that we can guarantee provisions for the ones whom Allah has brought into this world, as He is the Provider. However, He has entrusted us with fulfilling our responsibilities towards them, and these duties are their rights upon us.

We should keep reminding ourselves of the intention behind each and every thing we do. This will enable us to renew this intention, and hence ensure that our book of deeds records all our actions, even those that appear to the world as “expenses” or “liabilities”, as deeds truly done to please our Creator (with full اِحْتِسَاب).