MOST of us know the groups of people who qualify for Zakah – such as the poor, the infirm, the wayfarer and those suffering humanitarian disaster. The eight famous categories are drummed into our heads.
However, there is another level of Zakah disbursement, which is not so easy. Some people may hide their poverty, their suffering and their status – out of either shame, or a sense of not wanting to burden others.
Our story here is about the latter, a scholar who as an active community member did not want to bother his students. He was an extremely learned man, having spent more than 20 years sitting at the feet of his Shaykh before going out into the world.
As a man of genuine knowledge he soon gathered a group of mureeds, or students, around him in the city where he settled. He would disburse charity selflessly and generously, and teach the Deen to whoever came to him.
This Shaykh, who will remain nameless, used to enjoy drinking a cup of tea after giving a class on Seerah, or Prophetic biography. His students used to go the kitchen door of his house adjacent to the Zawiya – a place of learning and spiritual reflection – to fetch his tea on a daily basis.
One day, the Shaykh told his student to bring the tea to him with a saucer over the top of the cup. The student thought nothing of this, thinking that the Shaykh merely wanted to keep his tea warm. This went on for some time, until one day, the student accidentally spilt some of the tea, discovering it was hot water.
Again, the student thought nothing of this. Maybe the Shaykh was on some kind of a health kick, he said. Out of adab, or noble conduct, it was none of his business to query the Shaykh’s tastes.
The students liked to serve their Shaykh, a man who gave off his knowledge without asking for recompense. Another student requested to carry his teacher’s shoes to the shoe rack one waqt, or prayer time. The Shaykh respectfully turned down the offer, placing his own footwear in the rack.
The student noticed that the shoes were well polished, until his eye caught something. He gasped in surprise. It was newspaper. The Shaykh had filled his shoes with newspaper. And when he investigated further – because he was concerned for his teacher – the student saw that the bottom of the shoes were full of holes.
The student was worried. What could he do? He didn’t want to bother his teacher, whom he loved and respected dearly.
The following day was a Friday, and after the Jumu’ah prayers the Shaykh used to like taking his car – an old Chevrolet – for a drive into the country. The Shaykh used to love taking his students with him, but this Friday he said he was unwell and that the car had mechanical problems. Making salams, he retired to his room.
His students were worried. This was unusual. What was happening? Acting out concern, one of the students said, “let’s go and fix the car.”
One of the students popped his head under the large bonnet. Nothing there, he said. He sat in the driver’s seat and turned the key. The engine rolled over, but didn’t start. Eventually, he told his brothers to go and buy petrol. He filled the tank, and when he turned the ignition, the engine sparked into life. The tank had been empty.
It was at that moment that the penny finally dropped. The students started talking amongst themselves; and it all came out – the hot water instead of the tea, the shoes with the holes and other instances, where the Shaykh had skilfully masked his poverty.
“It is a shame on us that we didn’t notice all these things,” said one student, shaking his head in remorse. “How could we have not seen the signs?”
“Our Shaykh is a very subtle man,” said another, “how do we help him with dignity and how do we make him accept our charity? He qualifies for our Zakah, but he will just give it away.”
After much discussion, the students decided not to approach their Shaykh, but to approach his family instead. So one day, when the Shaykh was busy in class, a student knocked on the door of the Shaykh’s humble house and handed his wife an envelope. “This is just for you, madam,” said the student.
The Shaykh’s wife was as subtle a character as her husband was. She realised immediately what the gesture meant. Kissing the envelope, a tear coursed down her cheek. “Shukran, my son, shukran!” she said.
From that day on, the students enabled their Shaykh to give generously in charity, but also ensured that their teacher – via his wife – was well cared for. The students found their barakah multiplying; their knowledge increased, people got jobs, healthy children were born, and with humility and gratitude, their God-consciousness reached great heights.