Being model citizens is part of our faith as Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The most beloved people to Allah are those who are the most beneficial to people…”
(Al Mujam Al-Aswat – At-Tabarani)
To benefit others, it is necessary to understand their needs and know what you can do to help through civic engagement. The best time to instill these values in our children is during their formative years. According to youth.gov, the United States federal government’s website on developing effective youth programs, civic engagement involves “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference.” For Muslims, it is part of our mission as caretakers of the Earth to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.
Promoting environmental conservation, improving the living conditions of those in our communities, and building a just society are all forms of civic engagement. When it comes to teaching children about civic duties, it is easy to lean toward political activism with so many issues happening around the world affecting Muslims. However, social change can begin at home. An alternate way our children can engage with their communities is through community service.
Community Service in Islam
Community service has always been at the core of building an Islamic society and promoting brotherhood. When there was no place where the first Muslims could safely meet in Makkah, a companion named Al-Arqam ibn Abi al-Arqam, may Allah be pleased with him, offered his home as a meeting place. This was one of the most impactful charitable acts in early Islam. After the Muslims won the battle of Badr and they took captives from among the Quraish, some were offered freedom on account that they teach a Muslim how to read. This too was an act of community service, and it was used as an alternative to punishment like what we see nowadays for small offences. Another great example that took place during the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was the building of his mosque in Madinah. Many of the Muhajireen and the Ansar volunteered their time and money to erect the first place of worship in Madinah and many others.
Allah describes these type of actions as striving on the “steep path” of goodness in the following verses of the Quran:
“And what will make you realize what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, or to give food in times of famine to an orphaned relative or to a poor person in distress, and—above all—to be one of those who have faith and urge each other to perseverance and urge each other to compassion. These are the people of the right.”
(Surah Al-Balad, 90:12-18)
Benefits of Community Service
Having your family participate in community service projects can help them embody the characteristics of “the people of the right” with whom Allah is pleased. Children can begin to understand their responsibilities to the environment, their communities, and the people around them. Community service builds skills that can be used later in life such as:
The following are some community service ideas that you can do together as a family:
1. Participate in a community clean-up.
When companions learned from about the importance of community service directly from the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, they acted upon that knowledge, and taught it to their followers. The following story is an example:
Akhdar ibn Mu’awiyah reported: I was with Ma’qal ibn Yasar, may Allah be pleased with him, along some of the roads. We passed by something harmful, so he moved it to the side of the road. I saw something similar, so I took it and moved it to the side. Ma’qal took my hand and he said, “O son of my brother, what made you do so?” I said, “O uncle, I saw you doing it to something, so I did the same.” Ma’qal said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, say: Whoever clears harmful things from the roads of the Muslims, a good deed will be recorded for him. Whoever is awarded a good deed, he will enter Paradise.”
(al-Mu’jam al-Kabir 502, At-Tabarani)
You and your family can arrange a neighborhood clean-up or participate on an already established community clean-up day. Choose a location like the immediate area around your home, a school, or park. Bring trash bags, gloves, and some grabbers (the kids love these), and start picking up trash. Be careful with smaller children around glass, nails, other harmful items, and traffic.
2. Clean the masjid.
Just like with cleaning our neighborhoods, Muslims should take pride in cleaning the masjid. There is a trade-off when it comes to civic duties - the more we give, the more it is reciprocated. One way to instill this lesson in our children is to teach them to take care of the masjid. Caring for the masjid is an honor for a Muslim person in this life and the next.
In a hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, he recounts an incident in which the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, heard that a woman who used to clean the masjid passed away, he said to his companions, “Why did you not tell me?” Abu Huraira added, “It was as if they considered her insignificant.” Then the Prophet asked to be shown to her grave and he prayed over her.
The status of this woman was raised because of her dedication to keeping the masjid clean.
Children can help by vacuuming, wiping counters, rearranging books on shelves, sweeping, and picking up trash. Encourage them to participate in masjid clean-up days or make a family outing of clearing litter from the parameters of the masjid. They will learn how important it is to keep the area clean and inviting for other worshippers.
3. Plant a community garden.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“No Muslim plants a tree or sows a seed and then a bird, or a human, or an animal eats from it but that it is charity for him.”
This hadith should be motivation for us to want to plant fruit-bearing trees, shrubs, or herbs. Take your children to go purchase some seeds, seedlings, or saplings and anything else you need for your community garden. Make sure to build it in a permitted area, or simply plant your own garden and donate fruits and veggies to your neighbors. You may also put up a rack or basket filled with free fruits and veggies in a public place.
4. Tutor ESL students or younger students.
Your older children can put their knowledge to good use by tutoring younger students or peers in ESL (English as a Second Language) – especially refugees from war-torn Muslim majority countries. Identify your child’s strongest subjects and consult with them about how they would like to approach tutoring. They can do it in person at the masjid or in your home, or they can opt to do it virtually.
