sadaqah jariyah

Sadaqah Jariyah: What Humility in Your Work Really Means

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This is the fourth post in the Sadaqah Jariyah series, catch up on the previous installments here.

Have you ever read a long internet comment pontificating about advanced Islamic issues by an unqualified person that ends with something like, "but I'm not a scholar or anything so don't take my word for it"?

The person saying this may genuinely want to portray a sense of humility. Instead, it (rightfully) comes across as false modesty.

Have you ever complimented someone after a khutbah or a speech, only to have them say "No, no, it was actually terrible." Same thing. They are trying to be humble, but all they've accomplished is making the person delivering the compliment feel bad.

The ultimate irony is this - even while being overtly self-deprecating, they're still talking about themselves. That's ego.

The entire point of a sadaqah jariyah is leaving behind something that outlasts you. That means it's not about you. Or as Shaykh AbdulNasir Jangda says, "Nobody cares."

There is a monumental challenge with this. The more successful your efforts are (in whatever capacity you contribute), the more ego becomes a factor. It's easy to be humble when you're first getting started. It's much more difficult when you've established a multi-million dollar charity, have taught thousands of students, or attained national recognition in the form of media and speaking invites.

The more successful you become, the more critical it is to get over yourself.

This is a core leadership principle for San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

"For us, it's easy. We're looking for character, but what the hell does that mean? We're looking for people — and I've said it many times — [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that. A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You've got to be able to laugh. You've got to be able to take a dig, give a dig — that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don't have all the answers. [We want] people who are participatory. The guys in the film room can tell me what they think of how we played last night if they want to. [Former Assistant GM] Sean Marks would sit in on our coaches' meetings when we're arguing about how to play the pick-and-roll or who we're going to play or who we're going to sit." [Business Insider]

Part of getting over yourself is being open to feedback.

This seems like an obvious point. In practice, some people are prone to hide from feedback when it comes to Islamic work. When criticized even slightly, they will retort with something along the lines of "either get involved or shut up." There might be some truth to this - but our focus here is on humility for the worker.

You have to be open to being edited. The deeper we get in our own work, the harder it is to look at it objectively. We are emotionally invested in our projects, so we take feedback personally.

A person operating from a premise of humility knows how to listen, filter, and respond to feedback. A person working from a premise of ego will dismiss input and cut out people who give it - even if they are from their inner circle.

In reality, we all need feedback. Even Steph Curry has a shooting coach. We have to embrace that process to produce work with ihsan. Without it, you'll never know if you are creating something of meaning.

Some people resist this when it comes to Islamic work. They'll argue that something is fee sabeelillah, and therefore people need to lay off. The opposite is true. You have to be willing to pause and put in extra work to get it right. And you have to be okay with knowing others may have something valuable to add that we didn't think of.

The nature of this type of work means you will be exposed to difficulty in dealing with others and their thoughts about your work. It's a small price to pay to establish something meaningful enough to outlive you.

As the Prophet (s) said, "The believer who mixes with the people and endures their harm has a greater reward than one who does not mix the people nor endures their harm."



Sadaqah Jariyah: Who's Your Audience?

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This is the third post in the Sadaqah Jariyah series, catch up on the previous installments here.

It was a Friday night masjid program geared toward college students and young professionals. There were multiple speakers from the community, myself included. I was asked to share a few points on what major to pick in college, and some tips about finding a job.

After salah, one of the board members took the mic to make the announcement.

"After the sunnah prayers we will begin the youth program. Since this is for the youth, please, we want all the children age 8-12 to come sit in the front row."


Why would someone see a program for college students and immediately think that 8 year olds should be in the front row?

I've never understood this fascination with turning everything into a youth program. It's trying to score points with the community with hype while completely ignoring the actual content of a program.

When it comes to leaving a sadaqah jariyah, we try to cast our net far and wide. When we promote something - whether it be a class, book, lecture series, fundraising dinner, volunteer opportunity, or anything else - we want it to be for everyone.

At the heart of this is our focus on the wrong measures of success. We assume that more people means more reward. Therefore, this program is for all Muslims. All Muslims can benefit from this thing that I'm sharing.

