On the blessed birthday of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa), it is worthy of us to delve into one of the im-portant aspects of his life, namely that which is related to his well known characteristic of generosity and largess. We will explore this issue through the ideas presented by Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī in regards to the specifics of what constitutes generosity and Infāq as seen in the life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa).
The Semiology of Infāq as Seen in the Life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa)
In the ideas of Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī, spending money in the cause of Allah is one of the greatest acts of worship. There are some people who do not utilize the blessings which Allah has given them and they also refrain from allowing others to use these blessings as well. Such people are misers who, practically speaking, do not consider Allah as the giver of sustenance. From this perspective, those who are miserly and are not ready to help the needy with the blessings given to them by Allah have firstly wronged themselves, losing out on the great blessings and rewards which come from giving to others. They have also wronged the poor and needy with their actions as well. When we examine the life of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa), it is clear that we have to learn the true reality of infāq from them.
It is a positive thing to express affection and love towards the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) but it is in reality not enough by itself. It is necessary that in addition to this love, one must take inspiration from their actions and attempt to live as they practically lived. One such example is how the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa) would give to those who were in need and this is particularly conspicuous in the life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa). Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has stated in this regard: ‘Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa) would help the poor and needy to such a degree that his house had become a veritable refuge for them. Whenever a poor person would enter Kufah, they would know where to go and they would visit the house of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa) in meeting their various needs.’
The Meaning of Infāq in the Quran
The Quran has made the duty of the Prophet (ṣ) very clear in regards to the needy and poverty stricken in the verse “وَأَمَّا السَّائِلَ فَلَا تَنْهَرْ”. This duty involves helping to meet the needs of the poor and treating them with the proper respect and affection. It is as if Allah has told us: Do not drive the poor away from you, nor speak to them in a harsh tone, nor yell at them, or treat them with severity. The 263rd verse of Surah Baqarah has instructed us on the proper way to treat the poor: ‘An honorable word with pardon is better than a charity followed by affront. Allah is all-sufficient, most forbearing.’ This shows us that if a person is not able to help someone, for whatever reason, then they must respond to the needy individual with kindness. If we are not able to help others in a financial way, we don’t have the right to shame them and demean their character.
An Example of Infāq in the Life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa)
The Infallibles (ʿa) were very careful to abide by the principles of generosity and giving all throughout their lives. As an example, we can refer to one well known story from the life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa) and his response to a poor person. One day, a poor person came and he knocked on the door of Imam Al Ḥasan’s (ʿa) house. He called out to the Imam (ʿa): Oh grandson of the Messenger of Allah (ṣ), I have nothing left which I can sell and earn some money in exchange. The way I look and my condition give testimony to the truth of my words. At the same time, I have a little bit of dignity left which I have preserved (for the right customer). Now that I have found you as a suitable customer, I am giving it to you!
When Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa) heard this, he called out to his employee who was in charge of the expenditure of the house and he asked him how much money they had left. The man replied: We have twelve thousand Dirhams left. The Imam (ʿa) told him: Give them to this poor man. He then called to the man and apologized, saying: We did not give you your full right, but we gave you whatever we had. The Imam (ʿa) then recited some words of poetry in response to what the man had said in regards to selling the last shreds of his dignity.
These lines of poetry essentially said: Take this little bit of money and it is as if you have not sold anything and we have not bought anything  (meaning I will not look at you so that your honor and dignity are preserved. This behavior by the Imam (ʿa) is the very pinnacle of manners in regards to giving charity to others. It shows us the best way in which we can help others, without demeaning them or hurting their feelings. When someone is faced with a poor person, it is possible that they will be unable to help them but at the very least, they will speak to them with kindness and affection, and apologize for not being able to help them. Fur-thermore, if one does help the poor person one should be very careful not to ruin their good deed by making the person feel demeaned or disgraced.