If your child has memorized the Quran, they may also be interested in teaching. Motivate them with the following hadith in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“The best among you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”
5. Feed the poor.
There are so many ahadith about feeding the poor and caring for the less fortunate, that it is difficult to include them all in one article. In one example, the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“If a believer feeds another believer in hunger, Allah will feed him from the fruits of Paradise on the Day of Resurrection. If a believer quenches the thirst of another believer, Allah will give him a pure drink (which is sealed to drink) on the Day of Resurrection…”
(Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi)
Children are kind by nature – they are driven by their pure fitrah – and they love to be helpful. They will enjoy preparing sandwiches, filling containers with pasta or rice, and cutting vegetables and fruit. Have them bag the items and write a nice note for their recipients. Drive to a shelter to deliver the food with them or if it is safe, hand the bags out to individuals who are homeless. These activities will have a huge impact on the children’s young minds, increase their gratitude, and shape them to be considerate of others who are less fortunate.
6. Run a clothing drive or winter coat drive for the homeless.
The continuation of the hadith cited above is:
“… If a believer clothes another believer when he is unclothed, then Allah will clothe him with green garments of Paradise.”
(Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi)
Sponsor a clothing drive by leaving a marked box in the masjid or school. Ask for new to gently used clothes or winter coats. Pick up the donations, inspect them for cleanliness, and sort them by sizes before donating to a local shelter or distributing.
7. Prepare and deliver meals for someone who is ill or experiencing a loss.
One way to improve the situation of those in our community is through visiting and assisting the sick or anyone experiencing a loss. Meal trains have become a popular way to help families going through hardships. Preparing meals and/or writing get well soon cards are easy ways for children to contribute. Motivate them with the hadith in which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allah will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter…”
8. Serve the elderly.
In doing acts of community service with our children, we should never forget our elders. Anas ibn Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“No youth honors his elders, but that Allah will appoint someone to honor him in his old age.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
There are a few ways the youth can serve the elderly. They can visit a nursing home to play or chat with them, write letters or cards for them, and volunteer to do some chores in their homes. Youngsters can rake leaves and bag them for an elderly neighbor in the fall, shovel snow for them in the winter, and/or mow their lawn in the spring and summer. Even some help getting groceries out of their car and into their house would be appreciated as a great act of kindness.
If you have older children like teens and young adults, encourage them to do volunteer work for places like a non-profit organization, hospital, government office, or a fire department. Not only will they be serving their community, but also learning essential job skills and gaining work experience they can use later in life. Volunteering also opens doors for free training, scholarships, and job placement. Your child may even decide a career path based on where they volunteer, so let them choose from a variety of opportunities.
10. Donate books (and school supplies).
One of the keys to building a just and balanced society is education. There is no better way to jump start education than through reading. One way to promote reading is by making books available to everyone. Children can easily gather books they finish reading and donate them to schools, libraries, or directly to other families. The same can be done with school supplies, except these items should be unused or new.
A fun project you can do together as a family is to donate to or build your own lending library. You may visit littlefreelibrary.org for more information on how to get started. If you decide to set up your own, it can become an ongoing charity for you and your children by providing an endless supply of books (including Islamic books you donate) for the people in your neighborhood.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Seven deeds of a servant continue to be rewarded after his death while he is in his grave: knowledge to be learned, constructing a canal, digging a well, planting a date-palm tree, building a mosque, handing down a written copy of the Quran, and leaving a righteous child who seeks forgiveness for him after his death.”
Community service strengthens community ties, builds empathy, promotes teamwork, and instills leadership skills. Best of all, it is a way to come closer to Allah and emulate the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and his companions. When the Prophet mentioned that the most beloved of people are those who benefit others, he added:
“The most beloved deed to Allah is to make a Muslim happy, or to remove one of his troubles, or to forgive his debt, or to feed his hunger. That I walk with a brother regarding a need is more beloved to me than that I seclude myself in this mosque in Medina for a month… Whoever walks with his brother regarding a need until he secures it for him, then Allah Almighty will make his footing firm across the bridge on the day when the footings are shaken.”
(al-Muʻjam al-Awsat 6/139, At-Tabarani)
Along with encouraging our children to be involved in social service projects, remind them about the magnitude of these deeds and their enormous rewards. This should motivate them to continue to do good well into adulthood, inshaAllah (God-willing).
Wendy Díaz is a Puerto Rican Muslim writer, award-winning poet, translator, and mother of six (ages ranging from infant to teen). She is the co-founder of Hablamos Islam, a non-profit organization that produces educational resources about Islam in Spanish (hablamosislam.org). She has written, illustrated, and published over a dozen children’s books and currently lives with her family in Maryland. Follow Wendy Díaz on social media @authorwendydiaz and @hablamosislam.