Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik narrated that the Prophet Muhammad,
peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself."
(Bukhari & Muslim)
There are strong foundations in our Islamic faith for community service. Service can take many forms including offering physical assistance and caretaking, offering charity or financial support, sharing knowledge, donating tangible things like clothing or food, and giving of our time and attention. Any and all of these actions can be directed toward those we know well, like our family and friends, and also those who are strangers. While there are many benefits for the one who gives and the one who receives, the most significant to the believer is that service with the proper intention can indeed be a form of worship.
The Quran and the sunnah are filled with messages that emphasize the importance of our shared humanity, of the need for compassion, love, and kindness.
“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are self-deluding and boastful.”
(Suran An-Nisa, 4;36)
As parents, it is important that we instill a sense of service in the hearts of our children. We do that with both our words and deeds. Children can learn these important lessons at a very early age by noticing the needs of others around them. Older children can be encouraged to participate in charitable acts such as fundraising or community service projects.
Tangible Benefits of Volunteering
In addition to the rewards we are promised through adherence to our faith and Islamic guidance, there are well-researched benefits of community service, too.
1. Volunteering can teach us new skills.
Volunteer service can be a means of practicing skills in real-world situations. Building beneficial skills that can be useful later in life is the basis for many high school or college internships. These types of opportunities provide volunteer service in exchange for work experience and can pave the way for further employment opportunities.
But building skills is not only acquired through structured volunteer experiences. Physical skills can also be gleaned from helping a neighbor with yard work; organizational skills from gathering donations at a clothing or food drive; communication skills can be strengthened by advocating for policy changes at a local, state or national level; financial skills can be learned from organizing a fundraising campaign; and more.
2. Volunteering can increase self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Self-efficacy describes believing that we can do what needs to be done in any given situation. Our thoughts about our capabilities in any area heavily influence how we think about ourselves and follow those thoughts with actions. Psychologist Albert Bandura explains that the most powerful way to increase self-efficacy is through “mastery experiences.” When we experience success, we have confidence that we can also be successful in future situations as well.
When our children have the opportunity to join in service to solve a problem, they will feel more confident in their ability to make a positive difference now and into the future.
3. Volunteering can expand our ability to empathize and be grateful.
Obedience to our Creator requires the believer to submit himself/herself wholly and abandon all pride, arrogance, and feelings of self-sufficiency. When Islam came to the pagan Arabs, the notion of submitting to Allah alone and standing as equals was an outrageous demand. To live up to these ideals of our faith, we need to be aware of our human failings and learn to have empathy - the ability to walk in the shoes of another person, to fully understand their predicaments and challenges. Serving others who are different from ourselves can be a good reminder of our humanity and also our need for humility. It can also be a good reminder of the many blessings that we enjoy.
4. Volunteering can strengthen connections to the larger community.
Humans of all ages have a strong need to feel connected to other people - in a family, in a school, in a mosque, in a neighborhood, etc. In fact, one of the longest-running studies on human health and happiness has found that the number one predictor of both health and happiness is genetics or job satisfaction. Robert Waldinger, one of the directors of The Harvard Study of Adult Development, relates that, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” The study suggests there are benefits related to physical health and longevity, and even to the full functioning of our brains later in life.
Connection is at that heart of everything we do. Volunteering provides a powerful way for our kids to connect with others and helps them learn prosocial habits for the future. When we serve, we strengthen our relationship with those we serve and those we serve with. Families can benefit greatly from engaging in acts of service together.
5. Volunteering can improve health and happiness.
Another study from Ghent University confirms the physical and emotional benefits of helping others. According to this study and more:
- Volunteers' health statistics measure about 5 years younger people who don’t volunteer.
- Volunteer experiences on a person’s resume can yield better employment opportunities.
- Volunteering can help strengthen the body, improve the mood, and also reduce stress.
We have many opportunities for service in front of us everyday. They are present in our dealings with family in our homes and with strangers outside of it. It is our duty to attend to them and to help our children embrace them as well. In a society that is filled with materialism and greed, this goal is not easy and takes consistent effort. Keep those physical and emotional benefits in mind as you journey down the road of service and when you engage in helping others. But the reward promised to us by Allah, The Almighty, is the best way to keep yourself and your family engaged. To keep your eye on the prize.
Abdullah ibn Amr reported that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”
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