The problem with this is that it is generic. In an age where everything from our Instagram feeds, Netflix watch next suggestions, and Amazon shopping habits come with super-personalized recommendations - there is no incentive or motivation to take part in something that's made for everyone.

When something is for everyone, it is now seen as a flag for low quality. It indicates that things must have been watered down. More importantly, something that is for everyone will never leverage your unique contribution.

If you want people to pay attention to your work, it needs to be clear who the core audience is. It is perfectly acceptable to have programs tailored toward young working professionals, or young moms, or teenagers, or even the elderly. They will get far more value out of one program that caters to them then they will from attending a multitude of generic ones where they struggle to glean a small nugget that applies to their lives.

Eventually your work may cross over and have a wider reach. It must start out, however, with a specific group in mind.

Sadaqah Jariyah: How To Make Your Dent In the Universe


The Prophet (s) said, "When a man dies, his deeds come to an end except for three things: Sadaqah Jariyah (ceaseless charity); a knowledge which is beneficial, or a virtuous descendant who prays for him (for the deceased)." (Muslim) This is a hadith about legacy and leadership. What is the impact that you leave on the world? What change did you affect that will carry on well after your death? And how do you live your life in such a way that you accumulate good deeds after your death?

I often think about my family heritage. Some great grandfather or grandmother up the chain had to make the life altering decision to become Muslim, and then have it pass down for multiple generations. I don't know the names of those relatives, or even what century they lived in, but they made this impact on the faith of multiple generations.

Does leaving a sadaqah jariyah require a major life event like that? Or some huge project like building a masjid?

As much as this is a hadith about legacy and leadership, it's a hadith about effort.

Are you making a dent in the universe?

Hint: lots of random pokes in many different spots are unlikely to leave much of an impact. And hiding out is surely not going to work at all.
— Seth Godin

The hadith itself teaches us what the dent looks like.

Leaving behind a charity requires significant sacrifice of time and money. That's actually the easy part. For a charity to outlast your life, you must also pay attention to sustainability. Many people are able to commit time and money, but very few are able to build something and then remove themselves from it to allow it to grow.

Leaving behind beneficial knowledge means you attained a high level of proficiency such that you're in a position to impart knowledge to others. Doing this requires a person to persist and excel in a field of study. It requires formulating a unique perspective. The knowledge you leave behind must be something that people value and are influenced by. This is a core tenet of developing your leadership capacity.

The righteous descendant who supplicates for you is perhaps the most challenging. One of the toughest leadership challenges a person faces is leading their family. How do you raise children in such a way that they have the God-consciousness to supplicate regularly throughout their lives? And what type of relationship must you have with your children such that they fondly remember you and miss you after your death? Those are not easy tasks by any stretch of the imagination.

An everlasting reward will not come without hard work. The real question to me is not what type of knowledge to leave behind, or how to set up a charity, or what the best parenting techniques are. Rather, the question is how do I build up the capacity within myself to be in a position to make those contributions?

Beyond cultivating characteristics like persistence and focus, there are three specific investments each person should be making.

First is education. Knowledge is a foundation of our faith. Education is less about the letters after your name, and more about your mindset and commitment. Is learning a habit for you? How often are you learning? What types of things are you learning? The more you learn, the more dots you connect, and the more insights you're able to develop that others won't see.

Second is experiences. Every experience we have shapes us in some way. The last time we taught in Sunday school, or worked a minimum wage job at the mall might have been over a decade ago - but the experience still affects us and plays a role in shaping who we are today. Find ways to try different jobs and projects. Volunteer for different activities. Go into things with an open mind and seek to find the benefit in different experiences.

Third is relationships. Family is emphasized heavily in our religion, as is good brotherhood and sisterhood. Relationships also require time and effort. Spend time with your family. Cultivate good friendships. Meet people with genuine curiosity and seek to learn from the experiences of others.

The intersection of these three - your education, experiences, and relationships - will always be unique to you. No one else on earth will have the same combination of these. These are what inform your perspective and build your capacity to lead and influence others.

This is how you leave your dent on the universe. It's not by people remembering your name. It is the small contributions you make that add value to the lives of others. This is the work that puts you on the path to leaving a legacy such that your actions continue to earn reward long after death.