Lessons in Generosity in the Life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa)
Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has gone on to explain the very concept of generosity as reflected in the life of Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa). Grand Ayatollah Makārim Shīrāzī has stated in this regard: Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa) was well known as the ‘generous one of the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa)’. When someone asked the Imam (ʿa) who was defined as a generous person, the Imam (ʿa) gave them the following guidelines:
1. The first sign of a truly generous person is that he gives before being asked for help. When a generous person sees the signs of need in another person, they don’t allow things to reach the point where the poor person asks them for their help. Such a person will reach out to help before anything is asked of them. This is an important indicator of generosity, even though it is still a very good act to help someone after they have asked one for help. Since Allah, His angels, and his prophets (ʿa) are all generous, it is worthy of us to be generous as wellso as to be worthy of the grace and generosity of Allah in turn.
2. The second sign is one which has two potential meanings when examined in the original Arabic. The first potential meaning refers to one who gives food wherever it is most needed. This doesn’t entail someone inviting only the rich to eat at their table since this is a blameworthy deed according to Imam ʿAlī (ʿa) who protested against the act of his governor ʿUthmān ibn Ḥanīf. According to this potential meaning, we must strive to feed the poor and needy and this is one of the characteristics of the generous ones. The second potential meaning of this characteristic is the opposite of what has become customary in our own era. Today, whenever people wish to invite others to a meal, they invite them to a restaurant outside of their home in order to free themselves from the difficulties of preparing food and hosting their guests. Contrary to this common practice of our modern society, Imam Hassan (a) has instructed us to prepare our own food and host our guests in our own homes. According to the teachings of the Imam (a), we should not take our guests to places outside of the home. So in reality, the generous one is he who hosts his guests within his own home and this brings about blessings and it pushes away calamities and illnesses from the home of the host. Naturally, these are two ex-amples of generosity but we must keep in mind that there are many other signs which help us to understand what this state of generosity truly entails.
The Smalest Acts of Kindness Met with the Greatest RewardsOne can find many instances in the lives of the Imams where they rewarded small acts of kindness with the greatest of responses. An example of this can be found in the story of a journey where Imam Al Ḥasan, Imam Ḥusayn, and ʿAbdullah ibn Jaʿfar were separated from their caravan and as time passed, they became very thirsty walking in the desert. From afar, they suddenly saw the tent of a Bedouin. When they reached the tent, an old lady came out, and she proceeded to give them water and she prepared a lamb which she had so that they could have something to eat. As they were about to leave, they told the old woman that if you ever come to Medina, come see us so that perhaps we can pay you back for some of the kindness which you have showed us.
It so happened that, after a while, an extreme drought took place in the deserts around Medina and all of the Bedouins were forced to come into the city. There, they would ask the people for help. One day, Imam Al Ḥasan (ʿa) was walking in the city of Medina when his eye fell upon that same old woman who was now going around asking people for help. The Imam (ʿa) went up to the old woman and he asked her if she remembered him, his brother, and his cousin when they were in the desert and she had helped them with full generosity? The old woman didn’t remember anything but the Imam (ʿa) said to her: If you don’t remember, I do!
The Imam (ʿa) then proceeded to give her a great sum of money and many sheep. He then sent her to his brother, Imam Ḥusayn (ʿa), who proceeded to give her even more wealth. She was then sent to ʿAbdullah ibn Jaʿfar, who also gave her a great sum of money. The old woman was given so much by the Imams (a) and their cousin that she become one of the wealthiest of people in that city.
A Final Word
It is a very worthy action to show respect to the great figures of our religion and to seek intercession with the Infallibles (ʿa) but it is not enough by itself. What is necessary is that,in addition to respecting them and the seeking their intercession, one needs to practically adhere to their tradition. An example of such practical adherence to the Infallibles is the helping of those who are needy amongst our family members, our relatives, and the extended community amongst whom we live. Those who are financially capable, must help those who are ill and in need of money for their medical treatment, the youth who are not able to get married because of financial problems, those who have become bankrupted and owe others money, or those students who cannot continue their studies due to a lack of financial resources.
These are but a few examples and there are many other examples to be found in the society around us. If we are able to help those in need, then we can be hopeful that Allah will also help us on our day of need,when nothing will have any worth except for the righteous actions which we have sent ahead for ourselves. On that day, such actions will count for much and it will be much of what we have to depend upon.