real people real stories

Who is ‘poor’ ?

I wondered why the ‘poor’ share the last morsel they have with anyone around and the ‘rich’ don’t.
I wondered why the hungry will show dignity, and will not take more than what they need. But often the ‘rich’ will eat anything free as if they have not eaten for days.
While this thought was on my mind, I happened to come across the answer while listening to a talk on generosity by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.  He explained that in Arabic, the word ‘generosity’ takes root from the word ‘courage’.  What keeps us from being generous is our fear of losing what we have.  It takes courage to overcome that fear and become generous. 
One may consider that perhaps the one who has less material wealth doesn’t fear loss because there is nothing much to lose. But, the answer is not that simple. Surviving with little, it seems gives birth to a strange spiritual strength. I see it in a young woman before my eyes. She has put her trust in her Creator, and she is willing to seek it through hard work for the next meal, and nothing more. Her having nothing has given her the courage to be generous with the last morsel she has. She believes that where this came from, she will get more.  A beautiful, deeply rooted reliance that generates peace within.  She reminds me of the Quranic ‘verse’ (ayah lit. miraculous sign) where the Divine asks us to reflect on the birds, how they leave home in the morning to seek His ‘Barakah’ (blessings, it is also described as ‘the greater good’ derived from any act), return home with sustenance for that day and trust the Creator for the next day’s provision.

A prophetic saying hadith (Prophet Mohammad peace and blessings be upon him) asks, how you can ask from God ‘barakah‘(blessings-grace-gifts) for the next day when He does not ask you for ‘amal‘ (act) for the next day.  
The beauty of all prophetic sayings is the comprehensive message each encodes.  Besides numerous different lessons one may draw from this saying, some of the dimensions are; we must work for the fulfillment, the significance of the present moment, devoid of fear or doubts about what is to follow. This, in turn, elevates yourself, and relieves you of anxiety and fear of loss, making you a courageous and generous human being that achieves a state of absolute reliance on the Divine.

I recall having the privilege of being in the company of many such generous people who would give you their last morsel, including this woman in Northern parts of Pakistan who had lost her family members in the earthquake and was bedridden because of an amputated leg.  
She had visitors one afternoon.  They were her mother-in-law and father-in-law. Both kind souls had traveled on foot and on the bus for several hours from a remote hilly area to come to visit their daughter-in-law in a tent hospital set up for the earthquake victims.  I was quite surprised to see that despite their old age with evident difficulty walking, they took such pains to come all the way.  All the stereotypes of the oppression of daughters-in-law came crumbling at that moment.
They had a small thermos in hand. While I was introduced to them,  I saw them pouring tea into a mug. They said something to each other in their language, as the elderly did not speak in Urdu.  The next thing I know I am offered that large mug full of tea.  I was told it is very special as it is made from goat’s milk, and since their daughter-in-law loves it so much, they had got that for her.  
“No, no, you drink it, they got it for you especially, and you are the one who needs it”, I insisted on declining. I saw in their faces something that said perhaps I think it not worthy and will not think of drinking it.  I agreed to take half a cup, but they still wouldn’t hear of it, and so I took it.   I found out later since I did not see her drinking much but a couple of sips because they had given me most of what was in the small thermos. I told them it was very tasty. If truth be told, it was tastier than anything I had ever tasted because it is not the taste of the material thing but the taste of the immaterial that made it incomparably delectable. But, how can one enjoy such generosity when the giver is giving so much from the little she has, and when one feels one has not shown her anything close to such generosity?
I look again to the woman, the daughter-in-law, on whom God had bestowed great physical beauty beside the beauty of her heart, patience, perseverance, and generosity.  I wonder if she could see how rich she was. She certainly had a calm and collected demeanor. And despite her difficulties, she seemed content. She wore a lovely necklace made of glass beads of rich emerald green and purple color.  As I complimented her, she told me that she had made that herself for her wedding as this is what they wear as jewelry since gold and silver are unaffordable.  I tell you, it looked more gorgeous than a diamond necklace because she wore it.  When I was bidding her farewell, her hands went up to take that necklace off to give me as a going-away gift.  I was so moved I could not utter any words, so I just shook my head rather emphatically.  When I got up to leave quickly, she stretched her hand out and would not take no for an answer. Her daughter of no more than seven years ran after me with the necklace insisting, ‘Khaala tum lai loo’ ‘yeh tumharai liyai hai!  ‘aunt you take it, it is for you.’  Someone who wore used clothes donated to her, food that was donated, lying in a refugee hospital tent with one leg, and nothing material but this wedding necklace, and she is giving it to someone she had met only four days ago!  Of course, I could not take it, but she gave it to me because that was her intent.  Her intent and generosity of heart are enough to last me the rest of my life.  I shall never forget it, and I wanted to share these moments of grand generosity with you from the people we refer to as ‘poor’.

I think I know now why the ‘poor’ shower you more with their smiles, with their generosity regardless of what their situation is and how little material wealth they have.  Whenever I am amongst the poor, I feel God’s abundance and Mercy more than when I am amongst the rich.  I believe it is so because they try to share whatever they have, and it is definitely not ‘little’ as they put it.  They don’t see how rich they are and what is the value of their sharing.  This also shows that their unawareness is due to their Ikhlaas (I consider it the purity-sincerity of intent when the heart is in its pure state, seeking good for the sake of good and nothing more).  I also feel when you become aware of your generosity, it takes away from that Ikhlaas.

A saying of Prophet Mohammad says, being sakhi (generous) is the best quality. The ‘poor’ have the best quality in abundance.  Open your hands towards these underserved people of generosity so their gladdened hearts may say a prayer in our favor.  For the prayer of the oppressed has special acceptance by the One who is Omnipresent.

Let us be clear on who is ‘poor’.

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