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:
Have to attend to increased personal and professional demands in their private lives.
Need continuous motivation.
Need to be careful in accepting assignments if they have no time and resources to successfully finish them.
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:
Raise awareness in the community about voluntary spirit and benefits of its contribution.
Provide advice and practical help to those teams who are undertaking voluntary assignments.
Strive to develop partnerships within the teams.
Encourage “capacity building”[vi] in all areas of work within the community
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 skills.”
[vii] Quran 8:74 “And those who believed, emigrated and strove hard…for them is forgiveness and good sustenance…”