Hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him
Sadaqah can refer to a variety of acts which bring joy or benefit to others – for example, smiling at someone, speaking a kind word, helping them or removing harm from their way – but the word is most commonly used to refer to charitable giving.
While zakat is an obligatory charity due from every Muslim on a yearly basis, sadaqah is an entirely voluntary charity which can be performed at any time of year, and any amount can be given. Unlike zakat, which has a number of stipulations regarding the type of assistance it can provide, sadaqah can be used for any project or programme which is of benefit to people.
A number of sayings of the Prophet, peace be upon him, emphasise the benefits of giving sadaqah, including that “sadaqah extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire”, as well as the duty of every Muslim to give whatever he or she can: “sadaqah is due on every joint of a person, every day the sun rises.”
An important concept within that of sadaqah (charity), is the idea of sadaqah jariyah – an ‘ongoing charity’. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said that “when a man dies, his deeds come to an end except three: an ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge and a child who prays for him”. Therefore, many Muslims are eager to give charity which will continue to have benefit to people after their death, and continue to earn them reward.
Any charity which continues to have positive effects on a community in the long-term, beyond immediate relief, can be considered a sadaqah jariyah: building homes, schools and hospitals; installing durable water systems; turning an area of land into a farm which continues to give crops for years to come; helping a poor family start a business which continues generating profit for future generations… Essentially, sadaqah jariyah is what today’s international development sector calls ‘sustainable development’, promoted by Islam over 1400 years ago, and encompasses the majority of the sustainable development programmes carried out by both Islamic and other NGOs today.