For Printing Click here

For similar essays
Click here

Your feedback is
Click here
Essay No. 12 in a series of essays on Community
For more info contact: [email protected]

Voluntary Spirit: our Tradition
Oct 2005

In our Muslim communities we must revive the spirit of
voluntary efforts by taking time out of our busy lives and
professions and volunteer with our energy, efforts, skills,
talent, knowledge and money to make a real difference

The year was 622 A.D and the place was a small city called Yathrib in the
desert of Arabia. Under the hot desert sun, a group of men and women were
erecting a building. Their resources were meager but they were doing their
work with complete devotion. They were neither employees of a builder nor
contractors.  In fact, they had no expectation of any immediate reward at all.
Instead they were building a center for their nascent community and their
motivation was common good. This group was the companions of Prophet
Mohammed (PBUH), the refugees from Mecca and their supporters from the
city of Yathrib, and the building was what we reverently call the “Masjid
Nabawi”[i]. This is a beautiful page from our history on our lost tradition of
voluntary spirit.

The efforts of our Prophet and his companions show that an active
community with voluntary participation is a significant force in enhancing the
level of social integration and bringing about social change. Individuals in the
community choose to become involved in voluntary action only when they
care enough about an issue or activity and to want to give their time, energy,
efforts, skills, talent, knowledge and money to make a real difference and
without the expectation of any immediate rewards. Such voluntary spirit has
been the tradition of believers from the beginning.

In this essay we will examine a) what is voluntary spirit? b) What is the
concept of voluntary effort in Quran? c) What are the challenges related to it?
And d) what is the reward for voluntary work?

What is voluntary effort?

Voluntary effort is the commitment of time and energy by one’s own free will,
without any money or other consideration in return. The scale of voluntary
work crosses cultural boundaries and political systems making it one of the
most powerful elements in social development. There are numerous
organizations which are fuelled by voluntary work. But the common factor
shared by all types of volunteers is a commitment by the individual to the
common good, in that they work not merely for their own interests but for the
benefit of others.

Concept in Quran

The word for voluntary effort in Quran is “Jihad” - struggle for goodness and  
against evil .  For war efforts and fighting Quran uses a different word i.e.
“Qital”, which is not the subject of this essay.

The concept of “Jihad” is very broad and involves all the efforts which are
done for the community and for the sake of common good. The nature of such
effort may be different according to the culture, technology and socio-
economic conditions of the era. But it includes all the efforts by using one’s
intellects, time, physical efforts, skills, knowledge and money.

In Quran, God exhorts the believers to make voluntary efforts as they ought to
[ii] and emphasized that those believers who do voluntary efforts with their
self and wealth are preferred in the eyes of God[iii]. God says that if you want
to seek a way to God then do voluntary efforts[iv] and that God will test the
believers to find out who did voluntary efforts[v].

There are numerous similar passages, where God motivates the believers to
strive hard in their voluntary work and emphasized that individual and
collective success is in voluntary effort.


Awareness of the role, scope and importance of voluntary work must be the
central component of all strategies of the community without which
community projects or programs can never be successful. Therefore,
voluntary work brings many different challenges both for the volunteer and
those in the governance. Volunteers:

For those in the governance, the voluntary nature of the community provides
unique challenges for detailed strategic planning. They need to promote an
environment in which voluntary activity can develop and thrive. To achieve this
goal, they need to:

What is the reward for voluntary work?

Voluntary work is an expression of solidarity in the community. It benefits
those who give as much as those who receive. As we said earlier, the
immediate reward for voluntary effort is enhanced levels of social integration
and social change. However, God has promised immense rewards,
forgiveness and sustenance[vii] for those who do voluntary efforts.

There is a saying of Prophet Mohammed that there is no deed equal to Jihad
in reward in the after life[viii].


Jihad i.e. Voluntary effort is the lost tradition of Muslim community. Their
social, economic and political decline started when they left this tradition. The
malaise of individualism and selfishness replaced the beautiful tradition of
voluntary efforts. If we want to make our community a success and a driver
for broader changes in the society, we must revive the spirit of voluntary
efforts. Our members must take time out of their busy lives and professions
and volunteer with their energy, efforts, skills, talent, knowledge and money to
make a real difference and for the immense reward and forgiveness
promised by God.

Notes and References

[i] Mosque of the Prophet (PBUH)

[ii] Quran 22:78 “And strive hard in the way of God as you ought to strive…”

[iii] Quran 4:95 “Not equal are those of believers who sit at home, except
those who are disabled, and those who strive hard in the way of God with their
lives and wealth…”

[iv] Quran 5:35 “O you who believe! Do your duty to God …and seek the means
of approach to him and strive hard in his cause…”

[v] Quran 9:16 “Do you think that you shall be left alone while God has not yet
tested those among you who have striven hard …”

[vi] “Capacity building is the process of building the infrastructure necessary
to support needed programs and services in communities including human

[vii] Quran 8:74 “And those who believed, emigrated and strove hard…for
them is forgiveness and good sustenance…”

[viii] Bukhari Volume 4 Hadith 44