Lan tanālu ‘l-birra Hattā tunfiqū mimmā tuHibbūn
You shall not attain righteousness until you give out of what you love.
(Sūrat Āli Imrān, No. 3, Āyat 92)
Giving to others is a noble quality that many of practice in our daily lives. We give to the less fortunate and are willing to part with what is ours for the sake of Allah. But the real question is if we would part with that which we really like. When we are attached to something we possess and derive enjoyment from it, would we be willing to give it in the way of Allah? That is the ultimate test and the verse above tells us that we cannot attain righteousness unless we pass that test.
Human beings love themselves and are always on the lookout for themselves. When a person is able to put aside that self- love and prefer others to himself, he has reached a high degree of nobility. Allah praises the Ansār in Madina for not only welcoming the Muhājirūn but preferring them over themselves. He says in the Quran: but (they) prefer [the Immigrants] to themselves, though poverty be their own lot (Q 59:9). This selflessness shows an understanding of a higher truth, the truth that Allah is more beloved than the self. So the Almighty continues in verse saying: And those who are saved from their own greed —it is they who are the felicitous (Q 59:9).
What is given to Allah has to be the best, not a second choice. Hābil, it is said gave the best when asked by his father Nabī Adam to offer sacrifice to God. Qābil, on the other hand, gave what was not needed and could be disposed of. Obviously, Allah accepted the sacrifice of Hābil over that of Qābil (Q 5:27). True generosity grants a fulfillment to the giver that goes beyond any satisfaction derived from the actual possession itself. “Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do,” says the poet Khalil Gibran. “But it is giving me that which you need more than I do.”
Selflessness is a sign that the ego has been conquered. In The Elixir of Love, a book on the great spiritual teacher and guide Shaykh Rajab Ali Khayyāt, the author says: The Shaykh used to say time and again: “The religion of Truth is the one preached on mimbars (pulpits), but it is lacking in two entities: Sincerity and love of God Almighty; these must be added in the preaching.” He said: “The righteous are all doing well, but they should replace their ‘egos’ with ‘God’.” And he said: “If the believers give up the egotism, they will achieve something (i.e., high status).”
When the above verse was revealed many Muslims took it to heart. The true understanding of a message from God is to apply it in daily life. Tafsīr-e Namūne narrates that Abū Talha Ansārī, a respected companion pondered over this verse and responded to it. He owned a vast farm with many date trees. The farm was beautiful and fertile and in the middle was a stream with pure water. The Holy Prophet (s) often visited his farm and performed wudhū with the water of the stream. There was nothing Abu Talha liked more than being on his farm and bringing others to it. After hearing this verse, Abu Talha came to the Prophet and told him he would like to give the farm in the way of God. It was his most precious possession and he wanted to give that which he loved for the sake of God. ‘Bah, bah’ said the Prophet, ‘this property of yours will reap you great rewards’. The Prophet (s) advised Abu Talha to give it to deserving members of his extended family so they could benefit from it.
Recite this verse to motivate you to give for the sake of God that which you love most, not that which you don’t want or need. It is a perfection of the spirit of generosity.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.),
Tafsīr-e Namūne http://islamicinsights.com/religion/religion/some-thoughts-on-selflessness.html