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May 18, 2011

Gifts R Us

by Simple Muslimah


Everybody loves getting a gift!  Most of us love giving them too.  Gift-giving has become a hallmark of how we celebrate and congratulate, a universal way of strengthening and maintaining ties with others regardless of age, gender, race or nationality.

Islam is a complete way of life and as a result no aspect of our lives or interaction is seen as being insignificant enough to be neglected by the religion, gift-giving included!  Maybe you’re surprised to hear that a prophet of God would deign to give advice regarding something as material as a gift.  Aren’t religions notorious for teaching their followers to shun the material glitter of this life to achieve spiritual fulfillment?  Forget other religions, doesn’t Islam emphasise the spiritual over the material?

Indeed it does, but in the sense that the pursuit of material wealth should not distract a person from the greater concern of their spiritual wellbeing.  As a complete way of life Islam recognises the importance of both the spiritual and material in our existence and as the case of giving gifts will show, even guides us in how to use the material to our social and spiritual benefit.

The Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم , the best of all creation, gave us the following advice regarding gifts:

“Exchange gifts, for that will cause you to love one another” (Adab al-Mufrad)

This saying of the Prophet  صلى الله عليه و سلم  gets to the heart of why giving gifts is noticed and encouraged by Islam.  Exchanging a gift is a way of honouring the recipient, a means of nurturing mutual respect and love through the act of giving.  When we take time out to choose and give a gift designed to confer pleasure on another, we signal to them the importance of the bond we share with them and our desire to maintain it.  Put simply, the fact that receiving the gift makes them happy, makes us happy.  No wonder giving gifts, as much as receiving them, is fun!

The sad thing about the way we give gifts in today’s society is that to a large extent it is driven by a commercial agenda.  The first reminder many people get that it is time to give a gift is when they see specially themed shelves and gifts lining shop fronts, whether it’s birthdays, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Valentines Day or any other day.  For some gifts have even become the end rather than the means, sometimes with devastating consequences as people spend huge amounts of money they can’t afford for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses.  Islam shuts the door on such commercial encroachment.

While many Muslims exchange gifts on the two celebrations in the Islamic calendar, the festivals of ‘Eid, there’s no religious requirement to do so.  Instead Islam promotes giving gifts at any time or place as the purpose behind doing so, maintaining bonds of kinship and friendship, has no calendar constraints.  So as a Muslim it’s enough to surprise family members, friends and colleagues at work with gifts for no apparent reason except for the sake of giving them pleasure, regardless of whether anyone else is doing the same.  If you want to buy your mother flowers because you love her and appreciate everything she does for you, you don’t have to wait for an annual Sunday.  It doesn’t matter to you that there isn’t any official Brothers Day or Sisters Day as you can create your own any day.  Want to show your spouse how much you love them?  Make every day Valentines Day.  Gifts are also a great way to ‘break the ice’ when trying to establish new relationships, as well as seeking forgiveness in existing ones.

If anyone is entitled to say ‘Gifts R Us’, Muslims are!  I remember being surprised as a student when a don at my university mentioned they were looking forward to ‘Eid because they always received delicious food as a gift from their Muslim neighbours.  The surprise wasn’t because these neighbours were sharing their food (Muslims and sharing food is a whole post of its own!), but because the university city in question is overwhelmingly a non-Muslim place.  It was good to hear that any Muslims around were living up to their sharing tradition!

Does the emphasis on giving gifts in Islam mean you have to be a MM- Millionaire Muslim?  Thankfully, no!  The etiquette of gift-giving is very simple in Islam.  The emphasis in on the sincerity of the one giving (something money can’t buy), rather than the price-tag of what’s being given.  While this article is referring to the material, some of the best gifts are free- and as simple as a smile :).

And in Islam the one who takes home the gift isn’t the only recipient.  ‘Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم (may Allah be pleased with her), said that:

The Messenger of Allah  صلى الله عليه و سلم  used to accept gifts and reward people for giving them (Bukhari)

The meaning of ‘rewarding’ here is that the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم  would repay the kindness shown to him, as Islam also teaches us the manners to respond to those who give.  One way Muslims do this is by responding with the words ‘Jazaak Allaahu khayran’ when receiving a gift, meaning ‘may Allah reward you with good’.  A companion of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم , Usaamah bin Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him), narrated that the Prophet said:

Whoever has a favour done for him and says ‘Jazaak Allahu khayran’ has done his utmost to thank him. (At-Thirmidhi)

It’s also recommended to respond to gift giving with gifts. It’s preferable for the one who is given a gift to respond by giving something similar or better.  The beauty of Islam makes this possible for the richest to the poorest.  Prophet Muhammad  صلى الله عليه و سلم stated:

Whoever does you a favour, then respond in kind, and if you cannot find anything to give him, then make dua for him (and keep doing so) until you think that you have done enough. (Abu Dawood and An-Nasaa’i)

So, why not adopt the Muslim attitude towards gift-giving and take the step of making a list of individuals to whom you can give a nice gift in the coming days and weeks for no other reason but to show them how much you care about them :).  Accomplishing this positive act will strengthen existing relationships, build new ones and will start healing the ones that have been damaged over time.  Why not give it a try and let us know how you got on?

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