Charity for non-Muslims according to Islam

Can Muslims be charitable towards non-believers?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

Some unscrupulous missionaries accuse Islam of practising exclusivity in its treatment of the downtrodden. They claim that Islam only respects those that adhere to the faith while the alleged message to all those that do not believe is “abandon all hope.” This is a complete misrepresentation of what Islam stands for and history proves such calumny to be completely false. Unfortunately, there are also some elements within the Muslim community that share the same view as those missionaries. They think that Muslims should only be helping other Muslims and non-Muslims should fare for themselves. Such Muslims along with their Christian missionary counterparts should be given intensive lessons in the history of the religion.

First, we recall the great Potato Famine of Ireland and the intervention undertaken by the great khaleefah (caliph) of the Muslims of the time the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Majid I.

In the time of Queen Victoria of England and Empress of India, Ireland experienced the Great Hunger of the 1840s and it was dubbed the Potato Famine which caused the deaths of at least one million Irishmen. News of that great tragedy reached the court of the khaleefah of the Muslims Sultan Abdul-Majid I who did not waste much time to intervene by pledging to dispatch a humanitarian aid in the amount of 10,000 sterling pounds (equivalent to 1.7 million USD today). Hearing of the sultan’s proposal, the Queen of England chose to disrupt the aid by requesting that the Sultan reduce the amount to a meager 1000 pounds under the excuse that 2000 pounds had already been sent by her. The sultan acquiesced to Victoria’s intervention, but in secret, he sent five ships loaded with food. The English military tried to intercept the ships, but they safely reached Drogheda harbour and the aid was successfully distributed among the famine-stricken Irish. [1]

The great khaleefah of the Muslims was not following some secular humanist ethical value in doing what he did. He was merely adhering to the spirit of Islam seen in the noble Prophet’s s.a.w. dictum:

تطعم الطعام وتقرأ السلام على من عرفت ومن لم تعرف

“That you serve food and give the greeting of peace to the one that you know and to the one that you do not know.”

The noble Prophet s.a.w. made that statement in answer to a question that was posed to him by a man who asked him “What kind of Islam is best?”. Therefore, the best Islam according to the final Messenger of God to humanity is goodwill towards others by desiring peace for them and by being charitable.

The Prophet’s s.a.w. ethical teaching above is not one that is based on expediency for some hidden agenda but it reflects the ethos of the Qur’an which declares:

لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ

“Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity.” (Qur’an 6:8; Khan)

Encapsulating the Qur’anic moral exhortation and the Prophet’s ethical teaching seen above, the great imam of the Sunnis Imam al-Nawawi in his ‘Sharh al-Muhadhdhab’ emphatically says:

يستحب أن يخص بصدقته الصلحاء وأهل الخير وأهل المروءات والحاجات ، فلو تصدق على فاسق أو على كافر من يهودي أو نصراني أو مجوسي جاز ، وكان فيه أجر في الجملة

“It is recommended that charity be given to the righteous, the ones that exert effort towards good, the ones that are chaste and the ones that are in need. Nevertheless, if a person gives charity to the heretical or to the non-believer from among the Jews, Christians and Magians, the ruling is permissible and to him is the full reward of his deeds.”

It is clear that Islam calls its adherents to give good treatment to all mankind. Receiving charity from Muslims has never been the exclusive right of other Muslims that require a hand but it is the right of all that are in need including even the sinful individual according to Imam al-Nawawi. It is incumbent for able-bodied Muslims that desire the pleasure of His Creator to help and to be charitable towards those that are less fortunate.

Finally, the necessary implication of the value that Islamic ethical concern places on charity that is to be given not only to Muslims but non-Muslims, too, means that terrorist groups that target non-Muslim noncombatants and civilians have supplanted true Islam and transgressed its Sacred Law. Islam calls its believers to feed those non-Muslims in charity, therefore, to kill them for some misguided agenda is nothing but strife that is completely antithetical to the faith.


[1] McColgan, H. (2013). White Shamrock. Indiana: AuthorHouse. p. 24; (2017, April 26). Little known tale of generous Turkish aid to the Irish during the Great Hunger. Retrieved June 1, 2017, from…/little-known-tale-of-generous…

[2] Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Isma’il bin Ibrahim bin Mughira al-Bukhari (1987). Al-Jami’ al-Sahih, Volume 1. Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir. #12

[3] Abi Zakariya Muhiyuddin bin Sharaf al-Nawawi (n.d.). Kitab al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhdhab li Shiradhiy, Volume 6. n.d.: Maktabah al-Irshad. p. 237

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